Oh boy, have I discovered a hidden treasure – possibly the most unusual museum in South Africa and certainly the only one of its kind! The Hartenbos Iron and Washing Museum.
All I wanted was a cup of coffee and a ladies’ room. The nearest town was Hartenbos so I popped in and stopped at the first place I saw where coffee might be found – a Wimpy. The above sign caught my eye and despite my need to get to Cape Town as fast as possible, I couldn’t resist investigating.
This is South Africa’s only museum of its kind and possibly the world’s best collection of irons. Not to mention some extremely rare implements for washing clothing throughout the ages and even soap and other detergents. This is not just a collection of items, it’s a fascinating history of how we have maintained our clothing since we started taking more care of our appearance than just slapping on a piece of skin.
The museum has items showing that fabric was being ‘ironed’ as far back as the 8th century when flat stones were used for cold ironing. The first ironing device appears to have been invented by the Chinese in the same century. This was a ‘pan iron’ which refers to a device wherein hot coal was placed inside and the ironing was done with the ‘sole’ of the pan.
Irons were works of art before steam and electricity. There were different types of irons to work on various parts of a garment, specific shapes for pleats or ruffles, tiny irons for intricate designs, irons with slots to get around buttons, curves to iron a hat, and even irons with decorative ornaments. Did you know that the first washing machine was invented in 1782? Have you ever wondered how cruise passengers managed to always look so neat and well-dressed on those long Trans-Atlantic cruises? You’ll get your answers here.
The owner of this little gem is Jan Ellis who also owns the laundry next door. His collection has grown so much that the museum is about to double in size with more shelving and appropriate, modern, display cases. Jan bought a collection of irons from a couple in Kleinmond back in 1976 and has added to it over the years. He says E-Bay has ruined online sourcing of quality items because there’s a lot of rubbish available but he still manages to find new items now and then; needless to say he checks the internet regularly to look for collectables.
Jan expects the new museum space to be ready by March 2015. It will be dedicated to Janine, his late daughter and his will stipulates that it should never be sold. I’ll be sure to pop in and see the new space – who would’ve thought irons and washing machines could be so fascinating? If you want to learn more, click here.