Welsh Witterings: How to be a Good Housewife – Part One
In 1955, Housekeeping Monthly published a Good Wife guide, within its pages were details of how to keep, house, home and husband harmonious. As you flick through its pages the ideas of how to fulfil household duties and be a ‘good wife’ seems rather outdated and does cause the raise of an eyebrow or else a little titter. Whilst it is certain that the 1950’s housewife was far from glamorous, the mention of one still conjures up an image of an elegant lady with neatly pinned hair, wearing a frilly apron and red lipstick. The reality is that most married women of this era lived their everyday lives around the washing line, stove or the kitchen sink and worked incredibly hard.
In 1951 a Mass Observation survey revealed that housewives in the London suburbs were spending a staggering 15 hours a day on domestic chores. Fifteen hours on household chores every day may seem a little extreme in today’s world of high tech gadgetry, but at the beginning of the 1950’s, only around four per cent of British households owned a washing machine, whilst 16 per cent owned some form of electric water heater and a quarter of homes were still cooking on coal ranges.
Even wealthier households still relied on much of the same basic equipment and with the war having put paid to most of domestic service many women who were not used to doing there own domestic chores before the war now turned to manuals and magazines for guidance to help them. One of these, the popular Housewives’ Pocket Book, detailed with rigid precision the weekly tasks to be undertaken by the housewife, whose work truly was never done.
Example of weekly 1950’s cleaning routine:
Tuesday: Clean master bedroom and landing. Ironing in evening.
Wednesday: Clean children’s bedrooms and do stairs. Mending in evening.
Thursday: Clean hall, bathroom, WC, cooking stove.
Friday: Clean living rooms ready for weekend; baking for weekend, cleaning brass etc
Saturday: Weekend shopping; change all linen, towels.
Whilst the face of domestic housewifery has changed and very few women today would consider following a rigid cleaning timetable there are many old fashioned cleaning tips and recipes that yield excellent results and save the environment, time and pennies.
Be a Good House Wife in The Laundry
Fuller’s earth is a marvellous substance when it comes to stain removal. It’s an all-purpose dry-cleaning agent. In many of the old domestic manuals fullers earth is listed as a housewife’s friend in combating stains; and quite rightly so, as it can lift out greasy stains on clothing and it can remove the mustiness from your woollens and coats, so before heading off to the dry-cleaners a small packet of fullers earth may be your god-send.
It’s called fuller’s earth after fulling, an 18th c. trade that is now mostly forgotten today. Fulling was one of the final steps in processing woollen cloth. A fuller rubbed a mixture of fuller’s earth and water into the cloth to remove excess lanolin and other impurities that might remain, as well as fluffing and brushing the fabric’s surface to finish it.
The process of dry cleaning dates back to ancient Roman times where they used a mixture of ammonia and fullers earth, today the solvent most commonly used in the process, known as “perc,” which is a known carcinogen if you have an oily stain on clothing don’t dash off to the cleaners , instead spread a thick layer of fullers earth on to the stained area and leave it for two hours to draw the oil out. Then brush or vacuum off. This is great on suede and works well with salad dressing stains. The fresher the stain the more effective this method is.
To rid the mustiness of a fabric garment
Mix 1 part fullers earth to one part bicarbonate of soda. Lay the garment to be treated on a sheet
Sprinkle the mixture over liberally and leave for 5 hours
Turn the garment over and repeat the process
Brush off the fullers earth with a stiff clothes brush.
Home Made Washing Powder
1 bar plain soap (castile is good)
225g washing soda
This washing powder yields good results, but it doesn’t foam up like the commercially purchased powders.
Grate the bar of soap. Mix the washing soda and borax together thoroughly stir in the grated soap and ensure a good even mix.
Store the mixture in an airtight container
Use one tbsp per wash
As I flick through 1950’s household manual I came across a great recipe for a stain removing spray using ammonia and bicarbonate of soda, I’ve tweaked it slightly and here is my version
- 60ml liquid soap (plain)
- 100ml ammonia
- 6 Tbsp bicarbonate soda
- 200ml warm water
- Mix together all the ingredients in a medium bowl. Using a funnel, pour into an old spray bottle.
- To use, shake the bottle well because the baking soda does settle to the bottom. Spray as you normally would on a stain then launder.
It’s great at getting out stains including tomato based ones and also grass stains.
I must say that I’m glad not to have to adhere to the Monday wash day ordeal, but the recipes and tips from the housewife manuals are very effective.