Trainspotting and Washday Blues


This month we are treated to a ‘double header’ along with great
‘clip art’ from Eric Sanderson.
Trainspotting and Washing the Blues Away

Capture.PNG trainspottin1

This yarn is not a potted summary of Irvine Walsh’s 1993 black comedy, far from it.
It’s more about a youthful hobby which was prevalent in the 40’s & 50’s among young boys (I never knew or saw any girls following this pastime – perhaps they were more sensible) but which now seems to have disappeared, except amongst more serious, adult watchers.
Unfortunately, for those people, the pastime has now acquired a few unpleasant soubriquets such as “Anoraks” , “boring” and even more insulting ones.
But for us, in those times, it was a perfectly acceptable hobby and we were particularly fortunate in East Leeds in being close to not only a main line express track, but also the maintenance & repair sheds at Neville Hill close by the south side of East End Park and so providing lots of activity and adding to your spotting record.

Small pocket books were produced listing all the locomotives belonging to that particular rail company, L.N.E.R ; L.M.S.; G.W. etc as each locomotive had it’s own unique number and many also had names. I think also the booklets separated the locos into different types , but I’m a little hazy on that one.
Our favourite spotting place was at the top of the little ginnel which ran from the bridge on East Park Parade right along the southern boundary of East End Park, all the way to the sheds at Neville Hill. It was there for use by the railwaymen in order to get to work but it was a good vantage point for spotting as it was elevated and easy to spot the express trains were emerging from the cutting which ran down towards Marsh Lane.
Certain locomotives were prized sightings such as Mallard ; Sir Nigel Gresley ; Flying Scotsman & so on and once spotted , they were happily ticked off in your pocket book.

The main line running by EEP was the LNER line, running up the East side of the country to York, Newcastle, Edinburgh, Aberdeen etc and the express trains would be running at fairly high speed by the time they reached EEP. & often featured some well known names
However, the considerable sidings leading up to the round house sheds saw the locomotives in for servicing or repair trundling by more slowly and many of the “famous “ engines made their appearance from time to time at Neville Hill enabling a good sighting and ticking off lots in you pocket book.

A separate pocket book for L.M.S. was necessary and used for those generally running up the West side of the country and to “spot” those, a visit to the old Leeds Central Station, now no longer there, was needed. I think there was also a maintenance/ repair sheds for LMS locos at Copley Hill in Wortley where sightings were also possible
A train driver was highly regarded in those days but it was also usually resulted in a dirty visage. We had a train driver neighbour ( and a footplate man) and I remember they both used to come home covered in coal dust – hardly surprising given the nature of the combustion system.

At one time, I was the proud owner of a Hornby Dublo trainset , the locomotive being the Duchess of Athol. It had a reasonably good layout which needed the table extensions to accommodate the track & sidings. The problem was that it took so long to set up that by the time you were ready to go, you’re enthusiasm was already all used up.
It had one neat section of track which by flicking a lever, would uncouple a coach whilst on the move , saving you having to stop the set to lift off the coach which could derail the whole train, It was then easy to shunt the decoupled coach into a siding where it could be easily recoupled automatically. See what I mean about boring?.

So although today, trainspotting is the butt of many a cynical jibe, it passed many hours of summertime holiday pleasure for some of us young lads , perched on the buttress of the East Park Parade bridge, excitedly waiting for “the big one”.
I doubt if today’s youngsters would find this pastime attractive when they can spend their time crashing fast cars and exterminating whole civilisations without leaving their armchair.

Capture.PNG trainspotting 2


Capture.PNG new washday clip1

Way back when, washdays were usually restricted to one day a week and were often frantic, hectic times where housewives had to put in a lot of extra work in addition to their normal daily chores. At least that’s how I remember it and sometimes, a little inaccuracy can save a ton of explanation.
I forget now just which day it was for us but everyone seemed to do the weekly wash on the same day and weather played an important part too, as getting the stuff dry, before the days of home driers, was just as important & difficult if the weather was bad.
Several techniques were in use ,ranging from laundries to hand effected washes with rudimentary equipment and sometimes combinations of methods.
The area was served by two laundries, the Times Laundry just opposite the Slip Inn and the Easy Laundry just off Easy Road, both quite large establishments and so must have been popular and widely used as they’d been operating there for many years They both had collection and delivery services and survived ( I think) well into the fifties.
Another popular method was the Wash-house. These Victorian facilities were provided by the local bath houses and resembled an inferno like scene where huge steam heated wash tubs and driers trembled and throbbed away, emitting clouds of steam and condensate . Even so, it was popular as the whole process , except for ironing, could be done in one go, without any mess and steam condensation streaming down the house walls. A problem was the limited number of people that could be accommodated at any one time and such bookings were highly prized and jealously guarded. The usual pattern and a common sight was an old pram , piled high with the weeks washing being trundled along to the wash-house, very often being pushed along by youngsters as a means of earning a little pocket money.
Another very common method was the use of a cauldron of boiling water, either in the kitchen or basement with the washing being agitated by means of a copper or zinc bell shaped device on the end of a pole, called a “posser”, poking and stirring the wash in the cauldron or otherwise the “peggy tub”.
This always resulted in billowing clouds of steam and streaming walls, scalding by the boiling water being not unknown. The finished wash then had to be wrung out, usually by means of a huge hand cranked wringer, passing through several times with increasing pressure being applied to the wringer rollers, at least until the advent of a powered wringer. This was a major labour saving device which was clamped to the sink but did have the hazard of trapping fingers from time to time. The resulting smell of damp & washing powder though, often hung about for days.
More often than not, the washing was then hung out to dry on lines slung across the garden or street. Line after line of drying washing, flapping in the breeze, meant it was a “no go” area for most as if you happened to brush anyone’s washing, a torrent of abuse quickly followed. A collapsing line, trailing the washing on the ground was cause for national disaster.
Some homes had a “clothes horse” suspended from the ceiling on a rope & pulley system , usually close to an open fireplace, which was lowered down to drape the washing over it & then raised to catch the rising warm air to help the drying process.
Starch always seemed to be shovelled in by the spadeful and I still shudder at the over stiff shirt collars which rubbed your neck so sore that fastening your tie was nothing short of torture, especially in hot weather. I couldn’t even imagine the discomfort of men’s detachable , highly starched collars, it always looked like purgatory to me. Even to this day, the use of any other than minimal starch makes me cringe.
Progress came with the gradual introduction of domestic washing machines with debate over the merits of agitator versus spin type ,which had the advantage of partial drying with the high speed spinning drum. Plumbed in washing machines were a real step forward and saw the demise of the more traditional methods.
Then came the ultimate convenience, Laundrettes. The first I remember was in the York Road, on the parade of shops adjacent to Victoria school. They often combined the ability to get the wash done by fully automatic machines whilst at the same time being able do the shopping .
Nowadays, the washing and drying is much less labour intensive and time consuming but so far as I can see, the one aspect which has changed little is the ironing. Apart from the development in the irons themselves, ironing seems to remain the most irksome task for most.
Although at times, it may seem tempting to turn back the hands of time but I doubt if anyone would want to go back to the wash day blues.


i capture roning board


Thanks for those great memories, Eric.

Neville Hill hopper

9 Responses to “Trainspotting and Washday Blues”

  1. peterwwood Says:

    Great memories of trainspotting, Eric. I recall you could buy an L.N.E.R stock book from the house shop on the gable end of one of the May streets. Peck’s I believe he shop was called. The book had a colourful cover and inside was listed all the names/numbers of the L.N.E.R stock. You underlined the entry once you had seen the engine. There were a few L.M.S engines which ran along the ‘navvy’ but they were mainly slow moving goods trains. There was a magic about collecting train names/numbers allied to the smell of steam and smoke, today’s youth don’t know what they missed. When I was young my mam wouldn’t let me go spotting to Neville Hill she said it was too dangerous, but I was allowed to watch cricket at East Leeds CC and from there you could spot the names and numbers as they passed on the Neville Hill line (of course in those days we had decent eyesight today I would be lucky if I even saw the train) It was a red letter day if you heard the distinctive whistle of a ‘streak’. ‘Streak’ would be the cry and every young lad worth his salt would rush to gain a vantage point. As Eric mentioned it was usually Sir Nigel Gresely which was a bit of a disappointment as we had all seen it many times before and you could only claim it once. great days indeed, Eric. Thanks for the memories.

  2. Eric Says:

    Appreciate your comments Pete.
    Your sketch of the Neville Hill Coal Hopper is just how I remember it, watched the coal filled trucks hauled up there, turned over & emptied many times, endlessly fascinating, as well as seeing the loco tenders filling up. Had forgotten the clock on the Round House though, did it ever work ?.

  3. peterwwood Says:

    The clock did work, Eric. I can vouch for that for I once had to referee a match on the adjacent football pitch because the referee didn’t turn up. I was railroaded into refereeing but apart from not being a referee I had neither watch nor whistle so we agreed that we should be timed by the shed clock and I would wave a hanky in lieu of blowing a whistle. Complete chaos but I threatened to walk away if they didn’t play to the ‘hanky’. We managed to get through the match somehow – which was a proper league match – and I lived to tell the tale.

    Thanks for your kind words on the sketch, Eric but I think I got my perspective out a bit – the train is nearly as big as the shed!

  4. Douglas Says:

    I’ve perched on the railway wall on East Park Road for many an hour watching the trains go by, so your account evoked great nostalgia Eric. Thank you. And I remember washing day so well – it was Mondays in the Glensdales. I recall two types of possing sticks; one a perforated conical thing, and one with three prongs like a three-legged stool. When a vehicle navigated Glensdale Terrace in the 1930’s, the denizons would be out there with their clothes props, lifting the clothes lines with their sundry sheets and shirts, to let the cars, carts, or vans through. I hated Mondays, the semi-dry items of washing would be brought in by tea time and hung over internal lines to “air”. The whole place would be humid, and then the ironing, spitting on the iron to check whether it was hot enough! With regret I remember that as a young man I complained to my dear mother that she scrubbed my collars too hard so that my good shirts were ruined after just a few weeks, but it must have been that a clean shirt had to last a few days, and the sooty atmosphere of Leeds in those days, and the sweaty exertion of walking back and forth to work for 45 minutes each day, probably doomed those inside collars to destruction within just a few vigorous scrubs.
    This morning I loaded the washing machine and hung out the clothes at the cost of about 15 minutes, and no ironing afterwards, just a bit of folding up and putting in the drawer. Talk about productivity! I accomplished in a short while what mam would have spent a whole day’s work on.

  5. Eric Says:

    Douglas – you’re right about the collars, I remember Mum asking me what on earth have you been doing with your shirt collars to get them so black ?- as though we were deliberately rubbing black boot polish into them, which I must admit, sometimes looked like it
    Re washing hung across the streets – do you remember that a few had a more sophisticated arrangement of a pulley fastened to the wall on the opposite side of the street and one on their own side with a clothes line “loop” slung from their bedroom window and so above the traffic and catching the breeze higher up.
    I guess our Mum’s would find today’s mod-cons a miracle and help them lead a much less physically demanding life and who knows,,they might have lived for much longer.

  6. aussiepom Says:

    Like so many very mature people I complain about modern technology and my ability to understand it. Reading Eric’s story made me thankful for new inventions and learning how to use the, I can write short stories on a computer while the washing machine saves hours of back breaking work, the bread machine bakes a perfect loaf, the electric pressure cooker makes dinner and the telephone takes messages. I don’t have to leave my chair while all these chores are completed. I wonder what my Grandma would think of todays housekeeping management. Rise at 5 a.m. press a few buttons, go back to bed for a couple of hours. Thanks for the memories of wash day Eric and for reminding me to be grateful for the appliances I have.

  7. Dave Carncross Says:

    Wash day. Dear God, I used to bloody hate wash days. The kitchen was always wringing wet with steam and my Mam was always in a foul mood. Can’t blame her though. I used to like putting the wet clothes through the mangle though – I even used to do that job for my Aunt Minnie in the next street until one day she was bending over getting something out of the tub and I contrived to wind her long hair into the rollers. Not a happy thought. The new laundrette up Dial Street was always called the “Bendix” in our house and my Mam thought it was God’s answer to her prayers. Me and my Dad thought so as well.

  8. Dave Carncross Says:

    Chimney sweeps. Some of them used to dump their bags of soot on the “hollers”” where we used to play. The piles of soot would be quite deep and would form a crust on top due to the rain. Every so often some poor unfortunate would run into one and go practically knee deep in the black stuff. Trying to get it off always meant you ended up dirty all over. Thank God for gas fires. Although I used to enjoy the odd time when someone’s chimney would set on fire due to the soot in the flues getting alight. Small pleasures but our very own.

  9. Jacqueline Hainsworth Says:

    I remember well washday usually on a monday in our home, we had a big copper boiler in the cellar which was filled with cold water by means of buckets from the sink in the living room come kitchen, as we lived in a one up, one down, and only had cold water, so all our washing needs personal or otherwise had to be boiled in the was a very tirering process up and down the cellar steps several times with heavy buckets, then we waited for the water to boil before transfering the water into the peggytub where the clothes were left to soak then we did the possing onto the wringing, or mangel as it was known, back up the cellar steps to hang out to dry weather premitting,, we had a builders yard at the bottom of our street which caused trouble because the lorrys up and down the street often broke the lines of washing with their lorrys, and my mam would go beserk, as it was a full days work. Life was made a little easier when the laundrette opened in the old co op on the other side of the bridge.And as I got older in the early sixties I and a friend used to go to the big wash house in Quarry Hill Flats with a pram each, filled to the top with friends and familys bedding and towels, which I must admit was good fun but hard work, It came back washed ironed and best of all dry, it was like a social event .Does anyone remember or go to the wash house, (hard but oh so happy days spent with friends and good company.)

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