RETRO: Soap suds and friendship

LAUNDRY, Attercliffe.. Wash Day blues and ladies with their prams full of washing in 1962
LAUNDRY, Attercliffe.. Wash Day blues and ladies with their prams full of washing in 1962
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Oh the stories that were told – and probably still are – in launderettes across Sheffield.

Thousands of women worked long hours for many decades to ensure our city always had clean sheets for beds and spotless shirts for work.

Ladies at the newly opened Bendix launderette, Mansfield Road, Sheffield....December 5th 1963

Ladies at the newly opened Bendix launderette, Mansfield Road, Sheffield....December 5th 1963

It all started off scrubbing, squeezing and wringing by hand but, of course, over the years technology took over and the era of the good old washing machine changed the look of these centres of cleanliness.

Just like we all rely on the modern machines of today, back then everyone relied on the hard work and elbow grease of the city’s washer women.

Strong friendships were formed among colleagues and often neighbours would make sure their trips to the launderette coincided so they could catch up on each other’s news.

But it couldn’t go on forever for laundries, as was clear in this article from June 25, 1969: “Laundry prices in the Sheffield area are to go up by about 12.5 per cent from the beginning of July.

“Dry cleaning prices will also be raised. This will be by a smaller amount, but one firm said last night they would have to raise their dry cleaning prices by 7.5 per cent.

“Laundry firms are putting up their prices because of the new 28 per cent increase in Selective Employment Tax, which takes effect from June 30.

“Despite rationalisation and attempts at labour saving investment, the firms who absorbed the last increase, say margins are now too small to accommodate any increase in costs.

“The industry is still labour intensive – 50 to 60 per cent of turnover goes in wages and salaries.

“Laundry owners in the area are fearful of the effects of the increased prices on their trade.

“And although they consider coin-op launderettes and dry cleaning to be something of a passing fashion, these, coupled with washing machines at home, must help undermine their competitive position. Laundries in Sheffield have followed the national trend – in Britain they are closing at two or three a week, and the process is accelerating.”

* Did you work in a launderette? Send us your memories and photos for Retro.