Francesca looks at how a working class woman would have spent her week a hundred odd years ago
Polly Smith, in the latest instalment of Trouble in the Valleys, is not having an easy time of it. She has to work, bring up her child, and help her mother out in the home. She is at least lucky enough to have a mother and sister who can help with child care as she works, but there's still a lot to do. Even the full time housewives of the time struggled to keep on top of things. The work at home was more than a full time job in itself, and a lot harder than it is today.
For a start, imagine doing without your vacuum cleaner, washing machine, fan oven with controllable temperature, dishwasher, fridge and freezer. I wonder if you could stand even a week without at least some of them.
Turn back the clock a hundred or so years, and imagine yourself having none of those conveniences to hand. Let's start with your lack of washing machine, not to mention the tumble dryer.
It's Monday, a typical wash day. You have your washing board standing in the sink, which is full of water (boiled, as you have no running hot water). You've made the water nice and soapy, not with your super powerful laundry liquid or washing powder, but with a bar of soap, maybe Puritan or Sunlight. To get the clothes clean, you haven't got the drum action of your washing machine, but have to rub them rigorously against the washing board. You'll change the water two or three times while you're washing.
Then comes the rinsing. Seven times should do it, possible. Next, get them them through the mangle to squeeze out excess water. Now you can put them into your basket and hang them out on the washing line, a nice long, rope one of course, none of your rotary lines. If it's raining, you might be lucky enough to have an indoor dryer hanging from the ceiling in the kitchen, near the range.
If you happen to be a miner's wife, you'll probably wash the pit clothes separately in a wooden tub in the back yard. You'll use a dolly, a pole with several short legs to pummel the clothes. As for blankets and curtains, you'll likely wash them in the zinc bath your husband bathes in. You'll need to boil a few buckets of water for that.
Come Tuesday you'll be thinking about ironing. You won't have one of those
electric ones on which you can adjust the heat. Your flat iron will be sitting on the grate, getting hot. You'll sprinkle each item with water and roll it up to dampen it. To test the temperature, spitting on the iron is favourite. Once it's sizzling nicely, you'll insert it into a metal cover so that the clothes aren't soiled by the ash it might have picked up.
Now you've been nicely tired out by all that activity, it must be time for a rest, yes?
Welsh cakes (or 'bakestones') would have been a popular bake - when the ingredients were available.