Solway Plain - past and present by the Holme St Cuthbert History Group



In the first half of the twentieth century, life was full of hard work, especially for the housewife.

Winnie Bell with chair and setee in farmyard
Winnie Bell having a rest after cleaning the suite with a carpet beater.
Edderside, 1930s.

Every room was spring cleaned thoroughly each year. Feather beds and pillows were hauled outside and left in the sun. Blankets were washed. Carpet squares and rugs were hung on the line and beaten and then dragged to a nearby field and left patterned side down on the grass to freshen the colours. Even the three-piece suite was dragged outside and beaten to remove the dust and dirt.

Jefferson children ready to sweep farm yard Rudd family with bucket and brush

The farmyards were cobbled and had to be swept every week. The Jefferson family (left) always did this on a Friday. The Purdhams (right) are getting ready to give the outhouse its annual coat of whitewash.

Victorian painting of washing day

Before mains water and electricity, the weekly wash was physically hard work. Water was boiled in the set pot and clothes washed in the dolly tub and then put through the wringer.

Clothes were dried on the line but sheets and pillowcases were draped over bushes and hedges or spread on the ground and held down with stones to bleach and whiten in the sun

The farmer’s wife usually washed the hired lads’ bedding but, in some cases, their clothes where washed by a washerwoman. In the 1930’s Mrs Blackburn in Mawbray did this task. She was paid 10 shillings from each lad every six months when they got their wages.

Everyone, including children had Sunday best clothes. These clothes were for going to church, shopping, the auction and visiting. Easter was the time to have new clothes. The young children looked forward to white ankle socks and sandals after the dark knee stockings and heavy shoes or clogs of winter.

 Mothers and Daughters in their 'Sunday Best'
Mothers and daughters in their 'Sunday Best'

Working clothes for men were heavy striped shirts without a collar and an old waistcoat probably from a Sunday suit. In summer a light cotton jacket called a kytle was worn. The trousers for working were generally brown corduroy. Boots were worn and sometimes clogs. Before Wellingtons were invented, leather leggings or gaiters were worn, which covered the leg from ankle to below knee. They were fastened with four straps and buckles and were worn when doing dirty wet jobs. The gaiters were often polished on Sundays and could look very smart.

Women’s working clothes were skirts and blouses or jumpers and cardigans. These were often home knitted and always protected with an apron or cotton overall. A coarse apron made of Hessian (sometimes a potato sack opened out) was worn on top to protect everything when doing dirty jobs. Thick Lyle stockings were the norm made from heavy knitted cotton.

As we see from old photographs girls at school also wore protective aprons.

Working clothes
Mr & Mrs Rudd of High Laws in their working clothes

If you examine old maps of the area you will see that most properties had their own wells. Often these were deep wells which provided water for drinking and cooking. Some farms had shallow wells which were used for watering the animals. Rainwater was collected in barrels and used for washing and doing the laundry.

Roadworks for pipe-laying

Mains water eventually came to the country areas in the late 1930s and made life considerably easier for everyone. Outside earth toilets were eventually replaced with water closets.

Earth Closet Gate to privies

Above is an earth closet, still in working order in 2004 and, on the right a gate leading to the site of a double earth closet which served a number of cottages in Mawbray.

Electricity did not come to Holme St Cuthbert Parish until the early 1950s. Prior to this candles and oil lamps where used in the house and stable lamps were used in the barns and byres.

Most farms had a maidservant who lived in and helped the farmer’s wife with the daily grind. Mains water made life much easier and then electricity eventually led to washing machines, vacuum cleaners and fridges and the demise of the farm maid.

Life wasn't all work. All the villagers enjoyed a good social life, often centred around the church or chapel. They enjoyed a sing-song around the piano or a 'Tattie Pot Supper' with the area's favourite dish made from mutton, black pudding, onions and potatoes.

Kirkbride WI round the piano
Kirkbride Women's Institute
Supper in Mawbray Village Hall
Supper after the concert, at Mawbray
Both pictures from the 1950s.

Weddings were always great social events, especially among the more prosperous members of the farming community. The pictures taken on these occasions give a wonderful picture of the changing fashions over the whole of the twentieth century.

montage of local wedding photographs

. . . and methods of transport changed just like the fashions!

Pony and trap Washing the Austin car

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