Remembrance of Things Past

Mostly about growing up the 1950s in Ilford, Essex.

[45] How did we Manage Without … ?


In which I consider all the electrical devices that we now have, some battery operated. After my initial comments in [4] My Lovely Mobile!, you must have all thought that we lived a miserable life then, without even basic modern home comforts. There are so many things available today. How did we manage without them?

For some, we just managed without, while for others we had some (obviously primitive) alternatives. I have tried to list them all, in alphabetical order (!) often missing out the words ‘Electric’, ‘Electronic’ or ‘Battery Operated’ to start. To make it a bit shorter, [**] indicates that more details will be given in another blog.   

Air Conditioning – It’s not really needed in our climate for homes. It came into some offices originally to stop the computers from over-heating; and it has now become fairly standard in cars. We managed without it.

ATM [**] (We call them cash machines or ‘holes in the wall.’  I put ATM for our American readers.) – I think we managed with less cash. People were much more often paid in cash and we did a lot less spending money or shopping. You could get money by queueing up in a bank, if you could get there during their quite restricted opening hours. (Now the trend is going away from cash. Many people will use a credit card for every little purchase.)

Bar Code Readers – The shop assistant served you and so knew what you were buying. If you bought more than one thing, the assistant had to work out the total by mental arithmetic, perhaps helped with some pencil and paper calculations. (I remember once, much later than the sixties, buying ten batteries at an upmarket department store. The poor assistant had a lot of difficulty. Ten was too many, so he worked out two, then four, then four + four + two on a piece of paper!)

When you bought a round of drinks at a bar, it was hectic. The barman (or barmaid) could only work out then total by mental arithmetic, with a bit of guesswork. (You could amuse yourself by buying the same round again and seeing whether the total charged was the same. It was usually a bit different.)


Shops had cash registers, mechanical machines that enabled the assistant to indicate the total price. If it came to £2: 12s 7d, he pressed several buttons simultaneously – for £2, 10s, 2s, 6d and 1d – and pushed down hard. The price came up, a bell rang and the till drawer opened. If you gave him £3, there was no calculator to work out the change – he would count upwards from £2: 12s 6d to £3: 0s: 0d as he put coins into your hand.

[The picture shown is the best example I can find of a pre-decimal one using £sd.]

Battery Chargers – We didn’t have rechargeable batteries!

Blankets – They were available. My parents had one! I think it was considered a luxury item.

Blenders – See Food Mixers

Bread Making Machines – We did make bread at home, without mixers. It took a lot more time and work. See Food Mixers.

Calculators [**] – Calculators only came into schools in the mid-sixties. When I look at banking, I will explain how they managed some of their calculations. (You can appreciate that one reason that banks closed at 3:30 pm was to give staff time to reconcile all their figures the slow way before going home.)

Cameras – We just had to use the old methods, which were more difficult, time-consuming and expensive. See [41] Flash, Bang, Wallop!

Can Openers – We have here an example of something that has come and gone. In the fifties we had to use primitive mechanical devices to open tins of food, as shown in [28] ‘Clever People and Grocers, they Weigh Everything’. With electricity and technology, there came an electrical can opener. You fixed the can and switched on. The can turned in a circle and the lid came off. Now technology has produced cans with easily opened lids, so the electric can opener is no longer needed! (We didn’t have ring-pulls for drinks cans either, but then drinks did not come in cans then.)

Car Radios – We managed without them. To be honest, by modern standards, cars were a bit primitive. We had no music, and no traffic news. We talked a lot more. (No cassette tapes, CDs or MP3 players in cars either!)

Cash Machines [**] – See ATM

Cash Registers – See Bar code

Central Heating Timers – We didn’t have central heating!

Clocks – Most clocks, even alarm clocks, operated by clockwork. You wound them up each day. You did the same with watches.

Coffee Machines [**] – Coffee was not the same. There was instant coffee (!!) and coffee beans cooked by alternative methods using gas cookers.

Computers – Word processing, digital photography, spreadsheets, databases, the Internet … We just managed without them, or used paper-based methods. (Typewriters provided very basic word processing.) See also Games Machines and Mobile Phones.

Credit Card Machines [**] – An easy one. We didn’t have credit cards.

Dishwashers [**] – You can probably guess this one.


Drills – We did it the hard way, using manual tools. I can remember using one of these. There were electric drills. They were expensive and I presume that these were use by professional carpenters and builders.

Dryers (for washing) [**] – See Washing Machines

Fans – They were probably available but not common, used by the rich. (You know what I mean by now – by the rich and posh people!)

Fan Ovens [**] – Cooking was more of an adventure. Temperature depended on which shelf was used. (We did not have glass doors.)

Exercise Bikes – See Treadmills.

Fires – Primitive ones were available. They did not look like coal fires. See [6] ‘He is like a Refiner’s fire and He shall Purify’


Food Mixers [**] – We used an ordinary fork, a wooden spoon or a hand whisk.

Freezers – We didn’t have frozen food, and didn’t put ice in our cocktails!

Fridges – see Refrigerators. (Sorry. My pet hate.)

Games Machines – We had books, card games and board games. We found other things to do.

Hair Curlers/ Hair Straighteners [**] – We managed without them. Women did not have much choice when it came to hairstyles and they relied on Hairdressers.

Hair Dryers [**] – Simple ones were available. They had only one (slow) speed and one (low) heat setting, much like those that hotels now provide (so that you don’t use too much of their electricity!)

Ice-cream Machines – We didn’t make ice-cream at home. (Probably a sensible decision when there were no refrigerators or freezers!)

Immersion Heaters – Yes, we did have them then. With no central heating, we used them regularly but sparingly. They were considered to be expensive.

Internet – Be serious! Why would we need the Internet with no Computers, no Mobile Phones


Irons – There were simple electric irons but they were not steam irons. Ironing was much more difficult. We even had a couple of old non-electric irons at our house. Occasionally my grandmother used them, heating them briefly on the gas stove. (She didn’t always use an ironing board, just a table protected by a blanket.)

Juicers – Not really an essential item. It was hard – but we managed without them.

Kettles [**] – They were made of metal and heated on the gas oven.

Lights – Life was not that primitive! We did have electric lights – lamps and ceiling lights – probably not quite so many as in modern houses.

Microwave Ovens – Easy: There were no pre-packed microwave meals.

Mobile Phones – I will leave it to your imagination. If you left the house, leaving a loved one at home, they would wait a few hours for your return. If a friend or relative moved thirty or forty miles away, you almost lost contact – except by letter.

Ovens [**] – Most cooking was by gas. There were no electric timers for cooking. (We had very early clockwork timers.)

Photocopiers – Even for commercial use, these were not available until the late fifties, with colour coming a decade later. In the late sixties, I worked at large business establishments that just had one photocopier in its own office for hundreds of staff – large, expensive and requiring frequent maintenance. (And black and white.)

Power Showers – Showers were not at all common. People use baths – not nearly as often as they do now. [US: bath tubs]

Printers – We did not need them without computers or digital cameras. Commercial printing used industrial sized, expensive machines.

Radios – We did have electric radios – large, heavy devices using valves. (Once, our wireless did not work for a few months. Eventually we decided to take it to the electrical repair shop. It was so big and heavy that it took two of us to load it carefully into the car boot for transport. As we lifted it in … the plug fell off!) Transistor radios came in the early sixties. See also Car Radios.

Chrome-Safety-Razor Gillett-7-OClock-SharpEdge-5-x-Razor-Blades_detail

Razors – We used safety razors, metal contraptions into which you could put double-edged, sharp razor blades. At first the blades rusted quickly but more expensive stainless steel ones would last for a few days.


Barbers sometimes used the older, non-safety razors. They still do, sometimes.

Refrigerators [**] – This is hard to explain. To put it simply: cold drinks did not have to be very cold; we did not rely so much on perishable food; food did not keep so long; and we were not obsessed with ‘use by’ dates!

For all food storage, houses had a ‘larder’, a large cupboard in the kitchen with an airbrick to provide ventilation.

There were ways to cover and enclose things like meat and cheese. If the outside of a block of cheese had a bit of mould on it, we cut it off and ate the bits without visible mould.

We didn’t have things like yoghurt. Milk was delivered to the doorstep every day – it was usually drinkable except when left out too long in the sun.

Rowing Machines – see Treadmills

Satnav – We used atlases and maps or we got lost more often! To be honest, we didn’t often go in search of unknown places.


Scales – For kitchen scales, we had the old proper scales, balancing the contents of a pan with weights.

[US readers should appreciate that recipes for cooking in the UK use weights. UK readers may not know that all recipes in the US measure everything by volume!]


In shops they had something like this. It weighs whatever is placed on it – in pounds and ounces, and shows the price. Each price rate has its own curving scale of figures.

For modern bathroom scales, the nearest equivalents were massive machines you could stand on to find you weight – usually found in public conveniences [US: Restrooms] and at funfairs and seaside locations.

Screwdrivers – See Drills

Shavers – See Razors

Televisions – We entertained ourselves – reading, playing cards, making music on a piano.

Toasted Sandwich Makers – Hard to believe, but we did not have toasted sandwiches! It was a hard life!

Toasters – We used the grill of the oven. It was easier than grills today. And we used toasting forks – See [36] These are a Few of my Favourite Things

Toothbrushes – We did have toothbrushes, wooden with bristles. We did it the old-fashioned way. (I still do.)

Treadmills – We got our exercise from hard physical exertion and walking. We did not go to the Gym!

Vacuum Cleaners – We had brooms, brushes, dust pans and dusters. It was hard work and time consuming but it worked. (Primitive vacuum cleaners were coming in.)


(Not sure of this picture. Dust pans were metal, not plastic.)

Video/ TV Recorders – Television was not that important and there wasn’t much of it. Some programmes were repeated.

Washing Machines [**] – There could be a blog about washing.

Wireless – See Radio.

Finally, one of the easiest to answer:

Remote Control Devices – We didn’t have most of the devices we now control remotely. But we were not afraid of getting up and walking two or three steps when we had to do things. We probably weren’t sitting down much anyway!

Author: Alan

Retired, currently living in Cheltenham.

8 thoughts on “[45] How did we Manage Without … ?

  1. Pingback: [55] QWERTYUIOP | Remembrance of Things Past

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  4. Not all areas had electric lights in the fifties – my parents lived in South Wales, in a town near the docks which had electricity to it if course, but still gas light in the house. Probably that “rich/poor” divide you were talking about. We got electricity in about 1955 but my granny still had gas. I used to go with her to the shop to buy a gas mantle – ” what’s one of those ” some people will say 🙂


    • The only gas mantles I remember were on boats on the Norfolk Broads in the sixties. I do remember Youth Hostels in Wales without electricity.


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