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Fight Between Underpaid Washerwomen Leads to Court Dismissal. (John F. Wake)

washerwoman-fight-john-f-wake

One little known occupation for women ‘on the breadline’ in Victorian Cardiff (and elsewhere) was to become a ship’s ‘washerwoman’, picking up clothing and took bags homes on carts to get them washed, while others worked on board using their facilities to wash the sailors clothes, underclothes and the like.

Good Captains ran a disciplined ships but there were many who were not so chivalrous, leading to trouble when sailors, who had been at sea for several weeks, suddenly saw women step on board. The washerwomen had to fight off less then consensual advances, and some, desperate to make just a little extra money, allowed the sailors to do what they wanted with them, or at least gave them directions to a suitable brothel, of which there were scores.

Two such washerwomen, Kate Hockney and Marie Johns, boarded a ship as it docked, both waning the work, but soon found that there was only enough money to pay one of them. A fight ensued between the women, most likely encouraged by the rowdy seamen around them. Hockney was so enraged by this turn of events that she took her complaint to a policeman who charged Marie Johns with assault. The Magistrates, from their lofty perches, laughed it off and dismissed the charges, saying that both women were as bad as each other.

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Fight Between Underpaid Washerwomen Leads to Court Dismissal. (John F. Wake)

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