diary · family · History · Kids · Parenting

Nan’s Diary: Childcare

In Nan’s era, it was assumed once you got married that you would give up work, have children and spend all your days on unpaid childcare and housework. Sounds like pandemic-era Britain!

Ashcombe Road in Dorking.

‘Taking the children out every day, either in the morning or afternoon, didn’t leave much time during the day for washing, ironing and cleaning downstairs, so all of this had to be done in the evenings. You must remember that there was no loading up of a washing machine, leaving it, and returning to find it all done. So, apart from the white things being boiled up in an electric boiler, all the washing was done by hand; if the things were really dirty, they had to be soaked first. When towels, sheets, pillow cases and nappies (Turkish towelling) had been boiled, they were removed from the copper with a copper stick, put into a sink of cold water, then rinsed out through the wringer, which was outside the back door on a stand; all the water wrung out would be caught in a large bucket or small bath. This was not a conducive job on a cold winter’s night as you can imagine, but it couldn’t be done any other way.

After that lot was done then the coloured clothes had to be tackled. I did the children’s things after washing up the breakfast things every day. I usually had a long line of washing every day and if the weather was bad, essential things (baby clothes for instance) had to be dried on clothes horses round the fire.

We had two fires, one in the lounge and the other in the dining room, so when I couldn’t dry things outside, one room was kept for drying clothes. The fires could be kept on all night by banking them up, so I managed to dry things overnight.

There wasn’t very much in the way of central heating – in fact, there was none at Ashcombe Road – so we couldn’t drape washing on radiators as can be done nowadays. Ironing was done every day and I usually did this when one or other of the boys was asleep during the day. So you can see the period spent in Dorking was centred round the children; with all this, I had no time for outside interests.

We never went out ‘en famille’ – the only treat was to visit the football ground and watch football. The football club also had monthly dances and this was the only outing I had. Les was involved with the organisation of social events, so I didn’t see much of him. I let my hair down a bit on these occasions by having a few drinks – as I wasn’t used to alcohol, it didn’t take too much to make me squiffy and the evenings would pass in an alcoholic haze, or Worthington haze, as I stuck to that drink most of the time. There were a few fellows who felt sorry for me and danced with me, and as I hadn’t danced since the war, it was another sort of world.

When the boys were little, fathers didn’t spend much time playing with them or taking them out, it was all left to the ‘little woman’. I spent hours throwing and catching balls, playing football, teaching them how to ride their bikes (when they got two-wheelers) and taking them to the swings on the recreation ground near to where we lived.’


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