As It Happens

Why some Brits are flashing their knickers in a colourful display of solidarity

When a woman in the U.K. got a letter asking her to stop hanging her laundry out to dry, her neighbours join a kind of boxer rebellion.

Colyton residents display their underwear in support of woman who was asked to stop air drying her clothes

Homes and businesses in the British town of Colyton are airing their laundry all over town in solidarity with a local woman who received an anonymous letter asking her to stop hanging her clothes outside. (Photo submitted by Alison Stenning)

Business owners in Colyton, Devon, are letting it all hang out in support of a friend.

Local homes and businesses in the U.K. town have fashioned various lines and racks to hang their laundry — underwear and all — as a sign of solidarity with a resident who received an anonymous letter asking her to stop hanging her clothes outside.

Various clothing items can be seen hanging across Colyton in support of Mountjoy. (Photo submitted by Alison Stenning)

Claire Mountjoy received a complaint letter after hanging her freshly-washed clothes to dry out the front of her house.

"Would you please consider using a tumble dryer or hanging the washing indoors," it reads.

"This letter is not written with malice but we ask you to please help us all keep Colyton a town we can all be proud of."

In response to the note, local business owner Anton Bolton and others in the community are hanging out their clothing, too — everywhere.

Sun's out, socks out

Mountjoy figured the warm, spring weather made it the ideal time to switch from appliance to air-dry when she hung out a fresh load of laundry.

"I thought it was a really good idea to put our washing outside to dry in the sunshine," she said. "It's the most environmentally friendly thing to do."

It was also a move for practicality, Bolton told As It Happens host Carol Off.

"She lives with her three growing sons, and she hasn't got a backyard so she has a clotheshorse and the line in the front of her house, and obviously dries all the laundry there."

This letter was sent to Mountjoy about her laundry, and it was signed 'Anonymous'. (Photo submitted by Claire Mountjoy)

Then last week, seemingly out of nowhere, Mountjoy received a letter in the mail asking her to stop hanging her laundry out front in order to keep the town "lovely" and "looking good."

"I was upset," she said. "I wanted to explain why I leave my washing outside."

The anonymous writer claimed to be speaking "on behalf of local businesses and the neighbourhood." 

Anton Bolton runs the Colyton Butchershop, where he’s hung laundry in support of Mountjoy. (Photo submitted by Alison Stenning)

But Bolton — himself a local business owner — said he certainly wasn't in on it.

"I thought it was an absolute load of rubbish. How small-minded can some people be?" he said.

"I've spoken to several other business people in the town and they just think it's a load of nonsense. They've hung out washing as well."

Support in the form of dangling undies

To show the anonymous letter-writer that there's nothing wrong with knickers flapping in the breeze, residents have been hanging garments out windows, in storefronts, and even up a flagpole.

"The History Society have done some heraldic banners outside most of the properties in the square," Bolton said.

"I think the bit of washing here and there just compliments it."

Claire Mountjoy lives in Colyton with her three sons.

With Colyton on her side, Mountjoy isn't about to give in to the anonymous complainant. 

"It feels like the community has given me a big hug and gone, 'It's alright'. Everyone's on board with a great sense of humour," she said.

"It's sunny and nice. I'm going to continue to hang out my washing. It's the best bit of doing the washing; standing outside, chatting to people, enjoying the sunshine."

Written by Emilie Quesnel. Interview with Anton Bolton produced by Sarah Cooper.