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Postcard with women washing in the wash house in Saint-Renan (around 1920)

As Lavoir in are French-speaking public, mostly covered washing areas designated. In the German-speaking world, the term wash house is mostly used.


As far as we know today, the history of the covered washhouses goes back to the 18th century. In the Middle Ages and early modern times , women washed their clothes on stones by streams or rivers. In the course of the industrial revolution and the associated pollution, large numbers of covered buildings were built for the first time towards the end of the 18th century. This should also reduce the risk of epidemics.

The construction of the wash houses was usually financed from the respective municipal treasury, because the often too open-hearted and permissive behavior of the washerwomen - in the opinion of church and official authorities - should be prevented or at least hidden behind walls and low roofs.

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The wash houses were mostly located on a stream or a river and - like tanneries - were usually on the outskirts. As the cities got bigger and bigger, inner-city lavoirs also had to be tolerated. Some lavoirs were also in the immediate vicinity of a spring; only in rare cases were lavoirs supplied with water from wells.


Common to all lavoirs are two or more washing places with wash stones inclined into the basin, on which the laundry was worked with wooden bats or by hand. Brushes were rarely used at the time. The main differences are in the height of the washing stones. The laundresses had to kneel to wash the laundry in many lavoirs, while better equipped washhouses made it possible to work while standing.

Since men were not allowed in the wash houses, the wash houses, in addition to their actual function, offered women an undisturbed place for their communication, which could also consist of informal gossip - hence the derogatory comparison “talkative like a washerwoman”.

Building types

The outer walls of the wash houses could be made of stone or built of half-timbered houses . Often the buildings were also half-open. For the roofing of the wash houses mostly wooden constructions were used; brick arches were the exception. Since the 19th century - similar to the French market halls ( halles ) - there were also cast-iron supporting structures.

Washships on rivers, such as those in Paris, Geneva or Lyon, are a specialty . These were first built on the Mayenne around 1850 and had coal stoves to heat the river water.


Lavoirs still preserved today are considered to be sights in many communities. The neoclassical wash house in Loray has been listed as Monument historique on the list of architectural monuments in France since 1979 .

See also


  • Michèle Caminade: Linge, lessive, lavoir - une histoire de femmes. Éditions Christian, Paris 2005, ISBN 2-8649-6131-8 .
  • Christophe Lefébure: La France des lavoirs. Éditions Privat, Toulouse 2003, ISBN 2-7089-9173-6 .

Web links

Commons : Washhouses in France  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Lavoir  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. a b cf. Anny Bloch-Raymond: Bateaux-lavoirs, buanderies et blanchisseries, des relations entre espaces publics, espaces privés , in: Revue des sciences sociales ( full text, PDF )
  2. ^ Lavoir - building and social history
  3. Lavoir de Loray in the Base Mérimée of the French Ministry of Culture (French)