THE people who once used Glasgow’s steamies, the shift supervisor from Townhead declared in 1977, had been a race apart, a tougher race of women than the modern housewife,”able to pull a huge load of washing on a wee pram up a big hill in hail, rain or snow. I’ve seen me arriving,” he added, “at half-past-six on a dark morning in the days when we used to open really early - only to find a queue waiting to get in.”

Duncan Balfour worked at the Townhead steamie. He’d been in the business for 15 years, and had seen it all. It wasn’t the same, what with all the automation, the industrial-sized automatic washing-machines with their super-fast tumbler-dryers. The Evening Times reporter who interviewed him seemed to sympathise: gone, he wrote, were the wally sinks and zinc tubs; gone were the clothes-horse pull-out hot-air dryers.

In 1977, some might have thought that steamies had gone the way of the Glasgow trams. But no: there were still 19 of them across the city, attracting a substantial base of customers. Ten years earlier, there had been 25 steamies, and together they had had more than half-a-million users.

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One Townhead woman said that if you had a sizeable family, the ordinary domestic washing-machines couldn’t cope with a big enough load to enable you to do the week’s laundry quickly. The answer was the Townhead steamie, where the big machines could take 30lbs at a time (for 30p); it could be washed and dried in an hour or so.

This steamie, however, had been facing closure, because of council spending cutbacks.

Despite automation, Mr Balfour observed, some things never changed. “Nobody’s invented anything better than a pram,” he said, “for shifting a bag of washing.”