Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, with a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that


Wednesday, 30 June 2021

Hooptedoodle #400 - Roller Towels as We Knew Them

 Recently I was looking at some old photos of domestic kitchens - circa WW1, I guess, and I saw a picture of one of these...


In case you don't recognise it, this is a traditional roller towel - linen on a wooden roller - such as my grannie had on her kitchen wall, and they were found in various other places (all my friends' grannies' kitchens, for a start) - they were everywhere, once, but I had forgotten about them completely.

Two yards of linen, stitched to make a loop. My grannie's would certainly have been clean (boiled) every day. We had them in the washrooms at my primary school - I was at primary school in the 1950s, though the school itself was pretty much Victorian. That was less satisfactory, the soiled towel would go round and round, getting wetter and filthier as the day went on. I guess they must have been in factories and pubs and everywhere.

By the time I was working, and in the habit of going into pubs, they had been replaced by linen rolls in metal dispensers which were usually serviced by a contract company - and they seldom seemed to work very satisfactorily - they would jam, or the towel would end up in a sodden heap on the floor. Eventually, of course, all this was replaced by paper towels, to ensure someone could make money from the conversion of forests into non-recyclable paper waste, and later still by hot air blasters. I guess this has all been progress - driven by the search for improved hygiene.

 Anyway - back to the point. I can see some arguments in favour of the old linen roller:

* It would always be in the same place - no-one could walk off with it

* If it was used sensibly, each user drying their face/hands and moving it down a little, it might have dried off by the time it went right round

* No-one could use it to clean his football boots (or whatever)

* It kept it off the floor

* It was Official Issue - it would be maintained and refreshed by the Keeper of the House (Grannie)

My grannie's used to be on the wall next to the big sink in her back kitchen (scullery?) - when he came in from work, my grandad used to wash his face and hands with Stergene (bottled laundry detergent), I believe, which is scary, and on one famous occasion he accidentally washed his face with liquid ammonia, from which he seems to have recovered all right, and recovered long before his wife forgave him for his language. 

Here's an old vote in support of roller towels, with useful life-style tips for the enthusiast:

Kitchen Work Made Easier.

 

It seems strange to speak of the roller towel as a convenience, when it should be considered a positive necessity in every well-ordered household, yet there are many more kitchens without them than with them in some parts of the country— the cook substituting her work apron, or, worse, a dish towel, to wipe her hands upon. A roller and fixtures can be bought ready to screw into the wall. Six towels is a bountiful supply for one roller. Buy a good quality of linen crash, making each towel two-and-a-half yards in length; sew in a seam and fell neatly. Roller towels that have been in use a few months make the best tea towels, as they are soft and pliable, a quality by no means to be despised. Cut in two, hem the edges and again supply the towel drawer with new roller towels. In this way the drawer can be always supplied with strong towels for kitchen toilet purposes, as well as soft ones for the dishes. — The Weekly Wisconsin (May 13, 1889).

Conversely, it was also identified as a menace to health, as here: 

 
From a public information advertisement in the US in 1915

 While shaving this morning, I wondered if a variant could have been produced - a Moebius Towel? - with a single twist in the towel before stitching - this could gradually have presented us with both sides of the linen before we got back to the soiled bit. Nah - it wouldn't work, but I do find shaving very boring.


 


25 comments:

  1. Brilliant! You are an invaluable source of nostalgia - I'd forgotten all about these.
    I was musing the other day on Cardinal, which my Grandad (and everyone else on the street) used to paint their back doorstep with - like browny-red boot polish. I never found out why everyone used it as opposed to.. well, paint, and I haven't heard of anyone doing that for ... a year or two.

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    1. I think I remember Cardinal - I see this was the establshed custom for BACK doorsteps - what about the front steps? - in Liverpool the front steps were done with Donkey stones - you could get yellow ochre and white.

      Greatest nostalgia mine for me (and I haven't been for years - must go again soon) is the period Co-op shop in the Beamish museum - fantastic - products I remember from childhood - Glo-White for cleaning your lace curtains, all sorts of soaps and stuff like suet, cough mixture, liver salts - dried fruit in purple paper bags, sugar in blue (or maybe the other way round) - a miraculous place!

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    2. Another thing I never understood; why only the back doorstep? The front was always painted black.
      Yes, I love Beamish - I like the bank too, just like some of the smaller bank branches I worked in in the 70's, when Trustee Savings Bank was a 'not for profit' organisation and it showed.

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  2. One of the first things I made in 'woodwork class' at my Secondary school was one of these , don't think it was very good, I never was a natural woodworker .

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    1. I'm sure it was fine - ideal school project, when the towel is fitted you can hardly see it. As long is it keeps the towel off the floor you can't go wrong.

      When I cleared out my mother's house 4 years ago I found a copper napkin ring I made in 2nd year at grammar school. Absolutely dreadful. The thing had a scalloped edge, and you had to scribe it using a card former - I was so slow that by the time I got to that stage the former was worn out - knackered - so I scribed it anyway and then faithfully filed it to a shape which was very inaccurate. Early indications of my likely skills as a model maker and painter?

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  3. I haven't thought of these in years! I was primary school age in the first half of the 1970s, but you still saw these occasionally even then here in the U.S. Certainly gone by the late 70s, replaced by paper towel dispensers in restrooms almost everywhere. I certainly see the point of the hot air blowers, although these always leave my hands feeling dried out. I suppose the answer is to carry travel-sized squeeze bottles of moisturizer in my pocket?

    Best Regards,

    Stokes

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    1. Moisturizer is a good tip. I wonder how many trees-worth of paper towels they have to burn to power an electric hand-dryer for an hour? Maybe we should all just shake our hands (like birds in the wilderness?) until they are dry.

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  4. Excellent, thank you for this - the sort of quality item we have come to expect. I have no particular roller-towel comment, but do have one or two tragic examples of school metal-work - still using the caddy spoon, which is only right, given how many weeks' lessons it probably took to make. I think a more 'academic' educational route was signalled very early on.

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    1. A caddy spoon is a fine thing. If anyone criticises it, you can tell them that you used to get extra Latin during the metalwork lessons. Interesting variation on a very old gag.

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  5. I've just found the componants of two of these in Mum's estate, one I'm afraid has gone on the bonfire, the other has gone to the storage unit and will be put up wherever I end up as I've also found two band-towels, not linen, but nice fluffy ones! It's the eco' way to go I suspect?

    H

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    1. That's great Hugh - that's genuinely a heartening piece of news. What better way to celebrate the past? - making use of it and taking advantage of it! Nice one.

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  6. Bit before my time too, like David. Can’t work out if it’s a good idea or not. I’ll put it in the ‘probably’ box but only if the linen is printed with a suitable health and safety warning about trachoma.

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    1. It's certainly not PPE-grade hygiene, but in some ways it's better than the bewildering number of hand-towels we seem to have around the place - there's another quantum-type rule at work here, I think - in our downstairs shower-room, at any given moment there may be 4 hand-towels or none at all. Nothing in between.

      Which reminds me - it's been a long time since I actually went anywhere, but I am always bewildered when I am presented with my own set of guest towels - apart from being sufficently badly brought-up to be unsure of the appropriate etiquette protocols, what do I do if I use my guest towel after a shower? I can't leave it hanging up in the host's shower room, really, and I certainly can't try to dry it out in my bedroom. Tricky. I probably get round this by not taking a shower at all...

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  7. Ah Love it Tony. 'Scullery' now there's a blast from the past!

    I remember those roller towels, the industrial version. From my printing days, NGA/SOGAT negotiated 10 minutes at end of the working day to clean up so we would all pile round the sinks with our hands covered in the oil based inks of the time and the towels would quickly become filthy and multi coloured from Swarfega (remember that?) or hanging on the floor from being yanked when they got stuck. If you were at the back of the queue there was little point in trying to dry your hands at all! Great fun.

    And you have also reminded me of something else, every Friday two chaps would be selected to 'sort the rags'. This involved removing every soiled cleaning rag one by one and counting them into bags for collection' replacement with clean ones for the following week. As the rags were soaked with solvents & spirits from cleaning the rollers or rubber blankets the effect was to get you high as a kite by the time you had counted out several bags of them. Seems so ridiculous now counting out rags from one bag to another but they were strange times. The Unions later banned it.

    Finally on the subject of Unions our subsidised canteen at IPC Magazines was a 10 minute walk away, a few floors up in Kings Reach Tower, so an additional 10 minutes was allowed before and after the official lunch hour making a pleasant extended lunch to allow for this. Add the ten minutes washing up time before lunch (can't go to lunch with soiled hands), and we got an a hour and half all in. They did a nice omelette up there I must say but most of the chaps just had a quick hand wash and went down the pub.

    Sorry to ramble there funny how one memory leads to another. I think we did actually do some printing now and then too.

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  8. Reminds me of my days long ago in ECW battle reenactments. Most people wore red or orange sashes except one regiment who wore blue. The rumour was that the "right of passage" for new members was to cut their sash from the roller towels in a service station on the way to their first muster.
    Ronnie

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    1. Excellent! - makes me wonder where the original boys back in the day obtained the stuff for their field signs. I have a slapstick comedy vision of some regiment putting a particular flower in their hats, and being pursued by swarms of bees for the rest of the campaign.

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  9. My grandmother had one of these; she also had that horrible loo roll made out of tracing paper type material. Ouch!

    Of the Co Op I recall waiting for what seemed hours in the queue of the "main store" waiting to collect on her Green Shield Stamps.

    You have released three bits of personal nostalgia in one post!

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    1. I have thought of a delicate discussion of the history of toilet paper, but it needs thought and some study (and probably research). We also used to have the strange tracing paper-style loo rolls - ours were made by San Izal, and smelled faintly of cheap disinfectant. I only ever saw soft toilet tissue when I visited my posh auntie in the Wirral. The "hard stuff" was in school - and everwhere, really (well, to be honest, I don't think I went to the toilet when I wasn't at home). I recall that if someone at my primary school needed to visit the toilet during lesson time (a real emergency), then, if paper was going to be required, the teacher would give them two squares of the hard paper from a roll which was kept in the classroom cupboard - two squares, one might surmise, would not handle very much of an emergency, but let us not dwell on this.

      There is something special about toilet tissue - whatever it is made of - short fibres, whatever - it reduces to very little bulk when it's wet; unlike (for example) kitchen roll, or general-use tissues, toilet paper virtually disappears when it's soaked. I feel a Ph.D thesis coming on...

      I know more than I used to about this subject since I came to live in a house where the sewage system involves a septic tank - the man who comes to empty it is very articulate on the subject - if anyone has put kitchen roll down the toilet he will know all about it - he may even know who it was. Protocols for country living.

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    2. The factory (now long gone) where they made Izal toilet paper was just up the road from a bank branch where I worked for a time. We knew when it was the staff pay day - that smell arrived at the bank several minutes before they did.

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  10. I miss the sound ...
    WHIRRRRRR KCHINK

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    1. Good heavens - that was just like it - I was sure there was one in the room for a moment.

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  11. Ahh, see. Nostalgia. A dangerous thing 😉. I personally only have bad memories of those perpetual roll machines in loos. Always broken so only the damp dirty bit was available for use. So I am happy to waste a tree or two. So much so that I actually have a paper dispenser in my garage for “car repairs, hand, for use of”

    But then I was listening to a news story the other day telling me how plastic straws aren’t responsible after all for the death of the oceans (who would have guessed) but fishing nets and floats. But one is consumer led, so easy to guilt, and the other is commercial profits, so much harder.

    And while I’m on my pedestal. What about all these plastic England flags that are fluttering in the breeze wiring for our ignominious defeat

    Marc

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    1. Hi Marc - those endless linen rolls were ridiculous - they should have carried a sign saying, "please use this thing very carefully, because it hardly works as it is".

      Plastic England flags - hmmm - must re-examine my dual nationality, and dig out the bunting for Wednesday. A pity it never got used for the coronation of that nice Edward VIII.

      What gets me down about the hysteria surrounding the football at present is that the one collective who cannot possibly lose is the blooming Press - having cranked up the silliness about Football's Coming Home, they will already have written the outrage stories about overpaid flops letting the nation down. I am very impressed by Southgate's strategy of playing against the worst team in the last 16 in the Quarter Finals, though.

      Nah - I wish them luck, but I'm remaining aloof. I am one of the great Loofs of history.

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    2. I'm also looking forward to see what Grealish can do if he can stay on his feet instead of performing the Dying Swan every two paces...

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