Remembrance of Things Past

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


[110] Dedicated Follower

I’m nearly done. Next on my diminishing list is the subject of Clothes and Fashion and we need a bit of a background summary first.

In the post-war situation of austerity people were relatively poor and choice of clothing was quite limited. It was more a matter of buying clothes than anything to do with fashion. (Of course there was fashion and it may have appeared in the news and the newspapers but it was for the rich. Remember that my blogs are mostly sweeping generalizations about my upbringing.)

I will make my usual comment that the pictures I find are generally too modern but they are the best I can do.

There is always the danger that this could be quite a large list of what we didn’t have then – but I won’t let that put me off. I’ve done it before!


Before I start, this may be difficult for those from the US. I may miss out some but here are some examples of UK clothing terms.

Trousers are pants. Pants are underpants.

Waistcoats are vests. Vests are A-shirts.

Braces are suspenders. Suspenders are … no exact equivalence but suspender belts are garter belts;

Tights are pantyhose;

A Dinner Jacket is a tuxedo (although it generally means a suit not just the jacket.) A tuxedo may be a white Dinner Jacket.

Y-fronts are jockey shorts.

Knickers are panties. French knickers are tap pants.

[Of course Australia, New Zealand, Canada and other countries may use other terms.]


I will start with clothing for men. You will remember way back at Blog [5], which looked at winter clothing. People in general dressed in similar clothes.

For men, we had grey trousers with turn-ups and creases and shirts – often plain white. That was about it. Outside the house men always wore jackets and ties. (I think many men always wore them inside as well.) Jackets were plain and greyish and ties were simple designs, often stripes.

pullover  sleeveless

When it was colder we had pullovers – long-sleeved or sleeveless knitted woollen tops that went over our shirts. We used the terms jumper, woolly or pullover interchangeably. They all looked much the same. Quite a lot of them were actually knitted by housewives. [You will note in one picture that smoking a pipe was a positive feature in advertisements, portraying a relaxed feeling.]

Shoes were black leather laced shoes – what we would now call brogues. Men might have been seen with black or brown leather brogues but never any other styles.

Summer Clothes

As a sort of diversion I do remember sometimes wearing T-shirts and (brown leather) sandals bought for when we went on holiday. I’m pretty sure only children wore T-shirts and my father only ever wore sandals on holiday.

Work Clothes

Everyone dressed much more formally all of the time so suits were more common. You did sometimes see three-piece suits that included a waistcoat. There was a less formal jacket called a sports jacket, maybe a bit thicker and warmer than an ordinary jacket.

(I worked in the Civil Service. Even in the Seventies and Eighties we were still more or less expected to wear a jacket and tie to work and this was true for clerical and similar jobs. Higher grades always wore formal suits and professional men such as doctors and lawyers always wore suits. Dress codes began to collapse in the Nineties and I started to go to work without a tie. I still used to put on a suit and tie when meeting people from other organisations.)

Rain and Weather

There was a thing called a raincoat. It was a long, straight dark grey (or very dark navy blue) coat that stopped the rain. We may have called them waterproof but under modern rules for more accurate labelling they might be considered water resistant. If you had a group of men wearing raincoats they would all look the same.

raincoat overcoat

There was also an overcoat, much the same shape as a raincoat but thicker and warmer (and not waterproof,) generally brown.

As people walked more (or used the busses) it was much more common to see umbrellas. An umbrella was a long, black rolled up device. (Don’t be silly, there was no choice!) For office workers a rolled up umbrella was almost part of the ‘uniform.’ From what I sometimes saw on early television I think that workers in the City of London routinely wore bowler hats but the fashion for hats more or less disappeared around the sixties.


For men, pants meant Y-fronts and there were matching vests, which we all wore. We had never heard of boxer shorts.


(It’s old money. 6s 6d became 32p on decimalization.)

The trend has moved to not wearing vests. This may be a function of warmer temperatures, warmer outer clothing or less walking outside but I think it was supposedly triggered by a film [US: movie] in which the romantic lead male was shown without a vest. I can’t find the reference.

Everything Else

OK, think of some of the things you wear today. These are some things that were unknown in the Fifties.

Jeans were not seen until the sixties and then just for adolescents. I have worn jeans most of my life but I never see anyone older than me wearing them. (Of course we didn’t have denim jackets either.)

Track suits were worn by athletes and you might see them on television. They were plain (definitely without any trace of adverts) and were taken off just before the start of a race. They were not worn by the general public or seen in shops.

Running shoes were presumably worn by athletes. I am not sure what they looked like. They had spikes to help the grip as athletes ran on cinder tracks. They were not fashion items and not available to us. We had those black tennis shoes (plimsoles) from China you could buy at Woolworths – just for PE at school.


Anoraks, parkas and all forms of zipped jackets – no. Just plain woollen button jackets.

[I am struggling with zips. I think there were some but they were not common. None of our clothes had zips. Jackets had buttons. Trousers had button flies.]

Forget most decoration or colour and especially writing on clothing. Clothes were plainly designed, perhaps just stripes or check.


There were fashion shops and I earlier to list the local Ilford shops that I remembered. But we bought basic clothes from department stores.


Women spent much less money on clothes than now and less time in shopping for clothes. There was no such thing as ‘retail therapy’. It has to be remembered that married women did not possess their own money. Most women were housewives. [As far as Income Tax was concerned a married man included any income of his wife as if it was his income. Joint assessment from about the Seventies was gradually replaced by the modern system.] For their clothing women could save and accumulate money left over from a housekeeping allowance, or ask their husbands for money to buy clothes, or rely on occasional birthday or Christmas presents.

So choice for women’s clothes was much less than now. There were fewer shops selling a narrower range of clothing, mostly utilitarian rather than fashionable. Even in the Fifties most of the fashion shops dealt with women’s clothes rather than for men.


As a man I couldn’t tell you much about fashion for women now and I’m even more lost back in the Fifties and Sixties when I have to go on early memories. I do know that Mum wore fairly ordinary clothes at home, often covered with a protective apron or pinafore. Nan mostly wore a housedress, which was far more plain and basic than anything I can find in a picture. She had a red one and a blue one so that she always had one while the other was ‘in the wash.’

Women wore fairly plain dresses or skirts.

For women, trousers were unheard of in the Fifties, except for some slacks for informal wear. Trouser suits for women for formal occasions started to creep in from the Sixties, when they were considered very daring. After a long transitional period, by the late Nineties it was unusual to see women in the streets in skirts or dresses. Those still not wearing trousers were either over about fifty (wearing long skirts) or under about twenty (in attractive short skirts) or obviously in formal attire dictated by their work. Since the turn of the Century most dress codes for working women have changed to allow trousers.

The last to change has been uniforms for schoolgirls. Even around 2000 they wore short skirts but now trousers are usual.

Underclothes and Lingerie

I am doing women’s clothes in a different order because I think some changes in outerwear may have been associated with changes in underclothes. I knew little of this subject as a young boy but I can generalize mostly from advertisements in the newspapers but also from my mother and sisters.


Women wore something called a girdle. Wikipedia is failing me because they no longer seem to exist. Modern girdles are not the same. The nearest equivalent is a corset but they were far removed from Victorian corsets. They were foundation garments that controlled and shaped in a way that must have been tight and uncomfortable – but they were not designed to be seen. As you can see in the picture above the bra could be equally unattractive and uncomfortable and sometimes the two were combined into one garment.

You can also see in the picture that these girdles had suspenders – to hold up stockings. Women wore stockings and in the fifties they were still often those with a seam. Without intimate knowledge of adolescent girls of the time I’m guessing here that those who didn’t need the control of a girdle wore suspender belts instead.

I am sure tights were available but they were not generally worn or cheap. Tights rapidly replaced stockings from around the Sixties with the advent of mini-skirts.


Sometime after tights other variations appeared in various lengths such as pop sox and self-supporting stockings. The picture above is included purely for academic information.

[I can’t speak with any real knowledge of lingerie in the Fifties as opposed to everyday underclothes. I am sure it existed. I think it is much more of a significant market now. Now it is advertised to men to buy for their loved ones at Christmas and other occasions. In many large stores the lingerie department is next to menswear and not by the womenswear. It is also true now that what women wear all the time is designed to look attractive and sexy (perhaps to make them feel more attractive and sexy) and more like lingerie. Of course I only know this because of extensive research done for my blogs! I found the picture below in my research.]


Miniskirts and Hot Pants

Miniskirts appeared in the early sixties and soon became popular, at least for the younger generation who felt able to wear them. It was presumably necessary to wear tights rather stockings for mini-skirts so the change to tights continued in parallel with fashion changes. As with many fashions, more mature women tended to stick with what they knew rather than adopting new fashions. (See above for jeans and trousers for women.)

Dorchester Debs


Short shorts for women also made a brief appearance in the seventies, known as hot pants. Since then shops seem to be selling all sorts of alternative womenswear all the time. Fashions now change more rapidly.


The picture above is from a fashion show. These were reported a little in television, newspapers and glossy magazines (not as early as the Fifties.) Actual clothes available in shops came a little after the fashion shows and were generally less outlandish – but fashions did change.


You will not be surprised to learn that fashion in clothing is much more relevant for women than for men. I still belong to the old school of thought that when I buy new clothes (a rare occurrence) I avoid anything fashionable. I don’t want something that will be out of fashion in a few years and I would never discard old clothing just because it is no longer fashionable. Women are different. They like to be fashionable.

(I think that men believe women dress to make themselves attractive to men. It’s more probable that they dress to be seen as fashionable by other women.)

Since the seventies as women have obtained more equality and more spending power they have become a target for consumerization. There are more shops selling women’s clothes than anything else – and far more than those catering for men.

A quick look at Wikipedia has given me several terms for clothing fashions that have come and gone – and some that are still relevant. But none of these existed in the Fifties. (Not all are for women exclusively – and: Sweeping Generalization alert!)

Boob tube, crop top, hoody, chinos, leggings, leg-warmers, ra-ra skirt, sarong, cagoule, anorak, parka, Duffel Coat (Sixties), gilet, poncho, shrug, flip-flops, crocs.

Finally on the subject of womenswear I am pretty sure that slips and petticoats used to be much more common. I think there is something about clothing technology that has rendered them obsolete.


The picture for children was similar, with reliance on housekeeping funds and the Family Allowance paid by the government as a benefit for children (usually collected by the mother). Children’s clothes were bought by their mothers. They were utilitarian rather than fashionable. With the age of majority at twenty-one, even 18 to 21-year-olds may not have had their own income. The idea of fashion did not exist for children (or babies.)

The other big difference in the Fifties was that boys used to wear short trousers up the age of about eleven or twelve. Nobody would have considered putting a boy or a young baby in full-length trousers.

Black Tie

A final little diversion about formal wear. There have long been the two standards of formal wear for special occasions.

White Tie with a long tailcoat has been reserved for very formal occasions (including the groom and best man at some weddings) and is now even more rarely seen than in the Fifties.

Black Tie goes with a formal Dinner Jacket and is normally reserved for formal evening dinner functions and some weddings. It remains the most formal attire on cruise ships that still have formal dining. I can only comment on Black Tie as I have occasionally attended such functions since the Sixties. (In those days I went to Dinner Dances once or twice a year with my father under the auspices of Freemasonry. More recently I have enjoyed cruises in my retirement.)

Wikipedia gives the standard for Black Tie as: a black dinner jacket of very specific design; an optional evening waistcoat or cummerbund; a white dress shirt; a black bow tie and black dress shoes (sometimes patent leather).

While this remains the standard various alternatives have crept in. I believe that changes started in the early Sixties when Anthony Armstrong-Jones, The Earl of Snowdon was seen to attend a black tie occasion with a heavy woollen roll-neck white jumper instead of a shirt, tie and jacket.

Perhaps the biggest changes are in the tie. Actual tied bow-ties are long obsolete but the tie no longer even looks as if it could be tied. There are various simpler shapes, some with wing-collar style shirts. Often the tie is not black but a dark red or blue. Dress shirts are not always white. And it is now common to see a white dinner jacket (but the trousers remain black.)

I won’t attempt to comment on women’s Black Tie dress codes, which used to include very formal long dresses, except to say that from around the Sixties formal trouser suits are considered acceptable.


Dedicated Follower of Fashion is a 1966 single from The Kinks. It lampooned the contemporary British fashion scene of the Sixties and mod culture in general. It starts like this.


They seek him here, they seek him there

His clothes are loud, but never square

It will make or break him so he’s got to buy the best

‘Cause he’s a dedicated follower of fashion.



[83] The Times they are a-Changin

We live now almost in a 24-hour society. Back then, times, days, dates were in some ways more significant. As I wander through my ramblings about days, weeks and years, there may be more than the usual number of sweeping generalizations – there were some obvious exceptions to some of the things I will say.


I tried to find a picture like the clock that used to sit on the mantelpiece over the living room fire, which was a central feature of our home. It was a similar sort of shape to this one but not quite the same. It was always there and it was how we knew the time. Of course, it was not electric, but clockwork, wound once a day.

As young children we didn’t have watches and there were no other devices to tell us the time – but then as children the time of day didn’t mean much to us. We had Big Ben and the pips on the radio (and, later, television) to keep the clock accurate.

There were no digital clocks or watches and we talked of time with less accuracy. You might say it was nearly half past ten, or if you wanted to show off the accuracy of your knowledge, you could say it was 25 past ten. No one would venture a time more accurate than the nearest five minutes. (OK, I suppose train timetables did.)

The Day

People kept to a fixed pattern every day, with fixed meal times – when the family ate together.

We went to work in the morning and came back in the evening. Most workplaces had fixed time. (No Flexible Working Hours! and not much part-time working.)

Shops were particularly rigid. Small shops would open from 9:00 to 1:00 and close for an hour and a half for lunch, closing finally at 5:30.

Pubs had fixed times defined by law – a few hours at lunchtime and a few hours each evening. This meant that all pubs closed at the same time – 10:30 pm. Of course without today’s traffic and today’s drinking culture this was less of a problem.

Television, only one channel at first, had limited hours – a little Children’s Television in the morning, then running from about 5 to 10:30 in the evening.

Work patterns were so well defined that the working hours were payed normally and anything over counted as overtime – perhaps at time and a quarter. (I can’t be sure how accurate this last statement is. But I am not going to be put off saying things just because I’m not sure of their accuracy!)

School times were the same through every county – as schools were all run by Local Education Authorities (LEA). I think that times may have been much the same nationally.


The regular pattern of life made things calmer than the hectic life we have today. (Many other things also affected this, of course.)

The Week

I have looked elsewhere at shop hours but the week followed a much more definite pattern, starting for the heavier Christian influence and more rigid Sunday observance.

In general, office jobs were Monday to Friday with the same hours each day. When pay was marked at time and a quarter for overtime, it was maybe time and a half for Saturday and double time for Sunday. Small shops opened for Saturday in the morning only.

Many more people were paid weekly and paid in cash. So the housewife would plan the meals round a week. (There were no credit cards and effectively no such thing as credit.) Often this was the traditional Sunday roast, followed by leftovers and other cheaper meals for the rest of the week.


Sundays were treated respectfully as non-working days with virtually no shops open at all on Sunday. The only exception I can remember is that the greengrocer could sell perishable fruit and vegetables on a Sunday morning (but they could not sell tinned peas or, in later years, frozen peas.)

Sundays were very quiet with few people working. Many more people went to Church on Sundays and sent their children to Sunday School to learn about Christianity. (There must have been emergency services, like police and hospitals, on Sundays.)

Pubs did open on Sunday but for even more restricted hours than the week.

The Year

We have met several ways in which the Church of England dominated our way of life, directly through church attendance, indirectly in education and cultural values, and in the special significance of Sundays. It also defined much of the year, through the Church calendar. The main events in the Christian year were Christmas, Easter and Whitsun. (I won’t go into the religious significance of these and other days in the calendar.)

Christmas Day is always 25 December but the rest of the Christian year moves in a complex, almost incomprehensible way depending on notional cycles of the Moon in the Holy Land. When I sang in the choir, we would have to sit through sermons that were not always thrilling or exciting. With nothing else to read I would sometimes look through the Book of Common Prayer, which has several pages of tables to help in the calculation of Easter Day.

There have been controversies and splits in the Church about Easter Day. The First Council of Nicea, in 325 AD, established some incomplete rules that took centuries to settle, without even going as far as to suggest that Easter should always be on a Sunday. Western churches, including the Anglican Church (Church of England) now define it as a very specific Sunday between 22 March and 25 April. Based on this we have always had Good Friday (the Friday before) and Easter Monday (after Easter Sunday) as Bank Holidays.

Because of differences between the Julian and Gregorian calendars, Eastern (Orthodox) churches celebrate Easter later, from 4 April to 8 May. The relationship is not straightforward because of differences in defining the ‘full moon.’

As Easter Day moves, the other days in the Church year move with it.

Father Christmas 0004


You can read about Christmas in general and in our household in several blog posts. We had just Christmas Day and Boxing Day as Bank Holidays, and New Year’s Day was a normal working day. (Scotland has always been different, taking New Year’s Day instead of Boxing Day.)


The period of Lent covers about six weeks from Ash Wednesday to Easter (both, as explained above, movable feasts.) Traditionally, it was a period of fasting and self-denial, when people would give up some luxuries – especially sweets and chocolates. I think Mum always gave up chocolate and sometimes we did. I still sometimes give up sweets, chocolate, biscuits, cakes and ice-cream now but the tradition is much less commonly observed. (OK, the cakes rule is often twisted or broken.)


On Pancake Day, Shrove Tuesday to the Church, we always had pancakes, coming from early Lent observation when people would give up other rich foods such as eggs – and so use them up on the day before Lent started. We just had plain pancakes with some sugar and lemon juice.

Non-English viewers should understand that there are many varieties of pancake through the World. US readers may know them as English Pancakes, larger and thinner than the US versions.

The name Shrove Tuesday derives from the old word Shrive, to confess. It was a special day to go to Confession before Lent. In French, Shrove Tuesday was known as Mardi Gras, sometimes still celebrated through the World in elaborate carnivals.


We respected the holidays of the Church. We were never allowed to go outside and play on Good Friday (the Friday before Easter). And there were two other things associated with Easter that were only associated with Easter.


Cadbury’s Creme Eggs, introduced in the early sixties (initially as Fry’s Creme Eggs) were just very small Easter Eggs, sold for just a week or two before Easter. Gradually they became a year round confectionery, advertised and sold without reference to Easter. They have now reverted to seasonal production but are available from New Year’s Day to Easter.

(We did have Easter Eggs, hollow chocolate wrapped in foil and boxed, but they were plain and simple – just two or three brands without the branding of children’s heroes. I think you could get one with a few chocolate buttons inside but they were generally empty.)


Hot cross buns were traditionally made with a cross to represent the Crucifixion of Jesus on Good Friday. They were only available for a period of about twenty four hours. (Because they were fresh the bakers had to work all night to bake them.) Now they have become available all year round – and they don’t have to be eaten on the day of production.


The whole Christian calendar moves with Easter. Apart from Christmas and Easter the main event in the Christian year is Whitsun or Whitsunday or Pentecost. The word Pentecost comes from the Greek for ‘fiftieth day’ and is 50 days (counted inclusively) from Easter, so it is always seven weeks later than Easter Sunday.

Ascension Day

Also in the calendar was Ascension Day, always nine days earlier than Whitsun. This is always a Thursday, inconvenient in the world of Monday to Friday working. Highlands School kept a loose relationship with St Andrew’s Church and there was always a service for children on the morning of Ascension Day for us there. We were excused attendance from school until after the England


Bank Holidays

Dating perhaps from earlier times when a large feast day would need a day of recovery afterwards, we had holidays after the main Church holidays. So the Church effectively defined the main Bank Holidays of the year in England – Good Friday, Easter Monday, Whit Monday, Christmas Day and Boxing Day (26 December).

The only other Bank Holiday was the summer holiday, the first Monday in August, known as August Bank Holiday.

Now we have a few more. To prevent confusion I will exclude Scotland and Northern Ireland where there are differences. New Year’s Day has been a holiday since the mid-seventies.

The first and last Mondays in May are now both Bank Holidays, one of them effectively replacing Whitsun. The last week is usually called Spring Bank Holiday and the first week is the May Day Bank Holiday (or vice versa in Scotland!)

The August Bank Holiday has moved to the last Monday in August.

Having these holidays on a Monday was obviously always considered less disruptive to working routines. The only exception comes at Christmas and the New Year. Adjustments always have to be made when one of these Bank Holidays comes on a Sunday.


Not Just Birthday Cards

Over the years several days and events have risen to prominence, largely driven by ever growing commercialization – finding reasons for us to spend money on cards, gifts and other things.

It seemed at first to come from the area of cards, which used to be more or less just birthdays and Christmas. There were always cards for weddings, funerals and invitations but not many more. We certainly didn’t send cards to celebrate new jobs, or house moves, or Easter, or passing driving tests, or the many other things now available.

Valentine’s Cards are a good example. On 14 February, we did send some Valentine’s cards but they were to a known or unknown love. They were always anonymous and unsigned, so much so that the recipient rarely knew who they were from – although of course, often a good guess was right. The idea of a card addressed on the front, ‘to my wife’ or ‘to my girlfriend’ was unheard of. Now I expect you can get them to your children, grandparents or pets.

Because it was anonymous, there was no concept of Valentine’s Day Presents. Now it is an opportunity not to be missed by appropriate sectors of industry – flowers, chocolates, perfume and lingerie.

Mother’s Day came from the US but here in the UK it was at first associated with Mothering Sunday, a day in the Christian church year in Lent. It became a day to send greetings cards to your mother and has been followed by Father’s Day and many others. All are advertised now in a way that makes people feel guilty if they don’t send an appropriate token of affection. (I have always told my children not to bother.)

Annual Events

Two events are most notable. We used to celebrate Bonfire Night, the Fifth of November with fireworks and bonfires. This has been largely killed off by Health and Safety and few people now let off fireworks in the back garden as we used to do. What remains is some larger celebrations, generally at the weekend nearest to the day.


As Bonfire Night has lessened in importance, another date very close in the calendar has emerged. We now celebrate Hallowe’en, the 31 October, which used to be almost unnoticed. We have Trick or Treat, imported from the US, and sales of costumes and pumpkins – and, of course, Halloween Cards. Cynics, like me, will blame the rising popularity on commercialization as another opportunity to find ways for us to spend money.


I will end with some odd bits about time …


British Summer Time has been with us since before the War. There was a short period at the end of the sixties when GMT plus one hour stayed with us for three years before reverting to what we have now – with clocks going forward in Spring and back in Autumn (US: Fall.) The exact dates used to be defined by an Act of Parliament every year so were not known very far in advance. It is now always the last Sundays in March and October.

School Years

Dates for school terms were also fixed by the LEA – the same, at least within the county, for every school. There were three terms but the half-term break was less significant. I remember it as Friday and Monday off. Now schools seem to get a whole week for every half-term.

Leap Seconds

These extra seconds, to adjust time with the vagaries of astronomical movements, started in the seventies. I won’t go into details here.


The title, of course, is from the song by Bob Dylan, released in the mid-sixties


Perhaps a better time-related song for this whole blog is “Fings Ain’t Wot They Used T’Be,” a musical comedy about life in the Fifties!













[63] Not so Grumpy

Now, for something completely different … I have done a lot of whingeing about the ‘Good Old Days’, when we were all honest and law-abiding and respected authority, life was simpler, and there were no mobile phones or double yellow lines.

So I want to put the balance right a little bit and make some positive comments about the modern world. There have been some good changes! I will try to find my top twenty good things about life today.

Firstly, let’s look at things in Categories.



In general my rose-coloured glasses lead me to believe that attitudes were better then. But I can pick out some good points.

(*) Equal treatment for women, especially equal pay, makes us fairer and more civilized now. I do have reservations about some over-zealous feminism because I believe that (as a sweeping generalization) men and women are different. See [20] Sex Discrimination

Next, I would say that (*) ending racial discrimination has been a good thing in the same way. Of course, it hasn’t ended but it’s a lot less than it used to be. Some discrimination remains. Some of it may be subconscious and unintentional but for some people it remains part of long-held beliefs.

The same is true of our (*) attitudes to animals. We show more consideration for animal welfare now but this is far from universal. There are still those who like hunting, shooting and fishing; still too many people who abandon or mistreat pets. See [47] Standards

I could go on at length about (*) changes in ‘Green’ issues – re-use and recycling, carbon balance, global warming and population control (and I probably will in a later blog post!) In the long term, I am a pit of a pessimist. I suspect that humanity is already on the way to causing another cataclysmic annihilation of plant and animal diversity but we are beginning to see the need to slow down the inevitable.


I have no interest in fashion and am not too bothered about what clothes look like. I select clothes for comfort. So I have picked out two things here about comfortable clothes.

The availability and acceptability of (*) casual shoes. We all used to wear hard-wearing leather shoes, not only for work. (There were even cobblers who repaired shoes, replacing soles and heels. It was cheaper than buying a new pair.) In the fifties, plain, cheap black plimsolls from China were available but would not have been seen in general use. Now we have all sorts of sneakers, sports shoes and running shoes widely available and worn in non-formal situations.

The next one was more relevant when I used to work. (*) Not wearing ties anymore is so much more comfortable. I had to wait until the late nineties for this trend. I wish it had happened earlier.


There is absolutely nothing good to report in this category. Everything about education was better then. (You have to allow me a few sweeping generalizations!)

Entertainment. See the subcategories: Holidays, Music, Sport and TV/Radio.

Food and Drink.

It’s hard to compare the way we eat and drink to life fifty years ago because it’s so different. The food was good, wholesome food, probably much better for us, but it took so much more time and effort to prepare meals. The differences today go with other differences in our way of life. Here are three more for my list.

(*) Microwave ovens and prepared microwave meals. I eat too many prepared meals but the microwave has other uses. It’s good for defrosting, especially for sliced bread (we didn’t have that) defrosted one or two slices at a time – as an alternative to throwing the slices into a toaster. It’s good for reheating leftover food, softening butter and reviving slightly stale bread. (Sprinkle a few drops of water on yesterday’s roll and give it ten seconds in the microwave.)

Proper (*) Americano coffee and coffee shops everywhere. Almost everywhere I go – from supermarkets to stately homes, nature reserves to cinemas – I stop for coffee and now it’s freshly brewed. (I could say something about cakes and biscuits here but I won’t.) After thirty or forty years of instant coffee I have now upgraded my preferences. I have also to mention my Tassimo machine. It’s now clean, simple, quick and easy to make my own coffee at home. It’s expensive but worth it. (Much cheaper than Motorway coffee!)

Also available almost everywhere we now have (*) pub food. This is a generalization and includes the availability of places to eat out, not just pubs but restaurants, cafes, coffee shops, pizza parlours, motorway services and takeaway chains. I don’t use them a lot but it’s nice not have to plan. I can remember forty years ago driving all day across England and spending much of the day looking for somewhere to stop. See [57] A Pint of Bitter


Well, as an alternative to a week at a boarding house by the seaside of Bournemouth or Clacton, just about anything is an improvement. (I still holiday every year in Bournemouth but I don’t take my bucket and spade!) I can summarize in two points.

(*) Holidays in general, package holidays, ease of booking on the Internet. We go on Bridge holidays where we spend two weeks playing cards every evening. They didn’t have those. (I did learn to play Bridge in about 1960.)

Easy, fast, relatively cheap (*) air flights. In the fifties, air flight was a luxury for businessmen and the rich.


I suppose I have to be honest. Homes are more comfortable. How about (*) central heating and (*) double glazing. And although I love coal fires (*) not having to empty and re-lay coal fires every day.


I have resisted the idea that all the credit we have is good and I am not even putting Internet banking on the list. But I can’t miss out one thing to do with money, (*) decimal money. Pounds, shilling and pence were nice, and I do miss the twelve-side threepenny bit, but calculations are so much easier with decimals. See [56] Spending a Penny


I like a lot of music but some of my favourites are five hundred years old. I like piano music and choral singing including Gregorian chants. When I consider my current listening habits there is only one thing I can include, (*) Classic FM. Most of their music fits my tastes but I could live without the adverts!


There are a lot of good things about modern shopping, closely related to other changes in almost everything. One stands out as significant enough for a mention, (*) shop opening hours. There may be slight problems early on a Sunday morning but basically, if I want to buy anything I can go out and buy it when I want it. Our local Tesco is open round the clock (except Sunday.)


Nothing significant here. I don’t play any sports and I don’t really watch sport on television.


I am not going to include mobile phones, I have one but I hardly ever use it (and that’s only for texts.) I won’t put in computers in general or the Internet but there are a few that are computer related!

(*) Car radios are something we take for granted. Technology for music and entertainment has often come first in cars cassette players, CDs, push-button radio pre-set tuning. Our radio is always on while we drive.

(*) Television picture quality. The large, smooth colour, flat screen makes our little fuzzy, black and white pictures of the fifties look very primitive. The raster lines were very evident and any picture needed continuous adjustments to the controls and aerial. See [27] Television

(*) Word processors. I couldn’t cope now with a typewriter. See [55] Typewriters

(*) Spreadsheets. I love lists, tables, charts and graphs. Spreadsheets do it all neatly, accurately and quickly. I even have a spreadsheet for this blog. It adds up the words from all the posts. (Current total 115000.)

(*) Digital Photography. It’s easier, quicker and cheaper than the old method. See [41] Photography

Easy, cheap (*) printing and photocopying (and scanning.) Computer printing is related to word processing and digital photography. Photocopying, even black and white, is very useful at times. If I have to send anything by post I can copy it and send either the original or the copy. I can even scan it in and send it by email. Every six months I produce a 32-page full colour illustrated A5 magazine. I can print a sample or send it by email for professional printing and binding.

Having worked for most of my life with computers, I am much more computer literate than many friends of my age (but I can’t keep up with my grandchildren!) I don’t want to generalize and include all ‘social media’ but I have used Twitter a lot and (*) Facebook is a regular daily activity, keeping me in touch with family members, sharing photographs. It is now a major aid to me in disseminating this blog.

I have to be honest again and include (*) computer games, which take up much far too much of my time. I won’t tell you my favourites but in the last twenty or more years they have included software on laptops, apps on tablets, and games on Wii and other consoles. (They go back to simple, text based adventure games on a Spectrum!)

Perhaps I could have included WordPress or blogging sites in general. I am not sure. My list is already getting long.


I didn’t drive until the seventies so I can’t say much about car controls. But, with many items on my list to do with comfort, the main change in transport is that cars are more comfortable. I have put car radios in Technology above so I will just add (*) air conditioning in cars here.

TV/ Radio

Nothing general in the programmes. I have included television picture quality in technology, Classic FM in Music, and Car Radios in Transport. I can’t include David Attenborough as he was around fifty years ago!


OK, I know, it came to more than twenty. It surprised me. Perhaps I am not so grumpy.

Now I’m going to put the first five in order and to maintain the suspense I will do them in reverse order. This is tough. I want to keep about eight and I keep changing my mind. But here goes …



((5)) Running Shoes. I have worn them for years (and even sometimes did some running in them.) Comfort in clothes it what matters to me.


((4)) Microwave ovens and microwave meals. Both are essential in my everyday cooking.


((3)) Word processors. I remember typewriters and could not have coped without the software alternative. Much of my working life relied heavily on word processing and I still use it now. I need it to write this blog.


((2)) Americano Coffee. Another frequent part of my life every day.


And the winner is …


((1)) Digital photography. When I retired I took up birdwatching and bird photography and bought a digital camera. I take about twenty thousand pictures every year. I delete some but label and categorize the best ones. Some are cropped and edited. With a camera of the sixties maybe I could have afforded to do 36 a week, with very bad colour representation. Here are a few of my pictures.

06CottageOutside Buzzard1_Cannop_23Aug11 Camel_2Mar15 Comma_Hengistbury_22Sep12 DSCN3386 Egyptian1_Thatcham_31May11 Fox1_Pittville_24Mar15 Gomera_P1650544 Grasses Muscovy3_Pittville_18Apr10 ORCHID Shrike1_Kantaoui_3Mar15 Squirrel1_HollandPark_15Feb15 Swallowtail_StFelixdeVilladeix_17May08 Tweet216 Wall0457

Back to more about the fifties and sixties next time.


[52] Are You Being Served?

I am going to complete my memories of shops of the fifties with Department Stores and clothes shops, with a special mention for Woolworths. (When I say ‘complete’ that doesn’t mean I can’t change my mind later!)

Rub-a-dub-dub, Three men in a tub, And who do you think they were? The butcher, the baker, The candlestick-maker, …


Before I come to these, I want to respond to some comments on my earlier posts about shops. I want to clarify what happened with supermarkets. They started, slowly, in the early sixties. I think there was a shop called Greens Stores in Beehive Lane that started as a Grocers, turning slowly into a tiny supermarket.

It was a revolution, just after 1960, when a supermarket opened in Ilford. It was the only one then in what was a large town. It was about the size of the tiny modern Metro supermarkets. I think it was called Dysons. Mum went once a week with a shopping list and took Dad with her because there was so much to carry. They only had the smaller trolleys at first.

But for the rest of my thoughts about shops I want to keep back in the fifties as far as I can remember. The earlier posts about shops – butchers, bakers and the others – were my earliest memories from the fifties.


An early picture of Ilford. I can’t be precise about the date.

List of Shops

Department stores came in various sizes. They all sold at least some men’s clothing and ladies’ clothing and some or all of the following: children’s clothing, lingerie (always distinct from ladies’ clothing), shoes, curtains (US: drapes), soft furnishings (sheets etc.) household goods, haberdashery (See below), furniture, carpets and rugs (US: rugs and carpets!) kitchen equipment, ornaments, books and stationery … and food.

Before I look at department stores, the following list shows the shops I remember in the fifties mostly from Ilford. Because the overlap is uncertain this list also includes shops that just sold clothes (and, for completeness, shoes.) I may have some dates and names wrong. Many were chain stores found throughout the area so I may have seen them just outside Ilford.

Since then almost all brands have been merged into others or disappeared. My comments below about the brands say nothing about the actual shops. (I haven’t been to Ilford for many years. I understand that Bodgers is the only one still there.)

In time honoured fashion they are in alphabetical order!

  • Army and Navy – A Popular chain of shops. Merged with Chiesmans. Now House of Fraser.
  • Bodgers – About the only department store still there now in Ilford
  • British Home Stores – Now BHS. Cheaper end of the market. Included food and a café.
  • C & A – A Dutch chain, came to Britain from about early sixties. I loved it for men’s clothes. No longer operates in the UK.
  • Chiesmans opened 1959 Merged with Army and Navy. Now House of Fraser.
  • Co-op – Now CRS, Co-operative Retail Services
  • Dolcis – Shoes, an established chain. No longer with us. Always seemed to be located next to Lilly and Skinner and Freeman, Hardy and Willis.
  • Dorothy Perkins – Established chain for women’s clothes. Became part of Burton group.
  • Etam – Women’s clothes and lingerie. A Dutch firm. Not now in UK.
  • D. H. Evans – Established chain for women’s clothes. (Not sure of current politically correct term – for the ‘fuller figure.’) Now Evans. Part of Arcadia.
  • Fairheads – Included haberdashery. Now seems to have disappeared.
  • Freeman, Hardy and Willis – Shoes, an established chain. No longer with us.
  • Harrison Gibsons – Included furniture and carpets. Now House of Fraser.
  • Home and Colonial – Established chain, mostly food. Now merged into Safeway.
  • Lilly and Skinner – As for Dolcis and Freeman, Hardy and Willis.
  • Maison Riche – Upmarket women’s clothes only.
  • Marks and Spencer – clothes and food. All their clothes used the St Michael brand name in the fifties. Still going strong.
  • Montague Burton – Now Burtons. Then it was an upmarket men’s Taylor. The only place for made-to-measure suits.
  • Moss Bros – Formal dressware and hire.
  • Moultons – Multi-storey shop. The name now seems to have disappeared.
  • Richards Shops – Taken over by Arcadia.
  • Selfridges – Could be late sixties. Now House of Fraser.
  • W. H. Smiths – Now WHSmith. See below.
  • Wests – Included haberdashery. Now seems to have disappeared.
  • F. W. Woolworth – See below.

[Note: Arcadia group now owns Burton, Dorothy Perkins, Evans, Wallis, Debenhams, Selfridges, House of Fraser and many other brands.]


The picture above shows Fairhead’s in Ilford

Note the orderly queue (for a Sale)

And the use of shop windows for display.

Big Department Stores

When I first did my notes, I said that department stores can best be seen as like Grace Brothers in the Television series ‘Are you Being Served’. I now realize that this program was last shown in 1985 so you may not all have seen it! It started in the early 70s, so by then the stereotyped department store was already an obsolete figure of fun.

They were much larger than the basic shops we have seen already – butchers, bakers etc. – at least twenty times the floor space and normally at least two or three storeys. I think Harrison Gibsons, with five or six storeys, used to be the tallest building in Ilford.

(The Harrison Gibsons building was destroyed by fire in 1959 and Moultons, next door to it, was damaged. Flames lit the sky and we could see them from our house two miles away.)

What was fundamentally different about these shops was their internal architecture. There were lines of counters making up large elongated rectangular areas. Several shop assistants inside looked after all the merchandise, which was either on the counters or in drawers under the counters (or, at the outside of the shop, behind the assistants.) Customers stayed outside the area containing merchandise. If what you wanted was not visible – it probably wasn’t – you had to ask the assistant to find it and show you. Items of clothing appeared carefully boxed, not hanging up. There was relatively little that you could touch or even see.


The picture above from the BBC series shows a cash register

Showing 3s 6d (That’s 17.5p)

Also, clothes were arranged in departments by type of clothing rather than by fashion designer. If you wanted a white dress shirt, you went to the counter selling white dress shirts and asked to be shown the range. (There was probably only one brand anyway.) There may have been one or two on display, but most were kept neatly in drawers and cupboards. You would have a small range from which to make your choice and finalize the purchase. If you wanted an overcoat at the same time you went on to the overcoat department (perhaps on another floor) and repeated the selection process with another shop assistant. For a large department store there would be perhaps hundreds of staff where today a staff of about half a dozen may sell just as many products.

Generally, department stores had grown from drapers, selling textiles – clothes, curtains, sheets etc. but the range of goods depended on the shop. At some stores there were some counters selling food but there was nothing resembling today’s supermarkets (or hypermarkets or superstores).

Some included basic cafes providing tea, coffee and biscuits and not much more. (Tea and coffee will come later.)


Many had quite large areas selling haberdashery – equipment and goods to enable customers to make their own things – knitting needles, wool and knitting patterns; sewing needles and cotton thread; patterns for dressmaking; hooks, buttons, zips and beads. In the relative austerity after the war a lot more people knitted or sewed at home as a cheaper way of obtaining clothes.


Clothes Shops

There were some shops, as indicated in my list above, which only sold clothes. They were structured in the same way as department stores. Over more than fifty years, most chains have changed their ownership, branding and clientele several times in what is now a fiercely competitive business. It was probably better to think of them in the fifties as clothes shops rather than fashion shops.

WH Smith

Smiths were slightly different in the way they changed. They started a bit like the small newsagents that generally became corner shops. But Smiths shops were larger, almost department stores. They sold newspapers, stationery, some confectionery, books and magazines, but also records, (later CDs, computer accessories, electronic games,) playing cards, board games and small gifts. It is still a large chain successfully filling its own niche market. What was left of the Post Office is now similar.


F W Woolworths was aimed at the cheaper end of the market. I probably saw more of this shop because there was one at Gant’s Hill as well as one at Ilford. It sold cheap clothes, kitchen utensils, toys and games, food and many other things. They picked things not for sale elsewhere and sold them in large quantities. I have memories of a few things sold there.


School plimsolls came from Woolworths. They were mass produced in China and only sold at Woolworths. Everyone at school had shoes like these, which we carried to school in our PE bags with our shorts. They cost a few shillings. As far as I know they were the only form of sports shoes available.


As well as other food, Woolworths sold loose peanuts by weight. They would be scooped and put into a paper bag and weighed – the assistant just kept adding a few until it skipped over the 4oz marker. They were not the peanuts of today, not roasted and salted. You could either get them in their shells (above) or without shells – they still had the red skins. Both were about 6d for a quarter (4oz).


Finally, apart from photographs, I possess just a few treasured items from over fifty years ago. I bought these at Woolworths. They were unusual then as we had little contact with African craft. Now there are shops selling all sorts of decorative craft goods from Africa, India, Asia and South America. I still love these little antelopes.



[50] Half a Century

[50] Half a Century

After fifty posts, as a bit of a change, this one is more about blogging than about the fifties or sixties.


The Process of Blogging

It has been strangely easy, (in an addictive kind of way,) to generate up to 2000 words for a post every three or four days, but it’s not like writing anything else, and it has certainly not been how I imagined it would be. It is hard to describe what I do because I am generally working on several at once, in various stages of development!

One of the few conscious decisions about it that I have taken is to mix it all up, merging threads together and interleaving new ideas with old – so sets of linked blogs don’t come consecutively. Less than a third of posts come from my old notes, with most coming from new ideas. New topics just seem to come to mind easily, with each new topic idea often generating threads for several posts.

While I write this now, I have: five posts ready, loaded and scheduled for publication; two virtually finished; about three partially done; eight more partially written; and nearly twenty as outlines, heading lists or just titles. I flit backwards and forwards between all of these at once!

I never really know in which order I will complete the partially written ones. Some posts just take about an hour to whizz through all at once; some take weeks of reflection with a revisit every day or so.

As I work on blog posts, sometimes splitting larger posts into two or more, I generally look for background material, mostly coming from Wikipedia – confirming what I remember and filling in gaps.

Once a post is written, I don’t check everything meticulously. I try deliberately to keep them rough and ready in blog format. Before uploading, I check spelling and grammar; look at the spread of the pictures through the blog; check cross-references to earlier blogs; and make sure the word count is approximately OK. My target now is 1500 to 2000 words but I am happy to go up to 2500.


I do all the writing on a laptop and uploading is very easy. It would be a simple cut and paste without the pictures that I have to upload separately. I give them a date and time for publication and I could just leave them to WordPress to issue automatically. Generally I issue them a few hours before the planned time, to make it easier to publicize them within Facebook Groups.

I like to prepare things in advance so there are always at least two posts in-line for issue, generally a few more.

The hardest ones are those that get to about seven or eight hundred words, leaving me not sure what to do next – I can try to fill it out, or combine with another topic, or leave it for the time being! As the order is immaterial, it’s so easy to go to another one, sometimes changing the order. [40] ‘Dear Sir or Madam …’ was the hardest so far. It started as a third of a post, coming with [30] ‘Romeo, Romeo, Wherefore Art Thou Romeo?’ and something else now forgotten. Names soon became a whole post, but Formality was only about half a post. I kept putting it off. I did complete it but I don’t think it was one of my best. I struggle with anything to do with attitudes – but I believe that attitudes are the most significant change in our lives.

When they get to 1500 words, I sometimes get the other problem – should I keep going and it and split it? There may not be an obvious division. The Christmas one took some juggling. At various points, it was going to be two, then three, then four – so I had to have them all more or less done before the first one went out. Now I am less definite about word count. A few have gone out over 2000 words.

Some of the very easy ones have come out of nowhere. I loved doing [31] The Ngorongoro Crater in the Serengeti as they were all fond memories, and the same is true of the three music ones. Post number [39] Just What I Choose it to Mean was another easy, enjoyable one.

There is always a tendency to like the most recent one. At the time of writing, that’s the one about Robertson’s Gollies. I had put that one off, partly because it only looked like half a blog. Then Black and White Minstrels came into my list of old TV programmes and I could see how to put together a whole post. Cigarette cards and tea cards had always had an obvious link with the Marmalade brooches.



A Google search for images is not as easy as it might be. Not unexpectedly, I find a variety of pictures coming when I search on any set of words that could possibly be misconstrued as a search for pornography. (To be honest, you get such results even when there is no such obvious link or double entendre.)

There are also things from the fifties that seem to have disappeared without leaving any pictures – particularly when a different type of replacement is now used. I couldn’t find an old-fashioned standard tin opener, or one those keys for tins of fish, or a set of London Telephone Directories. I am happy to go with a few roughly relevant pictures just for illustration, preferably spread throughout the blog post.

Links and Cross-references

I have very few links outwards (mostly to YouTube for musical items) but I like to cross-reference to other posts I have done. It’s easy to do a backwards link – to a post already loaded and published. But the software makes forward links impossible. This includes links to those that are written and loaded but not yet published! It gets quite complicated when I swap the order of posts that reference each other! I have just moved number [54] back to [46], which meant changing all the ones in-between.

Posts so far

I was going to do a separate blog with a list of all postings so far with links. Now I have a page that will do this for you – the Full List of Posts. You can find all the posts from there. I am renaming old posts to make it easier to look for back issues. (Links should always work.)

So here are some notes to update what I have published so far.

Topic Introductions

Several posts have been created as an afterthought, because another topic needed an introduction. For example, [27] ’Normal Service will be Resumed …’ was taken out of the beginning of [29] ‘Was it Bill or Was it Ben?’. Similarly, [35] ‘Valentine 3456′ was going to be a short introduction to [37] Car Tax, Family Allowance and Dog Licences, and [41] Flash, Bang, Wallop! had to come before [42] Aspirin, Negatives, Saucepans and Hammers.

I have tried to categorize most posts – so that you can find them more easily. All posts display a list of Categories on the right and you can use this to find related posts. Some Categories have some semi-logical structure imposed, so they are best read in order.


After an initial reluctance to tackle it, this is now quite an extensive Category. It started with [3] Religion, which came from a vague attempt to do some of my original Introduction. I feel that so much of what was different then comes down to attitudes but this is so difficult to get across without evidence or detailed explanations.

I thought that [11] and [13] – now renamed as [11] Newspapers and [13] Secrecy– were two halves of a single idea about Information. Now I have classified the first one as reflecting the Technology of information and the second is about Attitudes to information.

[20] Vive La Différence was specifically about sexual discrimination, another one coming from my original Introduction. [40] ‘Dear Sir or Madam …’ was a difficult post, originally seen as a continuation of [30]. I get mixed up in changes of attitudes including formality, respect and politeness.

Attitudes continued later with [43] Cigarettes, Tea, Minstrels – and Marmalade – quite difficult as it put together several topics which are not obviously related – cigarette cards, tea cards and collectable brooches; musical entertainment and racial attitudes. I hope I have made it clear that the racial connections are there to reflect how things were.

The way that attitudes have changed prompted me towards [47] ‘The Past is a Foreign Country: They do Things Differently There’ which is particularly about not judging the past by how we feel now. I am not sure whether there will be any more in this Category.


[24] ‘Hallowed be Thy Name’ started this thread, after putting it off several times, by looking at some Beehive Lane shops. I was never sure how to order it or split it. So far it has continued with [28] ‘Clever People and Grocers, they Weigh Everything’, [37] Car Tax, Family Allowance and Dog Licences and [42] Aspirin, Negatives, Saucepans and Hammers. I expect to complete this thread with one more covering Department Stores and Clothing shops.


[2], [5] and [6] were my first attempts about Homes, looking at Winter, how we provided heat and how we kept warm. These are more or less my old notes with quite a lot of background details added from Wikipedia. [5] is more about clothes but [2] and [6] introduce what was inside our homes – coal fires and electricity.

There is more to come on this topic.


[7], [8], [9] and [10] about Christmas, just grew and grew. I felt that had to get them in by Christmas Day. I may have made some minor mistakes in this series. Things that I remember about traditions that have lasted forty years may not go back as far as fifty or sixty years ago. But I am not aiming for complete accuracy. I did not promise that.


It’s a bit of an afterthought putting things together in this category. So far we have [11] Newspapers, [17] Cinema, [35] ‘Valentine 3456′ and [41] Flash, Bang, Wallop!. There could be several more posts here, looking at various technologies for musical, video and television recording, computers and computer games. (No system of Categories is going to work perfectly. The post introducing Television can be considered either in the Technology Category or under Television, a subcategory of Entertainment.)


[26], [32] and [34] are just one extended blog post about Music. These might have been prompted by the records at Minnis Bay. I started with a sort of Desert Island Discs – maybe my top five or ten – but the list kept growing. I went eventually for 100 and was surprised how easy they were to find on Wikipedia and YouTube. I loved doing these musical posts. Finding recordings and adding the YouTube links was fun but made it hard work. Because of the alphabetical order, the three posts were more or less done together. Now I keep thinking of some I missed out! So there may be another one later.

Television – and Radio

[27] ’Normal Service will be Resumed …’, [29] ‘Was it Bill or Was it Ben?’, [31] The Ngorongoro Crater in the Serengetiand [33] Thunderbirds are Go! has been a complicated series. My first thoughts were about my TV Heroes. A few weeks later, I realized that I had to do Children’s Television, which I thought in terms of Watch with Mother. The Introduction to this became a separate post. Then I extended the Children’s Television one chronologically to provide two separate posts.

I missed out David Dimbleby deliberately from [31] but will come to him later. I have more TV reminiscing to come.

This also prompted me to consider the wireless (Radio), so we have [38] “I’m Worried about Jim,” inspired by the entry in my music posts. This is definitely my earliest memory of radio. I have more to come, starting with Two-way Family Favourites.


[15] and [16] about Primary Schools started another new thread, Education. They had to come before the Eleven Plus, Secondary Schools and University – so more blogs coming here.


It took me a long time before deciding to do [44] about my first house in Boar Close. I will have to continue with something about the next house and I am considering how much I will say about people I knew – maybe just my parents. There will definitely be one or two posts, specifically about St Andrew’s Church.

General/Mixed Category

Some, especially the lists, remain hard to categorize so they end up in two categories or in a general mixed category. [4] Modern Things was a light-hearted attempt to get across the technological aspects of the changes with a mixed list, something I repeated later with [23] Variety is the Spice of Life, and [39] Just What I Choose it to Mean. [22] ‘Of Shoes and Ships and Sealing Wax’ put together some odd things I wanted to include that would not fit anywhere else. I am not sure whether I will be able to do this again. I keep thinking, ‘Put x, y and z together for a blog post,’ and then find I have enough for three (or more) separate posts.

One-off topics have included [12] Football Pools and [14] Birds.

Coming Next

Apart from some things mentioned above, I still have several major topics not yet touched, so there may new categories – cooking and kitchens; banks, building societies and finance – and maybe the last sixty years of history – geographic, political and economic – and some surprises – and expect more new topics to come up – also, probably lots more miscellaneous lists of things.

I keep juggling the order in which I plan to do things so expect the unexpected.



It’s time to recognize some of my sources:

Wikipedia – This is my main source of background information, often just checking names and dates. I try not to copy directly without at least rewording and re-ordering the information. It is very useful for recent information but can be patchy on anything fifty years ago!

Google – This is my main search engine, mostly used to look for pictures. I have used Google Maps a few times.

YouTube – I have been very pleased by what I find on this site. I don’t take anything from the site, I just provide direct links to it. These have made the three Music blogs worth doing. (You will have to put up with the adverts that YouTube try to throw at you. I just ignore them.)

Internet in general – My pictures are almost all free pictures taken from the Internet, including some from Wikipedia. I assume that anything without obvious copyright claims is copyright free. Some, especially the birds, are my own photographs.

Facebook – I get various helpful comments and information from friends and relatives and from a few Facebook groups that reminisce about the fifties and sixties.

Apart from these, it’s all from my own memories. I don’t guarantee 100% accuracy.


I want to reiterate that I am not trying to achieve complete historical accuracy. Apart from my attempts at adding background information and dates, I am just going by my memories. There are many things I remember without remembering what year they happened.

It is often easiest to make sweeping generalizations. If I say that, ‘This is the way we used to do things,’ I may be implying that the whole of Britain used to do it that way. I really only know what one family did in the area of Ilford. Even when I talk of modern day events and attitudes, I can only say how it looks from my experiences. Things may be different in Scotland or Wales, or in Devon or Norfolk, or in the house next door

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If you have any queries or requests, please let me know.

Thanks for reading. Lots more to come …


[42] Aspirin, Negatives, Saucepans and Hammers

[42] Aspirin, Negatives, Saucepans and Hammers

I have covered most of our local shops at Beehive Lane, shops that were generally seen at every little group of shops. For Butchers, Bakers, Greengrocers and Newsagents, see: [24] ‘Hallowed be Thy Name’. For Grocers: [28] ‘Clever People and Grocers, they Weigh Everything’, and for The Post Office: [37] Car Tax, Family Allowance and Dog Licences.

I want to cover two others that will complete the main set of local shops, Chemists and Hardware Shops.



Most of the other shops were local shops but then, as now, Chemists were virtually synonymous with Boots the Chemist. Primarily they were the place to get prescriptions made up or to buy non-prescription medicines.

Prescriptions then were handwritten by doctors, who were notoriously bad at writing legibly – so that part of the art of the pharmacist was in deciphering the meaning. (And, of course, mistakes did occur.) These local shops were the only places supplying prescriptions – not a great surprise, as there were no supermarkets.

(Prescriptions were free until 1952 when the charge was one shilling [5p] per prescription, not per item. In 1956 it became one shilling per item and rates have increased steadily since then – with a period of free prescriptions from 1965 to 1968. The system of exemptions is complex and now pretty out-of-date.)

The range of non-prescribed medicines available then in Chemists was probably much smaller than nowadays. Unlike today, most of them were not publicly displayed. If you wanted anything, you asked the pharmacist confidentially. It was a place where the queue was a little more discreet than other shops. (You might have been able to buy contraceptives from Chemists. They would have been well hidden behind the counter.)


Aspirin was much more widely used for pain relief, before its side effects became so infamous. It may have been the only generally available analgesic tablet. As for many tablets, you could buy aspirin in bottles of a hundred, which made them much cheaper. They were not individually sealed in foil as they are today. Like so many things, they have been changed today by health and safety concerns. I don’t think you could buy a hundred tablets now.

The chemist shop also sold many things that could be loosely described as chemicals – make-up, perfumes, toothpaste, soap, shampoo and conditioner. [Just kidding! There was no such thing as conditioner!]

I have to admit to uncertainty in my memories. I think you could buy cleaning products – Ajax and Vim – from Chemists, and also possibly toilet rolls. Please don’t take my lists as definitive.


See [41] Flash, Bang, Wallop! This blog about photography described the processes of developing and printing pictures. Back in the fifties, photography was a function of your local Chemist. I think they may have done developing locally, and printing at their headquarters. Typically, it took a week to have prints produced. The Chemist shop was also the only place to buy both cameras and films, with other accessories such as flash bulbs.

Hardware Shops

Hardware shops sold all the non-food items in daily use including pots and pans and all kitchen utensils – not that there were many kitchen utensils. None of these would have been made of plastic. They were metal, wood and ceramic, and we did have pyrex – ovenproof glass. The range of kitchen equipment was limited. We had saucepans, bowls and dishes, kitchen knives, potato peelers, colanders, mincers. I will leave full the list for a later blog about cooking methods but you will not be surprised that we managed without woks, parmesan cheese graters, pineapple corers and spaghetti measures.


There were also tools – hammers, screwdrivers (and screws) and a few others – not the vast choice now found at DIY centres. Again this is a subject to be considered in more detail later. As you would expect by now, tools were simple; choice was limited; and they were made of metal and wood only.


You can think of hardware shops as the source of all things made of metal, so they also provided locks and copied keys.

Shopping Hours

Before I look at other shops it’s worth remembering when they opened. Almost all shops opened from 9:00 to 5:30 and for a large number of them this included a break in the middle when they were closed for lunch (generally from 1:00 to 2:30). There was half day closing on Saturdays and one other day, usually Wednesday. (Each town had its day for half day closing, usually Tuesday or Wednesday, agreed jointly by the local Chamber of Commerce.)

Opening on Sundays was controlled and very limited. For example, greengrocers could open on Sunday morning to sell vegetables as they were considered perishable, but they could not sell tinned or frozen peas.

Shops did not open on Bank Holidays.

Other Shops

I can remember some others from Beehive Lane that would not have been found in all little shopping parades. There was a Book Shop, a Ladies Hairdresser and I think an Estate Agent. (This was before the days of Unisex Barbers. The men’s Barber was at the other end of Beehive Lane.)

In general, there were shops in larger areas such as Gant’s Hill and Ilford town centre (accessible by bus), which included the other main non-food shops – Furniture Shops, Shoe Shops, Clothing Shops, Pet Shops, Banks and Building Societies, Gas and Electricity Showrooms, and Department Stores.

In a vague attempt to be logical, I will split blog posts and leave until later Department Stores (including F W Woolworth) and also all clothes shops to a later post.

So, for completeness I will list here some more I can remember: Fishmongers (selling fish), Florists (which just sold flowers), Cobblers (repairing shoes) and Off Licences (alcohol – more details coming later). There were no out-of-town shopping malls, no supermarkets and no convenience stores, no Garden Centres, no DIY centres, no betting shops and no shops selling computers or mobile phones.

You will have noticed that very little could be bought from more than one type of shop.


[24] ‘Hallowed be Thy Name’

Another blog that has nothing to do with religion, apart from a passing reference to the local synagogue. If you have been following, you will understand the title in a few minutes. If not, wait until the end. I am going to talk about – our local shops.

Before I talk about the individual shops, I want to give an outline of the groups of shops we walked to two or three times a week.


Local Map

I need to say a little about the map above. The only significant change since we lived there is in the Port of London Authority (PLA) Recreation Ground. In our days, it was virtually a square area of green, reckoned to have a perimeter of one mile by those who ran round it for exercise. (Not me.) Now it has a school taking a chunk out of it. The rest of the map has not changed.

We lived in the Cathedral Estate, to the West of The Drive, where all the roads were Gardens, named after cities with cathedrals. (You can see Hereford, Lincoln and Chelmsford. There are many others. Houses in The Drive were bigger and posher than the cathedral estate.) You can see St Andrews Road on the other side, home of St Andrews Church, our local church.

For our nearest shops, we crossed the Drive, which didn’t have too much traffic, and took St George’s Road and Fairholme Road to Beehive Lane. I have marked the location of our local shops in red on the map.

Beehive Lane Shops

On the map above, courtesy of Google Maps, you can see Beehive Lane, or you can search any other map software for Beehive lane, Ilford. In the fifties, this road used to have two sets of shops, north and south of the Eastern Avenue (marked on the map as the A12, one of the first major dual carriageway roads to be built in Britain). We just went to the small section at the south end, from the old synagogue to Cranbrook Road. It still has shops but they are all different.

I would imagine that Beehive Lane is now quite busy. When we were seven or eight we would not only walk there, but we would cross freely to shops on both sides of the road.

Typical Small Groups of Shops

It was a typical selection of shops of that time, perhaps a dozen or so shops on each side of the road. I feel that I ought to list them all, to illustrate what typical rows of shops used to be like. I know that I will get some wrong but most of my list will be right! (The generalizations are mostly right!)

We had a greengrocers; a bakers (Hirtes?); a butchers; a chemist’s shop; a grocery; a hardware shop; and a combined newsagent, stationers, sweet shop, and tobacconist. These were typical of most small shopping parades and all would be visited fairly frequently.

There were others perhaps not always found in small parades. I remember a ladies’ hairdresser; a bookshop; and probably a fishmonger, an estate agent and a funeral parlour. There may have been a shoe shop. I am fairly sure that there were no clothes shops. For less common purchases, we went further afield, to Gant’s Hill (the roundabout just visible to the northeast on the map) or Ilford High Road (southeast and off the map).

[To the West lies Wanstead Park, Ilford Golf Course and a wide, dual carriageway section of the North Circular Road that wasn’t there when we were young.]

I will look the four main small food shop types next but I want to note two points. Firstly, there were no restaurants, cafes or coffee shops, or shops containing coffee shops. (No takeaway food shops!) Shopping was shopping, not stopping off for a coffee first. Secondly, if there was something you wanted there was very little chance of two different shops selling it. You expected to have to visit a few shops for your daily shopping.


There are some things about butchers I cannot remember clearly, so I will start with the definite bits.

Butchers sold uncooked meat – lots of different cuts of beef, mutton or pork, with a more limited selection of lamb and veal. It was all hunks of meat visible on slabs and the butcher would cut off a piece to order and weigh it for you, just wrapped in greaseproof paper. (Often he would use a large butcher’s knife and chop on a wooden block.)This would include offal – liver, heart, kidneys – and if you wanted minced meet, it could be minced through a mechanical mincer to order.

That was all the meat we usually bought. You could buy a whole chicken, not any part of a chicken. Perhaps there were other meats available on special order. I am sure that the butcher also sold fresh sausages, with not much choice beyond beef or pork. I am not sure about meat products such as bacon (which you could get from a grocer), or the more obscure meats such as game.

The butcher may have had some refrigerated storage but most meat would have come from the markets of London overnight. None of the meat was frozen and those who bought it did not have freezers.


Today’s lesson is about the history of breadmaking, which has been revolutionized by the Chorleywood process – named after the British Baking Industries Research Association, based at Chorleywood. This process, developed in 1961, enabled the use of lower quality wheat, thus allowing much more of our home-grown wheat to be used for bread. It has added Vitamin C and fat to the ingredients and uses intense, high-speed mixers.

Almost all British bread now uses this new process. Grumpy old men, like me, would say that bread made this way now does not taste as good as it used to. Superficially it looks the same! [US: Because the high quality of US wheat, this method has not spread to the US.]

Primarily what the old Bakers shop sold was loaves of crusty bread, not sliced. A freshly baked loaf would be handed over, wrapped in a piece of tissue paper, to be added to the shopping bag. It cost roughly 8p in modern money terms. There were a few different types of white loaf on offer.

Most popular was a large, split tin. That’s what we normally had.


It had a very uniform, square cross-section which made it ideal for cutting into slices.

There were just a few other loaves available, including a brown split tin or a small loaf (half the size). Two that always stayed out of our requirements were Hovis (wholemeal, but we didn’t know that,) and the wrapped, sliced loaf, both far too expensive for everyday use. Our treat was a very occasional cottage loaf:


You could also buy white or brown rolls, freshly baked, and a selection of cakes (including cream cakes), again freshly baked. (Bread, rolls and cakes were fresh because they were baked early that morning, and were baked locally. There was not time to deliver across significant distances. I know I have a retired professional baker as a reader of these blogs who may comment!)

Bread did not have a ‘sell by’ date. It was baked early and sold on the same day. If you wanted to make breadcrumbs, you might be able to buy a loaf from yesterday (half price). Otherwise, no baker would think of selling old bread.

We didn’t have to buy bread every day. It was delivered to our door, free, twice a week. With the exception of the wrapped, sliced loaf, which might keep for a few days, you could not buy bread elsewhere.

[I have to point out that Hot Cross Buns, associated in the Church with Easter, were only available on the morning of Good Friday, the Friday before Easter – all baked the night before.]

Fruit and Vegetables

You can have an idea of the greengrocers – fruit and vegetables – after seeing butchers and bakers. The greengrocer would have bought his fresh vegetables overnight in London – whatever was available. My main memory is of regularly asking for seven pounds of King Edwards and two pounds of greens.

‘King Edwards’ were potatoes. They may have been the only variety. We never asked for any other, except for the brief period each year when ‘new potatoes’ were available. Potatoes were covered in earth and had to be washed and peeled.

I have never discovered what ‘greens’ were, but that’s what we asked for – they were leafy and green. There was a period in spring when we asked for ‘spring greens.’ We also had onions, tomatoes and mushrooms. Sometimes there were peas, carrots, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, perhaps even parsnips, turnips, swede. We only had whatever was in season – in the salad season: lettuce, beetroot, cucumber, celery and radish. (Peas came in pods. I can’t claim to be an expert about green vegetables. I would never eat anything green until I was much older.)

All the vegetables were in open boxes and the shopkeeper picked them by hand and weighed them. They were of mixed quality and you could not pick the best ones. Nothing came in lots of varieties. If you wanted mushrooms you had – mushrooms.

Fruit was much the same. When in season – apples, oranges, pears, plums and melon may have had a couple of varieties. Also rhubarb, blackberries and gooseberries. Strawberries appeared as a luxury for a few days a year. We did not see exotic fruits like bananas or pineapple. Kiwi fruits, star fruits and many others did not exist.

Several tinned foods were available. At the greengrocers you could buy tins of garden peas, processed peas (what we now call mushy peas,) and baked beans. (Heinz beans have not changed – apart from becoming beanz!)

In the very early days of frozen foods, the first things you could buy were frozen peas, from the greengrocer. You would not have a freezer, just a small frozen compartment in the new refrigerator.

I can remember our local greengrocer explaining the laws about Sunday opening then. He could open on Sunday morning to sell food that would not keep. He could sell his fruit and vegetables but not tinned or frozen food.


They always called themselves something like Newsagents, Tobacconists and Confectioners. The word Stationers was there sometimes. I don’t know which came first or which provided most of their income.

They sold newspapers, the half a dozen main daily papers and perhaps a local paper – daily or weekly. [I will leave newspaper delivery to another post.] There were also some weekly and monthly publications, not many by modern standards. I won’t be specific in case I get them wrong – two or three women’s magazines; two or three children’s comics; a few well-known, popular magazines; a few hobbies like gardening. Many other specialist magazines were published but would only be held at the local newsagent if you ordered them in advance.

As Stationers, they were the place for envelopes and writing paper. (We wrote letters in those days.) You could also buy notebooks, pens and pencils etc., but not stamps. Stamps only came from Post Offices.

[OK, I missed out Post Office. Beehive Lane had a Post Office. Not now – wait for another blog!]

I could do a whole blog about sweets (US: candy) from the Good Old Days. (Perhaps I will.) Some you bought individually for a penny, a halfpenny or a farthing. (A farthing was a quarter of an old penny, very close to 0.1p now) Some came from big jars on the shelf – they would be ladled out with a scoop and weighed, sold in quarter of a pound portions.

[Sorry about units. A pound weight, 1 lb., divided into sixteen ounces, 16 oz., was a unit of weight, not to be confused with a pound sterling, £1. Sweets might have been 6d or 9d for 4 oz. That’s about 2½ to 3½ p for about 100 g.]


Jars were something like the picture but they were glass, not plastic.

There were several chocolate bars and tubes of sweets. Nearly all are still with us and have changed little – Cadbury’s milk, plain, or fruit and nut; Mars, KitKat, Marathon (now Snickers); Polo, Smarties (like US M&Ms), Opal Fruits (now Starburst) and Wrigley’s chewing gum.

Tobacco included cigarettes, cigars etc. and matches. I am sure I will mention tobacco again. It was smoked more widely and carried no health warnings – but we knew it was not good for you. I can’t give figures but it would have been taxed less and much cheaper.

Even then, they sold other cheap articles to catch the eye of the shopper – small toys and souvenirs. I can’t give a full description as my eyes rarely moved away from the sweets! I think these shops were the opportunists. They sold what they could and added new things, becoming the general stores immortalized by Ronnie Barker and David Jason in ‘Open All Hours,’ sometimes now combined with service stations for petrol.

Of course, with the obvious familiarity with our Beehive Lane shops, you will now appreciate why we sometimes got the opening lines of the Lord’s Prayer confused. It did not start, “Hello, Beehive Lane!” See post number three.

I had a feeling that there would be much to be said about shops. This post is already another record for length! I will leave the other shops to another post …