Thursday, August 9, 2012

Clothes horse, winter hedge, or maiden

Today there was too much laundry for our clothes lines so I dried some of it the old fashioned way. I threw the clothes on the hedge. Very effective and intensely satisfying. 

The antiquity of this method is attested by the term "winter hedge", for what I call a clothes horse.  “Winter hedge” goes back at least as far as Old English (about 800 years). And so far as I can tell by looking at a few websites, was common until quite recently in northern England - specifically West Yorkshire, south Lancashire, and Derbyshire. 

I'm sure this design for a winter hedge will have altered little since the days of the Anglo-Saxons:

It's almost exactly what our clothes horse at home looked like. (Ours had three leaves instead of two as shown. My father used to make the damp washing into a tent and put a paraffin heater inside it. Pretty dangerous really now I look back on it.)

Another name for the thing is "maiden". In a discussion board devoted to Old English words and their survival in modern dialects, the topic of alternative names for “clothes horse” came up, and someone wrote in to say:

“Definitely a maiden here in East Manchester. There is an item in a local Will called a 'winter hedge' which our local historian interpreted as a maiden. I still call my clothes airer a maiden.”  Another contributor suggested that "clothes horse" is an expression that belongs to the south of England.


  1. Looks like you've got the good weather at last Pete! We always referred to them as clothes horses in our fiercely northern household (and in fact still do now in our house with the less charming plastic versions).

  2. I was searching google this evening - looking for any evidence of old stories of times of religious persecution when people would hang cloths or linen on bushes or hedgerows to give the message that all was clear and safe for meeting. LIving in West Wales people still hang clothes on the bushes.. or grass. Its an excellent tradition. I believe chlorophyll will clear any messy whites, and it seems a reasonable idea... love the term "winter hedge"... gives my old maiden something to look up to !