Washday blues


Dorothy lived in the terraces on the corner of Ogley Road and High Street. This shows the privations lived with even fairly recently – this is a fascinating image I’d love to know more about. Image from ‘Memoriels of Old Brownhills’ By Clarice Mayo and Geoff Harrington.

As I’m gradually getting better, I’m rebooting and catching up with stuff I’ve missed or neglected, and today, I came across this wonderful piece by Elizabeth Hampton which I’ve been deliberately saving for Mother’s Day, as it’s a lovely, evocative account that documents the hardships her mum went through living in Pike Helve, at the bottom of Pier Street in Brownhills in the 1940s.

Elizabeth contributed a wonderful piece at the same time about the shops and social life of Brownhills with you can read here. It’s well worth it, and I’m sure many older readers will love it.

If you want to find out more about Pike Helve, Pier Street and the the Fortune of War pub, Clive Roberts has covered them all in his most recent book ‘Snippets of Local History in and around Brownhills’ which is still available – see here for details. It’s a great piece of work.

Thanks to Elizabeth for a wonderful glimpse into the social history of Brownhills – and remember – if you have anything to add, please feel free! Comments always welcome: either on this post or to BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com. Cheers.


This brilliant shot of a Brownhills backyard would be fairly contemporary with Elizabeth’s account. Image from ‘Memories of Brownhills Past’ by Clarice Mayo and Geoff Harrington.

Elizabeth Hampton wrote:

I was born in 1938 in South Yardley but moved to Broownhills before I was one and my two brothers born 1940 and 1942 in Brownhills. We also had two elder brothers 10 and 12 years older than me. We lived in the infamous Pier Street just of the High Street [Known as Pike Helve- Bob], My mother and father doing their very best in the terrible rented terrace house for us to keep us clean, well fed and loved.

Against all the problems of no water in the house, only a tap in the yard for all living in the terrace and outside toilets. We have vivid memories of my Dad cutting up newspaper in squares and putting a hole in the corners for the string to go through to hang on the toilet wall.

In the winter of course the tap froze. Once a week we had a bath in front of the kitchen fire. We didn’t change our underwear or socks every day, as Mom only washed once a week on a Monday, when she filled the boiler in the brewhouse and lit the fire under it to boil the water for all the whites. She had a dolly and tub and a big old mangle. She would have to fill the boiler with water from this out door tap and wait for it to get warm before transferring some of it to the tub to start washing her whites.


Of all the great local historians, the one to have done most to record Pike Helve and Pier Street has been Clive Roberts, who features a large section of his latest book ‘Snippets of Local History in and around Brownhills’ to this lost area. The book is still available, see text.

I cannot remember when Oxydol or Tide came into fashion but I know my Mom always had big slabs of some soap to rub her clothes with. These whites would then go into the boiler with the Dolly Blue

Then into the tub would go the colours she would dolly them and swish them round the tub. I know at the end of the washing would go our Dad’s Pit clothes, these make be thick with dried clay which she would have to hit again the wall to crack up with clay before into the tub they went.

All these clothes would have to go on an outside line and I have again vivid memories of my Mom’s knuckles being open and sometimes bleeding with hanging out these clothes with possibly damp hands.

Then of course she had to roll the tub and empty the water and also the boiler which she would clean out because she shared this brewhouse with our next door neighbour – Mrs Moore and they always left it nice and clean for each other.

My brothers and I are very proud of our upbringing and the way our parents coped at that time. They instilled in us to do our best and have a sense of pride.

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9 Responses to Washday blues

  1. David Evans says:

    HI Bob
    a big thank you to Elizabeth. ..and good to read that your health is improving
    kind regards

  2. Thanks Elizabeth and thank you Bob. Life was of course much better in the old days as described 😉 I feel for the women who kept it all together living in these sort of circumstances and not enjoying the things like indoor plumbing that are now taken for granted. Life was simpler then and it was also bloody hard.

  3. Clive says:

    Nice one Elizabeth.

  4. david oakley says:

    Hi Bob,
    Quite enjoyed Elizabeth’s memories of the old-time washing-day. The ‘soaping’ of soiled linen was the recognised thing in those days, before the entrance into the ‘dolly-tub’ or boiler. Sunlight soap and Fairy soap were used as they both came in half-pound blocks, Sunlight was yellow, Fairy was Green. Sufficient pressure on the bar of soap over the grubbier parts of the garment was enough to leave a residue of the soapy block on the garment to loosen the dirt when under the poundering of the ‘dolly’. These soaps contained soda, which would contribute to the painful condition of your Mom’s hands.
    Squares of newspapers on a bit of string, instead of toilet rolls, were the common currency for most outside loos. In my own experience, being a young avid reader, by the light of a guttering candle held in one hand, I have read one square, both sides, before searching, curiosity thoroughly aroused, through the remaining cut squares, to seek the outcome of the piece I was reading. It was only when, hot candle wax dripping onto unprotected flesh, that I reluctantly gave up.

  5. I remember all of this. I used to have to help my mom with the dolly tub and the scrubbing board and big mangle. Light the fire under the boiler and keep it stoked up. The blue used in the rinsing of the washing was kept in a babies sock by my mom. Mom had to wash pit clothes I remember her
    banging them up the wall before she could wash them. We used to have to dry the clothes on a clothes horse in front of a coal fire if the weather was bad. It was lovely to hear someone talk about
    the old times, some people today don’t realise what my moms generation lived like. Thank you Elizabeth.

  6. David Evans says:

    Hi Bob

    “I can see clearly now” blog article has the 1926 aerial view of Walsall Wood..with all the washing drying nicely in the afternoon sun….and if you enlarge the image you can just make out the young girl in her apron dress, looking up at the passing plane, and a “fold” of houses behind her.
    Using flat irons, heated on the blackleaded grate, gave a good finish to shirts, and also few more chillblanes to hands that had to do the dollying, rubbing, paddling,scrubbing, wringing,dollying, mending and darning. ( some words for the younger readers to explore!)
    thanks to David and Elizabeth for their comments
    kind regards

  7. brian ashford says:

    I went to school with Elizabeth during the war and when she left from Pier St I moved into the house she lived in next to my sister about 1958-9 also the other picture rear of houses in High St shows my sisters house along with Waltons and Dixons where she lived until she moved to Pier St ..People who lived in the houses opposite pike helve were Mrs Ward Mrs jewkes my sister Joan Mrs Cockayne Perce Scarrott Dickie and Mrs Shaw Dolly Jackson etc.If Elizabeth’s brothers are Ok e.i. Tom and Joe please give them my regards.

  8. Elizabeth Hampton says:

    Hi Brian, I am just read your reply to my article. So Mrs Cockayne was your sister. What happened to her two sons. Our Tom is alive but unfortunately our Joe died on 7th January, 2017 and I shall be attending his funeral on 31st. It was lovely for you to mention the neighbours names again. I certainly remember the Ward, Jewkes and Shaw.
    Regards Elizabeth

  9. brian ashford. says:

    Hi elizabeth only just picked up on your reply sorry about Big Joe R.I..P i have more names from the past in pier street if needed my sister was joan foster not alice cockayne however i do see ken her son and bill nightingale from the pike helve so sorry foor your loss best wishes brian.

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