Cleaning and Polishing the Home

Continuing my Mum’s remembrances about how life used to be, here are her thoughts on cleaning the home.

One thing which I remember clearly is the making of our own furniture and floor polish. The only polish we could buy was called MANSION polish. I believe it could be in short supply and so we were taught to make our own. We grated beeswax into the empty Mansion polish tin and covered it with turpentine leaving it overnight to soften. If we had any brown shoe polish to spare a little of it was added to this mixture when it had softened and all ingredients stirred in well. The beeswax had soaked up the turpentine and was easily mixed to look like bought polish. It was applied to either the furniture or the floor and even tiles, rubbed in well with a lot of elbow grease and then it all had to be buffed with much elbow grease, so that it all shone with no smear marks. It was a very good way of avoiding “batwings”. This expression was unheard of in those days.

Mansion polish
Mansion polish

Dusters were made from old soft cotton vests of no longer use. Sometimes to make a soft polishing pad, the leg part of old socks were cut off from the well darned foot part and sewn up one end. Old bits of soft cotton material were used to fill that sock part and then the other end sewn up. It was easier to use that to buff the floor as it was not hard on the hands trying to polish with a scrap of cloth.

When I was in the boarding school we all had our jobs to do before breakfast. One girl, bigger and older than me, was responsible for polishing the boot-room floor (where we hung our coats and kept our shoes in a long row of individual lockers on which we sat to change our shoes). After putting on the polish by hand, she used a very heavy “donkey”, made of heavy iron, which was pushed back and forth with a thick cloth pad underneath which “buffed” the floor to a shine. There was an inbuilt felt pad but after it had been used after  so, so many times the bottom got flat and shiny and did not do it’s job so well.  So a cloth was tied around the head to be more effective.  The cloth was tied on to keep it in place and stop it flying off along the floor whilst pushing it in a backwards and forwards motion.

No bleach to put into toilets to keep them clean and white. It needed boiling hot water mixed with soda then poured into it and left to clean the toilet, or else hard scrubbing with the loo brush. Often the loo seats were unpainted and being made of wood it required scrubbing underneath and the top with very hot soda water and scrubbing brush to keep it clean and fresh. No rubber gloves those days to protect the hands from the harsh soda water. At home we had two toilets, one upstairs in the bathroom and the other one was an outside toilet which was joined to the house and guaranteed to freezing up completely in the bitter winter months and far too cold to be used.

There was no heating in kitchens, nor in the bathrooms unless my mother lit a paraffin stove to warm it first when we had baths. It meant that the lead pipes were prone to freezing solid and the plumber had to be called to repair the pipes that bulged and split when there was a thaw. He was in great demand at these times as it was normal for most homes to have lead pipes then.



2 thoughts on “Cleaning and Polishing the Home

  1. We all lived with my grandparents until I was 8, I’m 50 now. We had no inside toilet and the outside was not a flushing one, it was something called an Elsan toilet and was up at the bottom of our small yard, past the coal house. Next door’s loo had a wooden two holer seat! Although the neighbours only used one of the holes. I expect going to the loo was once a family event. We had no bathroom. The bath was a galvanised zinc bath that hung on a nail in the yard. As children our bath was in the Belfast type sink. Adults had their baths in the kitchen with water warmed up in the twin tub washing machine, then scooped into the bath with an old saucepan. The bath would not fit in the living room as the house was so tiny. I have no idea how 5 of us fitted in it.

    The only heating was a coal fire in the living room, with a two bar electric fire my grandmother used in the mornings until the fire got going, and a paraffin heater in the kitchen used only when it was really cold. My grandmother used to use a tin of special red polish for the unsealed quarry tiles on the kitchen floor. We had a place called the boot room at our boarding school too, but it was just the boiler room in the boarding house. No idea how it got its name.

  2. We also had red polish (for the tiles outside the front door). And do you remember Chemico? For cleaning sinks and so on – I think you can still get it – it was pink and gritty.

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