Scrubbed Doorsteps and the Smell of Carbolic


As today is a Saturday …a day of football and rugby on the ‘tele’ …. I thought I would reblog this piece.  Food for thought, perhaps …… 




Photo by’ Vintage Everyday’



I can see them now, the narrow rows of terraced houses. One row backed onto another. The tiny, single fronted, two up, two down cottages in grey, grimy streets.

One street looked identical to the next, the white net curtains hiding the sparsely furnished rooms inside.  The front steps scrubbed to within an inch of their existence by the women, who took such pride in their humble homes.

Oh, how those doorsteps gleamed, like a shining badge of honour, displaying a stubborn unwillingness to be beaten by life.  Yes, they scrubbed those steps … scrubbed the pavements too, right up to the gutter … the aroma of cheap carbolic floating in the air and mixing with the smell of sulphur drifting from the nearby Steel Works.

Those women washed everything in sight … window sills … door frames … swilling the streets with buckets of boiling water.  Fighting a constant battle against grime and poverty.  They may be poor but that was no excuse for filth and squalour.


Ah,  and now I see them standing on their front steps, arms folded, hair in curlers beneath turban scarfs … ‘Woodbines‘ dangling from their thin lips.  Lined faces, old before their time.  Faded, crossover aprons covering well worn cotton dresses …  wrinkled, darned lisle stockings on their weary legs.

There are the children too.  Playing while their mothers gossip.  Games of hopscotch, chalked squares on the road …laughing and shouting as others kick an old football the length and breadth of the street.  Some of them are balanced precariously on a ricketty set of pram wheels, a home-made chariot being pushed at breakneck speed along the pavements.  A scrawny young lad squealing because he has been bullied by the older ones; has told his mother and received a thick ear for his trouble. This is the school of hard knocks … a kid soon learns not to complain.  Life is hard, just lump it !!

These kids will grow up … if they are lucky … to work in the Steel Works or at the Docks down the road. The girls will go into factories or shops or maybe, sadly, join the ranks of the over-painted, vinegar faced doxies that ply their trade outside the Seaman’s Mission.

Not for them the luxury of ice-cream sundaes on a paved patio, surrounded by sweet smelling roses.  No …  they have probably never seen a rose.  Nothing grows in this down trodden, decaying landscape. These tiny homes have no gardens, just a concrete back yard which contains the outside lavatory, the coal-house and washing on a line.
They all know each other by name. Popping in and out of each other’s houses … no need to lock doors.  No call for any ‘Neighbourhood Watch Scheme’ … the neighbours constantly watch and give any misbehaving child a cuff behind the ear.

Yes, there was Community spirit and everyone helped each other.  Women rushed to sick beds or to deliver babies and sometimes, sadly, to lay out the dead. Menfolk helped paint windows or repair a bicycle, they had next to nothing , but they would share what they had.
Hundreds lived in these grey streets, were born, married and died without ever leaving these few square miles. Generation upon generation of poor, hardworking folk, scraping a living … making do …getting by. Helping to shape the world we see today.

I’m thinking of all of these things, picturing them in my mind as I walk along the road between the back to back terraces, smiling at the tired women, gossiping on their steps  Those gleaming steps amid so much poverty………………………..


Then the picture fades and I am no longer in the past, but back in the present. The terraced rows have long gone, pulled down … demolished …reduced to rubble.

In their place are wide avenues.  Trees growing tall in grassy parkland.  Riotous flower beds outside ‘chi-chi’ executive apartments.  Fifty homes where once a thousand lived.  Retail parks full of ubiquitous High Street chain stores.

And the huge throng of people all around me walk on, chattering eagerly.  Rushing by …  their colours round their necks.  Never sparing a thought for the history beneath their feet !

It will soon be 3pm ……………..  Rush, rush, rush ………past the shiny  Porches,  Ferraris and Bentleys  of the spoilt princes of football………. on through the turnstiles and into the brand new Stadium.





About rosiewrites2

Growing old, disgracefully and enjoying every minute.
This entry was posted in Blogging, families, family, life, memories, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Scrubbed Doorsteps and the Smell of Carbolic

  1. Rockleigh says:

    All now too much of a triumph over money and taste ….
    Nearest people these days who are able to understand how life used to be is by reading items like this and watching “Call the Midwife”

    Liked by 2 people

  2. rosiewrites2 says:

    Thank you Paul
    I’ve never seen ‘ Call the Midwife’


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