This photo is a reminder of the times when some children such as myself – who were on the lowest rung of the Goldenbridge ladder – were forced every morning to wash the *destroyed sheets from St. Joseph’s (babies) and the Sacred – wet-the-bed – Heart dormitory.
* Was a term coined by one of the nuns.
The same children were always selected for all the measliest of chores.
Even the afternoon laundry work done by us in the Magdalen type laundry beyond the convent was hard work. However, it was not as grotesque in any way compared to the washing of the *destroyed* sheets that we perpetually washed in frozen water in all kinds of harsh weather conditions in the tiny – end-of-the-yard Victorian bathroom/laundry at Goldenbridge.
I did not realise that there was a road very nearby the front of the laundry. I was not cognisant of anything beyond the walls of Goldenbridge. I was so institutionalised. Gosh, if only I’d had the wherewithal to escape, but, then, if I knew nothing about the outside world, where was there to escape to at all. I worked for years in this laundry. We were taken out of the so-called classroom and sent over here to work in steaming condensation conditions. I remember enormous tall vats that contained sheets boiling in them, and massive pale lemon bars of soap that were melted into jelly. The stone floors became very slippery and dangerous to walk on when the jellied residue, which was wont to slide out of hands and on to the floors. The steamed sheets were taken out of the vats (by an outside male worker) with massive thongs and placed in large sinks to be rinsed by older inmates. The older girls also had to wear yellow oil-cloth aprons and wellies, the younger ones had to climb between complex horse clothes line and place the sheets on them to dry, they were then hoisted up in the air.
The laundry later housed the old-penny dinners – and in later years, again, became St. Anne’s Club that had a ballroom and old-time dancing on Monday nights and cookery classes on Thursday evenings. Gosh, if only the people enjoying themselves there, knew of the thousands of little institutionalised lives that were lost to the outside world for generations, as they washed and hung up the laundry on a large clothes-horse for a world of people they had no involvement with at all.
The children got up at six o’clock each morning. A staff member who grew up in the institution stormed into the dormitories and switched on the lights and roared ‘Get out of those beds immediately!’ If a child hesitated at all the bed covers were flung across the floor, if a child became even more stubborn, as often happened, the mattress with the child was toppled over onto the floor. We then had to make our beds to hospital standards.
Goldenbridge housed on average two hundred children, which included infants and babies; a good percentage of them were infants, babies and toddlers. I remember clearly, at 6:30 in the mornings, when I was eleven years old or thereabouts having to go to St Joseph’s babies/infants dormitory. I had to dress the toddlers. It was normal for some of them to have slept in their own excrement. When I took them from their destroyed beds, I found it so upsetting as they were always covered from head to toe in excrement. They were shivering and were all colours of the rainbow as they stood there waiting to be cleaned. I had to use the clean corners of the destroyed sheets. The only place to get water was from a very small toilet bowl. I dipped the sheet in the bowl and then cleaned the children. The whole dormitory which was a dark dank cold place stank to high heaven. The head honcho of the Sisters of Mercy at this time of morning was up in the convent saying her prayers. The sheets were placed in a soiled open sheet, and with the help of another child we carried them down to the school laundry. There were other sheets there from the Sacred Heart dormitory.
Children like myself who had no family visitors, or big girls who wet the bed, were given the grotesque tasks of handwashing the sheets in cold water in the laundry.
Read the rest of the article: > > Morning at Goldenbridge
When I lived in Medway St. London, the girls and nuns there were always puzzled at seeing me steeping and washing my sheets in cold-water and using lashings of soap-powder. Sr. Raphael – whose cubicle was next to the bathroom – was bamboozled by this oddity of mine. I thought it very natural and couldn’t fathom what all the fuss was about. The sheets had to be whiter than white and had to do exactly what it said on the persil box. Whiter than white, and nothing else would suffice. I now know that it harked back to my childhood days in Goldenbridge when I habitually had to wash the sheets in freezing cold water. Most of my Goldenbridge contemporaries would be very meticulous when it comes to laundry. Cleanliness was the next best thing to Godliness was the GB motto. We were certainly well trained in domestic-work, as domestics is all the nuns planned on us becoming when we left the hellhole.
All the while there was one particular person who came to mind who worked with me in the laundry. Her name was – you’ve guessed – Lilly. She was such a fantastic worker. Ms. D., who was in charge of the laundry, had nothing to worry about with Lilly, as the latter did all the work whilst her nibs – with varnished untainted silken hands, that never saw a hards day’s work – merely looked on with arms folded.