ANYONE who has ever had the task of washing lots of pairs of socks will appreciate our latest ‘Object of the Week’.

It might look like an ancient instrument of torture, but it is actually an electrically-heated sock-dryer dating back to the 1960s.

The sock-dryer is on display at Ushaw Historic House and Gardens on the outskirts of Durham, and often draws admiring glances.

Ushaw opened as a seminary in 1808 and, throughout its history, local people have been employed in a variety of roles to keep the large estate up and running. These included chefs, gardeners, painters, farmers, tailors and maids.

One of the most important and best-remembered areas of the building was the laundry, which had the significant challenge of washing and drying the clothes of nearly 500 students and staff.

The laundry buildings were designed by Edward Pugin in 1854 and included a vast hall filled with the latest Victorian gas-powered washing equipment. It is thought that the sock-dryer was probably acquired when the laundry was remodelled in the 1960s.

The domestic side of Ushaw was usually managed by an order of religious women and the photograph shows members of the La Sagesse order skating on the pond in the 1960s.

The sock-dryer is part of the permanent “Life At Ushaw” exhibition, which features a fascinating oral history, compiled by former staff and students.

One student recalled: “Each student had a laundry number, sewn into all his clothes, and which he retained throughout his life at Ushaw. He also had two blue bags, emblazoned with this number, in one of which he sent his laundry in each week. It usually, though not always, returned the following week – a precursor of airport baggage handling! No Ushaw man has ever forgotten his washbag number.”

Claire Marsland, curator at Ushaw, said: “We think our sock-dryer is lovely and quirky so we are delighted that it is The Northern Echo’s Object of the Week.

“We haven’t been able to find any record of another one like it so it’s special. It has different hooks for small socks and large socks and, when you think of how many socks they must have had to wash in Ushaw’s heyday, it was probably a really important piece of equipment.”

* Object of the Week is a regular feature in The Northern Echo. If you have an interesting or unusual object with a tale to tell and you like to see it in the Echo, contact Andrew White on 01325-505054 or email