It might be that the only one you see on a regular basis these days in on EastEnders, yet back in the 1960s, launderettes were a new and exciting concept. Here, we play tribute to the beautiful laundrettes of the world, and ask how much longer they’ll be around for.
When did it start?
As they emerged in the UK in the 1960s, launderettes were chic, almost alien-looking establishments. Such places, were in existence in the USA (where they were known as washeterias) from as early on as the 1930s, but it took Britain another 30 or so years to catch up. Many families at this time were still too poor to afford their own machines, and the big electric beasts in launderettes were considered a massive boon. The first coin-operated launderette in the UK was opened in 1949 in Queensway, London, and still exists on the same spot today, as Central Wash.
All washed up?
Numbers of launderettes in the UK are sadly in decline. It’s estimated there are just 3,000 in the entire country now, with many people finding it impractical and expensive in the long term to take their washing down the high street once or twice a week. Time is likely to be another reason for the laundrette’s decline: sitting around and waiting for your washing to be done is a luxury few feel they can afford these days. Rent is high for those wanting to set up establishments too.
But it’s not all bad news. Curtains and the like are too big for many machines at home. Add to that travellers, and people with broken machines, and the launderette industry would appear to have a pretty solid clientele. And, as Bruce Herring, chairman of the National Association of the Launderette Industry, has claimed, “If you pick the right site, launderettes remain a viable business; every town in Britain can support one good launderette, despite most of us having machines at home.”
Another thing: using launderettes can be eco-friendly. If, for instance, your washing machine is quite small, you may need to use it two or three time more per week than if you were using one of the bigger machines in a launderette.
Maybe the most renowned laundrette to those in the UK is the one owned by Dot Branning in EastEnders. It serves as a great spot for characters to chatter and gossip above the noise of whirring machines, and air their dirty laundry, so to speak. My Beautiful Laundrette was the film version of Hanif Kureishi’s London-based racial drama, much of which is set in a launderette. The recent US drama hit Breaking Bad also makes use of a launderette as a front for a meths lab. Other honourable mentions go to HBO comedy Flight of the Conchords, where a laundrette features in the opening titles, and Rory Gallagher’s rock n’ roll tune Laundromat.
Do you still use a launderette? Let us know!