Harris, Joyce (b.1919)

Joyce Harris was born in 1919 in Congresbury, North Somerset. She spent her childhood years, until her marriage living with her parents, two sisters, and two brothers.


Like many children in Somerset during the 1920s and 30s they were expected to do regular jobs in the house. Joyce cleaned and lit the range every day, cleaned bedrooms, fetched wood and scrubbed the outside toilet.  On Monday - washing day – the women soaked, boiled, rubbed and rinsed the clothes with water from the well before putting it all through a wooden mangle.  Tuesday was ironing day and they used flat and goffering irons. The sisters went to Congresbury fair once a year in return for all their hard work on the farm.

Kitchen hearth at Lower Ashholt Farm Spaxton c.1920. An archetypal farmhouse kitchen range of the 19th and early 20th century. Kitchen hearth at Lower Ashholt Farm Spaxton c.1920. An archetypal farmhouse kitchen range of the 19th and early 20th century.
Sound File
Listen to Joyce Harris - 1.64MB Duration 3:34 min.

JH: Well, we used to have take the meals down to the men, down to the fields, you know, and in the haymaking time, we used to take their, their tea down the field.  That was a big thing to do because we used to have to walk right down to the bottom of the farm.  There was quite a long way to walk and, but previous to that, we used to have to light up an old black stove in the back kitchen to boil the kettle on.


And we had a big, black range in the kitchen, the farmhouse kitchen, a huge thing about that long, and that was my job to light that and clean it every morning.  Well, I used to have to get up and clean that and polish it and then light it and turn round and fry breakfast on it.  You can imagine that, can’t you, the spattering of frying on my clean stove!


My sister had to wash up the supper things from the night before because we always had supper, sat up to supper, you know.  We had pig’s chitterlings and things like that for supper, always had some sort of meat or something for supper, and as we made cider, we were all allowed to drink some cider with our supper and, but this, cleaning this range was an awful black, filthy job, but I had to clean the range while my sister washed up all the supper things the next morning, first jobs.


AH: Did you ever help with the washing?


JH: Yes, oh yes.  It was an awful performance.  We used to have a back kitchen, and we used to have to put it soaking for ages before we could do it.  I shall never forget when my mother had a washing machine.  It was marvellous, one of those Jiffy washing machines, do you remember?  Well, you wouldn’t.  The handle went round like that; it went sort of round like that.


AH: Is it a kind of square thing?


JH: Yes.  It was a tub and you put it in and, but it had a wringer on it which was marvellous because we had a old-fashioned wooden mangle we used to use before that, put the sheets and things through.  And of course, after the big washing, we had this lovely soapy water, which we couldn’t waste, you see, and anything that we could lay hands on had to be scrubbed.  It was afternoon before we finished work because all the back kitchen, all the wooden utensils, everything wooden had to be sold, had to be scrubbed I mean, and then we ended up by the floor, not all the wooden floors. All these stone flagstones, about this big, had to be scrubbed and in the afternoon, we’d finish.  It was an awful job, you know, an awful day’s work.


AH: How did you heat the water?


JH: Oh, one of these old furnaces.  We’d light the fire underneath, and it used to hold, oh it was ever such a big one.  It was a big round one, one about that big round, I expect, and about that deep, and we, we used to boil the washing in there.  We used to put the washing in there and boil it, the sheets and the pillow cases, all the white stuff, used to have a big rod to fish it out with.


AH: What did you do once it had been boiled?  What did you put it into?


JH: Into a great big bathtub, you know, a big galvanised bath, but we did have a big wooden bath as well that we used to use for the washing I remember.

Copyright Information
Copyright. This recording was made by Ann Heeley in 1987. Photograph ©SRLM. For access to full interview please contact the Somerset Heritage Centre.