The story begins.
I want to tell you about Kitty’s Launderette, which is being opened by some friends in the north end of Liverpool and is one of the most interesting ideas I’ve heard in a long while.
But first, I need to tell you about Kitty Wilkinson.
In the Gardens below the Anglican Cathedral in Liverpool you can find this gravestone. It’s the grave of one Catherine Wilkinson who died in 1860, long before the Cathedral was built, at the age of 73. Even though she died so long ago the grave is rarely without a small bunch of flowers, in tribute to the woman buried here. Her inscription reads:
‘Indefatigable and self-denying , she was the widow’s friend; the support of the orphan, the fearless and unwearied nurse of the sick; the originator of baths and wash houses for the poor.’
In a time of disease and poverty Kitty Wilkinson did indeed invent the wash house, what we’d now call a launderette, making life better and healthier for thousands. She’s remembered in this stained glass window in the Cathedral and continues to be an inspiration to people doing good things to this day, as we’re about to find out.
So then, Kitty’s Launderette? It’s a new place that’s going to be about washing clothes, of course it is, but much more than that. It’ll be a warmly welcoming social place, a meeting and community gathering place where work and lives can happen all together.
It’s something I first heard about from my friend Grace Harrison a couple of years ago now. Since when it’s grown into a team and all the wherewithals they’ll need to open, well this:
‘We’re a small team of Liverpool residents opening a new launderette in North Liverpool, intended as a social business rooted in the local community. We want to provide affordable washing and drying facilities to residents, while also reimagining the warm, underused space of the launderette for a variety of social and creative activities. From film screenings and local history groups, to crafts and ironing clubs, we’ll be serving up coffee, conversation and free Wi-Fi for all.
The business will be known as Kitty’s Launderette, in honour of local historical figure Kitty Wilkinson, who was instrumental in establishing the first wash house in the country back in 1842, here in Liverpool.’
While the team have been doing all their getting ready work, including looking for the right building to open in, they’ve gone around talking about their thoughts, to hear what people think and to influence what they’ll soon do when they open later this summer.
I’ll be telling you exactly where they’ll be opening before too long, but for now I want to take you into an evening they ran last October, at Homebaked here in North Liverpool. An evening where they talked about what they want to do, and about Kitty Wilkinson and the progress she inspired.
So the aim was kind of like an open evening at ‘Kitty’s Launderette’ with everything except the washers and dryers.
Grace introduced the team, the ideas and where they were up to. Then our visiting storyteller for the evening.
This is Michael Kelly, Kitty Wilkinson’s biographer. Who told us her story, in much more detail than I’ve sketched out above. Showing us the first wash house at Frederick Street:
Then bringing us into the 20th Century and the wash houses several of those present could remember going to years ago in this film from the BFI National Archive:
After all of which the conversation was deep and rich and detailed.
There were memories of Donaldson Street wash house, just down the side of where Homebaked is now:
‘The dance you’d do with your mates or your mum folding the sheets. Wheeling your washing in a pram through the entries so ‘you don’t show your dirty linen in public’. Having your family’s appointment time which the superintendent made you stick to. But getting the whole week’s washing and drying done in two hours. During which you found out EVERYTHING that was going on in the neighbourhood. And it was a laugh. And it felt good for us all to be together.’
And of course we talked about Kitty’s Launderette and what that could be like:
‘We like the social idea, young and old, newcomers and all. And the fact there’ll always be someone there looking after things. There’s some things you just can’t get washed and dried at home. And anyway, who wouldn’t want to come somewhere where we can talk like this AND get the washing done?
The talk went on well into the evening and it was great. And everyone wanted Kitty’s Launderette to be open right there and then. Which it kind of was.
And will be soon.
Now, in the last couple of weeks, Kitty’s Launderette has become a thing on social media. You might have noticed? It’s also become a building, round the corner from Oakfield Road, on Grasmere Street in Everton.
So before too long Kitty’s Launderette will be opening for business. And won’t that be good?
Big thanks to Homebaked and everyone there for the support and ideas on the night.