Life was harder for ordinary families in the past because there was no proper sanitation and there were no modern appliances, so jobs like cleaning the fire, lighting it, stoking the copper and especially washing, would take a very long time. There was also less welfare provision, and health care was more rough and ready.
People felt that washing was a very important difference between life before the war and life now. People would use a dolly tub and a copper with a fire underneath for their washing. For dirty items there were rubbing boards, ribbed pieces of wood or iron where sheets etc would be rubbed up and down. This was hard work. Women would always use blue bags – Reckitts’ slogan was ‘Out of the blue cometh whiteness’. Most children hated washing day. The work would take all day, and so they would only get a cold lunch. The whole house would be taken over by washing – especially on wet days. One member’s mother took in washing to make extra money and another’s father used to have to collect the water in 2 buckets on a yoke so that her mother could do the washing.
Ironing would take up the whole of the next day. Most people had two irons, one heating on the fire, the other being used. It was not so important to be accurate about the temperature of the iron then, as materials were harder wearing. Cottons would be starched and ironed damp after they had been boiled. There were different irons of different weights, polishing irons for stiff collars, goffering irons for frills and so on.
Because it was such tiring work, women would take a pride in how their family was turned out and in getting the washing out of the way by the time their husbands came home.
Another difficult job was cleaning the cooking range – black leading it. This would usually be done weekly. This was the normal way of cooking – gas has only been in Timsbury for the last few years.
Most people could list many other problems women had. Of course, many houses had no bathroom or indoor toilet, which made life more difficult for the people who were responsible for keeping house. Lack of health care was an additional worry for women, as there was no free medical care for the wives of workers. Their husbands, if they were in work, had sickness benefit, but women were not taken into account and often neglected their health. Birth usually happened at home, with a midwife being summoned by a child or neighbour on foot, as transport was difficult to come by.
Houses were much colder than nowadays, but country people especially, made the best of what they had. Bedrooms would be like the arctic. One member recalls her father breaking the ice in the ewer in order to get to the washing water. The light upstairs came from a little oil lamp, known as a Kelly light. Electricity came to Timsbury in the early 1930’s. At first people were slow to take it up and so the electricity company offered householders three free lights each, any extra lights being charged for.
For men, job insecurity was a big worry. Their working hours were long and many men would then have to collect firewood and mend the family’s shoes, although in Timsbury there were several cobblers who were able to make a better job, having the tools. It was said that before the war, fathers had more time for their children, and would tell them stories. Some people said that father was the boss in the family, although others said perhaps he only thought he was the boss! Sitting by the kitchen range, children would do their homework and mothers would relax with their sewing and repairing the family’s clothes.
Children would have lovely toys often hand-made by their fathers. These were made of wood and paper mache. Dolls, houses and rocking horses were special treasures. Jigsaws were more popular than they are today, and children would keep scrap books and collect things – flowers, birthday cards, chocolate wrappings, cigarette cards, matchboxes and orange papers. Evenings were spent together in the family, parents would read to children, and many families had a piano they would gather around. When the wireless first came out, families needed to sit close together to listen to it. Someone would unscrew the earphones and share them between two, or the earphone could be put in a basin to amplify the weak sound.
Children would often have a lot of responsibility, especially in big families, and would have to stay away from school to look after brothers and sisters. There were more ‘killer’ diseases affecting children then, especially whooping cough, diphtheria and scarlet fever. Children today, people felt, have better opportunities for education and a better chance of benefiting from it. TV has broadened their activities, and foreign holidays have too. But mothers are not always at home when the children are there, so they have more freedom, more casual mealtime, and or so on, which most of the group didn’t feel to be a good thing.
Another important influence in family life was the Church. Life centred around it, and the events of the calendar followed it. On Sundays, children would often go to Sunday School in the morning, the children’s service in the afternoon and a service in the evening too. Most of the clubs or organisations existing in places like Timsbury then were church bodies, so the church formed the centre of most social activities.
The group discussed the family problems that were less common years ago – things like divorce, drugs, alcohol and permissiveness in society. Many felt that family life is disappearing – these were especially the people whose memories go back to the l920’s. Parents being criticised by children was much less frequent then. Modern ease of transport was also felt to be a problem because it makes it easier for families to be split. Credit cards and the danger of getting into debt were also seen as problems by many older people.
Generally the picture given, especially by the older people in the group, was one of greater closeness in the family. The mother was always at home, so home was always a warm, comforting and welcoming place to come to. Families were less often divided by distance. Work was within walking distance of home, and family members did not often move away to live elsewhere when they married. This meant that if anyone was ill, their family could be relied on to rally round and help, so families were able to live more independently of outsiders but be more dependent on each other. Nevertheless the standard of care was not what it is today, and the presence of large families in very small houses would put pressure on the younger members.
All in all people couldn’t deny improvements in housing and health care but feared that things like credit, TV and video nasties were damaging family life, and there were some fears that marriage is becoming obsolete.
Reproduced from Reflections of Old Timsbury by kind permission of The Cheshire Home.