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NOSTALGIA: The creation of Kendal's Public Wash House
PITY the poor housewife on Fellside or in a yard in the 19th century. She had a daily struggle to keep the house and her family clean.
She had no hot or cold running water or modern machinery to help her, nor often a clothes line of her own in the open air.
Some of us are old enough to remember the misery of Monday wash day when the living room or kitchen was festooned with damp sheets and clothing.
Keeping the body clean was no sinecure either when men worked in dirty jobs and boys were naturally grubby creatures.
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Prominent citizens were concerned about the plight of the poor and devised ways of helping them such as the dispensary and the soup kitchen.
In 1848 the dispensary closed, leaving an amount of money still in its fund. In 1860 it was considered that the money could be used for a Public Wash House, using the premises in Woolpack Yard vacated by the soup kitchen.
As so often happens, proceedings for obtaining the lease were so protracted that, in 1862 the plan was dropped.
However, all was not lost as a plot of land in Allhallows Lane was bought by a group for £330.
It was in an ideally central location but an awkward shape.
However, the architect Miles Thompson prepared a satisfactory plan and the Public Wash House and Baths opened in 1864.
It must have been like heaven for the women. There were 22 washing stalls, each containing a pot for boiling clothes, a trough for washing them and a dolly tub for larger items.
There were mangles and folding tables and a drying closet with maidens (clothes horses).
Wonder of wonders, there were two machines like spin driers, so no more wringing out.
The damp clothes were dried in just over half an hour and taken home – and you could gossip while you worked!
It cost 3d for two hours and 1 1/2d for each additional hour and it was worth it.
That was not all. There were eight porcelain slipper baths with hot water on tap.
What bliss! No more indignity of ridding oneself of the week’s grime in a zinc bath in the kitchen with water left over from washing the clothes.
For the first time for the majority, it was now possible to bathe in comfort.
If you could afford it, you could have a warm first-class bath or shower for a shilling with a rough and a towel provided. It only cost 6d for a cold bath.
There was a rate of 4d for a warm and 3d for a cold bath.
On Saturday evenings, two females or young children could bath together for 6d and 3d.
You could luxuriate for just half an hour (forty minutes for first-class) and if you lingered you were charged double.
Many Kendalians will remember the fun they had in the swimming baths, which were added in 1883.
The whole complex closed down when the Leisure Centre was opened and houses were fitted with bathrooms as the norm.
After a time as district council offices, the building now serves another good purpose as a public house and restaurant with Miles Thompson’s surname on the tall chimney.
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