A recent TV programme on antiques showed an old washing “mangle” and described it as “a Victorian device that disappeared as the twentieth century arrived”.
That, of course, was nonsense!
True, the mangle had been used during the 18th and 19th centuries and perhaps variations of it had existed previously. Any idea though that these large household appliances simply disappeared overnight in the year 1900, is just wrong.
1960s and 70s Australia
It is sometimes overlooked just how different Australia was 50 or 60 years ago.
Whilst many modern conveniences had made their way into the wealthier homes of those in the cities, in small town and rural areas things were very different. Washing machines and dryers were virtually unheard of and the nearest one got to automation might have been that new-fangled local launderette.
What is certain is that there are many people alive today who can remember their mothers and grandmothers using a mangle to help dry off clothes.
If you’re much under about 40-50, this may sound bizarre to the point of being prehistoric! You might not even have a clue what a mangle is.
Let’s just briefly explain how it worked.
The mangle was a device that consisted of two or more heavy rollers. These were very close together and on some models, the distances between them could be adjusted.
The rollers were typically enclosed in a large and heavy iron frame, to which a gearing mechanism and a handle were attached. Once clothes had been washed, they would be placed into the rollers and that large handle would be cranked around. This would feed the clothes through the rollers and the short clearances meant that very large amounts of surplus water were squeezed out of the wet garments.
This process was sometimes repeated several times and the water was often collected in a large wooden or zinc bucket underneath for use in places such as the garden.
Whatever we believe today in terms of gender neutrality, this was almost exclusively seen as a female household chore.
Some younger people ask why this is necessary, questioning why the clothes weren’t simply hung up on a line to dry naturally.
There are largely three reasons for this:
- in parts of Australia, the winter weather can be pretty grim and drying sunshine and warm winds can be in short supply. Getting as much water out as possible was a big help;
- by and large, most working people had very small wardrobes in terms of how many clothes they owned. For many people, it was essential to get the clothes dry and turned-around as fast as possible, so they could be put on. Remember, many folk only had two or three changes of clothes to their name. Having clothes hanging around damp for days and waiting for them to dry naturally, was therefore not an option;
- believe it or not, some people said the “finish” on clothes that had been through the mangle was better than those that had dried naturally!
Washing machines and tumble dryers have now made mangles largely extinct and they exist almost exclusively as curios in various forms of museum.
They can still be purchased for relatively modest sums of money at auctions and in antique shops. Some people see them as highly decorative and quaint items which remind them of how their grandparents and ancestors used to do things.
Of course, using them could be very physically demanding. Doing the washing, including using the mangle, was one of those heavy household chores usually considered to be the preserve of younger women and their daughters in the household. Older women, such as grandmothers, might have typically been more associated with things such as pressing and ironing.
At Sterling First Gold Coast we can guarantee you that the interests and comfort of senior citizens is at the forefront of our considerations. So, we won’t be recommending that you install an active working mangle in any properties we have assisted you in finding!