BEHOLD the 1970s Glasgow housewife, a force to be reckoned with.

According to Townhead steamie shift supervisor Duncan Balfour, interviewed by this newspaper in 1977, the women who used the city washhouses were a race apart, much tougher than their modern, tumble-drier-using counterparts.

“They were able to pull a huge load of washing on a wee pram up a big hill in hail, rain or snow,” he said. “I’ve seen me arriving at half-past-six on a dark morning in the days when we used to open really early - only to find a queue waiting to get in.”

In 1977 there were still 19 steamies across Glasgow, still popular with a wide range of users.

The city’s first official wash house opened in 1876 on London Road.

Glasgow Times:

Mr Balfour, in his Evening Times interview, said the 70s steamies were ‘not the same, what with all the automation, the industrial-sized automatic washing-machines with their super-fast tumbler-dryers.’

Gone were the wally sinks and zinc tubs; gone were the clothes-horse pull-out hot-air dryers.

One Townhead woman said that if you had a sizeable family, the ordinary domestic washing-machines couldn’t cope with a big enough load to enable you to do the week’s laundry quickly. The answer was the Townhead steamie, where the big machines could take 30lbs at a time (for 30p); it could be washed and dried in an hour or so.

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Despite automation, Mr Balfour observed, some things never changed. “Nobody’s invented anything better than a pram,” he said, “for shifting a bag of washing.”

Regular Times Past contributor Dan Harris recalls his mother using the Woodside steamie.

“My earliest recollection is standing in the dark in a long queue outside it, waiting to buy a ticket for my mother,” he tells us.

“This was before I went to school that day. My mum used the steamie on a Tuesday afternoon, her half day off working in the grocer’s shop. In spite of all the jokes made about the place, the reality for many women was that the steamie was a godsend.”

Some years later, says Dan, his wife Marion used the Maryhill steamie on Garbraid Avenue.

“I remember one night, before we had children, we were standing in a cinema queue on Sauchiehall Street and a man wearing a dinner jacket, white shirt and bow tie, started busking,” he explains.

“He was holding out a soft hat for the money and Marion said – ‘he is the boiler-man at the Maryhill steamie.’”

A week later, says Dan, he and Marion were at the Plaza Ballroom at Eglinton Toll.

“Its patrons were usually married couples or people of a more ‘mature’ age,” he laughs. “Not your Barrowland jivers, in other words.”

He adds: “After the dancing had started, in walked the Kenneth McKellar look-alike from the steamie, complete with dinner jacket and bowtie.

“He started chatting up the ladies, treating them to a refreshment after having a dance. Alcohol was not permitted in dance halls in those days, so the treat would probably be Barr’s Irn Bru, or Tizer.”

Dan says an alternative to the steamie in those days, was the wash-house.

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“Every tenement back court had a wash-hoose,” he says. “We climbed on top and used it to jump down on to the midden, or to walk along the top of the brick dykes for about fifty yards.”

He adds: “The downside was there were no boiler-men. The user had to do everything, including supplying the coal and lighting the fire.

“On wash days, the back court was taken over by the washerwoman. No footba’ or peever for the weans that day…it was up to the swings for us…”