My grandmother would have disapproved. Although not a churchgoer, she regarded Sunday as a special day. Farmwork, yard work, were acceptable; unnecessary indoor work was not something to be contemplated. Monday was her washing day. Even when there might have been fine sunny weather on Sunday and the threat of rain on the following day, she would still have not considered doing the washing. Dying in 2007, she still lived by old ways, even when the reason for those ways had been forgotten.
My grandmother would have disapproved of ironing on a Sunday, but there being a pile of shirts in need of pressing and there being work tomorrow, the thought of a touch of posthumous opprobrium was not sufficient disincentive. An Ulster farmer who had been criticised for making hay on a Sunday once turned to me and said, “the better the day, the better the day, Ian.”
Not that there was any logic in any prohibition of Sunday activities. The Sabbath, and all the rules related to it, was a Jewish institution, it was from the pages of the Old Testament. The Sabbath was Saturday, not Sunday. It was in the Seventeenth Century that Puritan Christians started applying the rules of the Sabbath to Sundays. Four centuries later, it is still difficult to persuade some people that Sunday is the first day of the week, not the seventh, and that Sabbatarianism was not based on the New Testament, but on the ideas of a group of people who regarded almost every form of enjoyment as something to be condemned and banned.
Churches seemed to embrace the prohibition of Sunday activity, perhaps the lack of any alternatives was considered a reason to tell people that they must attend worship. Only a small minority would have wished to attend dry, formal services where preachers’ sermons were in the language of university education, sermons which would have meant nothing to the ordinary people who say in the pews Sunday by Sunday.
Reading diaries and journals from the Eighteenth Century, it is clear that there was bitter resentment felt at the power of the Church of England to shape even the private lives of ordinary people. Richard Skinner, a cleric in Somerset at the end of the Eighteenth and the beginning of the Nineteenth Centuries narrates bitter conflicts he had fought with groups of village people over their non-attendance at worship.
Had electric steam irons existed in those centuries, special words of condemnation would have been reserved for those who used them.