Remembrance of Things Past

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


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[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.

Disclaimer

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

Technology

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.

Government

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.

Society

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.

Television

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.

Education

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.

Shopping

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.

Transport

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.

 

Money

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.)

 

Miscellaneous

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.

Trust

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.

 

Acknowledgements

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.

 


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[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.

glasswater

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.

DIY

(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.

Wooden-Garden-Sieve.jpg

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.

punner-foot

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 …

plug-socket

Electricity

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.

shopwindow_mens

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.

shopwindow_lingerie.jpg

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 …

 


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[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.

flagstones

Flagstones

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.

water-tap

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.)

Instructions

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.

Cobblers

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

Repairs

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.

snapdragon

Gardens

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.

teacup

Tea

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.

kettle

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.

whistling

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.

teapot

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.

teastrainer

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.

teacosy

(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.

coffeePot

Coffee

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.]

CampCoffee

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.

TeacakeToasted

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.

Lyons-Tea-shop-c_1930

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 …

 

 

 

 


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Happy Birthday

I will say a lot more in due course but I have to wish a Happy Birthday to someone who was important in the fifties and sixties and was as well-loved as she is now.

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, born ninety years ago today.

Queen Elizabeth II

God save our gracious Queen!
Long live our noble Queen!
God save the Queen!
Send her victorious,
Happy and glorious,
Long to reign over us:
God save the Queen!

 

 


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[87] Memories in Pictures

After Blog [58] and Blog [71] it’s time for yet another post inspired by some more pictures I have picked up, mostly from Facebook groups. They will be in a fairly random order.

woodenPegs

Some of you will recognize clothes pegs, for hanging washing on a line outside in the fresh air. Some of you may even still do it. But you won’t see wooden pegs any more. Now they will be plastic.

parksxxroundabout

There used to be play areas in parks and I remember especially Valentines Park in Ilford. The equipment was always the same – a few swings, a rocking Horse and a roundabout. Nowadays, Health and Safety worries would make these last two items too dangerous.

I can’t be sure about the dates of these pictures but when I was young, a boy that small would never have had long trousers!

sweetsxz

The only mints with a hole were Polo mints so I suspect this picture may have been even earlier than my memories. But the price is correct – 2d for a packet of mints (a little less than 1p now.) You can still buy Polos.

cadburys

Cadbury’s Dairy Milk chocolate was launched very early in the Twentieth Century with the advertising caption: a Glass and a Half of Milk in each half-pound bar. They used the same slogan for decades. It used to me my mother’s treat – broken into squares and shared with the children. I remember it as about 1s 6d (that’s 7.5p)

chocmachines

Cadbury’s also did Fruit & Nut or Whole Nut bars, available from Confectionery Shops but also dispensed from machines usually at stations or near shops. I remember a price of 6d or 1s, depending on size (equivalent to 2.5p or 5p.) So this is quite a modern picture. It must be at least the seventies to have decimal coinage. (Fruit & Nut was widely advertised on television and elsewhere. I suspect that Whole Nut was much less popular.)

cot

Some of you will recognize a cot – for sleeping babies and toddlers. It assembles and disassembles to be reasonably portable. The front, which can drop down for easy access, prevents the baby from falling out.

We had a second-hand one like this for our children – so it almost certainly dated from the sixties.

buggy

Here’s a baby buggy from the early seventies. It flipped easily into something about the size of an umbrella so it was portable. We could take one on busses, with the children. (There was a double version with two seats side by side, almost as easy to collapse and transport.) At the time they were revolutionary but now they are just a memory of the past.

teasmade   teasmade2

Above are two versions of a Teasmade. My guess is that the one on the left dates from the sixties and the one on the right is a later model. Mum had one in the bedroom from about the mid-sixties.

You have to remember that tea making then involved heating water in a kettle on a gas stove, then pouring the hot water into a teapot with some tea leaves. I think tea bags came later. In the morning this would mean a walk downstairs to a cold kitchen.

And clocks, even alarm clocks, worked by clockwork and had to be wound up every day.

The Teasmade automated the whole thing and worked on electricity. You set it up the day before, set the alarm time and went to sleep. You had a clock (worked by electricity so without any winding) and just before the due time it would start up and heat the water. When the water boiled it transferred to the teapot, made the tea and woke you with an alarm sound. A nice cup of tea in bed without having to get up!

firesideset

A fireside set, essential to every coal fire – although they generally looked black and dirty. This one is for ornament only now as an antique. The shovel and brush were used every morning to empty ash from underneath the fire before setting up for a new one. The poker was used most often to keep the circulation of air going. The tongs were not much used – perhaps to pick up a stray hot coal that had fallen out of the front.

CampCoffee

Camp coffee pre-dated instant coffee as we know it. It came in a small bottle and was a quite thick brown liquid. Presumably it was added to boiling water. We had a bottle in the cupboard – but I never heard of anyone, in our family or otherwise, actually drinking it. I heard several people describe its taste in uncomplimentary terms.

capstan

Cigarettes came only in a few brands – Players Navy Cut, Wills (downmarket), Capstan and Rothmans (upmarket.)

Not that I smoked as you will know from post number [60].

johnBull

Finally, here’s something hard to understand in the modern world – a John Bull printing set. It may help if you have read about Newspapers in an earlier blog (which, of course, you have done!) We didn’t have computer printers then or any kind of printers for home use and most people didn’t even have a Typewriter. So handwriting, with pens and pencils, was the only way of writing. The printing outfit was a toy version of how newspapers were done. You put tiny rubber letters into wooden blocks – using little tweezers – and then used an inked pad to print out your messages. To a child this produced printing with almost professional quality. It wasn’t that good but it was a lot better than untidy handwriting.

 

I am trying to keep going over the holidays. Next week will be a semi-review Christmas post covering the end of a year of blogging. Lots more to come but I’m not sure what will be next.

 

 

 


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[86] Four, Five, Six …

 

I am going to talk about computers. This may seem strange after [67] One, Two, Three, which showed some of our primitive calculating methods back in the fifties. Computers had originated in the Second World War but even by the 60s had not developed beyond specialist scientific ones used in universities and government organizations. No computer then was as powerful as the microchips in today’s calculators and mobile telephones.

Most of the pictures will come from my visit to Bletchley Park and I will start with three pictures from there to illustrate the earlier blog about calculators. As always, click on a picture to see it enlarged.

Logarithms

I thought my explanation of logarithms might be difficult. It’s all made clear in this display at Bletchley. (Possibly not.)

SlideRule

A larger than life slide-rule.

facit

And a Facit, an early device for multiplication. You can’t see the working – cog wheels inside, operated by turning the handle.

04Enigma

Early History

I need to say at this point that from the seventies I worked at GCHQ, where we had more powerful computers than almost anywhere else and knowledge about the history of computers than was then not public. Recently this has changed and it is now known that the history of computers started at Bletchley Park during the war with machines built solely to solely to decode the German ‘Enigma’ machines.

valvecomputer

The picture is a very old machine using valves. It could do simple addition and multiplication and not much else.

Back in the fifties there were virtually no computers – just in some universities, some large businesses and some major government departments, such as GCHQ and the Meteorological Office – weather forecasting was not easy. I’m not sure than any establishment actually had two computers!

So we had none of the phenomena associated with automated processing – no telephone banking; no bar-codes, no automatic washing machines, no spreadsheets, no mobile phones, no itemized till receipts, no e-mail, no Power Point presentations, no Internet newsgroups or chat rooms, no credit cards, no tablets or even laptops, no games consoles, …

Paper Tape and Cards

The simplest job on a computer could take hours and was a complex process, starting with the generation of a paper tape or punched cards and ending with a crude printed output. A lot of what follows comes from my experiences with computers, dating from the late sixties.

papertape

Punched paper tape, shown in the picture above, was a continuous stream of paper about an inch wide. Each row of dots across the paper represented a single character – a letter, number, special character or space – and the tape would have been produced in something a bit like a typewriter. The picture above shows a paper-tape reader made by International Computers Limited (ICL) – a UK company, now part of Fujitsu.

Creating and reading paper-tape were both quite slow processes and paper could be torn with unfortunate results. If you ran a test program with paper-tape there were almost always mistakes – so it had to be corrected. The only way you can correct a paper tape is to create a copy! For a minor change, such as adding a comma (a very common correction) you might get away with a fairly straightforward copy with editing but for much more you could end up just rewriting it!

punchedcard

In some ways, punched cards were similar. Each column of holes represents a single character so each card is an 80 character line of code or data. The card below has the single FORTAN statement:

Z(1) + Y + W(1)

With PROJ1039 as a program name in the field at the end.

FORTRAN_Card

[I won’t go into details but oldies will remember FORTRAN (from FORMula TRANslation) as a programming language for mathematical and scientific work. At the time, perhaps, COBOL (Common Business Oriented Language) was more common. Others such as BASIC (Beginners All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code) came later.]

Cards were easier because you might need to just change one card rather than rewrite the whole tape.

handpunch

Above is an early hand operated machine to make punched cards. Pressing an appropriate selection of tabs simultaneously would create a single character and advance to the next. (You had to know which holes represented which letters!) You can see it was difficult, long-winded and liable to mistakes – one mistake and you would have to start again. I did see machines like this in the early seventies but by then we had progressed to what is shown in the next picture:

punchedcardmachine

These were more like electric typewriters. You used the keys like a typewriter and cards were punched and stacked. A typical program might take 500 to 1000 cards, generally stored in open metal boxes that held 2000 cards.

Computers in the 60s and 70s

I have several memories of computers in the late sixties, starting with half a year working at the Ford Motor Company tractor factory at Basildon. As you have read in [67] One, Two, Three. Ford was a large multi-national company. I think it had one computer, which tried to handle finances, tracking production and parts and other things. It did this, more or less, by running a series of programs once a day. In the morning we would have new printouts – large stacks of paper showing what was where. Whatever we did, there would be no update until the next day.

DollisHill

In another temporary job later at Dollis Hill (The Post Office Research Centre, later relocated to Martlesham, now Adastral Park) I used an ICL machine driven by paper tape. After weeks of preparation and producing paper tape, it was a case of booking the computer, large enough to fill a large room, for an hour for its sole use.

60scomputer

This is part of a more modern computer, from the early seventies. You can see a magnetic tape, which was the main way of storing data – the only way to hold large amounts of permanent data. They were 2400 feet long and if you wanted the last line you had to read all the way through – and rewind back to the start before unloading!

harddisc

Above is a hard disk array, called a 2314, heavy and something like two feet wide. When installed, they span at high speed and it was possible to read any location almost immediately. The SD card that you might put in a camera today holds maybe a hundred times as much data as this, is more reliable and is much faster!

printer

Here is a line printer. It prints mechanically, line by line and would have produced hundreds of thousands of pages every day – the only form of output. Its output was the familiar fanfold sheets, stacked into piles. Simple monochrome text was the only option.

Because they were mechanical and relatively fast they were very noisy. That’s why the mechanism is enclosed in the box you can see. (It was well before the full colour inkjet printers we have now)

Apollo landing

Apollo Moon Landings

After the War, the USA and USSR were political rivals (as you know from Blog [51]) and they were very competitive in technological developments. After early Soviet success in space exploration, on 25 May 1961, President John Kennedy pledged the US to putting a man on the Moon by the end of the decade. With a lot of money moved to NASA, the Apollo program just managed this.

On 20 July 1969, Apollo 11 landed on the Moon. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the Moon and were brought safely home. (Don’t believe conspiracy theories that say otherwise.) There were very fuzzy black and white television pictures.

The next day I started work at a site where we had among the most powerful computers in the World – still as described above using punched cards and printers as the almost the only input and output devices. I am told that computers are NASA were similar to the one we had at GCHQ. But where we managed with one they had five – four ran in parallel and the fifth checked the other four to get sufficiently reliable results.

Apollo_13

The picture above from the ill-fated Apollo 13 Mission may look more modern but the equipment shown is not computer equipment. There are displays from technical measuring equipment, possible inked to computers. It was an impressive achievement without the aid of modern equipment.

Remote Access

The ability to access computers remotely started in the late 70s. WE had a thing called Remote Job Entry (RJE) using teletypes like the next picture.

teletype

A teletype is like a typewriter but every character is transmitted down a wire to the main computer, perhaps in another building. The computer had the ability to respond and send characters back. They were still very slow, just simple text. (Final Score on BBC television on Saturday afternoon, shows goals and final football results coming in. Some readers will remember vide-printers and, before those, a teletype. We literally waited and watched while clubs round the country sent in their results in a way that was a little bit faster than making telephone calls – via landlines, not mobile phones!)

With RJE it was also possible to send punched card data up to the main computer. The picture above has, at the left, a facility for pinched paper tape.

Video

vdu

The next development was Conversational Remote Batch Entry (CRBE). Instead of a teletype we had a Visual Display Unit (VDU) but it was hardly a significant improvement. The display was still a line by line text machine with green text.

Modern Computers

Almost everything to do with modern computers – and modern technology in general – is much more modern.

The trend towards personal computers and home computers dates from the 80s. First PCs used text input and output only, with graphical output. Windows did not come until the late 80s. Even in the early 90s, PCs had disk space of less than a megabyte and memory size considerable less – they were less powerful than current printers (or mobile telephones).

Home computers used to be large boxes – maybe 50 by 50 cm with separate keyboards and displays. Then came laptops, notebooks and tablets.


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[85] Shotgun Weddings

 

It’s time for another subject I have been putting off for a long time – relationships and family life – although, to be honest, it’s mostly about sex. I’m not really sure why I have put it off but it may be because of my shy nature, innocent upbringing and a reluctance to talk about sex. I often put in links to other blog posts – to boost my hit statistics but this time, as background information, I would really recommend [60] Young and Innocent, which includes something about sex education (or the lack of it) in the fifties and sixties.

A diversionary note about terminology: The word ‘sex’ used to be used almost universally where we now say ‘gender.’ Printed forms would routinely include: Sex: (male/female)……. The grammatical purists insisted that ‘gender’ applied to French nouns, and of course Latin and other languages. If we wanted to talk about the activity that we now call ‘sex’ – which of course we never did – the expression to be used was ‘sexual intercourse.’ It was hardly ever talked about. Of course in real life there were alternative slang and colloquial ways of saying it that are still used today! (Today we have a lot more ways!)

The dramatic changes in relationships and families started in the sixties with the advent of widely available contraception. I need to go back and look at sex and sexual relationships in the fifties, perhaps in more technical detail than I would like. People from the fifties would be shocked to see such openness.

There will be many generalizations in what follows and I need to make it clear that I am talking about people in general. I will say nothing of my personal experiences at the time.

condom

Contraception

In the fifties you would not have heard of the word ‘contraception.’ There was something called ‘family planning’ and some products were available through medical channels. You have to remember that the morals of the time would only consider such a topic for married couples; many adults would have been too embarrassed to ask (and probably didn’t know such things were available); and children under 21 could only see a doctor through their parents.

There were no contraceptive pills for women, just Intra-Uterine Devices (IUD) fitted under medical supervision. So contraception was virtually unobtainable for almost all women.

For men, the only contraceptives were condoms, which you could ask for, if you were bold enough, from a barber. I suspect that these were available from Chemist’s shops, where you might have to queue and ask a young female shop assistant. (The word ‘condom’ was never used perhaps because they were never spoken of. The word condom is unusual, inasmuch as its etymology is unclear. No one seems to know why they are called condoms. The only polite term was ‘Durex’, the one and only brand name. It came in one product only, always 3s 6d for a ‘packet of three.’ That’s 17.5 pence.)

As an indication of the way I was brought up, I could never have talked to anyone about this topic until a few years ago, even to my children. I don’t think I could now, except almost anonymously here. I still can’t quite believe I have gone as far as the picture above of a condom.

There was no way that young girls (or older unmarried women) could receive contraceptives and the contraceptive ‘pill’ had not yet arrived. Here it is worth pointing out the modern situation. For women now, contraceptive pills and other devices are feely available to all without any discrimination against the unmarried or the young. Even girls below the age of consent can obtain contraceptives from their doctors without the need to inform their parents. (Of course in our times, those under 21 had no chance of medical advice of any form apart from through their parents. The age of consent remains 16 as it was then – with some technical differences of definition that I will not go into here.) For men condoms are freely available now in supermarkets and elsewhere.

Maturity

This is beginning to look as if it may be a whole blog post just about sex, but I need to add background material to put things into perspective. Everyone will be very aware that, over the last hundred years at least, people grow and develop more. Most men and women are significantly taller than their parents. This is presumably a result of better health and diet.

I will not go into the anatomy and physiology of sex but the onset of puberty is determined by weight and body size as much as by age, so that boys and girls now mature significantly earlier. I suspect that since the fifties, the average age of puberty in both boys and girls has gone down by about two or three years but it’s hard to find statistics. This change is, of course, different in different countries and cultures and it’s only an average – another sweeping generalization of mine!

cartoonsex1

Attitudes to Sex

Readers will be aware through literature of different ways of life – from the novels of Jane Austen to well-known Victorian attitudes. Change has been gradual. So in the fifties we had progressed from Victorian ideas of chaperones at all times. But there was still very strict control by parents of their children, which meant up to the age of 21.

To the Victorians, even in marriage, sex was not something for a woman to enjoy. It was said that they were told to “Close your eyes and think of England.” Missionaries to Africa and elsewhere had similar attitudes, discouraging experimentation and insisting on the so-called ‘Missionary position.’ We had progressed some way from here by the fifties, perhaps not very far by today’s standards.

At the right sort of age – different for different people, younger for girls, maybe 13, 14, 15, 16 – boys and girls might meet and ‘go out together.’ (In earlier times this was called courting.) They might become ‘boyfriend/ girlfriend’ and be seen everywhere together. But there were not opportunities for sex, either regularly or one-off. They could go to the pictures, just walk together in the evenings, or meet in each other’s homes. But generally parents would impose curfews – home by 10:30 etc. If you brought a girl home at 10:30 for a relatively innocent goodnight kiss, you parents might be in the next room, and both sets of parents would impose a time limit.

(I have been chastised for suggesting that no one ever had sex before marriage. Of course it happened and it was more common than it had been twenty years earlier. But I can only work in generalizations. Innocence and virginity were much more common than they are now. Much.)

You will remember from Blog [60] that almost the only information about relationships came from Agony Aunts, with columns in newspapers and magazines. They might suggest that adolescent girls could allow their boyfriends to engage in light ‘petting’ (above the waist) but should never allow ‘heavy petting,’ which could lead inevitably to unwanted pregnancies. (I haven’t defined petting but then the Agony Aunts wouldn’t have defined it either.)

There was still a heavy influence from the Church about moral values and so much was kept secret that many children grew up in almost total ignorance. Those who kept to the standards of society (where few had the desire or opportunity to do otherwise,) might enter into marriage as virgins, with insufficient knowledge of what was expected of them. (OK, most had a basic idea gleaned from a very short talk from their parents or from friends or relatives, but many from more protective families knew nothing of sex. It was not flaunted in public as it is now.)

Other ‘Contraception’

I am going in a fairly rambling manner but need here to mention two other methods that approximated to contraception – one for respectable married couples and one for not so innocent adolescent young lovers.

The Roman Catholic Church has always had somewhat more strict attitudes to sexual relationships than protestant churches. They believe that all artificial forms of contraception are wrong and devout Catholics have tended to have larger families. Their only allowable method to prevent pregnancy in unmarried couples is abstinence from sex. (Of course, for most people in the fifties this was the only practical reason. Their reasons may have been to do with preventing pregnancy rather than their moral views.)

For married couples who longer wanted pregnancies, the Catholic Church only allowed the ‘Rhythm Method,’ based on the fact that a woman’s fertility came only at certainly periods of her monthly cycles. Again, I will not go into technical details but the method was complex, based on following calendars; it was difficult and it was unreliable. It was effectively abstinence for some dates within the monthly cycles.

For young adolescents who did venture as far as ‘heavy petting,’ there were possible activities they could do and in some cases this could go as far as the so called ‘Withdrawal Method.’ (No technical details – but coitus interruptus was not much fun for either boy or girl and it was very unreliable as a contraceptive method.)

Unwanted Pregnancy

No method of contraception is perfect. Condoms are not completely reliable. Users do not always concentrate on correct use for contraception. Sometimes boys and girls would engage in activity without even knowing about the possibility of pregnancy. And of course sometimes they just got carried away with what they were doing.

In a world of ignorance there were many ‘old wives tales.’ For example, some girls thought that they would not get pregnant from intercourse standing up.

Inevitably, pregnancies did occur with unmarried girls. The moral atmosphere meant that such pregnancies were almost automatically unwanted. There were four choices open to the girls – abortion, marriage, adoption and trying to bring up a child as an unmarried mother. I will look at these four possibilities.

Abortion

Abortion was only available legally as an emergency operation if the mother’s life was in danger. In the fifties there were ‘back-street’ abortionists which were illegal, expensive and dangerous (because conditions of hygiene were not good).

The change in legislation, which allowed abortion effectively on demand came in the late 60s.

Shotgun Weddings

If an adolescent girl got herself ‘in trouble’ there was tremendous pressure on the father to ‘do the right thing’ and enter into a ‘shotgun marriage’. This had always been so. Those like me who have taken up genealogy will find a large number of births coming quite soon after marriages.

Inevitably this led to many instances of unhappy marriages when the couple were not really in love or ready for marriage. But it was more usual to accept things then. (See later about divorce.)

Adoption

If attempts to persuade the father to marry failed, or if the mother did not know the father, it was quite common for her to be taken away, as far as possible in secret, to an unmarried mother’s home and looked after until the delivery. The baby would almost certainly go straight to adoption and the mother could then come back into normal society.

Adoption was easier and could be done informally by a relative. Those who study family history may find instances of births to an older mother who already has many children. A fifteen-year-old girl could have a baby at home without medical attention and register it as her sister. Many children have grown up without the knowledge of their real mother. (Perhaps this happened less by the fifties than in earlier times – but popular television series make much dramatic use of such situations.)

Unmarried Mothers

The social and moral stigma attached to unmarried mothers led to them being swept under the carpet. The highly pejorative term ‘bastard’, which applied to their children remains today as a term of abuse but is no longer used in its literal sense. It was very rare for a lone mother to attempt to bring up a child on her own. There was no social service support or easy child minding so it was financially impossible in most circumstances.

More Diversions

Two other things come under the broad category of Sex.

Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD) have always been with us. We knew them as Venereal Diseases (VD) although there was much more general ignorance. There were VD clinics advertised in public toilets but otherwise no public awareness or knowledge – not surprisingly in view of the complete lack of education about sex. Agony Aunts would occasionally post cryptic replies to unprinted letters that may have been associated with these diseases.

It was well before AIDS (starting gradually in the seventies) which was a significant driver in the spread of awareness of STD. Where we now talk of ‘safe sex,’ using condoms, to mean safety from disease and pregnancy, in the fifties people rarely considered disease. Condoms were and still are sometimes called prophylactics – which means disease prevention.

Fertility was a subject only considered through medical channels and only for married couples. The options for prospective parents were limited. IVF and the use of surrogate mothers were unheard of. Artificial insemination (usually by the prospective father) was emerging as an option. Perhaps for practical reasons, families were much more ready to accept their childless situation. Of course, there was also a much greater supply of healthy, normal babies for adoption, from the unmarried mothers who (voluntarily or otherwise) abandoned them at birth.

Engagement

Getting engaged was a more formal thing. Of course people proposed marriage (and then it was always the man doing the proposing) but they might fix a day to get engaged. (We did. Only personal reference here.) It was a definite commitment, less likely to be broken.

There was still in common law something called Breach of Promise, which allowed a woman to sue for damages when a man changed his mind. (It only worked one way!) I suspect that this was not much used but the threat was there and it indicated the moral atmosphere. In the United Kingdom, this legal situation no longer exists.

Partners and Cohabitation

I am not sure how or when the trend for unmarried partners to live together emerged. Free contraception form around the sixties (with ‘The Pill’) led to freer sexual activity. Unmarried mothers gradually became acceptable, and the decline of religion reduced the hold of the Church over marriages. The cost of weddings has also been a factor.

Living together without marriage has gradually emerged as more and more popular. At first it was as a ‘trial marriage’ and would often be followed by a real marriage before children arrived, but now many couples see no need for marriage even with children. This phenomenon was almost unknown in the 50s.

We also now have partnerships being treated as less permanent. Victorian and earlier literature talks sometimes of step-parents with a somewhat sinister attitude. Now they are common, more often from previous relationships than previous marriages, giving more complex families.

family01

Families

Families were generally what we now call nuclear families – mother and father (married) and their children, sometimes perhaps with a resident grandparent. They lived much more together and would eat together round a table.

You could more or less assume that each child was the child of both parents. (Without considering how other possibilities might occur, there was no DNA tracing and no questioning of paternity. It was assumed that the husband of the mother was the father – when perhaps only the mother knew otherwise, and of course the ‘milkman’ in the humour of the day.)

Divorce

This was much more difficult and followed a lengthy legal process. The only valid grounds for divorce were adultery, physical violence or desertion. The process ended with a provisional decree nisi and a six-month wait to the decree absolute.

There was even a halfway status known as a legal separation, which was acceptable to those who, for religious or other reasons, did not want a divorce. It sorted out the custody of the children and established maintenance payments without the need to establish grounds for divorce.

Children and Adolescents

Young children were looked after by their mothers who stayed at home as housewives. There were some kindergartens for the more well-off but no play schools or other pre-school care. There were no crèches for working mothers.

Children had a much lower profile. They were expected to be ‘seen but not heard’ and to pay due respect to all those who were ‘older and wiser’. They certainly did not have the influence over what was bought in the house that modern children have gained through the television advertising which is aimed at them. There was not much television for children to see.

With the age of majority at 21, adolescents were still largely treated as children up to that age. They stayed at home and more or less kept within the bounds of behaviour expected of them by their parents.

It was only in the 50s that markets began to see the potential for this age group who were gaining power from their ability to earn money and spend it. This started the move to pop music, then to fashion for adolescents (‘teddy boys’), and later to the vast cultures aimed at young men and women – music television, mobile telephones, and alcohol (and drugs).