Advert for the Blue House Laundry
Printer: Wilkes & Co
Medium: Print on paper
19th-century laundresses worked to a strict and backbreaking regimen. First, they collected the washing from the homes of customers and sorted them. Then they treated particularly obvious stains with detergent and left the clothes to soak overnight. The following morning, the laundress would put the clothes into tubs of soapy water, beat them with a long-handled device known as a dolly, and scrub them on a washing board. The clothes would then be rinsed free of soap, run through a mangle to remove excess water, and hung up to dry. The final step was ironing the clothes. Only then would the items be returned to the customers.
Mayhew’s 1861 volume, 'London Labour and The London Poor', suggests that a laundress washing clothes for a family of 6 would earn just 8½ pence a week inclusive of the costs of soap, soda, starch and coal to heat the water.