All washed up: beautiful photos of London’s disappearing laundrettes

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There are 462 launderettes in London. We know this because photographer Joshua Blackburn has taken pictures of them all. “I was drawn to the flood of neon spilling onto the street at night,” he says. “It wasn’t long before I began disappearing at strange times to visit local laundromats.”
 
The first laundrette opened in 1936 in Fort Worth, Texas. First known as a ‘washaterias’ – a combination of ‘wash” and ‘cafeteria’ (some sold food, too) – they soon spread across the USA, later becoming known as ‘laundromats’. The first British laundrette was opened in Queensway, London in 1949. 
 
The concept was simple. You would pop your dirty laundry into a giant washing machine and then add a scoop of ‘Daz’ or ‘Omo’. When your clothes were clean, and providing you had enough money, you’d put the wet clothes into a tumble dryer and wait until they were dry. 
 
The process would take around two hours. Enough time to make headway into a new novel, write part of your dissertation or ponder on the futility of human existence. For apartment-dwellers or stressed mums with no access to a washing machine, they were a lifeline.
 
The number of UK launderettes has fallen from 12,500 in the early-’80s to 3,000 today. It’s this that prompted Joshua to document these coin-operated temples to cleanliness before they disappeared entirely. And now his images have been collated into a new book, Launderama: London’s Launderettes. 
 
There’s much to love here. Because the golden age of laundrettes was between 1950 and 1980, many launderettes are beacons of mid-20th-century design. In Joshua’s photographs, we find pastel-coloured washing machines, gleaming lines of chrome and tasteful (though decrepit) sans-serif signs on the shop frontages. 
 
The only thing the pictures can’t convey is the smell: that heady perfume of detergent, water and fabric conditioner that’s unique to laundrettes. For that, you’ll need to visit one yourself. 
 
Laundrerama: London’s Launderettes is published by Hoxton Mini Press, hoxtonminipress.com







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