Ten quirky, unusual and forgotten facts about growing up in the 1950s.

  1.   There was no tissue paper for personal use. Toilet paper was hard and crunchy – very like greaseproof paper/ baking parchment – and often impregnated with disinfectant so very strong-smelling. The two brands I remember are Bronco and Izal. in my dad’s workplace the toilet paper was printed on every square with ‘Government property. Now wash your hands.’ Noses were blown with cotton handkerchiefs (hankies) even when a person had a heavy cold.

7951310318_03a60ef32d_n                                   hankies

2.   Pineapples, peaches, salmon, cream and mandarin oranges were only seen in tins. I’m sure I didn’t see real peaches or pineapples until the late 60s. Tinned salmon was a treat for Sunday tea or when visitors came. Cream (usually served on trifle or a bowl of tinned fruit) was always Carnation or Ideal. I imagine this was because domestic fridges were uncommon in the UK in the 50s and it was a problem keeping things fresh.

nestles cream                                              Tinned cream

3.    We had never heard of Velcro and all zips had metal teeth. Most female garments had hooks and eyes or press studs somewhere.

4.   Underwear was all cotton and all white or cream. Everybody wore vests all year round – summer vests in warm weather and winter vests in the cold.

mens undies.jpg     ladies vest     A knitting pattern for ladies’                                                                                                                          vests.

vintage-childrens-long-vest-unused-c-1930s-cherub-short-sleeved-girl-boy-26-30--14589-p   A child’s Cherub brand vest.

5.   You always went to bed when unwell – even if it was just a cold. 

6.   Hair was washed once a week, no more.

7.   Gay meant happy, jolly, merry, carefree.


8.   Household light bulbs were all the same size and the same fitting – bayonet. When I go to buy replacement lightbulbs now I take a sample of the one I want with me as the choice is bewildering!

9. There were no tiny batteries such as watch ones. I don’t remember having anything which needed batteries apart from torches.

10.  There were no calculators. In the late 1960s, as a student, I came across my first ever calculator. It was mechanical and made of metal. It had a lever lever on the side and a roll of tape which showed the calculation printed put. I thought it was amazing. Up until then the only aids to maths I had come across were log tables and slide rules.


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I will just add my usual disclaimer – these are my recollections and things might have been very different for people living in different parts of Britain, particularly those in towns and cities where things were perhaps a bit more advanced.