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.



[267] Coping with Numbers

[267] One, Two, Three…

First issued July 2015, revised February 2020.

When I was at school we had to do Mathematics so we had some quite difficult ‘sums’ to do – without mobile phone apps and even without calculators. How did we manage? (I will get to computers later but I have to start back at school.)

I should be honest here. I like Maths. I did ‘A’ level Pure Mathematics and Applied Mathematics at school, then ‘S’ level Mathematics, then I went to University and did a degree in Mathematics. Now I play around with spreadsheets for all sorts of things. But like everyone else, back in the Fifties and Sixties I had to do it the hard way. (If you read on you will see that it got easier in the Seventies.)


Mental arithmetic at school was important. From very early days at school the times tables were taught by rote – from two times two is four up to twelve times twelve. We did these back in my days at Grange Hill from the age of about seven.

We used our knowledge of tables to do relatively simple sums. At junior school we learned about decimals, subtracting large numbers, long multiplication and long division, all done just by using pencil and paper methods.

I won’t go into the details but before Secondary School we knew how to work out: 3456 x 789, and we knew how to find 3456 ÷ 789 as a decimal. (We didn’t do sums quite that hard but we knew the method.)




At Ilford County High School we needed a quicker way to work out arithmetic. (Of course the same was true at all other schools.) Probably in the Third Form, we did logarithms, a relatively easy and quick way to multiply by using addition.

I have considered at length whether to try to explain the way that logarithms work – and I have decided against it. It would take quite some time to do it clearly and I suspect that WordPress would fail with the mathematical notation.

I will show you an example. The oldies can sit back, reminisce and gloat – thinking: ‘Yes, I remember those books. We did that. The young generation have it too easy nowadays.’ And the youngsters can just think: ‘What! Surely no-one actually had to add up three-digit numbers!’

I will give actually give two examples.

A printed list in a little book allowed you to look up every number from 1.01, 1.02, 1.03 all the way to 9.98, 9.99, to find the logarithm of that number. Ok we will call them just Logs. (The battered SMP booklet in the picture is probably from the Eighties but the numbers inside were the same!)

Here are the first ones. Log(1.01) is 0.004, Log(1.02) is 0.009, Log(1.03) is 0.013. (I have simplified it by using three figures. The tables coped with four. The Log of 1 is 0.000 and the Log of 10 is 1.000. You don’t need tables for them.)

If you wanted to know 2 x 3, you looked up Log(2.00) in the book of tables. It’s 0.301. Then you looked up Log(3.00), which is 0.477 (Believe me, I knew both of those. They were part of what we learned at school. I didn’t have to look them up!) Then you wrote down a little sum and added them up:

Number Logarithm
2 0.301
3 0.477
???? Total 0.778

Now we have to get the answer by looking up anti-logarithms. We want a number with a Log of 0.778, so we turn to another page in the book, look up Antilog(0.778) and the answer is – Surprise, Surprise! – 6!

So we complete the table.

Number Logarithm
2 0.301
3 0.477
6.00 Total 0.778

Because we always show our working, we write 2 x 3 = 6.00 (using logs) and put the table by the side.

That was easy. You all knew that 2 x 3 was 6, so here is just one more example, not quite so obvious.

12.34 x 567.8 = ???

Number Logarithm
12.34 1.091
567.8 2.754
7007 Total 3.845

You add the right hand column first, then look up 0.845 in the Antilog tables. So the answer is 7007. [You will either know, or will have worked out by now, that the bit before the decimal point in a logarithm tells you whether its 7.007 or 70.07 or 700.7 or 7007. It gets more complicated for 0.7007 or 0.07007!]

We did everything with those books of Log Tables. As well as multiplication (as shown above, by adding Logs) we could do division, (subtracting Logs) powers (multiplying Logs – using Logs), and sines, cosines and other trigonometry (using other tables in that little book).

It was the way calculations were done in a world without calculators.


Slide Rules

A year or two later we learned to use slide rules, which were just physical devices using the same methods as logarithms. You can see in the picture three wooden graduated rulers fitted together. The middle one slides along. In the diagram it is set up to multiply by two – so you can see how it shows that 2 x 2 = 4 and 2 x 3 = 6. For points in between you count along subdivisions, so you can also read 2 x 1.5 = 3.0 or 2 x 2.3 = 4.6 . The method was not quite as accurate as Logs but it was easier and quicker.

(It doesn’t matter if you haven’t followed the last few paragraphs. If will give you a sense of wonder at how clever we used to be.)



We come now to something I thought at first would be simple – just mention calculators. They were non-existent in the Sixties; appeared in the early Seventies; were cheap enough for general use by the mid-Seventies; and were allowed in schools by the late Eighties, replacing all that work with log tables and slide rules.

But then I realised that these cumbersome machines are now so outdated that most youngsters have never seen one and wouldn’t even recognize one! You probably have a Calculator app on your phones. The picture above shows an early calculator. It’s small strip of LED (light emitting Diodes) at the top was all you had then to show what was happening, with physical buttons to enter data.

The picture shows a scientific calculator, which could do trigonometry and other functions. Early basic models just did addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.

All you really need to know that these things just didn’t exist in the early Sixties. At schools we had to manage with pencil and paper methods, log tables and slide rules.


A Diversion about Tractors

Why am I talking about tractors?

Well, for about six months after I left school, in 1966, I worked in the Accounts Department of Ford Motor Company at their Tractor factory at Basildon, down the road a bit from Ilford.

Looking back on that period now, it is amazing that businesses ever managed their accounts with such primitive technology. Most of the time I was sorting through bits of paper, matching invoices to delivery notes so that we only paid for goods actually received.

In theory, every invoice was matched by its proof of delivery and that happened some of the time. More often numbers and dates did not match and there were all sorts of bits of paper to split, rearrange and match. Difficult situations were referred to ‘the Auditors,’ always said with an air of trepidation. I was just a humble clerk – not even that, just a ‘temp.’

[For those who want to reminisce about tractors, there were four models then of different sizes: Dextra, Super Dextra, Major and Super Major. They were bright blue. The one shown in the picture is a Dextra, the smallest model. Every part that arrived at the factory had a part number. Most started C5NN, which meant they were painted bright blue. Engines just had a long number. Delivery notes always seemed to include part number EZE 35, wooden pallets, which were returnable and free.]


Calculating Machines

At the Ford Tractor works, I dealt mainly with internal transfers from Belgium. If I remember correctly, the turnover just for this was about a million pounds a month, a lot of money in those days. It was before the hand-held calculators shown earlier so all we had were some slow, bulky adding machines and these ‘Facit’ machines for multiplication.

You had to manually set up both numbers, then wind the handle several times to get the answer. It was entirely mechanical and so the machines were noisy. It was a miracle that accounts were published every months with figures bearing some approximation to what had actually happened.

Most people in businesses through Britain would not have ever seen something so technologically advanced as this.

They did have a computer – just one for the whole factory complex at Basildon – and I will come to that later. This was going to be blog about computers … Maybe next time.


[256] Coins and Money

[256] Spending a Penny

First issued 2015. Revised December 2019

I want to look at the money we had in the Fifties, in particular the coins. I will do them in ascending order of value. Note that the early pictures don’t show relative sizes.




(Click on any picture to see it enlarged.)

I start with the smallest value coin, the farthing, slightly larger than a modern 5p. It was worth a quarter of an ‘old’ penny or ¼d, the equivalent of 0.1p in modern money. Of course we didn’t call them old pennies, they were just pennies, normally ‘pence.’ For this blog I will leave out ‘old.’ Remember that we used to use d for a penny (supposedly from the Latin Denarius), and p is always the new decimal version.

[Decimal money didn’t come until 1971.]

In the Fifties there were probably still some things priced to end 19s 11¾d, just a farthing short of a pound, but this practice was dying out. (They could still use 19s 11½d or 19s 11d. Even now we still get things ending in 99p!) There were farthing coins in use but not they were not common. They were still minted up to 1956 with the Queen’s head, and in use until 1960.

I liked farthings. I had an old biscuit tin, maybe 9 inches by 9 inches and three inches deep, that I filled with farthings. I think it held about 1000 – worth just over £1. I don’t remember what happened to them.

What could you buy for a farthing?


When we bought sweets at the local sweet shop, most of them came in jars and were sold by weight. Some were sold for a penny each, or two a penny, or four a penny, so you could buy one for a farthing. I used to like ‘shrimps’, which looked something like the picture above, costing a farthing each. I think aniseed balls were just as cheap.





(Always pronounced ‘hay-pny’) This coin was ½d, similar in size to a modern 10p coin. Two farthings made a halfpenny. It was very much in common use and for most purposes the smallest amount. (Pricing in farthings had virtually disappeared.)

What could you buy for a halfpenny?

This is difficult because I didn’t buy much. I can’t remember all the sweets and their prices.




This was quite a large coin, larger than a modern 50p. It was very common because there was no 2d coin. It was too large, really, as was the half-crown, the other common coin. I remember my father often emptying his pockets to find some money. It would be a huge pile of coins, not adding up to much – probably less than a pound.


(If you used them as weights, three pennies or five halfpennies came to one ounce. Just as now, banks weighed bags of coins. The accuracy of the Big Ben clock has always been controlled by the number of 1d coins used as weights. Now it also has some later ceremonial coins but it still uses pennies.)

What could you buy for a penny?

Gobstoppers (US: Jawbreakers) were a penny. A very short bus ride was only a penny. There were probably lots of other things.


[We still use the expression, ‘spend a penny’ for a visit to the toilet. The WCs in public conveniences used to have chunky locks operated by these large coins. Wikipedia says that this expression comes from the Crystal Palace at the Great Exhibition of 1851, the first major installation of public toilets – during the exhibition, 827280 visitors each paid the penny to use them. They were still a penny a hundred years later. To be honest, I suspect that the expression is only used by those old enough to remember when it still applied.]


Two pence would buy a cup of tea, or a Milky Way bar or a packet of Polos, a copy of the Beano comic, possibly a pound of potatoes (prices were seasonal).




(Through-pntz, with first syllable sounding like could, or threp-pntz. Older people sometimes said thrup-pntz.) I think this was my favourite coin because it was so different to the others. The coin was called a three-penny bit (with three pronunciations).

It was a chunky coin, thicker than the others and made of different metals, a more yellowy colour. (There was an older three-penny coin made of silver, smaller than a sixpence, still technically in circulation. I think I saw one once.)

What could you buy for threepence?

3d was just the price of a Mars bar, or chips from a Fish and Chip shop. I think stamps for letters were 3½d.

Four pence would buy a cup of coffee (not what we now know as coffee).




Both the coin and the amount sixpence were generally known as a ‘tanner.’ It was just slightly smaller than a farthing.

When we were old enough for pocket money (perhaps at about ten) it started at sixpence a week.

What could you buy for sixpence?

Lots of small things. The first time I went to Woolworths to buy anything it was Christmas shopping. I bought seven things for 3s 6d – so they were more or less 6d each – toys, kitchen tools.

A small loaf of bread was 8d.




Like the penny and the pound, the shilling was a unit of currency, worth twelve pence. Colloquially it was often a ‘bob.’ The coin was just smaller than a halfpenny.

What could you buy for a shilling?

It could buy a loaf of bread, or a pint of milk, a pint of beer in a pub, a haircut, or a litre of petrol (which was sold in gallons).

It was not quite enough for fish and chips (more than enough for battered cod without chips).

Two Shillings



Next up in size and value was the two shilling coin. Some of the older two shilling coins were marked a ‘florin’ in an early attempt at decimalization but we never called them florins. Two shillings was usually ‘two bob.’


What could you buy for two shillings?

A small, simple ball-point pen was about 2s. That price remained the same for decades.

Half a Crown



The half-crown, worth 2s 6d, was the largest coin, just larger than a penny – about the same size as a modern 50p coin. Sometimes the amount was ‘half a dollar’ but more usually it was ‘two-and-six.’ (All amounts were like that. 6s 8d was six-and-eight, or sometimes six-and-eightpence.) Strangely the half-crown was probably more common than 2s. Without computers we worked a lot in halves and quarters. 2s 6d was a quarter of 10s. Things could be priced at 7s 6d or 12s 6d.

What could you buy for half a crown?

This is getting out of my range. The things I bought were not that expensive. If you had that much spare money you might take it to the Post Office to go into your savings account.

Four shillings would buy you twenty cigarettes. (No, I didn’t smoke.)


Theoretically worth five shillings, these coins were only issued for commemorative use, for example the funeral of Churchill. They were never see in circulation. A crown was a lot of money.

(2s 6d was ‘half a dollar,’ but five shillings was never a ‘dollar.’)

In the early sixties, single records (what we now call vinyl) were 6s 8d. That was another useful amount, a third of a pound.

[If you go back hundreds of years we had various coins that had disappeared. The crown had once been a more generally used coin.]


There were notes for ten shillings (‘ten bob’) and a pound (colloquially a ‘quid’). Both represented a lot of money. Once I found a 10s note in the street. I took it to the Police Station as lost property.

A three course meal in a restaurant would have come to between ten shillings and £1. A cheap bed and breakfast was much less than £1.

When single records, were about 6s 8d, Long Playing records, LPs (albums) were between £2 and £3.

There were also £5 notes but I never saw one. I don’t think they were used much.

A black-and-white television set (9 inch) was about £60-70. (This figure remained virtually unchanged for 50 years. Now I think small televisions have disappeared.)

A semi-detached house in the suburbs of London was measured in hundreds of pounds, not thousands.


The picture above shows comparative sizes of notes and coins, and gives a better indication of the colours. ‘Copper’ coins – farthings, ½d and 1d were made of a similar material to modern 1p and 2p; ‘silver’ coins – 6d, 1s, 2s and 2s 6d were similar to 5p, 10p, 20p and 50p.

(Note that our ‘silver’ coins changed around 2014. The cupronickel had become too expensive. Now coins are steel coated with pure nickel. The nickel is shinier – and also a little poisonous, so handle with care.)


Coinage designs had changed very little so old coins lasted a long time. Back in the early reign of Queen Elizabeth, we routinely saw the heads of George VI, George V and Edward VII on coins, with different designs on the ‘tails’ side – going back to 1902.

As children we had plenty of time to study the coins. You will note that George V shown above (in Latin, Georgius) was ‘by the grace of God, King of all Britain’ (DEI GRA BRITT OMN REX) and ‘Defender of the Faith’ (FID DEF, the title earned by Henry VIII). He was also ‘Emperor of India,’ (IND IMP) as Queen Victoria had been. India, which used to include Pakistan and what is now Bangladesh, became independent in 1947.

Penny coins survived for longer and Victorian pennies were fairly common, dated within a couple of years of 1900. They were called ‘bun pennies’ because of the ‘bun’ hairstyle of the Queen.




We coped with the system of 12 pence to a shilling and 20 shillings to a pound. When you bought something, assistants had to work out how much change to give you – without calculators. They didn’t have to do subtraction; they used a method of constructive addition and demonstrated it to you by counting back your change.

For example, if you gave them a pound note for something worth 7s 9d, it goes like this: 7s 9d – give you 3d – 8s – give you 2s – ten shillings – give you 10s note – one pound. You have been given 12s 3d, which is correct, but neither you nor the assistant have to know this. You both follow the process of completion.


These coins continued through the Fifties and Sixties. After losing the farthing in 1956, the ½d coin went in 1967. The 10s note and most of the rest of the coins went with decimalization in 1971 when new coins came in for the new decimal penny. (There was an overlap period when old 2s, 1s and 6d coins could be used for 10p, 5p or 2½p.

The very young will not remember that we used to have ½p as an amount and as a coin. At first new decimal coins were marked ‘new pennies,’ but now they are just ‘pennies.’) The pound note disappeared in 1984 when the pound coin arrived in circulation. The £2 coins is much more recent.

[I won’t go into the changes in coins since Decimalization but there have been several. The 50p started bigger and quite chunky. 20p and 10p coins have become smaller. The current 20p shape is new and the £1 coin is another novelty.]

As a rough approximation, you can think of prices now being a hundred times what they used to be in the Fifties, with a lot of variation. But, of course, salaries have also gone up. I remember as a child being taken to London by my father. We spoke to a postman who suggested that when I grew up I might earn as much as £1000 a year, in an unbelieving sort of way. He was right.