May 9, 1949: Britain's first launderette sets a revolution in motion

Britons got to air their dirty laundry in public when Central Wash opened its doors in Bayswater, London in 1949 - and it's still going strong today.

Britain grew a little less grey on this day in 1949 as the nation's first self-service launderette opened in Bayswater, London.

With its rows of steel tubs, soap dispensers and lack of staff, Central Wash could well have been mistaken for a crashed spacecraft when it open its doors to the public.

It was to be expected - the concept was positively alien. Airing one's dirty laundry in public - either figuratively or literally - was once a distinctly un-British thing to do.

Thus the grand opening garnered little attention, with a local paper at some pains to point out the whole affair was largely experimental.

It read: "Britain’s first self-service, coin-operated launderette opened, for a six-month trial, at 184 Queensway in Bayswater. All that housewives have to do is bring the washing, put it in the machine and come back 30 minutes later (charge 2s 6d for 9lbs)."

[May 22, 1980: Iconic video game character Pac-Man makes his first appearance]

But the implications of that second sentence sent gentle shockwaves through post-war Britain. This was not to be a trial. There was soon at least one launderette on every British high street.

To call the advent of the humble launderette a red-letter day in the history of female emancipation would be to apply slightly too much spin. But the arrival of mechanised washing did sear through the proverbial chains that once held homemakers to their sinks.

Here was the promise of an easier life. Sales of washboards and wringers collapsed. Demand for elbow grease plummeted. 

Indeed, the launderette soon became a victim of its own immense success. Technology was advancing and competing manufacturers were soon battling to shunt a domestic washer across the threshold of every British home.

Yet Central Wash has survived the turbulent cycle. Its drums continue to roll, dolling out clean clothes and freedom from drudgery to anyone willing to part with a fistful of coins.