“THERE is a growing need for fully automatic, round-the-clock washing facilities, for busy housewives in particular,” reported The Northern Echo in April 1966, as it told how Darlington’s first “washeteria” was opening in Victoria Road.

There were already launderettes in town, but the washeteria was taken the art of coin-operated communal laundering facilities to the next level.

Housewives even had a choice of colour washing machine.

How the town must have worked itself into a lather. How the women (the Echo makes clear that men did not do the washing in those days) must have been in a spin.

“The Washeteria holds 12 washers and five spin driers,” said the Echo. “Each washer – customers have a colour choice of either pink or seagreen – works on an 18 minute cycle, takes 12lb of dry washing and gives three washes and three rinses – all for two shillings.”

The women had a choice of hot (160F, no Centigrade in those days) or warm (120F) water temperature, could buy detergent from dispensers on the wall, and had five heat settings on the driers.

“36lb of wet laundry can be dried ready for the ironing board in seven-and-a-half minutes – for 6d,” said the Echo.

The very first launderette in the world opened in 1936 in Fort Worth, Texas, and had four washing machines and was called a “washateria” – a wash-house combined with a cafeteria. However, the name that stuck in the US was “laundromat”.

In the UK, the first launderette opened in fashionable Bayswater in London in 1949, and the concept spread around the country, but the Washeteria of 1966 marked the arrival of the very latest washing technology in Darlington.

It was open from 6.30am to 10.30pm seven days a week, and a service wash was available for an extra 6d.

By the early 1980s, when Nick Kamen famously removed his Levi jeans, there were 12,500 launderettes across the country, but since then, as nearly every home as gained its own washing machine, numbers have declined so that there are now fewer than 3,000.

L Any launderette stories? Send them to chris.lloyd@nne.co.uk.

THE Washeteria was at 114, Victoria Road and so was next door to George Reeks’ greengrocery shop which featured here last week. George closed his shop at about the time that the Washeteria opened.

“George was my dad's cousin,” says Beryl Wilson, “and their grandfather was the first Reeks to settle in Darlington. He was, in fact, Frank Reeks and not Fred as you said.

“He was originally from Dorset and his wife Elishua Parmiter Blake from Wiltshire. I suspect they met while in service, and they had nine sons, all born in North Yorkshire apart from the youngest.

“They moved into Darlington in 1880 and lived in Hargreave Terrace before moving to Parkgate where he had a fruit and vegetable shop.

“I was told that when the young delivery boys were in the shop on their own preparing strawberries, Frank would get them to whistle while they worked, so he knew they weren't pinching any of the fruit!”