Clare Qualmann explains the idea and inspiration behind it……..
The Spinning Stories project came out of an artist’s residency that I did at the Women’s Library in 2008/9 – I was looking at artefacts in their collection – such as instruction manuals for housewives, and domestic science education notes, and became interested in the very specific laundry instructions they contained. I was also aware that the library building occupies one of London’s first public baths and washhouses – built as a model establishment by campaigners for the public baths and washhouses act which was passed in 1846. Those who were against the establishment of public washhouses argued “it would take women from their homes… causing them to congregate in great numbers, the good and bad together, and if it did no worse, would lead to gossiping, tattling and
perhaps to squabbling and gin drinking”. (Arthur Ashpitel, Observations on Baths and Washhouses with an Account of their History, 1851, p.4)Which places the relationship between launderettes and gossip right at their start.
My collaborator on the project, Emily Butterworth is an academic whose research interests focus on gossip – so all of these things fit together really well.
From the outset we wanted to connect the research project to the reality of the East End as it is now – an area in which launderettes are disappearing. So we combined our historical investigation into baths and washhouses with current launderettes to create a walk (I’m attaching the guide). We also spent a lot of time sitting in launderettes and talking to people about their experiences in launderettes – and collected some great stories, including anecdotes of what things used to be like, but also some intriguing and salacious overheard conversations and bits of gossip – which is all documented on the spinning stories blog at: http://spinningstories.wordpress.com/