THIS week, I’ve had my eye on irons. We’re beginning to pack for our holidays, and so clothes are being chased through the washing cycle so that they can be smoothed by our top of the range, durablade, ultraglide steam iron ready to go in the case.

I’ve also had my eye on irons because I’ve been looking through a splendid 1832 ironmongery catalogue produced by J Lear & Sons of Horsemarket, Darlington. I don’t wish to spoil tomorrow’s magnificent Memories for you, but Lears stood from 1760 to 1965 where PizzaHut is today and sold every iron-related item your heart could wish for: skillets, porringers, hog troughs, manger ovens, chaffing dishes and sough grates, to name but a few.

And they did a splendid line in irons. Lears sold French irons, Italian irons, double Italian irons, Spanish irons, sad irons, oval sad irons, toy irons, hatters’ irons, tailors’ irons, flounce box irons, best puffing irons, and wafle irons and wafer irons.

All available in different shapes and weights, all with different and specific uses.

The basic iron was a sad iron – it was not unhappy, but sad meant solid. It was a small, black triangular iron, and there seems to have been quite a skill to using it. With our durable ultraglide iron, we set it to a temperature and off it goes, but the sad iron user had to judge for herself when her iron had sat on the hot range long enough so that it had reached sufficient temperature to do the job but not such a temperature that it scorched the material. She had to keep it spotlessly clean, so a smut didn’t smudge a shirt, but it also needed to be lightly greased, with beeswax, so it didn’t go rusty and so that it glided across the material.

But fashion decreed that a flat shirt was not enough. In the Lears’ day, dandies liked ornate ruffs and fancy flounces around their necks and puffed out sleeves at their wrists. So Lears sold irons in all shapes to get into the rounded corners of a ruff, a flounce or a puff, and to iron out all the wrinkles.

Perhaps the top of the range was the Italian iron which was used by a gofferer. It stood on a stand and was shaped like a horizontal test tube. The gofferer would wind the collar around the goffering iron so that it became crimped and fluted, so that when it was pushed together it created a goffered ruff – the word “goffer” comes from the French for honeycomb because that’s what the ruff looked like. The hard-working north American rodent the gopher gets its name from the same French word because it burrows into a hillside leaving it honeycombed.

Actually, using a durablade ultraglide iron is so incredibly boring you need such trivia to keep your mind from freezing, particularly as you know that, after all that ironing effort, you will place your perfectly flat shirts in the case but by the time they reach the other end, having been tossed about wily nily by the baggage handlers, that they will be screwed up and in need of a good iron.

I no longer use a sad iron, but I am a sad ironer.