We had one of those



Mangle / Wringer

Mangling dates back to the beginning of the Eighteenth Century and was a method of making linen smooth rather than removing water. Early mangles used considerable pressure and were quite large and heavy to use. A crank handle would be turned and thebox would move slowly backwards and forwards over the clothes. In Coalbrookdale there were a couple of large mangles which were kept in the communal wash-houses of some of the rows of workers houses. These consisted of a large wooden box, which was filled with stones, with rollers on top. The women for the village would take their washing there and exchange all the local gossip while they were mangling their clothes.

Mangling was good fun until you got tired, so a busy mother could usually persuade a willing child to help out with this part of the washing process, but as the cogs were not protected it was easy for fingers to become trapped in the mechanism.

Smaller models, known as "wringers", would be used for removing water from clothes as soon as they were removed from the wash tub. The pressure of the rollers could be adjusted so the device could be used for either wringing or mangling and some could be bolted to a washing machine or a table, but others were supplied with their own cast iron stands.


Flat Iron / Sad Iron

The first type of Iron Was a Flat iron or Sad iron ("sad" meaning heavy) which could be heated on a fire or kitchen range, or sometimes on a special stand. Sad Irons came in many different sizes and were made from cast iron which made them heavy to lift and often too heavy to hold and use easily. You needed to own several so that a new one could be heated up while one was being used. You could test to see if it was hot enough by spitting on it.

Flat Irons were replaced by Box Irons (hollow metal boxes filled with heated metal or charcoal). One type was the hollow metal box iron with a lift-up door at the back. A small piece of cast iron, which was the same size as the box, would be heated in the fire grate until it was red hot and it would then be placed inside the iron. In a second type, the hollow metal box would be filled with glowing coals from the fire. By inserting a pair of bellows through a hole in the back, the user could raise the temperature although use of the bellows could cause showers of soot and ashes to fall on to the newly washed clothes. 

Electric irons came on to the market in 1890 and were developed with dials to control the heat. Later water compartments were added to provide steam, which made ironing much easier.

sewing machine

Sewing Machine

Before the Sewing Machine was invented, all sewing had to be done by hand. This made clothes very expensive to buy. Clothes were often made at home, but hand sewing was very time consuming and difficult to do by candlelight. Unless you were rich you would own very few clothes. If you were lucky, you would have one set for work and a best set for Sunday.

The Sewing Machine enabled clothes to be produced more quickly and cheaply and "ready-to-wear" clothes became more available. Sewing Machines were also sold to consumers for home use and their sale was a pioneering development of goods for sale by hire purchase.

The name associated most often with the Sewing Machine is Isaac M Singer of Boston, Massachusetts. Singer built the first practical domestic model in 1858, although he had produced an industrial model in 1851. Other types of sewing machine had the material pinned to a plate which passed beneath the needle. This meant that the fabric had to be unpinned and moved along every time the length of the plate had been sewn and also that the operator could only sew in straight lines. Singer’s machine allowed the fabric to be free, which meant it could be turned in any direction. By the end of the Nineteenth Century Singer’s factory at Clydebank in Scotland produced 13,000 sewing machines a week which kept prices low and sales high.

tiled washstand

Tiled Washstand

One of the main uses of tiles in furniture was the washstand, which was a feature of almost every bedroom before piped water supplies and drainage. Quality varied between finely polished imported hardwoods to cheap grained pine, and from expensive hand-painted or tube-lined tiles to those with cheap transfer prints. The Furniture Gazette of 19 July 1879 stated that “the tiles at the back are in every respect preferable to any other expedient for keeping the wall free of splashes, and they help not a little to enhance the effect of the whole”.

Willow Pattern Plate

Nearly every home contains an example of some kind of famous "Willow" Pattern ware. The busy trade in blue and white porcelain between the Orient and England in the late Eighteenth Century led to a great deal of interest in chinoiserie designs and many English pottery manufacturers used them as a basis for their own designs. However, it seems that the elements of the design did not actually all feature in a single Chinese design, but that several elements from different patterns were brought together to create the one design. By 1830 the main features of the pattern had been established and can still be seen today - A willow Tree, 2 birds, a fence in the foreground, a boat, a tea house and 3 figures crossing a bridge. The Caughley factory is believed to have produced the earliest known design featuring a willow tree in 1780, but no reference to a ‘Willow’ pattern appears in any Caughley record books.

tiled bathroom

Tiled Bathroom

In the Nineteenth Century the tiled bathroom was a feature of richer households where piped water and drainage systems were installed, although these features were more common towards the end of the century. Fish, dolphins, seaweed and seashells were popular themes for bathroom tiles and would complement the solid brass taps and other control features of the modern sanitary appliances. As well as decoration, tiles also provided an easy-to-clean surface, although the popularity of tiles was threatened with the introduction of a new coloured sheet glass material, vitrolite.

frying pan

Frying Pan

In Victorian times, gleaming brass and copper saucepans gradually gave way to cast iron pans which did not require so much polishing. Pan handles and lids were made of tinplate, and the handles would be hollow so they did not transmit so much of the heat. Special pans were available for different jobs; the fish kettle (a low oval dish with a lid for cooking fish), the bain marie (for sauces requiring a low heat), the multi-tiered steamer (for cooking vegetables) and the salamander (a piece of iron at the end of a long handle which was placed in the fire until red hot and then held over food to brown it).

tin baths

Tin Baths

Do you remember when you had a bath in front of the fire?

Until the 1960s many houses did not have bathrooms. You would wash at the kitchen sink, or if you were a small child actually in the kitchen sink! An alternative was a wash in a tin bath in front of the fire. This would take place once a week; often on a Saturday night to make sure you were clean to wear your best clothes for church on Sunday.

Baths came in all shapes and sizes. There were small baths for babies and larger hip baths or narrow coffin-like baths for adults. Some were enamelled, but mostly they were plain grey coloured.

Water was heated on the stove or range and had to be carried to the bath tub. The same water was used by the whole family, although some extra warm water might be added. This meant that whoever was last in might not be much cleaner at the end of the process. It was also a good opportunity to give children a dose of caster oil or syrup of figs.

carpet beaters vacuum cleaners

Carpet Beaters & Vacuum Cleaners

This was how women in the past cleaned their carpets and rugs. Carpet beaters were made of bamboo or twisted wire. The carpet beater was cheap and simple to use. It needed no electricity, just a lot of muscle power. To use it you hung the carpet over a clothes line and hit it repeatedly with the beater. Clouds of dust would cover the ground and the person using it, but eventually the carpet would be clean. The real disadvantage was that only small carpets could be cleaned in this way. What was really needed was to take the cleaner to the carpet. 

Simple carpet cleaners, such as the "Eubank", use rollers and brushes to clean the carpet. The dust and fluff is collected in the wooden box. Other early cleaners used suction tubes to suck up the dirt, but this was still a muscle-powered process.

In 1901, Hubert Cecil Booth came up with the idea of sucking up the dirt through a filter. He built a machine that worked well, but was so big it had to be parked outside customers’ houses. He was frequently sued as the noise often frightened passing horses.

It was only when electric motors were added that the process really became any easier. The first small electric cleaner was designed in 1907 by an American named James Murray Spangler. He sold the patent to William Hoover, who became so successful that we now ‘hoover’ the carpet. Had things been different we may have spent time "spanglering" instead. By the 1920s Booth started to produce his own range of small electric cleaners under the Goblin name. These early vacuum cleaners were cylinder types. Upright cleaners were only available from the 1950s and became more popular when houses began to have fitted carpets.

Now there are vacuums which use cyclones and no longer need bags, and there are even robotic vacuum cleaners available which no longer need a human to guide them over the carpet.

chamber pots

Chamber Pots

By the 1880s rich families would have a flushing toilet or "water closet". Patterned ceramic toilets were popular in wealthy households. Poorer families had a toilet in the garden. This consisted of a large pit dug in the ground with a wooden seat across the top. These were hidden by a wooden or brick shed.

Many homes in rural areas did not have an inside toilet until well into the Twentieth Century. This meant a long trek out into the garden to use an earth closet or privy. This was a particular problem at night when it was not easy to find your way in the dark. The solution to this was to use a chamber pot.

Chamber Pots were kept under the bed, although they were available for use in other rooms in the Eighteenth Century. The sideboard in Dale House has space for a pot which could be used while people were dining! 

Chamber Pots were usually ceramic, but tin ones were also used. Patterned chamber pots were used by the adult members of the household. Plain chamber pots were for servants and children. In the Second World War some even had an image of Adolf Hitler in the base.

The contents of the chamber pot were taken out in the morning and tipped down the privy. Before mains sewers were connected, the contents of the privy would be collected by ‘night soil men’ and spread on fields. There were still such collections at Carpenters Row, Coalbrookdale in the 1960s. In rural areas where there was no collection, then you would just dig a new hole. 

Some privies were for single use, others had two holes and there were even family versions with smaller holes for the children.

Privies could be a source of pollution and spread diseases, such as cholera and typhoid, particularly if the contents of them seeped into the water supply. This was a great problem in Victorian cities which was why it was so important to develop a mains sewage system and piped water supplies in the Nineteenth Century.

indian tree jug

A Selection of Coalport Intable wares - 1891 onwards

Do the twisting trees and colourful flowers of Coalport’s Indian Tree pattern look familiar? Maybe you have a piece or two on display at home or tucked away in the attic.

The Indian Tree pattern was the most famous pattern used at the Coalport China Works. It is said the pattern was first produced at Coalport as early as 1801, but most pieces date from the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries when a whole section of the factory was devoted to decorating china with Indian Tree. No-one can be sure where the design came from. One legend had it that the pattern was originally copied from a piece of silk belonging to a soldier in the Shropshire Light Infantry.