When I was a child, the drink everybody drank was tea. There was hardly any coffee around in the 1950s, not where I lived, anyway. Children drank milk (warmed in winter, cold in summer), orange squash or weak tea with occasionally cocoa, Horlicks or Ovaltine at bedtime. Adults drank tea (most of them took sugar in it, unlike now) and sometimes a warm milky drink at night. People didn’t drink water the way they do now. In cafes and restaurants you were never offered water with your food and many would refuse if you asked for a glass of tap water. We knew nothing about caffeine or about the importance of keeping your body hydrated. This post focuses on just tea, that quintessentially British drink. I really fancied using the word quintessentially, for some reason!
The Tea we Drank.
There were no tea bags then and very few brands to choose from. Tea leaves were the only form the tea came in. I remember Broooke Bond being around and in some grocery shops you could buy loose tea weighed out on scales. Once home, you transferred your loose tea to a tea caddy. Green, decaffeinated, herbal varieties etc. didn’t exist.
The Tea Pots we Used.
Of course, loose tea can’t be made in the cup so we all used teapots. Stainless steel ones didn’t come on the scene until the mid sixties. The everyday family teapot was a sturdy earthenware one, usually dark brown. When anyone came to visit a more decorative china pot would be brought out, often part of a ‘tea set’. A lot of people had a very best set which had usually been given as a wedding present and which never left the glass-fronted china cabinet.
Cups and Saucers
It’s hard to believe now, but nobody drank out of mugs in the 1950s. Every hot drink was drunk out of a cup and saucer. Everyday ones were fairly robust, best ones prettier and more fragile. I have a lovely tea set from the 1920s which was my grandmother’s.
Other Essential Equipment
In addition to the ubiquitous teapot, everyone needed tea strainers to filter out the leaves. As with the pots, there were plain everyday ones and fancier ‘best’ ones. Tea cosies were essential for keeping the tea warm while it brewed in the pot for the standard three minutes. Tea caddies stored the loose tea leaves and there were special little scoops for measuring out the right amount of tea into the pot.
Credit to Google Images and Wikipedia. As always, I have endeavored not to infringe copyright. However, if anyone objects to my use of an image, please contact me and I will remove it.
The school I attended from four years old until eleven was a very small primary school in a remote rural village. The year I left to go to the high school there were 28 pupils in the school which gives you an idea how small it was. Because it was such a rural area, some of the children from outlying farms came from a mile or two away. I was mostly happy in school, I liked the teachers and I worked hard. Many years later, in my early forties I trained for a second career as a primary school teacher. The differences between learning in the 1950s and decades later when I was teaching are many! I thought I’d look at some of the subjects, how they were taught and what we learned. I’m not criticising my teachers. That was just the way it was then and we were not at all disadvantaged by the education we received.
I have no memory of finding out about any world history in primary school. As a teacher I loved teaching children about Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece, The Vikings, World War II and so on. Our history in the 1950s was very Britain centred and consisted of learning about famous people and heroes like Scott of the Antarctic, Florence Nightingale, Nelson etc. There were no opportunities for finding things out for ourselves by looking in history books or encyclopedias. We were told their stories and we copied out passages from text books.
I didn’t come across geometry or algebra until high school. Our maths from four to eleven was strictly arithmetic. Times tables were learned off by heart. This was done by the whole class reciting them together first thing every morning. Other tables which were recited were the weights and measures ones such as ‘Twelve inches to a foot, three feet to a yard, one thousand seven hundred and sixty yards to a mile, eight eighty yards to half a mile, four forty yards to a quarter of a mile . . .’ and so on. This was repeated for weight and time. In our final year we had to sit a test called the ‘Eleven-Plus’ to decide on where you went for your secondary education. The maths we did was all geared towards this test. We had to solve written problems, work out fractions and percentages and even learn how to calculate simple and compound interest.
My main memories of this subject are of handwriting practice, comprehension exercises, spelling tests, writing ‘compositions’ (stories, we’d say now) and learning very serious, old-fashioned poems off by heart then reciting them. In readiness for the eleven plus we also had to learn proverbs off by heart. ‘All that glitters is not gold’, ‘A stitch in time saves nine’, etc. were learned and we were tested on them.
Like our history lessons, the music we did in school was very traditional and serious. We learned to play the recorder which I loved. The songs we learned and sang – or played on the recorder – were hymns, in both Welsh and English, and songs like ‘Over the Sea to Skye’ and ‘Hearts of Oak’.
The only science-related activity I can recall doing is when, on a fine day in spring and summer, the teachers would sometimes take us all out for what they called a ‘nature ramble’. They pointed out various flowers, trees and birds and we picked flowers and leaves to take back to school. But I mainly remember how lovely it was to be out of school, enjoying the weather and walking along the lanes around the village. There was hardly any traffic around so road safety wasn’t an issue.
Art and Craft
We did sometimes have art sessions but the only medium I remember using was powder paints. I don’t recall any lessons on colour mixing or technique but the painting was fun. I learned about colours at home from those lovely tins of water colours we used to have back then with the names of the colours written under every little square of paint. I loved the wonderful names they had like ultramarine and burnt umber. Oh, the joy of getting a brand new paint tin for Christmas! I also enjoyed the knitting and embroidery lessons in school.
We very rarely did PE although there in a storage area there were a few boxes of coloured bean bags, balls and quoits. We used to look at them longingly! A few years into my time at the school we acquired a new school radio. Once a week one of our two teachers would tune into a BBC programme called Music and Movement. For fifteen minutes we would follow the instructions on the radio and move around the classroom in different ways. Sometimes we were asked to imagine we were different creatures or to stand still and look like a tree. We absolutely loved it!
Religious Education consisted of singing hymns first thing in the morning while a teacher played the piano and saying prayers . Being a Welsh school we also learned the story of our patron saint, St David. We all went to church and Sunday School and learned more about the stories in the Bible there. We were completely unaware of any of the other faiths in the world such as Islam, Buddhism, Sikhism etc.
As always, credit to Wikipedia and Google Images. I make every effort to ensure that I do not infringe copyright but if anyone objects to my use of an image please contact me and I will remove it.