A tin bath by the fire…
We were lucky enough to have a bathroom and running hot water, but bathtime was only once a week – usually on Sunday, ready for school on Monday. The part I dreaded was having my hair washed which meant stinging eyes from the shampoo, rough drying with a towel followed by the agony of having all the tangles combed out. Ouch! Things were very different for Barbara Smith who was one of six children: “On Friday night the tin bath was put in front of the fire in the living room and filled with water from a boiler in the kitchen. We were bathed two at a time with the water being topped up after each session. Mum washed us and Dad dried. After a cup of milk and a slice of bread, Dad gave us a fireman’s lift up the stairs to bed.”
Edwina Jones’ family had a similar routine. “Once my two younger sisters had been bathed, dried and put in warmed vests, liberty bodices and pyjamas, it was my turn. By then the water had gone cool and I wanted to get out quickly. I caught my foot on the edge of the bath, it tipped over and water flooded all over the floor. I had a smacked bottom for that!” One bar of soap went a long way in Theresa Ellis’s family: “Eight children went one after the other into the same water with the same flannel in a freezing
Every issue, Yours writer Marion Clarke will be reliving the best bits of our lives. This fortnight, the time when ensuite bathrooms were something we could only dream of...
‘Eight children went in one after the other into the same water...’
bathroom and nobody ever caught anything from any of the others. The secret was the big bar of carbolic soap that killed every germ in its wake, then went on to scrub the clothes on Monday and the floors on Friday before finding its way back into the bath on Saturday!” Having a bath in front of the fire in the kitchen was the highlight of Saturday night for Brenda Watt, but there was a downside: “No bathroom also meant having an outside toilet. During the day I hated my trips to the toilet because of the spiders and the daddylong-legs on the walls. At night I went armed with a torch and my faithful dog Pip who must have dreaded me waking him up to be my escort.” Having a bathroom was not always better than a cosy soak in front of the fire, as Sylvia Washington discovered: “Even when we had a proper bath installed in our cottage, there was no heating. In the winter months a paraffin stove was lit, but it was barely adequate. On one occasion it burst into flames and a cloud of
thick black smoke filled the room. My dad quickly threw a sack over it and ran outside to put it out in the snow.” In 1962, Caroline Thompson’s family moved to a farm in Aberdeenshire: “We had no electricity, no bathroom and water was heated by a coal fire and back boiler. Poor Mum! She used to bathe me and my two brothers (all under five) in the scullery sink. It was a big, deep sink for washing clothes and we’d stand on the draining board while she dried us.”
After Janet Russell’s mum had done the laundry, she used the soapy water to wash Janet: “I can remember as a child being put in the ‘dolly tub’ after Mum had washed the whites. I think she used Acdo washing powder. My skin is OK so it couldn’t have done me any harm!”
Sue Payne’s happiest bathtime memory was on the eve of her wedding in 1966. “My family had just got a long (person-sized) tin bath. I boiled kettles and saucepans of water, sprinkled in lavender-scented bath cubes, put on a shower cap to protect my newly set hair and indulged in a lovely long bath in the warmth of the kitchen heated by the gas stove. Absolute bliss.”
When Pat Rose got married in the Sixties, she and her husband rented rooms in an old house: “There was a bath in my tiny kitchen, hidden under a hinged worktop. To have a bath, I had to lift up the worktop and secure it against the wall with two large hooks. It was rather surreal to sit in the bath surrounded by my washing machine, cooker and kitchen cabinet.”
Pat Warminger also started married life in a rented flat with no bathroom: “When we got our own home I ran straight up to the lovely new bathroom and climbed fully clothed into the empty bath just to see what it was like!” For folk with no bathroom, a visit to the public baths was the usual option, as Sylvia Elliott recalls: “It cost fourpence and you were given a towel and a piece of soap. The attendant (who looked like an army sergeant) put the water in from outside the cubicle. You only had a few inches so you had to be quick before it went cold. If you took longer than the time allowed, the attendant would bang on the door!”
On his weekly visit to the public baths, ten-year-old Alan Dury liked to sing. Once, in the middle of his rendition of Oh Shenandoah, someone joined in with ‘Far away, you rolling river’... “Feeling embarrassed, I stopped. ‘Carry on!’ called out a voice – so we continued in unison.” Bet that had the attendant banging on the cubicle door! ■ More bathtime tales next issue É
‘Poor Mum used to bathe me and my brothers in the scullery sink’
Ivy Lewis’s son Stewart had fun in his daily bath in front of the fire!
Barbara Smith with bathmates Stanley and Harold
Marion as a young girl