Remembrance of Things Past

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


[113] All Manner of Things Shall be Well

I am coming near to the end and I want to do a broad summary. It will be a bit rambling, without any pictures and full of sweeping generalizations. I have put in lots of links so you can find out more details.


I don’t want to give you pages and pages of Terms and Conditions as we seem to get nowadays but I just want to make it plain that these are my views. For the Fifties they are the memories of a young boy brought up in a large family in Ilford with no knowledge of life outside my family and school. Even in the Sixties I knew little outside my small world. News and information from television and newspapers was far more restricted than today


We had virtually nothing of modern technology. There were fixed line Telephones, which we hardly ever used – more or less just for occasional local calls. Our house had Electricity but we didn’t have many uses for it. We had an electric iron and very, very occasionally in winter an electric fire might be used. Basically electricity was for lights. All the things you now think of as automatic just didn’t happen. We survived without Computers.

If you wanted to write anything you used a pen or pencil. Offices used Typewriters, which were only used by typists and Newspapers were produced by a complex, cumbersome labour-intensive process taking several hours.

For Photographs we had cameras and photographic film. You might take 36 shots in a week’s holiday and then wait a week for a single tiny print of each one. We did have Cinemas producing films but people did not make their own moving pictures.

(Perhaps the most automation we ever had was in traffic lights. They were very simple with no fancy stuff like lanes or filter lights or pedestrian signals. Some of them were able to detect when traffic arrived to hasten on the next change.)

Standards and Authority

Attitudes were more Formal and Standards were different especially our views about women, children, ethnic minorities, animals and sexuality. (‘Ethnic minorities’ is a modern term. We didn’t have them. There was some open racism towards ‘black’ people – and Irish!)

We respected the Authorities even though we had no knowledge of how they worked. (There was no Internet!) We trusted and believed doctors, teachers, policeman and generally vicars. If we didn’t there was no way we could question what they said or did. If something went wrong we accepted it – we didn’t think of suing anyone for damages.

Most people more or less accepted the Church and there were many more believers and regular churchgoers. The Church played a significant part in our education and our attitudes to Christmas, Easter, Whitsun and Sundays. St. Andrews Church at Ilford played a significant part in my life.


The government and Civil Service covered much, much more than today – coal, gas, electricity, railways, telephones, television and national savings. Education, doctors and hospitals and local government services were more centrally controlled.


Families stayed together. Men and women stayed married. Men and women were different. The man of the house worked; women stayed at home and were housewives; children grew up with their parents. More complicated family situations were rare. Homosexuality did not exist. (I am talking about generalities and public perceptions. It was not openly acknowledged or accepted.)

Most married women were housewives and there were few opportunities for work for women. Women expected to get married and raise a family at home and were generally happy with the situation. Housework (making beds, shopping, preparing and cooking food, cleaning and laundry, together with looking after children) took most of the average housewife’s day – and a lot of the evenings and weekends! Men were expected to do little at home and probably did even less.

Children, particularly those below school age, were looked after by their mothers because there were no alternative arrangements. Growing Adolescents remained in the care of their parents and could not vote until twenty-one.

While the man of the house earned an income and paid for regular bills (gas and electricity, rates, telephone etc.), he would pay a housekeeping allowance to his wife to cover basic food, cleaning and probably children’s clothes. In general, this allowance did not include anything for the wife to buy clothes or cosmetics (although most generally saved enough to look after their basic needs).

There was still the attitude that men made the major decisions for the family without consulting their wives, and wives just followed their husbands. The marriage ceremony included the promise for wives to ‘… love, honour and obey…’

[A major difference that affected all aspects of family life was that Contraception was not easy and abortion was illegal. It was not considered ‘right’ for unmarried women to have children.]

Law and Order

My impression is that there was much less public disorder and crime, but this may be partly from the innocence of youth. Police mostly operated on foot. There were no police cars. All they had was a police whistle to call for assistance.

There were different standards but crime, like other aspects of life, was more local. We didn’t have fast cars or easy roads.

Food and drink

Families ate together at home eating simple foods cooked by the housewife of the family.

Restaurants were up-market, much rarer than today and for special occasions and the rich. Eating at a restaurant was a more formal occasion and a more formal process. Except when on holiday, ordinary people rarely ate in restaurants or hotels. (Restaurants in those days were limited to British or perhaps French Cuisine. Foreign restaurants started to emerge in the sixties with Indian and Chinese restaurants.)

The only ‘fast food’ in the fifties was fish and chips, and for most people this was the only experience of eating out. The fish and chips were usually taken home, wrapped in newspaper, but there were facilities to eat in the shops. This would have been a much more informal and cheaper experience than eating in a proper restaurant.

The first equivalent of the American revolution that was fast food hit England in the early sixties. It was the Wimpy Bar. This was a glorified coffee bar which served hamburgers in buns (‘Wimpy’) but not exactly in the Macdonald’s takeaway fashion. They were served, with chips, at tables and on plates, with knives and forks – a downmarket version of restaurant service. The real takeaways such as Macdonald’s did emerge, in their full American format, until the seventies. After that came Pizza and other culinary imports from the U.S.A.

Pubs were much more common. They were crowded with men (not women) who drank pints of bitter and smoked. Pubs did not mess around serving food. Alcohol at home was less prevalent.

By modern standards, cafes were non-existent. When shopping in Ilford Mum might have a cup of tea at a department store café. That was it.


Almost all early Television was live, not pre-recorded. (The only real exceptions were programmes repeated a day or two after their original broadcast.) Also, in a way which is not easy to define, there was a much narrower range of programmes, only what the middle class establishment of that time would consider to be in good taste. This consisted of news, information and entertainment based on ‘Variety’ (i.e. singing, dancing, comedy, magic, circus acts etc.) Sports broadcasting was virtually unknown as technological limitations made ‘outside broadcasts’ (anything not done from the central studios) both difficult and expensive. Back in 1950 there was no choice of viewing, no television advertisements no phone-in programmes, no Soaps, no reality television, no live football, no morning television.

We had one channel for a few hours each day with very poor quality black-and-white pictures on a nine-inch screen! My memories of Children’s Television date from these earlier days. By the late sixties we had three channels, still not broadcasting all day and still without the reliability and picture quality we expect today.

I have a whole series of blogs about particular stars of television – from David Attenborough and Doctor Who … to David Attenborough and Doctor Who!

Of course in the Fifties Radio was just as important with Mrs. Dale’s Diary and Two-Way Family Favourites.

General Entertainment.

At home, people spent some time watching television, listening to the radio, reading and perhaps making their own music. Pianos were nowhere near universal, but were far more popular than today. Cinema was more popular. If people went to the theatre, it was a far more special night out than now. People more often just went out walking together.

Pop Music hadn’t really started. Televised sport was almost non-existent – apart from the weekly football results.


I have said a lot in my blogs about Primary School, Secondary School and University life all of which were much more formal than today. I can only speak for Grammar School education, which may have some similarities with the few remaining Grammar Schools today – including my alma mater, Ilford County High School, which still exists. Teaching was based on chalk on blackboards, reading from textbooks and writing in exercise books. Our most sophisticated visual aids were – coloured chalk.

We had just the traditional subjects, formal homework, end-of-term examinations and hand-written reports.


We had simple local ShopsGrocers, Bakers, Butchers, Newsagents, Chemists, Hardware shops and Post Offices were common. Big towns had Department Stores but there were no Supermarkets. If I take an example, the baker might sell half a dozen types of loaf (only one of which would be sliced and packed,) white rolls or brown rolls and a few types of cakes. We were not burdened with Choice. There was, of course, no on-line shopping.


There were no motorways, just narrow roads going through the centres of towns so that long-distance travel was a series of traffic jams. For local shopping parking outside the shops was easy and free.



We used cash and coped with pounds, shillings and pence and it was all done by mental arithmetic. Shopkeepers gave us the right change. Credit was virtually non-existent. Banks managed all their calculations without automatic calculators or computers.

By way of a diversion, here are some typical prices from the Fifties (or perhaps early Sixties) from memory. I have converted pre-decimal money to approximate decimal equivalents.

  • 1p would have bought a cup of tea. (Coffee was 2p.)
  • A stamp for a letter was about 1½p. (There was no distinction then between First Class and Second Class post!)
  • A Mars bar was 1½p, a Kit-Kat 1p. (Most other chocolate bars did not exist then.)
  • A bus ride started at 1p and was unlikely to be more than 10p. (Buses were double-decker and had bus conductors.)
  • A small loaf of bread was about 4p.
  • A haircut (for men) was about 5p.
  • A pint of beer in a pub was about 5p.
  • A cheap plastic ball-point pen was about 10p (and probably still is).
  • Single records, when they started, were about 33p. LPs (33 rpm) were about £2 to £3.
  • A three-course meal in a restaurant would have come to between 50p and £1.
  • A gallon of petrol was about 25p. (That’s a gallon, a bit more than four litres!)
  • A black-and-white television set (9 inch) was about £60-70. (This figure has remained virtually unchanged for 50 years.)
  • A 4-bedroom semi-detached house in the suburbs of London was about £250.

(The Retail Price Index has risen by a factor of about 25 since the mid-fifties. Most of this inflation took place in the Sixties and Seventies.)



There were virtually no plastics so things now made of plastic would have been made from wood or metal.

Packaging, when it existed, was simple, perhaps a rectangular box. Bread, meat, fruit and vegetables were sold loose or perhaps wrapped in tissue paper.

We knew little of some modern health concerns and Health and Safety was not a major consideration. Substances like mercury, DDT and asbestos, now considered very dangerous, were uses routinely. The same can be said for lead in pipes, paint, toys and petrol. Smoking was common, ubiquitous and accepted.

Here are some of the evils of the modern world, which we did not have in the Fifties.

  • Consumerism and advertising were much less significant. There were no three-for-two or buy-one-get-one-free offers.
  • We had and no junk mail.
  • There was no cold calling on telephones.
  • Utilities – gas, electricity, water, telephones, television – were state controlled and there were no choices of tariffs.
  • Banks and building societies were similar to each other – offering few choices at identical rates.
  • Telephones did not have premium rate calls – but then all non-local calls were difficult, unreliable and expensive.


Something younger people find hard to understand is that we knew so little of the nastier side of life that we trusted people.

There were no school runs by the parents. Children as young as five walked to school on their own. When we were seven or eight we were sent to the shops at Beehive Lane on our own. Women with babies would leave them in prams outside the shops.

[I know. I said no pictures. I changed my mind.]

We played in the streets or spent the day at Wanstead Park Recreation ground – without mobile phones and without even watches. We came home when it was time for tea.



I have put in a lot of links but there is a lot more in the blogs including some about Christmas, my family, politics and some miscellaneous odds and ends … and language. I still think the best way to read then is to start at the beginning and work forward.

My last blog … in a week or two … will be about language.


The title of this blog comes from the quotation ‘All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well’ from Revelations of Divine Love, the first book in the English Language known to be written (about 1395 AD) by a woman.

We know little about the authoress, Julian of Norwich. Even her name is uncertain. She lived in the second half of the Fourteenth Century as an anchoress in a cell joined to the Church of Saint Julian in Norwich, which is probably the source of her name – although Julian was a common name for women at the time.



As this is almost my final post I want to acknowledge my sources. Apart from my own memory I have just two sources.

There may be an odd exception but almost all of the background information and most of the pictures come from Wikipedia.

The rest of the pictures – apart from a few of mine – come from Facebook, generally from the rapidly growing number of groups devoted to nostalgia about the Fifties and Sixties.



[103] One for the Pot

For this post I am going to go through some of my memories that don’t fit into major topics and just for a change I will do things in non-alphabetical order! In the interests of getting things completed eventually, I will include some condensed versions of what might have been several full blog posts.



When I walk around in town, as I often do now, the pavements are at best dark grey asphalt (or asphalt concrete) surfaces that look just like the road surfaces. [US readers will use the word ‘pavement’ where I say ‘road surface’, and ‘sidewalk’ when I say ‘pavement.’] Often they are much more of an uneven mess with repairs and patching to cover such things as the installation of fibre optic cables underneath.

I remember pavements of large flagstones just about everywhere – and most of the stones were not broken. I generally carefully avoided stepping on the cracks between them. You still get them sometimes but often in irregular formations with cracks. For the picture above I managed to find a small section that is relatively good.


Mixer Taps

You have to read this as a negative. I remember proper taps [US: faucets] with all sinks, baths and washbasins – one for hot water and one for cold. (Proper screw taps.) They were much easier to control than the mixer taps we have now.

Health and Safety

Fifty years ago we generally assumed that people had common sense and were responsible for looking after themselves. So we didn’t put warning notices everywhere.

Cars didn’t have seat belts or air bags.

Cyclists didn’t wear helmets.

People had fireworks in their back gardens.

Houses didn’t have smoke alarms. But we did have open fires and generally people smoked cigarettes in homes (and shops and everywhere else.)

Rivers and tiny ponds were not surrounded by life buoys and signs warning ‘Deep Water.’

We went out and did things – sometimes taking innocent children – without having written a full Risk Analysis of what might go wrong.

We went on holiday – without holiday insurance!

We could agree to do something without ticking a box to say we accepted thousands of pages of unseen terms and conditions.

If something did go wrong we accepted it. We didn’t rush to sue someone for damages. (If it was a hospital we had no way of finding out who was responsible anyway.)

There were no certificates on display about food hygiene. Bread and cakes, fruit and vegetables, meat – almost all food – was handled by those who sold it without any obvious precautions.

Paper Boys

Newspapers were delivered by paper boys (and girls) aged about 14 before they went to school – about seven or eight o’clock. A regular paper round earning perhaps 12 to 16s a week was often their first employment and first source of income. (That’s about 60 to 80p.)


Signs and instructions used to be in English, not symbols that take a bit of working out. The dials on a radio were marked ‘volume’ and ‘tuning’ and you tuned to ‘Home Service’ or ‘Light Programme.’ Rings on a gas hob were controlled by dials marked ‘front right’ etc. On/off switches were marked ‘On/Off’ not ‘0/1’. Hot and cold taps were marked ‘HOT’ and ‘COLD’ not just coloured red and blue.

Fortunately we didn’t have furniture backed in boxes with self-assembly instructions. But anything with instructions used words not diagrams. And we didn’t have to search through a large book that had instructions in 25 different languages.


We wore shoes until they had holes in them and then took them for new soles or new heels.


The same was true of all early electrical equipment. You could have things repaired. For a television or radio you could go to an electrical shop. I remember our old wireless set (radio) which was heavy and nearly a metre long but just portable. It didn’t work for nearly a year and we decided to take it to the Radio shop for repairs. As we lifted it into the car boot the plug fell off! So it never actually made it to the repair shop! (In those days you fitted your own electrical plugs.)

There were also several times – probably more in the seventies and eighties – when we had an engineer come to look at our washing machine. He would take it apart and replace what needed replacing to fix it.

Now if an iron or a microwave oven or even a washing machine breaks down just about the only option is to buy a new one.

With some things like mobile phones you virtually have to replace it when the rechargeable battery fails.



Suburban houses were semi-detached and had gardens – small front gardens and large back gardens – and gardens were based on lawns. [We call them gardens. In the US they are ‘yards.’] I have told you something about our back garden, lovingly designed and created by Dad. There was a cement path surrounded by flower beds and a lawn in the middle. In the corners were three trees – a pear tree, an apple tree and a cherry tree – but the cherry tree soon came down. It was the nearest to the house and its roots were undermining the house.

The garden always had Snapdragons (Antirrhinum.) If you squeeze the flowers gently they open out like the heads of dragons. But we always called them ‘bunny rabbits.’ Perhaps when we were young dragons would have been too scary. There were also always carnations and every year we had pansies and petunias as annual plants.

The back garden was a play area. We used to play ball games on the lawn. The front garden was an area for flowers.

Now large back gardens are unwanted. People with large houses sell off the land of their back gardens to build three or more houses. And front gardens are paved to make car spaces. (There were not many cars then and it was not sensible to leave them outside in all weathers. They went in the garage.)

Of course we had coal bunkers in the back garden and an outside toilet at our first house but there was still room for lawns to play on.



I was going to write a lot about tea and coffee but most of it would have been about modern developments. In the sixties people drank much more tea and very little coffee. On the other hand the way we made tea was different so I am going to have to explain it.


We have to start with the hot water. Kettles were basic heated on top of the gas cooker. There was no such thing as an electric kettle.

There is an old saying that ‘a watched pot never boils,’ or sometimes ‘a watched kettle never boils.’ You had to stay in the kitchen for maybe five minutes and wait until you could see the steam emerging – or keep nipping in and out. (Of course modern open-plan houses would make things easier.) Somewhere around 1960 we first saw the revolutionary whistling kettle.


The picture above is a modern version but the idea is similar. We had a removable metal top that went over the spout and when the steam was fast enough it made a whistling noise that could be heard from another room. There was a gradual crescendo as the steam pressure rose. So we knew when to go back to the kitchen.


Tea was brewed properly, made in a teapot with tea leaves, not tea-bags, and drunk throughout the day. One of the first things we learned as children was how to make tea properly. Warm the pot first. One spoonful of tea leaves person and ‘one for the pot,’ and the water had to be boiling. Leave it to brew for five minutes before serving through a tea-strainer.


We always put the milk in before the tea but I think there were regional differences! We certainly always had cups and saucers and did not drink from mugs.

After the first cup, you filled the pot up with more hot water and left it with its tea cosy ready for the second cup.


(Knitting was common and we did actually knit tea cosies.)

Tea was Typhoo or PG Tips. It was proper Indian tea. We had never heard of Chinese tea or green tea or fruit teas or peppermint or camomile leaves as drinks.



While everyone drank tea all day, coffee was a drink for special occasions such as at the end of formal dinners in restaurants. Sometimes some people made it at home. It would be made by a slow complicated process using ground coffee beans and a percolator. (See above, a modern version of a percolator. You fill the percolator with water and the metal container with ground beans, then put the bits inside and it went on a gas hob. The water boiled and the steam picked up coffee as it circulated – visibly bubbling against the glass top.)

It would be a long time before other devices, like filters and cafetiėres, would appear and even later we had Lavazzo, Tassimo and modern devices producing Italian style coffee.

[No, we didn’t have anything electrical for coffee making.]


There used to be a sort of instant coffee called Camp Coffee based on a bottled thick brown liquid to which hot water was added. We had some in the larder but I’m not sure it was ever used. I think it tasted pretty awful.

Powdered instant coffee came in the Sixties and it didn’t taste much like coffee. We used to make it with hot milk. It was fairly soon improved to the granular form – still not really testing like coffee. It would be some more time before dried powdered milk was available for coffee.


Cafés and Coffee Shops

These were much rarer than today but cafés more or less just sold tea and cakes. I think for us tea came from a café in a department shop such as British Home Stores. Cakes meant Chelsea buns, Eccles cakes, jam doughnuts and teacakes – with scones as part of a cream tea. Tea was two pence (or about 1p in decimal money) and it came as a pot of tea – teapot of tea, separate pot of boiling water for a top-up and a cup and saucer. Coffee was four pence but I never heard of anyone having one in a café. We drank tea.

A town which now has hundreds of street cafes and coffee shops might have had two or three in the fifties. The trend from tea to coffee was gradual but nearly complete by the late seventies. More recent still have been the trends to French style cafes (with familiarization with foreign travel); to cafes which also sell alcohol (with relaxed licensing laws) and to Italian style coffee shops such as Starbucks and Costa.

There have always been cafeterias serving cheap self-service meals. These arose after the war either attached to Department Stores or in the Joe Lyons chain. I don’t remember any others.


I can only find early or late pictures of Joe Lyons. This is from the Thirties.


I am about halfway through what I expected to cover in this post. So more to come …






[96] “The Wisdom to Know …”

Continuing the theme of alcohol, after a look at pubs in [57] A Pint of Bitter. I come next to how you could buy alcoholic drinks for home consumption.

Off Licences

As I said in the last blog about alcohol, the places you could buy drinks used to be very limited – just pubs and some restaurants (only when with food.) There has been a similar widening in places from which alcohol can be bought for drinking at home. In the fifties, this was only possible from Off-Licences, which were relatively rare. I think there was one in Beehive Lane. Some (but not all) pubs also had a small Off-Licence operating from their premises. People didn’t use them much – most alcohol was consumed in pubs.

Now you can buy bottled beer, wine and spirits from most supermarkets and lots of smaller shops. In my original notes I said newsagents, but now they are all general stores or mini-supermarkets.

Bottle and Cans

You could buy beer only in bottles – a pint or half a pint. (Cider also came in two-pint bottles.) I know that some soft drinks had a 3d returnable deposit on the bottle buy I’m not sure whether this applied to beer.

As explained in the last blog, light ale sold in bottles was not quite the same as draft bitter.


From the late sixties, bitter brewed in wooden barrels was gradually replaced by a similar produced in metal kegs, sometimes known as keg bitter. The purists fought a long battle to retain ‘real ale’ from wooden barrels with the establishment of CAMRA, the Campaign for Real Ale, founded in 1971. (CAMRA is still active and various Beer Festivals continue to provide many different types of beer for the aficionados.)

The trend towards drinking more beer at home started around the late sixties with the Party Seven from Watneys, a large can of draught type bitter. It was not easy to open and you had to drink all seven pints quite soon after opening but it started the trend.


One other change of the sixties and seventies was in the consumption of lager. It used to be an expensive drink sold in small bottles and usually drunk by women – often with a dash of lime juice (or lime cordial). I think brands then were German or French and it was seen as not really an English drink, certainly not a drink for men.

Somehow it became more fashionable for men to drink lager – to the extent that it became more popular than bitter. It became available in cans.


The mechanism for opening cans has become easier with the modern ring-pull, shown above, coming in the eighties. (The use of cans has continued now also for many other drinks.)

After the general adoption of lager as a drink we had had the advent of several Australian brands of ‘amber nectar’ and also some American brands. We still have the familiar French Stella Artois and the German Kronenbourg (now part of the Danish Carlsberg brewery.)

beaujolais  blue-nun


Wine only came in bottles and always with proper corks. The volume of a ‘bottle’ of wine was not specified but was always a sixth of a gallon.

People didn’t drink wine much at home. What there was came generally from France of Spain and there were just a few well-known names. Red wine was probably Beaujolais from France and white wine might be Riesling, Liebfraumilch or Blue Nun from Germany. (Of course then it was West Germany.)


There was also Mateus Rose from Portugal and perhaps one or two from Spain and Italy but in the fifties and early sixties we did not see wine produced from further afield. Now we see wine from Hungary, Romania and other countries that were hidden behind the Iron Curtain -also Australia, the USA and South America particularly Chile.


[As for all pictures, it’s best to assume that they are modern equivalents. They are for illustration only and can’t show exactly what things were like in the sixties.]

Somewhere in the sixties wine boxes appeared, a cheap way of buying wine in draught form. You could in theory leave the wine box for a few days once opened but the temptation was there to finish it! Cheaper wine was becoming more available. (To the wine experts it was cheap wine not to be compared to expensive bottled wine. But soon cheap bottled wines became available.)

Drinking at Home

Alcoholic drinks come and go in fashions. In the fifties, sherry was a popular pre-dinner drink, which has now virtually disappeared. People were much more likely to have a sherry before Sunday lunch than wine with lunch. (It was usually very sweet sherry such as Bristol Cream. Sherry has always come in varieties as very sweet, sweet, medium, dry and very dry – cream, pale cream, oloroso, amontillado and fino.)

I think that because home drinking was at such a low level there were the drinks like sherry that would keep indefinitely once a bottle was opened. You saw advertised drinks like Dubonnet, Martini and other aperitifs. We probably had one or two bottles in the dining room sideboard but I don’t remember seeing then ever used. I always considered they were available as something to offer to an unexpected relative visiting.

Other Changes

There is a lot to this blog that comes from my memories and a lot of sweeping generalizations that may be inaccurate – but that won’t stop me saying it all! It’s not helped by being from a time before I knew much of alcohol. I was young and innocent.

The only memories I have of alcohol from the fifties and early sixties are that my parents may have had the odd Bristol Cream sherry before Sunday lunch and a bottle of wine at Christmas. Later on we may have had occasional bottles of beer and, of course, Nan had her regular Guinness.

Alcohol had a more positive (or perhaps neutral) image and people were generally more restrained in their consumption of alcohol. This is all linked to the period of post-war austerity when people could not have afforded to drink anyway.

On the other hand routine drinking at pubs was common with no attempt to control intake just because of their driving. There was no real stigma associated with being drunk while driving. There were laws about being drunk in charge of a vehicle but no scientific means of establishing drunkenness. The decrease in popularity of drinking beer at pubs came with the breathalyzer in the late sixties. There has been a continued drive to reduce drinking under the influence of alcohol with television advertising especially in the weeks before Christmas.

From the late sixties alcohol has become cheaper in relative terms and more freely available. It is now easy to buy alcopops (which did not exist) or single cans of gin and tonic or other mixed drinks in supermarkets. So consumption is much higher. Cynics among you may blame increasing consumption on advertising. There have been many extensive advertising campaigns for various alcoholic drinks – both on television and in cinemas. [As for cigarettes, such advertising has now largely disappeared.]

The younger population have adopted binge drinking as a culture and have opportunities for late night drinking in night clubs (or late opening pubs) which we did not have.

It is worth noting that in the sixties a ‘stag night’ was a few drinks with the boys the evening before the wedding. The best man would make sure that the groom did not drink too much. Now there are week long stag events involving much alcohol – not the night before the wedding to allow some recovery time! In our time there were no ‘hen’ equivalents for women. It was very rare for a woman to become drunk in public.

The trend towards pubs selling food started with decreasing consumption from those who drove. Also other social changes have led to the trend towards eating out much more, and pubs have filled the gap in the market. Now perhaps ninety percent of pubs have closed, with those remaining becoming combined pub/ restaurants or just restaurants.

It is also worth noting that then no-one was ever seen drinking straight from a bottle (or can – but of course canned drinks did not exist). There was no general problem of drinking in public places.

[Yes, people did drink. Some got themselves drunk. Many drove home very drunk. But the overall way of life was different.]


I ought to end with some words of advice. If you have any concerns about your drinking there are many organisations such as Alcoholics Anonymous. If you have a friend or relative with drinking problems you may want to look at Al-anon.

The Serenity Prayer comes from the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr (1892–1971).

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

Courage to change the things I can,

And wisdom to know the difference.

Niebuhr used it widely in sermons as early as 1934 and published it in 1951. It spread both through his sermons and church groups and was later adopted and popularized by Alcoholics Anonymous and other twelve-step programs.



[76] Rolling Pins and Mincers


It’s time for more about food and how we used to prepare and cook food. You will have read about our kitchens in Blog number [68] and a little about cooking utensils. (If you haven’t read it, there’s time to go back now. I will wait for you to finish. Then come back here.)

With the usual proviso about sweeping generalizations, you will understand that we only ever ate at home and food was always cooked from basic ingredients. (Yes, we had tinned baked beans, dried herbs, even Bisto powder but we certainly didn’t have frozen pastry. Read on.)

The kitchen able was the only worktop where most of the action took place.


I’m starting with a diversion because of the picture above. I was half way through writing this when I found it and it seemed so appropriate for this blog. It looks like a modern, carefully set up arrangement for a museum, probably more thirties or forties than fifties but the table and chairs, and everything on the table, look right. It also shows an open fire with the sort of metal grill fireguard that was one of our few items of Health and Safety! (I think it’s a range on the left, which would pre-date gas cookers.)

Peeler  peas


Fresh vegetables were in no way prepared. Potatoes were covered in earth and had to be washed before they were peeled. Even when peeled they had ‘eyes’ and other nasty bits to be cut out. New potatoes were just washed carefully. As far as we were concerned potatoes were usually cooked as roasted or boiled. Chips were a very occasional treat that took a lot of preparation and cooking. It was probably nearly 1960 when Mum first tried jacket potatoes baked in the oven – they still had to be washed, scrubbed and prepared but not peeled.

(It won’t surprise you to find out that the picture of a potato peeler is not a completely realistic version for the fifties. They would have had wooden handles, without the serrated edge shown. You can still get plastic versions although potatoes don’t generally need peeling.)

Peas came still in their pods and all green vegetables needed preparation. (That’s peas, not the new-fangled mange-tous! We didn’t eat the pods.) Vegetables like carrots and mushrooms were peeled.

Recipes and Ingredients

There were lots of things – like pastry, meat pies and Shepherd’s pie – that Mum cooked so often that she didn’t need a recipe. But for anything else she did not have access to all our modern books and magazines and the Internet. I think she had just one recipe book by Margueritte Patten.

As you know, Mum read Woman magazine and this always contained recipes. Newspapers also sometimes contained recipes. So what we actually had was one well-worn recipe book, with dozens of bits of paper cut out and put between the pages in appropriate places – with lots inside the front and back covers.


And, of course, everything we used had to be weighed on scales like these. You can get some idea of what we used to cook with from the posts about shopping – nothing prepared and a very small range of choices. There were none of the items of electrical equipment we now use. Food mixers, blenders, juice makers … were as out of place as bread-makers and ice-cream makers. A hand whisk and a hand-turned mincer were the most technical pieces of food preparation equipment in our kitchen.

Cooking was not helped by the fact that non-stick surfaces for frying pans had not been invented. They were attributed to the Space Race and did not appear until the 70s.



Food preparation was a much lengthier process, as there were only unprepared basic ingredients. I have to start somewhere so, in my usual random fashion, I will start with pastry, which we had quite often. We didn’t nip down to Waitrose for frozen pastry. It was done the slow way.

Pastry is, of course, made from flour. Flour, which could have been plain or self-raising, had to be sifted before use in cooking. Passing it through a fine metal sieve, with the help of a spoon, removed all the tiny lumps.


[In 1963 a technological breakthrough in flour production meant that bakers would no longer need to sieve their flour. The new flour had no large grains or dust, and was launched as a national brand – Spillers Homepride. The launch was supported by advertising that highlighted the need not to sieve, with the strapline Graded Grains Make Finer Flour. Very soon it was followed by an advertising campaign with tiny animated men called Fred. You could buy your own versions of Fred as shown in the picture.]

Making pastry started with flour and butter, mixed together with the fingers. You could cut the butter into small pieces with a knife first. (Fat for cooking was butter, margarine or lard. Margarine for cooking meant Stork. Although technically olive oil existed, we never used any vegetable oils in cooking.) I think the later stages used a wooden spoon to blend in eggs. It ended as a ball of raw pastry manipulated by hand and with a (wooden) rolling pin. With a light dusting of flour to stop it sticking, the pastry was rolled to a large flat sheet and cut to shape. (That last sentence may sound easy but it was not an easy or quick process.)

Pastry was shortcrust pastry. Expert cooks may have been able to make flaky pastry, puff pastry, or choux pastry but we never did.

I remember a few things made often with pastry. We had meat pie. It started with a layer of pastry in a pie dish, trimmed round the edge with a knife. Then just chunky lean beef, either braising steak, [US: chuck steak] or stewing steak. I think the meat was partly cooked with a little gravy before it went in. On top was another layer of pastry with the edges crimped together with a fork. There was usually an inverted egg-cup inside to stop the pie collapsing and there were fork holes in the top to let the expanding air out.

It was cooked in the oven and made a meal for us all, with potatoes and vegetables. Nobody else has ever made meat pie like the pies I remember my mother making. (This may say more about my memory than Mum’s cooling.) If there was any left over, the lucky ones would probably eat it cold the next day.

A meat pie was a meat pie, not steak and kidney, not steak and onion, not steak and ale, just steak.


Apple pie was made in much the same way as meat pie, using stewed apples instead of meat. As a simple dessert we had it with freshly made custard. Like the meat pie, leftovers could be eaten cold the next day on their own.

Then, there were jam tarts. Wikipidea has a list of pies and tarts through the world but no jam tart. I can assure you there are lots of jam tarts and we had them often. When Mum made pastry she generally did a meat pie and some tarts. Pastry was rolled and cut into circles, which went into a greased tart tin. A spoonful of raspberry jam went into each one before cooking. (You could use any jam. I suspect the picture has a different type of jam.)

They were not only a pudding – we used the word ‘afters’ – but they were in the larder as a treat, perhaps when we came home from school. They didn’t last long. They also tasted much nicer than the modern ones that come in boxes.

There was always some pastry left over when you had to cut out circles. It was never wasted. Nan would roll it out and fold it with a bit of butter and sugar to go in the oven with jam tarts.

OK, sometimes there were other things with pastry. At Christmas we made our own mince pies – made like jam tarts with a spoonful of mincemeat and a topping of another layer of pastry. (For non-British readers, this is a traditional desert, served with custard, or can be eaten separately as a cake. Mincemeat comes in jars like jam and is mostly dried fruit like raisin, currants and sultanas. It does not contain meat – but it did a couple of hundred years ago.)

And I also remember individual Bakewell tarts, which Nan always called cheesecakes, although they contained no cheese!

Cakes and Puddings

I can’t give a detailed breakdown of what we had to eat every day. When we were young we had school dinners (which I will come to at some time) so our tea later at home would have been probably just bread and jam. But there were Saturdays and Sundays and school holidays when we had cooked meals and generally cooked desserts. And when we had cakes they were cooked at home, not bought or prepacked. [You should be recognizing sweeping generalizations by now!]

Cake making was a bit like pastry making. Ingredients were mixed in a bowl according to the recipe. It was done with a wooden spoon and sometimes a hand whisk. The mixture would go into a cake tin and into the oven. (Recipes used to carefully specify what went in order with mixing in between. With modern food-mixers recipes it didn’t matter so much so recipes started to say; ‘chuck it all in together and mix.’)

(Because it was not a fan oven, the temperature varied through the oven. Recipes would specify ‘top shelf’ or ‘middle shelf,’ which could make life a bit complicated when cooking several things at once. The other problem with some cooking was that there was no glass door. You couldn’t look to see whether something was cooked. I am not an expert but I know that some things suffer by opening the door when they are not complete.)

Back to cakes! We often had Victoria sponge – two layers cooked separately with jam and cream and icing sugar – especially for Sunday tea. I could say it tasted better than the prepared version you can buy now. You can assume that is true for all food even if I don’t bore you by repeating it!

As well as cakes we had steamed puddings – suet pudding and chocolate pudding. I can’t give you the recipes but both involved more complex cooking. They were wrapped in some kind of cloth, which was tied into a bag and cooked in boiling water for two or three hours. I think our favourite was chocolate pudding, which was just an occasional treat. It came with white sauce (not out of a packet sauce mix!) There was never leftover chocolate pudding!

The other more common things we had for afters were the milk puddings – rice, ground rice, tapioca or semolina – just boiled milk puddings. Sometimes we could have a spoonful of raspberry jam with it.

I keep coming back to this draft blog with more thoughts. We also often just had fruit and cream. By fruit I mean tinned peaches, tinned pineapple chunks, tinned mandarin oranges or a mixture, and of course the cream was tinned evaporated milk. And evaporated milk reminded me of my favourite, which we didn’t have often, milk jelly – made by whipping up jelly made with evaporated milk before leaving it to set. For a celebration party children would look forward to jelly and blancmange.

Sunday Lunch

I’ve done afters so back to the first course where the most significant was Sunday Lunch. Traditionally this has always been the time when parents and children would sit down together for the most important meal of the week. It was roast meat with vegetables cooked in the traditional way which has continued almost unchanged to modern times – except that today we might all just go to the local carvery! Then everything for our Sunday Lunch for eight of us was done by one person, Mum, working hard all morning. (Of course Nan helped when she was with us. Dad never did anything in the kitchen – because in those days men just didn’t. Dad wasn’t bad – come the late sixties and later he started to help a lot more.)

The roast meat, a large joint, went into the oven on a baking tray. Roast potatoes also went into a baking tray with pre-heated melted fat (probably lard) – never vegetable oil. Yorkshire pudding was mixed in a bowl, without any electric mixers, and poured into another tray of hot melted fat. Boiled potatoes and green vegetables were done in various saucepans on the top of the oven. And it was all timed to be ready at the same time.

Other main meals

It surprises me when I look back to think that basically we had just lean meat for most of the time, starting with what was left from the Sunday joint. This could also be processed in a number of ways. In particular I remember Shepherd’s pie.


Oldies like me will reminisce about the device shown in the picture. It’s a meat mincer. You may have spotted one in the first picture of a homely kitchen. Here it is taken apart. (You had to take it apart to wash up after use!) The screw at the bottom acted as a vice and enabled it to be fixed to the table – so you can understand that the table was utilitarian rather than ornamental. One of the three circular bits went inside before fitting the handle. (I suspect that we only ever used one.) Then you fed in chunks of meat at the top, turned the handle and out came minced meat. You were, of course, careful with your fingers pushing the meat down – for Health and Safety reasons. At the end you pushed through a piece of bread to get the last bit of meat through.


Here is a picture of a mincer fixed to an old wooden table.

This was the only way we ever had minced meat. It was not something you bought in shops. For shepherd’s pie a layer of minced meat was cover with mashed potato and baked in the oven.


We also sometimes had sausages and toad-in-the-hole. The picture above will give non-UK readers an idea of this dish although what we used to have was not quite the same. It’s just Yorkshire pudding and sausages cooked together. For a family with six children we had a larger version with lots of smaller sausages. (In the picture the Pyrex dish, metal fish slice and everything apart from the toad-in-the-hole are pretty modern.) The other things I remember as regular meals were liver and stew. Stew was chunky meat, carrots and onions and dumplings. (Dumplings were made like suet pudding made into small balls and thrown into the stew near the end of cooking.)

The lack of variety came because not much was available and we kept to traditional British cooking. We had never heard of exotic fruit and vegetables; curries, rice (except as a pudding) or anything Indian; chop suey, chow mein or anything Chinese; sushi or anything Japanese; pasta, pizza, or anything Italian; hamburgers or any form of takeaway, apart from fish and chips; kebabs, couscous, yoghurt, qinoa and much, much more. We had never even heard of fish fingers! 

In those days all meals were eaten by the family together, sitting round a table in a more formal way than today. In our house then Sunday lunch was the most formal but Sunday tea was a very different ritual (of which more later.) The gradual trend away from this may have been started by the desire to watch television but there are many other factors such as the ease of food preparation. It is now so easy for everyone to prepare and eat what they want when they want it.



I have to end this blog with marmalade. Once a year Mum made marmalade. It was quite a long process, basically a matter of heating a mixture of Seville oranges and sugar in a large metal saucepan. Putting it into jars was not easy. (It would have been impossible with a proper Health and Safety analysis first.) Eventually the cooled marmalade was stored in airtight jars and could be eaten through the year.

I always remember that one day when we were very young someone had come to school and to celebrate the event we were given the afternoon off. (I don’t remember who it was.) They did things like that then. We were just sent home and we walked home, arriving unannounced.

Mum was in the middle of making marmalade. She was not best pleased! As she pointed out, melted sugar was much hotter than boiling water. I presume we kept out of the way!


[268] Kitchens

[268] Cooking with Gas

Issued August 2015. Revised and updated February 2020

It’s time to start another thread about how we used to prepare and cook food, which was very different then. I need to start by looking at kitchens. Kitchens were smaller and simpler then. The kitchen has grown over the years and now many houses have a separate utility room for things we used to do in the kitchen. Washing and dishwashing will come in a separate blog.

[Actually the importance of kitchens has now reduced considerably. With takeaway and Internet delivery people can now survive with just a microwave.]


It will come as no surprise that we did not have fan ovens, microwave ovens, food mixers, toasted sandwich makers, coffee machines, dishwashers, automatic washing machines and just about everything associated with a modern kitchen. You can work on the assumption that the only need for electricity was for the light bulb hanging from the ceiling.

We didn’t even have electric kettles. We did not have freezers or even refrigerators. (As you know frozen food was virtually non-existent.) You can see something about how we managed without mod cons in [245] Electrical Goods. Our fist electrical equipment would have been a toaster.

The typical kitchen of the Fifties was not a fitted kitchen as you would see nowadays. The sink was large and ceramic, what we now call a butler sink, with metal taps delivering hot and cold water (through metal pipes – no plastic!) The draining board at its side was wooden. Instead of the units which make a modern kitchen, there may have been two or three (movable) cupboard units, made of wood and perhaps some small shelves or cupboards fixed to the wall.

There were no worktops like those we have now. A small kitchen table, used at times for eating, functioned as a worktop. The nearest thing to a work surface was a wooden breadboard or chopping board.


Pictured above is a reconstruction of a kitchen from the Forties (taken recently at the museum in Bletchley Park). What we had in the Fifties and early Sixties was very similar. You can click on the picture and expand to show some detail. At the back you can just see the large ceramic sink and wooden draining board. There was always washing up to be done.


The oven shown above is similar to ours. They were almost all gas ovens. Electricity was too expensive to use for cooking and not easy to control. What is not clear in this picture is that it was connected by a flexible pipe to a gas supply socket. You could just turn off the gas and unplug the oven. Gas fires were like that, you could move them from room to room. (Health and safety was never a big issue!)

You will remember from [206] Heating that gas was not the natural gas as we use today. It was a by-product of turning coal into coke, a product which is now itself obsolete.

We lit the gas with a lighted match, slightly more difficult for the oven. Later we had handheld gas-lighters using flint, which were not much easier. (There may have been a piezo-electric version. I’m not sure.)

The cooker – we called it an oven – had the same basic structure as you might expect now with four separate burners on the hob. The grill unit came underneath the hob. The plate rack at the top was useful for warming plates as you cooked.

Temperature regulation used the ‘gas mark’ or gas ‘Regulo’ scale of ¼, ½, 1, 2 … to 9. The lower and higher ones were rarely used and we had to allow for variation in the oven. Without fans it was well known that temperature varied a lot in an oven. Recipes would specify ‘middle shelf’ or ‘top shelf.’ (Later, temperature controls changed to approximate Fahrenheit temperatures, then to Centigrade – what we know call Celsius.)

Some other modern conveniences that we did not have for our ovens included automatic timing, overhead extractor fans, glass oven doors and oven lights. For those who had them, oven gloves were made of that well known and well used insulating material, asbestos!


This one is slightly more modern, perhaps the Sixties. The pans on the top are too modern. Our modern one from the Sixties had a tiny pilot light (a continuing gas flame) which made lighting the gas a bit easier.

Food storage

The cupboards were for crockery and pots and pans. Almost all food was stored in a large cupboard in the kitchen, known as a larder. It went from floor to ceiling with shelves at the back, almost a walk-in cupboard. The larder was by an external wall and had an air-brick to allow air from outside to circulate.

We had nothing for food remotely resembling ‘sell by’ dates or ‘best before.’ Dried goods such as tea, flour, sugar, rice, raisins and dried herbs were effectively assumed to last forever. (We didn’t have fresh herbs.) The same was true for preserved goods like jam, marmalade and tomato ketchup. These would last forever until opened and perhaps for weeks or months once they were opened.

We had no refrigerator until about 1960 but we used bread, butter, margarine, lard, eggs, cheese, milk and meat, all of which would now be considered of limited shelf life. Opened packets of butter went into covered butter dishes and the same applied to cheese.

(Cheese in those days was different. Ours was always Cheddar, a large piece cut at the shop from a much larger block. It came with a hard layer of rind on the outside. The rind was the best bit. If we left it so long that parts became mouldy, we would cut off the mouldy bit and eat the rest.)

Without preservatives and airtight wrapping, you can understand the need to shop much more frequently, often buying food on the day it would be eaten. We virtually never threw out unwanted food. Part of the housewife’s job was using the food that would not keep much longer, sometimes including leftovers.

Two types of food deserve special mention. Vegetables, often bought on the day of use (having come from Covent Garden in the early morning, so possibly consumed within a day or two of picking) could just go in a vegetable rack in the kitchen. Sometimes our vegetable rack was outside in the back garden. Vegetables would keep for a few days if required.

Meat storage

It is hard to imagine now but uncooked meat could not be stored in a refrigerator because we did not have one! It was bought from the butcher’s shop, where it would have been cut with a large butcher’s knife (or chopper) on a large wooden block and was not wrapped in an airtight package. It might have been just loosely covered in something like greaseproof paper. (Clingfilm did not exist.)

Often it would be cooked on the day of purchase but we had something called a meat ‘safe,’ an inverted close-mesh wire metal basket. Meat on a plate would be covered so that air could circulate but flies were kept off. At our second house the safe was kept in the garage, generally the coolest place in the house.

We even managed to keep cooked meat and leftovers. Turkey at Christmas kept us going for a week. When I see anywhere cooking food today there are all sorts of well displayed certificates about food hygiene training and the careful separation of cooked and uncooked meats etc. Either Mum had been well taught or we all were lucky not to die of food poisoning!


I won’t be able to squeeze in food preparation or cooking yet, but I will end with a look at basic kitchen utensils. There were not many. I can’t find good pictures because so many apparently ‘antique’ pictures show plastic goods (which we did not have) and include things like spaghetti spoons. (We had macaroni. Like rice, it was a pudding.) All of our utensils were made of wood or metal, sometimes metal with wooden handles.

Modern kitchens now have a set of kitchen knives in about six different sizes. We had one large knife, which we called the ‘sharp knife,’ (which meant not a table knife.) There was also a bread knife, a carving knife and two smaller knives of limited usefulness.

Again in a way like modern kitchens we had six larger implements hanging in a rack. Most were hardly ever used – a ladle (presumably for soup, which did not feature in our usual meals,) a potato masher (possibly used for shepherd’s pie but at home not for mashed potatoes,) a palette knife (only ever used to smooth icing on large cakes) and a large spoon with holes (useful for dumplings.)

whisk jellydishes

The hand whisk was essential for mixing things together and adding air. It’s the nearest we got to a food processor or mixer. It could turn cream into whipped cream and made meringues from egg whites. And it made one of my favourites – milk jelly, whipped to a foam before setting. You can see jelly dishes in the picture.


The single handed whisk, shown above, came later. (Pictured versions are much more modern.)


I am despairing for pictures. This is nothing like our old fish slice. I even have an old one in the kitchen that’s much better, with a wooden handle. But we did have one, a thin flat metal implement, for anything fried. I don’t know why it’s called a fish slice as we didn’t fry fish in a frying pan.

We used it for bacon, fried eggs, sausages, mushrooms, all the things that made a cooked breakfast. And anything else fried. (I will come to frying later but we never used cooking oils, only fats – normally lard, and butter for omelettes.)




There were just a few more things. The colander was used every day for straining greens; a wooden spoon was generally used in making cakes; and the cheesed grater and lemon juicer were in the cupboard for occasional use.

[You already know about toasting forks from [236] Miscellany (2) ]

Of course the utensil used most often was the potato peeler, of which more later …

And I haven’t forgotten the rolling pin. We used to make pastry, not buy it!

More to come about food and cooking….


[257] Pubs and Alcohol

[257] A Pint of Bitter

Issued May 2015. Revised and updated December 2019.

I come now to all things to do with alcohol – from drinking out to home consumption and home brewing. Needless to say, it was all very different in those days. My original plan was to do this all together but the subject has expanded to two posts.


I start with pubs. In the Fifties alcohol was much more closely connected to pubs than it is now. Pubs were Public Houses for the consumption of alcoholic drinks – and that was all they were. They were virtually the only places where you could buy alcohol.

Pubs did not have restaurants attached to them. Pubs did not serve meals. Pubs did not provide bar snacks. Pubs did not sell sandwiches. Pubs did not sell crisps – no, crisps were the only edible things they did sell, and the only crisps were Smith’s crisps.

You didn’t have to specify a flavour because there weren’t any flavoured crisps. There was optional salt – the famous little blue bags inside the packets. Presumably salty snacks were sold to make you thirsty and buy more beer. Wikipedia says that they were called Salt ‘n’ Shake flavour but I don’t believe this. They were called Smiths Crisps. (It was just crisps. No peanuts, no scampi fries, no pork scratchings, no other nibbles.)

There were many more pubs then, in residential areas and near to places of work – so that everyone was near enough to walk to the pub in the evening. In Ilford, the Cathedral Estate where I lived had been built with a bit of a middle class image, which discouraged working class habits like drinking beer. It was a large housing estate, planned specifically with no pubs, but this was unusual. Our nearest pub would have been The Beehive, at the other end of Beehive Lane, with many more at Gant’s Hill or Ilford or Barkingside, plenty within walking distance.

Every pub had two main rooms – two bars – the Public Bar and the Saloon. The Public Bar was the main bar, basically a place for working men to drink (and get drunk.) The Saloon had only a few visitors as its prices were higher. (You guessed it – It was for the rich and posh!)

You could tell the difference by looking at them – public bars had old, worn, rough furniture, mostly just room for standing. Saloons had carpets, proper chairs, tables and more homely décor. The distinction is still there in many pubs today.

Public bars were full of men standing by the bar and drinking as fast as they could afford to drink, almost all of them smoking continuously. [You have been warned about sweeping generalizations. There might have been some men not smoking or not getting drunk.] They were not the sort of places frequented by unaccompanied women. In many places, a woman visiting a pub was assumed to be a prostitute. (No, I am not speaking from experience here.)


Draught Beer

The main drink, almost the only drink, in pubs was draught beer, which came from wooden barrels, using a pump operated by hand. It was a physical process, called ‘pulling a pint,’ involving more power and skill than the modern taps. (Nowadays carbon dioxide is added in the pumping process. Draught bitter had enough gas to provide pressure from the barrels in the cellar.) One long pull might half fill the glass and subsequent pulls had to be judged to stop when it was full.


There was only one shape for the pint glass as shown above. It normally came with much more of a ‘head,’ much more froth at the top than is shown. (We were not troubled so much by weights and measure legislation and a frothy top was traditionally expected.)

On reflection I suspect that the type of glass may have varied in different parts of the country. The one shown above was the only one I saw in Essex.

The pump handle was a simple, large handle unadorned by any brand name for the beer. All the customers ever asked for was a pint of bitter or a pint of mild. (It presumably did have a brand name but the brand – and advertising in general – were much less prominent. There was no choice of brand.)

While I continue with several more sweeping generalizations, I need to make many remarks that may now be considered sexist. As you will remember from [220] Sex Discrimination we were sexist then, so I am just describing how things were.

Bottled Beer

Men drank draught beer, generally bitter, occasionally mild and bitter. [I mean men. Women didn’t drink pints of beer.] There were bottled beers, called light ale or pale ale, which were similar to draught bitter, and other darker beers called stout. Bottled beer came in different glasses and were of indeterminate volume – so you asked for a bottle rather than a pint. (A bottle was somewhere between a pint and a half pint.)

You often asked for bottled beer by its brand name – Watneys pale ale, Guinness, Mackeson stout or Newcastle Brown were the ones generally available. While most people kept to the standard draught beers (or perhaps a mixture of light and bitter) those who drank something like Mackeson seemed to do it as if chosen deliberately to appear somewhat idiosyncratic.

Men who could live with the ignominy of not being seen as serious drinkers could drink half pints or shandy (beer and lemonade).

There was a relatively new drink beginning to spread from the continent in the Sixties called lager, available in bottles, not as bitter tasting as draught bitter. It was generally considered to be a drink for women, generally as lager and lime. (That was a half-pint drink.) There were no imported Australian lagers.

(There were no draught versions of Guinness or lager or cider anything other than bitter – and draught beer always came from wooden casks.)

Optics in a bar, Birmingham

Other Drinks in Pubs

There were other drinks available, visible on shelves behind the bar. I think there were bottles of vermouths (Cinzano, Martini, Dubonnet) spirits – gin, vodka, whiskey, rum; port and sherry, wines, possibly some liqueurs. It was relatively rare to see anyone drink any of these. I think that optics on bottles were in use back in the Fifties. (But, of course, I didn’t go into pubs until the mid-Sixties! I may tell you about this later.)

The size of these drinks was a bit vague, with guidelines but no regulation. You just bought a Martini, or a large whiskey or double vodka, without specifying an amount. The Weights and Measures Act of 1963 formalized the measures as ¼, 1/5 or 1/6 of a gill and most pubs went for the smallest size. (This was almost the only time I saw the gill used as a quarter of a pint.) Scotland tended to be more generous. These have since been metricated to 25 or 35 ml.


Two other drinks are worth a mention. Cider meant Bulmer’s cider and generally it meant Woodpecker Cider. It came in quart (two pint) bottles and could be served in pubs as a pint or half-pint. Broadly equivalent to beer in its alcoholic content, it was much sweeter, so it was preferred by those who had not yet acquired the bitter taste of beer (not really a grown-up drink.) I think beer drinkers considered it a wimpy alternative to beer, although it was actually stronger. The only other cider was Bulmer’s Strongbow, not so sweet. This came in smaller bottles. Both have survived until today but they now have many other competitors, including draught versions.


Wikipedia has helped me in my research on Babycham, the ‘genuine champagne perry.’ (Yes, I know, Wikipedia helps me with everything.) It was launched in 1953 and was the first alcoholic product to be advertised on television. It was widely advertised everywhere and always evident behind the bar at pubs. (As for most drinks, I don’t remember actually seeing anyone drink it.) It was perry, a drink made like cider but from pears instead of apples, but its image was of champagne – expensive and luxurious, sold in tiny bottles and always shown with the old-style champagne glasses. It seemed to be an innocent, harmless drink, almost without alcohol, an introduction to alcohol for young women. (Sorry, life was sexist then.) I have never heard the word ‘perry’ used in any other context. (Yes, you can still buy Babycham.)

Licensing Hours

Pub licensing hours have grown like ordinary shop hours. The Defence of the Realm Act of 1914, as well as introducing wartime rationing and censorship, restricted pub opening hours from noon to 2:30 pm and 6:30 to 9:30 pm. Pubs had to keep to these hours – they had to be open between these hours, and had to close promptly. (Sunday opening hours were more restricted, with no Sunday opening in parts of Scotland and Wales.)

By the 50s, hours had extended slightly with an evening closing time of 10:30. Exceptions were rare so that all pubs closed at the same time of night. (Discos hadn’t been invented and we didn’t have nightclubs.)

Apart from pubs, the only places licensed to supply alcohol on the premises were restaurants – and then only with the consumption of a meal. This was not a significant source of alcoholic drinks as there were not many restaurants.

Several Acts of Parliament have changed the situation, at first allowing optional opening through the afternoon. By 2000 pubs could open from 11:00 and to 11:00 pm. (They were no longer required to open all the permitted hours.)

From 2005, pubs in England and Wales were allowed to apply to their local council for any opening hours, partly to end the concentration of drunkenness and violence around closing time – and to help the police. The most significant result seems to have been a rise in alcohol-related hospital admissions!

Now we have various opening hours. It is no longer restricted to sale at pubs. Alcohol can be served at cafés without the need to consume a full meal and is widely available.

Age Restrictions

Restrictions concerning age seem to be unchanged. At eighteen you can drink any alcoholic drink in a pub. At sixteen you can drink beer or cider (or wine at a restaurant if ordered by an adult.) These ages are unchanged.

In the Fifties, no one under fourteen was allowed to enter a bar at a public house. You simply did not see children in pubs. This regulation certainly extended through the Seventies and Eighties but it now seems to have disappeared or been ignored. (It’s hard to be clear as the pubs where children are now very common may have been reclassified as restaurants.)


I have to mention the Campaign for Real Ale, founded in 1971, in the vain attempt to keep the old methods with beer coming from wooden barrels. Wikipedia assures me that it still exists but its definition of ‘real ale’ no longer specifies whether it is dispensed from a barrel or a metal keg. (I have to take the word of Wikipedia but there were discussions about draught beer from wooden barrels or metal casks back through the Sixties. Perhaps CAMRA had a more informal precursor organisation.)

Pubs Today

There are some pubs left bearing some resemblance to this picture but they now almost all serve food – sandwiches, bar snacks and meals. Most have a restaurant section or have become all restaurant. In Cheltenham, where I live now, I have seen many of the town pubs close to make way for housing developments. More of the country pubs have survived, mostly as pub/restaurants. Very few customers now visit pubs just for the alcoholic drinks.

[Just a few years later and I have seen many more pubs disappear. Almost all those remaining are now restaurants especially in towns.]

There was too much to say about alcohol in just one blog. More to come – including home brewing and binge drinking. You may have to wait for about another forty blogs!