From Posser To Tosser In The Blink Of An Eye!

Many readers of yesterday's post seem to have been intrigued by a number of the items mentioned in Dr Shaden Freude's catalogue of everyday items, the disappearance of which may be thought to have had a causal effect on the decline in family cohesion in the West Country in the post World War II - Pre-Drexit period.


Perhaps nothing better illustrates this decline than the number of correspondents declaring themselves baffled by the mention of the posser - an item with which anyone born before 1884 will be all too familiar. For those not in that happy position we have arranged for Everyday Household Implements Historian - Cosy Fireside - to explain:

CLOCKWISE FROM LEFT: A Victorian-style bell posser the design of which underwent little improvement for over a century.  This one stands in the kitchen/laundry of the Thrupiece Birthplace Museum, Batcombe. Set of wooden laundry tongues  used to add or remove washing from the boiling water in the copper [Also excellent for delivering "a clip round the ear" to a reluctant little posser.] A copper and "stool" posser, the latter so named due to its resemblance not to four faeces on a stick but rather to a four legged stool.  [Latter two Images courtesy Crendell Folk Museum and Domestic Hardship [Women's] Museum, Crendell].
CLOCKWISE FROM LEFT: A Victorian-style bell posser the design of which underwent little improvement for over a century. This one stands in the kitchen/laundry of the Thrupiece Birthplace Museum, Batcombe. Set of wooden laundry tongues used to add or remove washing from the boiling water in the copper [Also excellent for delivering "a clip round the ear" to a reluctant little posser.] A copper and "stool" posser, the latter so named due to its resemblance not to four faeces on a stick but rather to a four legged stool. [Latter two Images courtesy Crendell Folk Museum and Domestic Hardship [Women's] Museum, Crendell].

"A posser or a washing dolly was historically a tool used for possing laundry by pumping the posser up and down on the laundry in the dolly tub or directly in the copper, or mixing laundry while hand washing it. Possers come in various forms: there is usually a vertical pole with a handle bar at the top but the base can be conical or domed. It has a double rim with a row of holes around the edge of the outer one. A similar tool with three [or more legs was called a posstick or peggy-legs but also in the West Country a "stool posser". Sometimes they took the form of a flat disk. The naming of each of these items was regionally specific and the specific meaning of word changed over time.


Clothes washing in the early nineteenth century rarely involved the use of soap, but rather lye. It was a communal event, and infrequent given the caustic properties of lye. It involved clothes boards and bats. By the end of the nineteenth century, the tradition of a weekly washing day had been established. Soap was available in the forms of flakes and powder. The posser was not so much used to hammer the dirt out of the clothes, as to agitate the water which would be forced under pressure through the holes. By 1960 - in Dorset at least - the posser was rarely given as a wedding gift as had once been traditional. Now newly-weds expected an electric wall clock or Goblin Teasmade at the very least"


Ms Fireside adds : "As hand washing has been replaced by electric and mechanical washing machines, words and implements used for hand washing have fallen out of common use". Readers of yesterday's post will know this already and will scarcely need this gratuitous reminder.


Washing Machine Historian Ben Dix further adds: The social, psychological and economic impact of the Hoover twin tub in the late 1950s cannot in my view be overestimated. A casual glance at the photograph below will illustrate far better than any words from me not only its technological advancement [ergo labour-saving capabilities] but also its transformational impact on the user. The woman concerned not only looks younger, fresher and more content but also more optimistic and, as we historians like to say "modern" - indeed hardly the same woman at all. Her 1960s self would scarcely recognise the mangling posser operating drudge of only a decade earlier!".


Kitty Housebound pictured in 1957 [LEFT] and 1962 [RIGHT] epitomises the "new woman" - a status made possible by starling technological development, Pond's face-cream and Potter's "Easy to brew" Pile Herbs.
Kitty Housebound pictured in 1957 [LEFT] and 1962 [RIGHT] epitomises the "new woman" - a status made possible by starling technological development, Pond's face-cream and Potter's "Easy to Brew" Pile Herbs.

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