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Stan Clark - Painting Bath Night at Camp Hill

Other Stan Clark Picture Stories

When we moved from the old house opposite Bugbrooke Village Hall in 1944 to 6 Camp Hill (now 41), Friday evening was always bath night. Mother would fill the copper in the kitchen with soft water from one of the water butts that collected the rain water from the down pipe from the roof of the house. A fire would be lit under the copper using the wood we had collected on our sticking exploits. We would use one of mother’s old prams to collect as much wood as we could find, filling it up time after time. It saved quite a lot of money as coal was very expensive and too valuable to use under the copper, as mother would say. We travelled miles collecting wood, especially to where anyone was cutting a hedge. We would pick up every bit of spare wood down to the chips that came from the cutting of the timber when they laid the hedge, as well as boughs that had fallen off some of the trees. Nothing was too heavy or large for us to cart home with that old pram. Smiths Lane was at one time one of our best sticking places when we lived in the old house, but at Camp Hill we had more scope and a larger area to go sticking in.

When the water was hot enough, mother would bath our two youngest sisters in the tin bath that stood in front of the kitchen grate. When mother had finished bathing them she would dry and dress them and put them to bed, and then get some more hot water from out of the copper to top-up the tin bath for me and my younger brother to get in together.

The old grate had an oven on the left side and a boiler on the right side, with different contraptions that held cooking pots and kettles, giving you several different ways of cooking over the top of it. This oven would bake lovely Yorkshire pudding on Sundays, or porridge overnight ready for breakfast in the morning. The only time the fire was let to go out was when the chimney was swept. It was always banked up in the late evenings with coal-slack to keep it going over night, so in the mornings, with a bit of raking about, the fire would burst into life, giving dad hot water for a shave from the boiler and a kettle of hot water to make a pot of tea.

The copper stood next to the grate in a corner to the right of it. In this room there was no plaster or paper on the walls, just painted bricks, because when the copper was used the condensation would make it nearly impossible to keep any wallpaper sticking on the walls. On washdays the condensation would run down the walls making pools of water on the tiles of the kitchen floor.

Next to the tin bath we always had a lovely pegged rug to stand on when drying ourselves, this was made from cutting down the sides of a sack, thus opening it up, followed by marking out a pattern of sorts onto it to follow, and with old colourer clothing etc that had been cut up into small strips, and by the use of a wooden peg to make holes in the sacking, enabling us to fix these coloured bits of materials to it, hence the name of Peg Rug.

While we were having our bath, mother would have our youngest sister's nappies hanging up on one of the lines to dry, as well as the odd hand flannel. Hanging on the large Fire Guard, would be towels that had been used, and were and hung up to dry, or being warmed up ready to dry ourselves of with.

The oven would be used at the same time to bake some thing in it, as mother did not like wasting the heat that was produced, either on wash day, or bath night, the old copper kettle would be singing away, and always ready to make pots of tea with, the two large cooking pots that hung up over the fire would also be bubbling away, boiling up a stew in one, and a suet pudding in the other, mother always had spare buckets of soft water at the ready to top up the copper with, as it did not have to boil dry for the damage that could be done to it by doing so.

The difference in having a bath in rain water (soft water) from hard water (tap water or water from the well), is so different as the soap when bating in soft water gives out more lather, and the same when you wash your hair, with soft water it leaves it so soft and shiny, but hard water does not, and the feeling it gives you is so different from washing in one to the other, (try it some time for the experience and see for yourself ), one of fathers relations a Mr Malin a hair dresser from Northampton, would pay mother at times for some of this soft water, for he used it to wash some of his best lady clients hair in it, due to the condition it left the hair in when washed with it, he would collect it in a trailer carrying a forty five gallon drum.

Mother would prefer to do all the washing of the clothes in this soft water, as it not only left your hair feeling good, but it also left your clothes feeling very soft, as well as a different smell that it gave off when doing so, the other produce mother used was Blue, she used to have several lumps of this in an old sock that she dunked several times into the copper while it was on the boil, she said that it helped to get all the whites whiter, also if we were to get stung by a bee or wasp, mother would smear some of this Blue onto where we had been stung, we never wore pants under our short trousers, so when digging out wasps nest to get the grubs to go fishing with, the odd one got up our pants, so at times we had Blue coloured parts of our anatomy!

On the mantelpiece there would be two candle sticks always at the ready, for if at such time the shilling in the electric meter ran out, when we would be left in the dark at short notice, they were to be soon lit up giving us some light, until the meter had another coin inserted into it giving us the electric lighting back again, we had two pots full of spills to light these candles from the fire in the grate, or to light any candles that were required to light up the outside toilet in the yard, that is if the wind did not blow it out, (indoor flush toilets were several years away).

We had other pots on this mantelpiece, one for the pennies that were used for the gas meter that was situated up one of the corners in the front room, and the other one for the shillings that the electric meter used, this meter was up over the top of the back door, and a chair, or such likes had to be used to reach it in order to put the coins in, for us young ones even with a chair we could not reach it.

The clock that stood in the centre of the mantelshelf was always looked after by Dad and it was not to be touched by anyone else, to one side hanging on the wall was to be dad leather strap that he used to strap up his cut throat razor with, before shaving, and resting on the top of the bend of the flue from the old copper, was where dad kept his saving mug and razor, I was to get up to this shaving kit at one time, and had a go at strapping his razor as he did, but I was to finish up cutting his leather strap in half, I quite expected a good hiding from doing so, but I did not, but mother made him use a safety razor after this episode, and the cut throat razor was put away for safety reasons.

The table we had in the kitchen could be folded up, and put to one side on such times as bath night, or at other times when mother was very busy using the copper on wash days, mother used a large ladle to get the hot water from out of the copper with, and the large lid was always stood up at the back of the copper on its edge, this lid and mothers copper stick, would be white with the constant use of being subjected to boiling water, for mother would hold this large stick in her hand, with one end under her forearm for leverage, in order to lift out the large bed sheets from out of the copper and into the sink, where by she would fold it up, and put it through the large mangle, mother would let us try to turn the handle of this mangle, but it was always to hard for us to do so until we grew up and were stronger.

If and when we played mother up, she would make a dash for this large copper stick, and if we were not quick enough, we soon felt the end of it, mother stood over six feet tall in her prime, she was a large lady, her hand hurt us more that the copper stick did.

I think what with all the water she had to carry from the water pump, either for drinking, or at bath times when the barrels were empty by the back door, when and if she had run out of soft rain water, along with doing all the heavy washing and mangling etc, made the women of the day very strong through all the hard work, for myself I was the forth child out of mothers seven children, I think that alone bringing us up was enough for her to do, let alone anything else.

I think the only draw back for mother with the kitchen up Camp Hill, compared with the kitchen that we had down the old house, was that mother down the old house could tip the bath tub up, and spill the water out from the tin bath onto the floor and by doing so she could with a yard brush clean the floor with the hot water, followed by just sweeping it out of the doorway into the yard, for there were no sills on the old house doorway, only a groove in the York stone slab flooring where they were worn away over the years, the old house door had a threshold board that was put into place when it was wet or snowy, to stop the wet from coming under the door.

The house up Camp Hill had a door sill, it not only kept the water out, but if and when the floor got wet, it meant a lot of mopping up with mop and bucket.

Every bath night from 1944 onwards, several of the women from either blocks of the houses would always be in our kitchen talking to mother and drinking tea, until us young boys grew up, and we would not bathe with any ones else in the room other than mother.

While we were having our bath, mother would wash the clothes that we had taken off, and they would be dried out ready for us to put back on in the morning. 

As to the bath water, whether anyone else used or got into this water after we had been sent to bed I do not know, but in some houses the water was never thrown away until everyone in the house had a bath using the same water.

All the ashes from the kitchen fire grate were to be spread up the garden path from top to bottom, all one hundred and ten yards of it, for it was twenty pole of land with another twenty pole over the other side of the gardens, Gayton Road side of the plot, Forty pole of land to each house at the time.

The ashes from under the copper, due to them be of all wood ash, were to be spread onto the garden as it was good for the soil, as was the amount of times the toilet bucket was emptied on to it as well.

Some ashes were saved to put into the toilet bucket on the days the smell was strong from it, especially on the very long hot summer days.

It was just the way things were for us at the time, with our once a week bath.

Stanley J oseph Clark.