Remembrance of Things Past

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

[105] Is there Honey Still for Tea?


Sorry for the long delay. I will try to get things more or less finished by the end of the year. This one continues where [103] ended with some more miscellaneous shorter items. It will include a lot of personal memories.


Soft Drinks

In our household we mostly drank water – straight from the tap. Of course there was no ice. Sometimes we could have milk.

As a special treat we might have Orange Squash diluted maybe five to one with water. The opened bottle would last for months under the stairs. That was about it for still drinks. There was a Lemon Squash and (expensive) Lemon Barley Water as seen at Wimbledon. You could buy Orange Juice from the milkman – that was the only juice available.

(I used to love Squash diluted with milk. Yes – the milk curdled!)Coc

When it came to fizzy drinks there was Tizer – another special treat only drink. Lucozade was even more expensive, and was advertised for use as a tonic after illness. We never had it. As an older child I did know of friends sometimes drinking Pepsi-Cola, them more prevalent than its US cousin Coca-cola, which now rules the world.

R Whites produced Lemonade and Dandelion and Burdock. We never had them but you used to see them in shops and on delivery lorries. As for beer, there was a returnable deposit on the bottle. I can’t remember whether it was 3d or 6d but it was very significant in comparison to the cost of the drink.

OK, there was Bitter Lemon or Tonic Water as mixers in pubs. We didn’t have those at home.

So you can work out what didn’t exist then – no other fruit juices or drinks; no isotonic sports drinks; no smoothies or yoghurt drinks; no energy drinks; no non-alcoholic beer or wine; … and certainly no bottled water! (If you wanted water at a restaurant it would be tap-water served in a jug. You didn’t have to ask for it. It was always there.) And, of course, there were no drinks in cans.


(I said it would be miscellaneous!)

I can remember my father doing some home improvements (of which more later) but the expression DIY (Do It Yourself) didn’t really exist in the early fifties. I date it to Barry Bucknell who in the late 1950s he began presenting the long running BBC TV series Barry Bucknell’s Do It Yourself. At its peak attracted seven million viewers. Programmes, as for almost everything then, were live and, despite rehearsing his projects at home with his wife timing him, occasionally there were on-screen mishaps with Bucknell saying “This is how not to do it!”

He showed techniques to modernise older properties, typically using cheap materials including plywood to cover up architectural detail such as period doors and fireplaces, which at that time were considered unfashionable.

When we moved to our new house, dad redecorated everywhere. He boxed in the balustrade with plywood in the style advocated by Barry. I remember being sent to the hardware shop in Beehive Lane for plywood. I think it was 7d a square foot cut to order or 6d a square foot for a whole sheet (about 4 ft. by 6 ft.) [So in modern terms about 30p per square metre.]

I can remember a few other things about decorating. In those days walls were covered with wallpaper. (I suspect that most old houses had plaster underneath that was not of good enough quality to paint. Painted walls came into fashion in the sixties and at first you needed lining paper to paint over.) Wallpaper came in rolls with rough edges attached, perhaps to protect them. The edges were attached with a perforated line and they had to be removed carefully.

The paper was not pre-pasted. Dad mixed wallpaper paste in a two-gallon enamel bucket, carefully adding a handful at a time and stirring with a long piece of wood. It took nearly an hour to prepare the paste. Putting the paper up was also a long and careful job.

If you did use paint it could be matt emulsion for walls or gloss for woodwork. For ceilings it could be whitewash done by the bucketful with a big brush. There were no vinyl paints, definitely no non-drip paints, so nothing suitable for a paint roller.

My early memories were of Dad spending most of his time at home in improving the house … and garden.

The Garden

For most of our time in the new house the back garden was a neat path enclosing a rectangular lawn with a strip of flower beds round the outside.

But I can remember how it was constructed. When we first arrived it was overgrown with lots of weeds – including lots of pretty blue cornflowers. The cornflowers were out of control so to mum and dad they were weeds.


Before it all started Dad got rid of the weeds and went through the earth everywhere, shovelling it through a garden sieve to remove the stones. Then with more stones, sand and cement he made the path.


First there was the path. Under the path is a layer of hard-core – stones compressed to a hard layer. Dad used a punner to do this by hand – you just keep lifting a heavy weight and hitting it downwards, a lot of manual labour. Then he constructed a series of wooden box outlines for the path and made the concrete by hand. Cement, stones and water were mixed with a shovel in front of the garage and brought round in a wheelbarrow. As each section was laid it was smoothed with a strip of wood and left overnight to set. Alternate sections were in different colours with some cement colour added to the mix. Some sections were natural, some had a light pink colour.

The lawn was a lot more work starting with much finer sifting of the earth. You can create a lawn with turf or use seed but Dad used another method. Tiny grass seedlings were planted by hand every few inches in rows and carefully nurtured. It was a time when water shortages had led to a hosepipe ban so once or twice a day Mum would water the seedlings with a watering can! It did eventually grow to a proper lawn.

I don’t think either Mum or Dad knew much about flowers but they knew what they liked. We kept to the same traditional plants – antirrinums, (We called them ‘Bunny Rabbits.’) lupins, stocks and phlox. (I thought they were ‘flocks.’) Every year the annuals would be pansies and petunias.

(There were also three trees in the garden. In the back two corners we had an apple tree and a pear tree and near the house a cherry tree. The cherry tree did not last long as its roots came under the house.)

With the change towards DIY and increasing affluence the trend towards architectural gardening changes has been much more recent – probably prompted by television programmes like Ground Force. With these changes we have seen the emergence and spread of DIY shops and Garden Centres. In the fifties there was no water features; no decking; no solar lighting outside …



Standards for electrical installations changed around the early fifties. Before that we had two-pin 3 amp plugs and three-pin 15 amp plugs with round pins. Three pin plugs and sockets have been the standard since then. Electrical appliances never came with plugs but everyone knew how to fix a new one. We just had wall sockets. Cables were copper covered with fabric material – no plastic cables. There were no adaptors or extension leads.


Shop windows

Continuing the random trend, I have to say something about shop windows, one of those things that changed without most people noticing. There used to be glass shop windows. For the small shops like butchers and bakers this meant that you could see everything inside from outside. They would put some of the attractions near the window. (Fruit and vegetable shops had a lot of their wares in boxes on display outside.)

Larger shops such as the newsagents and particularly clothing shops and department shops would have a section just inside the window devoted to showing some of the attractions inside. There were people whose job it was to go round stores and change the window displays every few weeks.

The structure and form of modern shopping has led to their disappearance with perhaps a few exceptions. Lingerie shops still try to entice people inside by showing displays in their windows.


As always it is hard to get realistic pictures from the fifties. The mannequins used in windows were never like those in this last picture. They were headless like the picture above. (To be honest I can’t think of a reason for including the picture above. It certainly is not from the fifties.)

Sunday Tea

I am going to end this blog with a subject I have wanted to do for a long time but it has always been half a blog waiting to be fitted in somewhere.

You will remember Sunday lunch and in our household Sunday Tea was always very different to all other meals.

This will be about the early sixties and in our household it became a semi-formal traditional event with things being done in a particular way – because that was the way we did them. As we were growing up it was often the occasion for one or more of us to bring girlfriends and boyfriends, perhaps for their introduction to the family, so it would have involved about ten of us. It was timed so that couples could go to Evensong after which friends from St Andrews Youth Club would meet and socialize.

[You will remember that boyfriend/ girlfriend was by modern standards an innocent relationship.]


Sunday Tea was the only meal we had in the lounge so in that sense it was informal. Somehow we all fitted in. You will remember how much of Mum’s life was built around housework and you may have thought Sunday Tea was her afternoon off. But that was not the way we did things then. Mum made the sandwiches, cooked the cakes, prepared and served everything.

It started with sandwiches, piled up on large plates and handed round. We all had little plates and serviettes. (I can never remember whether they are serviettes or napkins although the topic often came up in a jocular way.) The bread was not wrapped bread, it was individually cut from a split tin loaf and buttered. Yes, butter, there were no spreads from sunflower oils or any other oils. Mum had the art of buttering each slice before it was cut.

In those days sandwiches pretty well meant cheese (cheddar cheese cut from a large slab) or ham (proper meat, not reshaped or reconstituted.) But on Sunday our special treat was tuna tinned tuna. So we mostly had tuna sandwiches.

We all had tea to drink. No one ever drank anything else. It was made the proper way in a teapot with tea leaves and Mum poured them all out, milk first, and handed them round. In a tradition that I suspect was more a mark of respect to Dad than any real preference, he always had special treatment. He had his first cup of tea after the sandwiches because that was the way he liked it.

Then there was cake – Victoria sponge – mixed, baked and finished by Mum with cream and jam between the two layers and dusted with icing sugar.

No we didn’t have honey for tea. The quotation is from the last line of The Old Vicarage, Grantchester by the English poet, Rupert Brooke.

Stands the Church clock at ten to three?

And is there honey still for tea?

Still more to come …


Author: Alan

Retired, currently living in Cheltenham.

5 thoughts on “[105] Is there Honey Still for Tea?

  1. Please don’t forget Nan in all this who cooked the Sunday lunch and helped the family in so many ways.


  2. You missed out banana sandwiches, my favourite.


  3. Pingback: [106] How Green was my Valley? | Remembrance of Things Past

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