Remembrance of Things Past

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


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[115] Just Fade Away

It’s over a year since I finished this blog and I wanted to remind old readers of my memories and inform new readers.

There is a Full List that will take you to any of the over a hundred posts covering everything you always wanted to know about the Fifties and Sixties. If you like them, please share them with your friends.

 

I have added a few more thoughts and I have picked some of the things that have disappeared gradually – things that we just assumed kept going but then suddenly we may notice that they have gone.

Of course the main things that we oldsters will reminisce about are the intangible things like respect for authority; the innocence that came from not knowing about the World, and children being able to walk to school.

Just a few years after I started this blog, I note now that there were things that would have been recognized ten or twenty years ago as very old-fashioned but that the younger generation now would not even understand – things like: cameras with films and negatives; typewriters with keys; carbon paper; films in cinemas with projectors; landline telephones that were fixed to the wall; cathode ray tube televisions; printing presses; fountain pens and radios.

But here are some things that we had everywhere in the Fifties, things that people of my age will remember, but things we don’t have any more. They disappeared gradually. We didn’t notice them going but now they have become unfashionable or unnecessary – or are obsolete because of technology – or for some reasons are just not the way we do things any more. They may still exist but be much less common than they used to be. Some will be listed below with comments and some without. Some may have been mentioned in earlier blogs. The order is very random. (Yes, I know, ‘random’ can’t be qualified like this. Language is not as precise as it used to be!)

 

Cheese Rind

It must be the way they make cheese now.

Bacon Rind

Cream on the top of Milk

Car Bumpers

Cars were always very similar, generally black. They had chrome bumpers at the front and rear. First the chrome went – becoming plastic. Then the bumpers got smaller and smaller. Now they have gone altogether.

Hub Caps on Cars

They used to be chrome like the bumpers. People don’t have time to polish chrome now.

Back Doors

The milkman and baker always came to the ‘back door.’ It may have been at the side of the house but all houses had a front door and a back door. (We never locked the back door in the daytime.) New houses don’t have a back door but they probably have French windows [or French doors or conservatory doors. I won’t go into the language.]

Windows

I don’t think there is a word for them but bedrooms had a small window at the top that was always open to let in the fresh air. Modern houses don’t have them upstairs or downstairs. It’s all to do with central heating.

Quarter-lights

This is related. Cars used to have small windows, especially one beside the driver to get some air circulating – before cars had such good heaters with air-conditioning. Many drivers smoked and it was not unknown to have cigarette ends thrown out through the quarter-light. Of course we did not have electric windows in cars. [OK, cars used to have ash-trays as well – not any more.]

Shop Windows

No, I’m not obsessed by windows but almost every shop used to have a shop window displaying some of the things they were selling. These have gradually disappeared.

Net Curtains

It must be a fashion thing.

Privet Hedges

Tin Openers and Potato Peelers

I suppose I could also put hand whisks here.

Cobblers

Repairing shoes used to be common.

Street Cleaners

Men used to go round pushing their trolleys on wheels with a broom to sweep up litter. Now it’s hard to find anywhere without litter.

Park-keepers

The End of the Central Line from Epping to Ongar

I suppose if I still lived in Ilford I would have noticed but it came as a surprise when I did find out.

Telephone Kiosks

Most of those that are left are listed buildings used for defibrillators or cash machines.

Ticket Sales and Ticket Collectors on Railways

Fixed Prices for Trains – or Coaches or Aeroplane Flights

You used to be able to know the price of a ticket from one station to another. Now you need to book online and give the exact date and time and then you may still have a choice of various ticket types. If you check the next day you may get different options or different prices.

Fireworks at Home

Cap Guns

Luminous Watches

I think this another ‘Health and Safety’ thing. It was radioactivity that made them luminous. Even watches are disappearing now. We have mobile phones or Fitbits that tell us the time. [You don’t see many large clocks out now either.]

Scarecrows

Policemen’s Helmets

Ice-cream Vans

 Wafers

They would play their familiar jingles. You could get wafers or lollies or choc-ices.

Pullovers

pullover

Short trousers for boys

Skirts for schoolgirls

Public Conveniences

Perhaps the number of shops providing toilets have made these buildings obsolete. They must be expensive and difficult to maintain. I can think of several locally that have been demolished or turned into restaurants or just closed.

Deck Chairs

I suppose the week long English seaside holiday on the beach has gone too.

Pubs

Most have closed or become restaurants.

Pub Signs

We used to play Pub Cricket on long journeys. I won’t give the full rules but you counted the number of legs to get runs in cricket. The ‘Dog and Duck’ would be six runs, four for the dog and two for the duck. With plurals like the ‘Fox and Hounds’ you had to see the sign to see how many hounds there were. Now those pubs that are left have either changed their names to sound like restaurants or have given up the pub sign. The very few remaining signs are almost all just a name with no picture. (Of course you can’t play Pub Cricket on motorways anyway.)

Football Pools

Holiday Camps

Free Meals on Aeroplanes

Tea Cosies and Tea Strainers

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[57] A Pint of Bitter

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

Pubs

I start with pubs. In the fifties alcohol was much more closely connected to pubs than it is now. Pubs were Public Houses for the consumption of alcoholic drinks – and that was all they were.

Pubs did not have restaurants attached to them. Pubs did not serve meals. Pubs did not provide bar snacks. Pubs did not sell sandwiches. Pubs did not sell crisps – no, crisps were the only edible things they did sell, and the only crisps were Smith’s crisps. You didn’t have to specify a flavour because there weren’t any flavours. There was optional salt – the famous little blue bags inside the packets. Presumably salty snacks were sold to make you thirsty and buy more beer. Wikipedia says that they were called Salt ‘n’ Shake flavour but I don’t believe this. They were called Smiths Crisps. (It was just crisps. No peanuts, no scampi fries, no pork scratchings, no other nibbles.)

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

Every pub had two main rooms – two bars – the Public Bar and the Saloon. The Public Bar was the main bar, basically a place for working men to drink (and get drunk.) The Saloon had only a few visitors as its prices were higher. (You guessed it – It was for the rich and posh!) You could tell the difference by looking at them – public bars had old, worn, rough furniture, mostly just room for standing. Saloons had carpets, proper chairs, tables and more homely décor. The distinction is still there in many pubs today.

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

caskbeer_pour

Draught Beer

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

beerglass

There was only one shape for the pint glass as shown above. It normally came with much more of a ‘head,’ much more froth at the top than is shown. (We were not troubled so much by weights and measure legislation and a frothy top was traditionally expected.) The pump handle was a simple, large handle unadorned by any brand name for the beer. All the customers ever asked for was a pint of bitter or a pint of mild. (It presumably did have a brand name but the brand – and advertising in general – were much less prominent. There was no choice of brand.)

While I continue with several more sweeping generalizations, I need to make many remarks that may now be considered sexist. As you will remember from [20] Sex Discrimination we were sexist then, so I am just describing how things were.

Bottled Beer

Men drank draught beer, generally bitter, occasionally mild and bitter. There were bottled beers, called light ale or pale ale, which were similar to draught bitter, and other darker beers called stout. Bottled beer came in different glasses and were of indeterminate volume – so you asked for a bottle rather than a pint. (A bottle was somewhere between a pint and a half pint.)

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

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

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

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

Optics in a bar, Birmingham

Other Drinks in Pubs

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

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

Woodpecker%20Premium%20Logo

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

Babycham-500

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

Licensing Hours

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

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

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

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

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

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

Age Restrictions

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

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

CAMRA

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

Pubs Today

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

There was too much to say about alcohol in just one blog. More to come – including home brewing and binge drinking.