Before the days of washing machines several different devices were used to make the arduous work of the laundry easier.
The modern washing machine is one of the greatest labour-saving devices ever invented. Before such machines were available, washing was an arduous job involving a great amount of time and physical labour. It usually involved three main stages soaking, scrubbing and boiling.
The most fundamental piece of equipment in pre-machine days was the washtub. For a heavy wash, the stout wooden-staved tubs that
had been used for centuries were eventually replaced by barrel-shaped metal 'dolly tubs' with corrugated sides. These were still being advertised and sold in Britain in the 1940s.
The housewife or laundress used a variety of simple aids to agitate the wash. The washing dolly was a long wooden stick with a crossbar near the top; the base resembled a stool, with several stumps splaying out from a small horizontal disc. The dolly, held by the crossbar, was thrust deep into the tub and moved up and down and round and round.
Similar devices were the punch and the posser (or poss-stick). The punch was a long stick ending in a cylinder with notches cut out from the sides. The posser consisted of a metal cone, usually perforated and most often made of copper, attached to a long handle. It achieved its effect partly through suction.
Another important laundering implement was the corrugated washboard of wood, glass or metal, which stood in the tub; some models incorporated the board into the tub, which was sold as a unit. A more primitive device was the washing bat, a club-like wooden object used to pound wet linen.
After soaking and washing - and intermittent wringing and rinsing - the wash was boiled in a copper (it was called this even when it was made of other materials), where it was moved about, then lifted out with a stick.
When the washing (including blueing, starching and other processes) was finally over, it had to be dried. In the country it could be laid on the grass or hedges or pegged to a line, but in towns the polluted atmosphere was liable to spoil the laundress's handiwork with smuts and specks. The alternative was to dry washing indoors, for which various racks and clothes-horses were devised; some could be raised to the ceiling in order to save space.
Last of all came smoothing, with or without an iron. In large households this was usually done with a linen press, consisting of a frame within which a heavy board could be lowered and tightened by turning a handle.
LAUNDRY COLLECTOR'S NOTES
Because they were put to repeated heavy use, laundry aids tended to become worn out or broken. Nevertheless, as they were such fundamental everyday tools, used in virtually every household in the land, they were made in huge quantities and are not difficult to find.
Most of the objects used in the laundry were made of either wood (often pine) or metal, and were subject to the usual deterioration that these materials suffer.
You should look out for signs of rust on metal and for splitting on wood. You will be unlikely to find any laundry accessories in immaculate condition, but obviously the fewer signs of wear and tear the better.
Because they were made for such intensive practical use, these objects tend to be absolutely simple and straightforward in form, with no frills or decoration. This rugged simplicity often appeals strongly to modern taste and they can be displayed almost as sculptural
They often look particularly good when seen in kitchens decorated in the rustic style, with plain whitewashed walls and stone floors.
Most items can still be picked up fairly inexpensively. They are likely to be found at house sales as well as in antiques shops.
However, you will have to pay more for the most substantial and desirable objects among laundry aids - linen presses. These were placed on top of a chest or cupboard in which the finished linen could be stored. From the late 19th century, some presses were manufactured with their own built-in drawers.