My name is Kerrie and I am excited to be part of the Kitty’s Launderette team as the lead researcher on our community-led heritage project, ‘Hanging Out: Histories of Liverpool’s Laundry Life.’ The project is supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and will explore Liverpool’s washhouses and the community around them. My aim over the next few months is to gather and record stories and memories of Liverpool washhouses from members of the local community to explore these lesser-known social histories of Liverpool life.
Washhouses in Liverpool have played a significant role in urban development and public health as well as being a social space for the community. As a PhD researcher interested in social history and lived experience, this project is absolutely fascinating for me and I am so proud to be a part of it.
The starting point for my research has been our namesake, the inspirational Kitty Wilkinson. Catherine Wilkinson (1786–1860) who became known as the ‘Saint of the Slums.’ Her commitment to public health and community work resulted in the opening of Frederick Street washhouse, the first in the UK. Michael Kelly’s book The Life and Times of Kitty Wilkinson provides a rich and fascinating account of Kitty’s life and has been a wonderful resource.
For background research I really wanted to think about ‘mapping washhouses’ in Liverpool. This is no easy task, as Liverpool has altered so much, with the slum clearances of the 1960s and 1970s changing the face of city. I began by using the book, Talk of the Wash House by Peter Ellison and Paulette Howe and have been researching the development of washhouses in Liverpool from the nineteenth century. These include Burroughs Gardens washhouse which opened in 1879 and closed in 1985. Burroughs Gardens was threatened with closure in the 1970s and this led to many women demonstrating successfully to keep the wash house open. This is just one interesting aspect of the research I have undertaken so far, and I am looking forward to continuing with my ongoing aim of ‘mapping’ these washhouses, their key events and people.
We are launching our heritage project officially on Monday 13th April with a welcome event from 7.00pm – 9.00pm. We are delighted to also be hosting Cinema Nation with a selection of film-screenings celebrating the lives of women in Liverpool. Three short films will be shown which encapsulate ‘The Spirit of Liverpool’ and will be a welcoming and informal event to celebrate the opening of our launderette and the launch of our community-led project.
Once Kitty’s Launderette is open, I will be running a drop-in session once a week. These sessions will be an informal chat over a cuppa, where we will interview and record memories of wash houses in the Liverpool area. From my research already, it is clear that these wash houses were part of the fabric of life. One of Liverpool’s folk songs about the changing face of Liverpool and resettlement of residents outside of the city includes a line demonstrating the importance of the washhouse as a nostalgic reminder of family life and community:
‘We’ll miss the Mary Ellens
And me Dad’ll miss the docks
An Gran’ll miss the washhouse
Where she washed me Granddad’s socks
Don’t want to go to Kirkby
Or Skelmersdale or Speke
Don’t want to go, from all we know
On Back Buchanan Street’
I am very much looking forward to hearing the stories of men and women who used launderettes or worked in them. As the project takes off, we are hoping to produce a series of zines, an exhibition and other events. The next few months are going to be very exciting for myself as a researcher, for the local community and for Kitty’s Launderette.
The drop-in sessions will run each Thursday from 1.00pm – 8.30pm. For more information and to book an appointment at the drop-in please call Kerrie on 07943 008 592 or email email@example.com
Tickets are available for ‘The Spirit of Liverpool’ film screening on Monday 13th May by donation at Eventbrite