This one is about a Liverpool hero, a woman named Kitty Wilkinson by Baz Farmer, Liverpool
Kitty Wilkinson became recognised during a cholera epidemic in 1832. She had the only boiler in her neighbourhood and allowed her neighbours to use it for one penny per week. She had quickly realised the importance of thoroughly cleaning infected clothing and linen to help stop the spread of cholera, thus saving many lives.
Born Catherine in Seaward in Londonderry/ Derry in 1786, she migrated with her family to Liverpool when she was nine years old. The ship on which they sailed ran aground with her father and sister tragically losing their lives.
At the age of 12, she took up a role in Caton, Lancashire as an apprentice in a cotton mill. She returned to Liverpool at the age of 20, after leaving the mill and returning to live with her mother. At this time, they both worked as domestic maids. Kitty married Emanuel Demontee, a sailor, and they had two children in quick succession. Her husband tragically drowned whilst at sea.
Shortly after her loss, she was gifted a mangle and set herself up as a laundress. In 1823, she married Tom Wilkinson, and they, along with her mother and children rented a place on Deninson Street.
In 1832, during a cholera epidemic, she quickly understood the importance of having clean clothing. Having the only boiler in her neighbourhood, she invited the community to use her equipment at a weekly cost of one penny, thus saving many lives. This was the first public laundrette in the UK. She taught the people how to disinfect linen, using chloride of lime.
A decade later in 1842, recognising her efforts, as well as her pushing the issue, she got funding from the Provident Society and William Rathbone. This enabled her to open the first combined laundrette and public baths in the UK in Upper Frederick Street. In 1846, the Mayor of Liverpool awarded her a silver teapot, gifted by Queen Victoria, with the inscription: “The Queen dowager and the ladies of Liverpool to Catherine Wilkinson 1846”. She was subsequently appointed the superintendent of the public baths.
Catherine died in Liverpool and was buried at St James cemetery, below the Anglican Cathedral. Her gravestone is still there and has the following inscription:
“Catherine Wilkinson. Died 11 November 1860, aged 73. Indefatigable and self-denying, she was the widow’s friend. The support of the orphan. The fearless and unwearied nurse of the sick. The originator of the baths and wash houses for the poor. ‘For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living.’ St. Mark, 12 Chapter, 44th Verse.”
Images: Kitty, Washhouse upper Frederick Street, Kitty’s final resting place St. James Cemetery contributed by Baz Farmer (author).