Oldham Historical Research Group

'Oldham Stories'

     'Oldham Stories'
by Mary Dickinson

The Mangle Back

When I was a little girl the working class women seemed to do a lot of washing. What we didn't realise, as children, was that most of our mothers took in washing to help with the family budget.

When I was quite little I remember my mother saying "Hurry up home and we'll all go to the mangle back." That meant helping my mother with a big basket of freshly washed clothes. We would set off down a dark alley and my mother would bring a candle with her. When we reached a very gloomy cellar she would light the candle so that she could see to use the mangle.

What is a mangle? Well it was a large box with a lid on top and inside there seemed to be very large stones. In the centre was a big wheel with a handle on it. My mother Would take out a big roller like a very big rolling pin and she would wrap the clothes straight round it inside a piece of canvas. When the roller was full I would pull on a lever and up would go one end of the mangle then down it would go, bang, on the roller. I would then tum the wheel for five to ten minutes while my mother put another full roller under the other side. My word - it was heavy to tum. The noise from inside sounded like marching soldiers. There must have been some weight on there because the clothes were always beautifully pressed when they were finished.

We hadn't to linger because there was always a queue of women and children waiting to use the mangle. We always found it a pleasure to help and I don't think it did us any harm. We enjoyed the chatter that went on in that gloomy cellar. When my mother had finished we had to carry the heavy basket home and that was the end of her hard day's work.

Life today is very different but I am glad I lived in that period, I was never lonely and I was never stuck for something to do. The mangle back has gone now, but I will never forget those happy days. Still I don't think I would like to see my family having to do all that hard work.


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