Louise Falcini – Washerwomen, Laundresses, Barbers and Boot Blacks: the Business of Cleanliness

A one day Unconference to mark the Completion of the London Lives website

Event Date: 5 July 2010
De Havilland Campus, University of Hertfordshire

Louise Falcini
Washerwomen, Laundresses, Barbers and Boot Blacks: the Business of Cleanliness

Filth and dirt were synonymous with eighteenth century London. However it was this metropolitan grime that afforded many working Londoners the opportunity to gain knowledge and experience in the every day realities of cleanliness. In an increasingly commercial environment they were able to use and sell these skills as laundresses, washer-women, barbers and shoe-blacks.

Women moved away from washing at the riverside and into the wash-houses, alleys and backstreets of the metropolis. These new locations provided points of negotiation, areas of tension and of potential conflict. Men could actively participate in these new cultures of cleanliness and respectability by becoming clean-shaven. Working men not only became barbers but also habitués of the Barber’s shop. These changing locations of cleanliness both engendered and reflected differing patterns of sociability and commerce.

By examining these non-élite strategies of negotiating cleanliness I hope to identify ways in which plebeian Londoners were able to adapt and reflect change attitudes towards domestic and civic cleanliness.

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