What are Wash-houses and Laundry-Related Rooms?

Wash-houses

A Laundry Maid Ironing, by Henry Robert Morland, Eighteenth Century, Public Domain

Because eighteenth and nineteenth century houses generated lots of laundry, laundry facilities were an important part of any home. Sometimes laundry facilities were completely separate from a house and located near the Stables, but it was a chore to move the entire laundry of household to an area far from the house. One reason laundry facilities might be located next to the Stables was because it was difficult to attach Drying or Bleaching grounds near a house. Part of the decision about laundry locations was often based on the number of inferior servants tasked with accomplishing the chore. Additionally, if the mistress of the house or the head laundress wanted to supervise laundry operations more closely, and if drying outdoors was dispensed with, indoor drying might be used it. Among the areas associated with laundry were the Wash-house, Laundry, Drying-room and Hot Closet, Linen-room, and Soiled-Linen Closet.

  • Wash-house: For a country home a Wash-house was usually 20 to 30 feet by 15 to 20 feet wide. It needed to allow steam to escape and fresh air to be admitted, which meant numerous air-flues, louvered ventilators, etc. needed be provided. If a Wash-house was attached to a house, it needed to be placed far away from the lawn and rooms families used so as to avoid permeating such areas with laundry smells. Wash-houses usually had a dresser containing several wash trays with hot and cold water. These trays had a plug and a way to let the water drain. There was usually some sort of grated washer to scrub clothes with wooden boards in front of them. Sometimes boilers supplied hot water and sometimes some sort of washing/wringer machine (the first patent for these was in 1691) was available. There was also a large table to help fold clothes and a stone floor with a drain to allow water to flow away. In front of the wash trays were standing boards to ensure stable footing for the laundry maid. Additionally, it was also nice to place such a room near the Coal-cellar or have a special coal or wood bin close by.
220px-A_Woman_doing_Laundry_by_Henry_Robert_Morland

A Woman Doing Laundry, by Henry Robert Morland, Eighteenth Century, Courtesy of Wikipedia

  • Laundry: The Laundry needed to be larger than the Wash-house. It also needed to be well lit, ventilated, and made from wood. Laundries contained ironing tables, an ironing stove (which was a closed stove or hot-plate on which the irons were heated), a spare table, and a mangle (called a wringer in the US). Later, a mangle also referred to a piece of equipment that pressed or flattened sheets, towels, and other laundry or its equivalent. Average ironing tables were 6 to 8 feet long by 3 or 4 feet wide. The Wash-house and Laundry were generally placed so has to have intercommunication between the two. Sometimes the Laundry was placed over the Wash-house with stairs for access. In small houses, laundry work was done in the Kitchen and in even smaller houses, the Wash-house and Scullery were often combined into one room. If the Laundry was placed at distance from the house, there might be a small Wash-house inside the home that was used by ladies’-maids and it might also contain an ironing table. In larger houses, however, where ladies’-maids needed to do frequent starching, these maids usually had their own rooms or these functions might be accommodated within one of the Nursery-rooms.
  • Drying-room and Hot Closet: To accomplish drying indoors, there were Drying-rooms and Hot Closets. Drying-rooms inside houses were somewhat old-fashioned by the mid 1800s. They were usually placed on upper room floors or in a large loft with louvered ventilators. Linen was hung on horses that ran up to the ceiling by weights, and by using stoves or hot-water coils in the floor, the temperature was regulated so as to evaporate the moisture quickly. By the mid 1800s one improvement over Drying-rooms was the Hot-Closet. It was a walled chamber attached to the Laundry and about 6 or 8 feet square. It contained numerous horses or upright frames that slide side by side and were drawn out to their full length to be loaded with wet laundry and then pushed back into the closet where a series of coil of hot-water pipes helped with rapid evaporation. The steam escaped through a flue, crevices, or shutters attached to the horses. The hot-water circulation for this usually required some sort of special furnace underneath or at one side.
  • Linen-room: Linen-rooms held bedding and table linen and were usually placed near Bedrooms. Personnel linen was stored in Bedrooms or Dressing-rooms and table linen in use was usually placed somewhere with the butler. Linen-rooms were generally furnished with closets (based on the size of the house), dressers for folding linens, sliding trays, shelves, and drawers. Linen-rooms were usually conveniently located near servant areas and were dry, well-ventilated rooms with either a fireplace or some sort of heating apparatus if no fireplace was available. There were also sometimes special Closets to store extra bedding or upholstery in these rooms.
  • Soiled-Linen Closet: These closets were used to hold soiled items and were usually long and narrow. They were found either near Bedrooms or near the Wash-house. They were often designed to ensure garments would not be pilfered if the door was left unlocked. There was usually some sort of shelves in these closets for sorting clothing. Sometimes, bins or boxes inside a Wash-house functioned in the same way as a Soiled-Linen Closet. Inside a small house, a well-ventilated closet might serve the same purpose or there might be a shoot through which clothes fell from a top floor to a floor beneath.

References:

  • Kerr, Robert, The Gentleman’s House, 1865

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