A great many French villages still have ‘lavoirs’ or outdoor communal washing places preserved as sightseeing attractions.  In the 19th century steams were diverted into the centre of the community and a small, stone-lined pool was created and covered with a roof where the village women could do their washing. The one in our village was built in 1892. In the small area between a town called Fismes and Reims there are 56 lavoirs that still exist. The pattern is repeated all over France. Some have been turned into focal points by filling them with flowers, but some are so utilitarian, they could never be made beautiful. You have to feel sorry for the ladies of the village of Écueil whose facility was little more than an enlarged horse trough situated right in the middle of the village square, completely open to the elements. By contrast we visited Birmingham Museum and saw that by 1914 the city council were concerned that over 40,000 houses were still without an indoor water supply, implying that everyone else in the city had already got an indoor tap from which to get water for drinking and for doing the washing. I am not aware of any public washing places that still exist in the UK.

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