DVD will preserve history of laundry for generations

Irthlingborough Laundry 1950s carnival parade entry
Irthlingborough Laundry 1950s carnival parade entry

The history of a landmark business which employed hundreds of people for more than 70 years has been saved for future generations.

The Co-operative Laundry was launched in Crow Hill, Irthlingborough, in 1935 and employed as many as 300 people until it closed in 2006.

The property is earmarked for demolition to make way for a new housing development and to make sure its history is preserved for future generations, former workers and Irthlingborough Historical Society have produced a 60-minute DVD called The Laundry Built on the Hill.

Historical society chairman Roy York said: “The main thrust of the project was to record the memories of people who worked at the laundry.

“Irthlingborough used to be a very industrialised place and the laundry is one of the last remains of that era.

“The heart of the whole area is changing and we hope by producing this DVD we will help youngsters to appreciate what living in an industrialised town used to be like.

“The building should have gone by now but it’s still there at the minute. We understand when they were clearing out the channel underneath it they found lots of old coins which had gone down the drain over the years.

“The DVD contains a series of interviews with former employees of the laundry – many of whom are now in their 80s or 90s. It was wonderful for us to go to their homes to interview them, they were totally unphased by all our recording equipment and we got so much good stuff from them. We really struggled to edit the DVD down to just an hour.”

One of the stories which the historians collected during their research was about the Co-operative Chimney.

Mr York said: “Everyone knows about the 120ft high Co-operative Chimney – when people have been away it’s something they look for when they’re coming back because they know it means they’re near home. People will be sorry to see it go.

“One man told us he remembered during the war a doodle bug bomb landed near the chimney and caused it to crack from the top to the bottom.

“Metal bands were put around it and while the steeplejacks were working on it one of them took this man’s father to the top of the chimney. He told his son it ‘didn’t half sway’.”

Mr York said the project had struck a chord with people because so many people in the town either worked for the laundry or used it.

He said: “Over 300 people used to work there at any one time. It was a major employer.

“The Crow Hill estate first came about because of the laundry, the houses were put up for the workers.

“We were concerned that in the future that knowledge would be lost and we hope this will record this part of our history for future generations.

“It’s important to know where your parents and grandparents came from and what their lives were like. It gives you a sense of security and a sense of belonging.”

The society’s archive includes about 730 photographs of the laundry dating back to its opening, written memories and comments, original posters and other printed material.

The new DVD costs £5 plus £2 postage and package in the UK.

It can be ordered from Jean Rowland, 4 Baker Street, Irthlingborough, NN9 5PR, or 01933 650682. Cheques should be made out to Irthlingborough Historical Society.

The project was supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Project will help schools

The DVD will help the historical society with the work it does with schools. For several years its members have been running a project called Wash Day for the town’s infant school. The volunteers set up a domestic wash house scene to show what washing would have involved at home in the 1920s. The society says the event has proved to be a huge success and attracts a lot of parents, as well as pupils, who are also interested to learn about that part of social history.

Chairman Roy York said: “The children are always amazed.”