Her Tasks

In our late Victorian, suburban family of London, the household's maid of all work Florence, is lucky; the Bush family have chosen to send their washing out. Otherwise, the full process of washing, starching and ironing clothes sometimes lasted four days. By 1900, most people sent their washing out. Previously, dirty washing was accumulated over a month and then have one major wash. Larger homes would employ additional staff to help with this task.

Where washing was done in, the dirtiest clothes might be put in to soak on Saturday. Otherwise, the process would begin on Monday. Items would be washed singly and then plain linen and cotton material boiled in a copper to remove the soap and improve the colour. Everything was then thoroughly rinsed, wrung out and then hung to dry. The cast-iron upright mangle was in use from the 1850s to remove excess water and after drying to smooth the clothes. For items which could not be made smooth with a ringer, a smoothing iron was used. Special designs of iron were used for frills, lace and other delicate fabrics. It was not until the 1890s that electric irons began to appear but they had no thermostat so you had to unplug them when too hot.

In poorer families, all the girls helped, grating soap into a steaming metal tub and churning the clothes with a 'dolly'. Later in the week, the clothes were dried, flat-ironed and aired ready to look smart for Sunday. In better-off homes, wash days were less frequent; perhaps only once a month. The family had enough spare clothes to last longer between washes.

Dolly sticks and possers, used to wash the material began to be superceded by variety of washing machines available from the 1880s. These were essentially tubs mounted in a stand, with a mechanism for agitating the washing. Electric versions were not available until the 20th century.

In her resting moments, Florence has other tasks, such as making lace for the edge of underwear.

In central London there can be as many as 12 postal deliveries a day; in their suburb there are about eight; Florence has to take any post into Julia if she is at home. Otherwise, it is left in a dish in the hall.

In the spring of each year, a major task was to clean the house very thoroughly. Winter curtains were replaced by lighter weight summer ones. Drawers and cupboards were emptied and cleaned. Chimneys were swept, carpets taken up, and any redecorating done. Winter clothes were then put away.

In October or November, winter curtains were fitted once more, summer clothes put away, and the fireplaces again checked.