School Dinners

When I was a child there were two choices. If you lived near school you could go home for your midday meal. Otherwise you had school dinners. There was not an option to bring your own packed lunch. If you had school dinners there was one choice. You ate what you were given. One main course (dinner), one dessert (pudding). No alternatives and you absolutely had to eat what was put on your plate. I think this is why so many people of my age in Britain have bad memories of school dinners. It wasn’t that they were all terrible. I remember some nice things. Baked sponge puddings, for example. It was the complete lack of choice and the obligation to clear your plate which was the downside. We all received a bottle of milk a day (third of a pint) and this could be delightful in winter when really cold and pretty disgusting when it had been sitting outside in the crates all morning in summer sun!

Image result for 1950s school dinner menu"    CLASSROOM CALORIES All children were given a daily bottle of milk

To put this in context, World War II had only finished in 1945 and I believe rationing was still in place in the early fifties. Whether at home or in school – you ate what you were given and didn’t complain. The adults at home and in school had lived through the war and had no time for children being fussy. So we weren’t!

One of my main memories of our school dinners was lumpiness. There were lumps in the custard, the gravy, the mashed potato. One meal I remember is Spam served with mashed potato and beetroot. Then they poured the beetroot juice over your meal as if it was a sauce or a gravy. Not my favourite! I remember stews and mince of little flavour, pale in colour and with small quantities of indeterminate vegetables floating around – probably swede and turnip. These runny meat dishes were also served with the ubiquitous mashed potato and a veg, often boiled cabbage.

Also, and any post war British readers will identify with this, there were endless milk puddings. There was semolina, sago, tapioca, ground rice, rice and macaroni. All made into hot milky puddings. If you were lucky you got a spoonful of jam to stir into your pudding which turned it pink and made it a bit more palatable. Sometimes they were served with a spoonful of stewed prunes. I didn’t touch prunes for many years after I left school, they’re still not top of my list!

Today’s school dinners here in the UK are free to all children up to the age of seven and are tasty and well-balanced, Even more importantly – there are choices. We have come a long way.

 

An example of a week’s menu in a primary school. these menus are rotated on a four week cycle so the choices are not the same every week.

Thanks to Helena for giving me the idea for this post.

Happy New Year!

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On New Year’s Eve, I thought I’d take a brief trip back to the New Year’s Eves of my childhood. As regular readers know, I grew up in a tiny village in a very quiet part of rural mid-Wales. There were around 28 children in our village school aged 4 to 11. Some, like me, lived within walking distance of the school, others had a walk of half to three-quarters of a mile and many of them lived on outlying hill farms and were brought in by cars on regular hire through the education authority from the garage in out nearest town.

Our school was also used as a village hall and on New Year’s Eve there was always a big village party held there. It started in the afternoon with a tea party and games for the children. The women of the village made and served sandwiches and cakes, jugs of squash and enormous pots of tea. Whole families attended. After the tea, seats were placed in a circle at one end of the main room and the games began. The main ones I remember are spin the plate and musical chairs. There were songs and recitations from the children brave enough to stand up and perform – not me! There would be older children there as well who were now at the ‘big school’ in the town and who always seemed frightfully grown up and sophisticated to me.

As afternoon turned into evening, the party morphed (even though there was no such word then!) into an adults evening and younger children would be taken home and put to bed. Slightly older children would stay longer. The evening took the form of a concert. It was informally arranged, with people just stepping forward to sing, recite, play the piano etc. I remember first being old enough to stay for some of it then, eventually to stay to the end. One local farmer had a beautiful tenor voice and always sang ‘Jerusalem’. I think he sang other songs too but the one he was known for was that one – and he sang it beautifully. Tea was served all evening and the night would finish with everyone in a circle linking arms and singing Auld Lang Syne. It was so exciting when you were twelve or thirteen and considered old enough to stay to the end and see the new year in!

 

Happy New Year to all my readers and followers and thank you for continuing to read my blog and to comment.

Merry Christmas from the 1950s.

 

Merry Christmas to all my readers and followers. Like most people at this time of year, I’m rushed off my feet just now but I thought I’d just put a few memories here for those of us from the 1950s and 60s.

There will be a full post some time in January. Meanwhile, enjoy the pictures!

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Advent calendars didn’t have chocolate in them and were used year after year. The big sweet treat was the selection box. Not to be eaten all on one day!

 

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The Queen’s speech and Billy Smart’s circus on TV – two absolute musts for Christmas Day in the UK!

 

Scalextric, Lines Bros Ltd, England, 1963 copyright Victoria and Albert Museum    Image result for hug a bug babies 1950s doll uk"

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Some of the toys we might have been brought by Father Christmas – we didn’t know him as Santa back then.

 

 

 

 

Travel and Phones.

Last week, I arranged to meet my youngest daughter in Huddersfield for a Christmas shopping trip. I was driving about 40 mins from where I live and she was getting the train from her town. She called me the evening before from her landline phone to say that her mobile phone had died and she wouldn’t be contactable on it when we were travelling the next day. How this throws us all now! I told her we would just have to make a foolproof 1950s style plan for the next morning.

This started me thinking about how easy it is now to make arrangements and to adjust them, even at short notice. Back in the 1980s when my three children were small I often travelled to different locations, some quite near, others further away, to meet up with people. My sister and I lived about 90 minutes apart at that time and we had a couple of nice meeting up places mid-way between us. We’d make the plan by phone from our houses beforehand then we would set off to meet up with our excited children in our cars. Nothing ever went wrong for us but now we would all panic at the thought of travelling somewhere to meet someone without the backup of a mobile phone.

Going back even further, to the 1950s, we used to get packed up to go and see our grandparents who lived in north Wales. We had a telephone at home then but my grandparents didn’t and never did, even several decades later. They had a public telephone box in their village so maybe they called us sometimes. I was too young to be taking notice of things like adults planning visits.The plans were presumably made mostly by letter! Yes, the humble hand-written letter and the good old postman – no female posties in those days!

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Phone boxes (telephone kiosks as they were called) in the 1950s.

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!950s memories of the postal service.

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Two models of 1950s cars like ones which we had in the 1950s.

 

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A 1950s phone –  not every household had one.

 

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The modern mobile phone – most wouldn’t leave home without it!

In the ‘old days’, we had maps and guide-books to help us navigate and to locate places of interest and their opening hours. If we needed to contact someone or needed help, we waited until we spotted a phone box and pulled over to make a call. I still have a book of road maps in my car but the modern phone is not just a phone it is also a road atlas, bus, plane and train timetable, guide book to anywhere and everywhere, live weather and travel advice, newspaper, in-car entertainment etc etc.

The 1950s – a summary.

This is just a fun post listing some of the things we kids of the 50s remember which were different. There are many similar lists and comparisons available on the Internet but this is my version.

 

Electric plugs were brown and the cables were brown, cloth-covered and some were plaited.

Postage stamps had to be licked.

Baby teeth were worth 6d when the tooth fairy visited – 6d in ‘old UK money’ is equivalent to 2.5p in the current money system.

Spaghetti, cream, salmon, pineapple and peaches only came in tins.

Macaroni could be a pudding or a savoury (macaroni cheese was the only pasta dish I knew!).

Tea was made in a teapot using tea leaves.

Olive oil came in tiny bottles and was kept in the medicine cabinet to be used for earache.

We all listened to the same radio programmes. Then, when TV arrived, we all watched the same programmes as there was only one channel.

 

Your dishwasher was the person in your house who was doing the washing up at the time.

People put iodine on cuts and butter on burns.

Phones all had exactly the same ring tone . . . . and they stayed in one place . . . . . there was only one in the house . . . . but not all homes had them . . . . and they were only for making and receiving calls.

We went to ‘the flicks’ to see the latest film.

Soap was only came in bars.

 

Birthday cakes had icing or chocolate on the top and some candles.

Beds had top sheets, blankets, eiderdowns (quilts) and bedspreads (often candlewick).

Cars had three forward gears, no reversing lights and no seat belts.

Twitter was a noise birds made.

Many children’s toys were made from tin.

TV programmes couldn’t be recorded.

Gay was a word which meant happy and jolly.

Takeaways

I’ve had a bit of a lull in my posting as it’s been a very busy few months. At last, here I am with another one.I keep thinking I’ll run out of ideas to post about but so far I haven’t. I welcome ideas for topics for me to explore.

 

Here in Britain nowadays ‘Let’s get a takeaway (or takeout in some parts of the country).’ can lead to anything from Chinese, Indian, Thai, Pizza, burger, kebab – even the humble fish and chip meal from the local chip shop. Starting with my own memories, back in the 50s and 60s, when I was a child, the only ‘takeaway’ available (and the word didn’t even exist at that time) was the ubiquitous fish and chip shop. Some had tables where you could sit in and eat, many sold only food to take out. We always referred to ours as the chip shop. In different parts of the country the fish and chip shop is known as the chippy, the chipper and here in Yorkshire as the fish shop or sometimes the fishery. Our nearest town in mid-Wales had two chip shops and the locals were all loyal to one of them and never used the other. In Britain old newspapers were traditionally used for wrapping fish and chips until this was banned for health reasons in the 1980s. Many people are nostalgic for this traditional wrapping; some modern fish and chip shops wrap their food in faux-newspaper, food-safe paper printed to look like a newspaper.

 

Musing on this subject the other day I wondered when food to take out first became available here from eating places other than chip shops. As far as I remember, the earliest foreign cuisine here was Chinese followed by Indian and I only recall them being places where you sat in to eat. So I decided to look into the history of the British takeaway.

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1950s Chinese and Indian restaurants –  some of the UK’s earliest tastes of food from other countries.

 

Researching, I found a wealth of information on the history of restaurants in the UK but little about the rise of the takeaway. However, this extract from Consumer Culture and Chinese Food in Britain by Mike Featherstone and Tomoko Tamari gives an explanation.

‘According to data made available by the Hong Kong government Office in London, there were 1,406 Chinese restaurants in the United Kingdom in 1970. These restaurants were influenced by the economic setback of Britain in the 1970s, with people unwilling to pay high prices when they ate out. In response, many of the New Territories immigrants have opened take-out Chinese food shop, which are cheaper than restaurants. Another reason could be the introduction of Value Added Tax (VAT) which was resented by most Chinese restaurants and can be seen as further encouraging customers to switch from restaurants to more economical takeaways and fish and chip shops, which require fewer staff and were not subject to VAT. These takeaways could be operated by a family unit and ‘require only ‘hole-in-the wall’ premises. They were able to make good profit as a result of their low cost conditions.’

 

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I didn’t know this until now.

Typical scene from a London chip shop

 

A familiar scene inside a British chip shop.

 

 

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Image result for fish and chip shops uk 1950s  Image result for fish and chip shops uk 1950s

 

Fabrics Past and Present.

It occurred to me the other day that back in the 1950s we had words for fabrics which are hardly ever heard now. Perhaps because my mum was a keen dressmaker, I remember even as a child being aware of the different fabrics my clothes were made from. Seersucker was very popular for making summer dresses. I remember my mum making clothes for us out of poplin, gingham, moygashel, broderie anglaise. A raincoat was often referred to as a gabardine – the fabric it was made of. Men’s plain grey trousers, standard wear for men at that time, were always known as flannels. My school blazer was made of barathea. Garments were often referred to by their fabrics e.g. a poplin shirt, grey flannels, twill and cavalry twill trousers, worsted suits, gabardine raincoats and barathea blazers. Stockings were called nylons and I remember old ladies referring to lisle stockings which were what preceded nylon stockings.

Some historical notes on the origins of some of the fabrics mentioned –  which some might find interesting.

Lisle (named after Lisle in France where it originated) was a fine cotton knit used for stockings for a few hundred years before the invention of nylon. Referring to garments by specific fabrics is something which doesn’t happen so much now and also many of these fabric names have dropped completely out of common usage.

School uniforms of flannel shorts and blazers. Barathea was also used a lot for blazers and gymslips.

 

Nylons were shaped as there was no stretch in them.

A Welsh origin to the word flannel has been suggested as fabric similar to flannel can be traced back to Wales, where it was well known as early as the 16th century. The French term flanelle was used in the late 17th century, and the German Flanell was used in the early 18th century. Flannel has been made since the 17th century, gradually replacing the older Welsh plains, some of which were finished as “cottons” or friezes which was the local textile product. In the 19th century, flannel was made particularly in towns such as Newtown, Hay on Wye and Llanidloes. Newtown has a lovely textile museum I’ve visited which tells the story of the Welsh flannel industry.

An old flannel mill in South Wales.

Gabardine was invented in 1879 by Thomas Burberry, founder of the Burberry fashion house in Basingstoke and patented in 1888. The word then became a synonym for a mac or raincoat.

A gabardine raincoat as standard school uniform.

During the British Colonial period seersucker was a popular material in Britain’s warm weather colonies like British India.

Broderie anglaise was extremely popular in England between 1840 and 1880 for women’s underclothing and children’s wear. The 1950s saw a resurgence in popularity, when it was frequently used to trim dresses and underwear. In 1959, Brigitte Bardot wore a dress of gingham and broderie anglaise for her wedding to Jacques Charrier.

When I was about ten my mum made me a summer dress in gingham with broderie anglaise trim. I had no idea that Brigitte Bardot had influenced that style!

Worsted is a high-quality type of wool yarn and the fabric made from this yarn. The name derives from Worstead, a village in the county of Norfolk. That village, together with North Walsham and Aylsham, formed a manufacturing centre for yarn and cloth in the 12th century, when pasture enclosure and liming rendered the East Anglian soil too rich for the older sheep breeds.

Back in the 15th Century, poplin was used for winter attire, and was made using silk and wool. The actual word ‘poplin’ derives from ‘papelaine’, and is based on the (now obsolete) French papal town of Avignon.

Even good old corduroy isn’t seen or heard of much today. In continental Europe, corduroy is known as “Cord”, “rib cord” or “rib velvet” – in parts of Europe such as Germany, Czechoslovakia, Holland and Belgium it used to be simply known as “Manchester” – that still remains the current name for corduroy in Swedish. Corduroy is a material traditionally used in making British country clothing, even though its origin lies among items worn by townspeople in industrial areas. Although corduroy has existed for a long time and was used in Europe since the 18th century, only in the 20th century did it become global – notably expanding in popularity during the 1970s.

 

Tweed, linen cotton, poly cotton and denim are familiar words now but so many of the others are hardly heard now apart from amongst people who work with fabrics.

 

 

Keeping Food Fresh

Nowadays we don’t have any problems keeping food fresh and safe to eat. We have fridges, freezers, vacuum packs as well as the dried and tinned foods which have been around much longer. Also, everything – even tinned food! – has a sell by/ use by date printed on it. The humble sell-by date actually has a surprisingly short history here in the UK. It was introduced in Marks & Spencer’s storerooms in the 1950s before making its way onto the shelves in 1970. It wasn’t even called a “sell-by-date” until 1973. Like a lot of people who date back to pre-sell-by date years, I still rely on the look, feel and smell of food rather than panicking and throwing food away the day after the date has passed. I appreciate that people who eat meat and fish have to be extra careful and to take no risks.

       

 

       

 

When I was very young, in the early 1950s,  we didn’t have a fridge. I remember the arrival of our first one being so exciting! In the summer, my mum used to hang bottles of milk in a string bag in the stream to stop the milk going off. We had a pantry with a stone slab in it which was meant to keep things cool. It is very easy to tell when milk has turned sour. Bread goes dry, cheese goes mouldy, potatoes go green and start sprouting, some foods start smelling bad. When these sort of foods have been kept too long or have been stored incorrectly the result is obvious. The hidden danger is when food has turned and could be hazardous but there are no obvious signs which is when sell by dates are important.

 

A 1950s kitchen with an early fridge.

UK’s first frozen food product was asparagus made by Smedley’s of Wisbech which is a fact which surprised me as I had assumed the ubiquitous pea would have been the first frozen vegetable. Although frozen food went on sale for the first time in Britain on May 10, 1937, the average UK householder did not have easy access to it until the 1950s and 60s. Home freezers first became popular in the 1970s .  Apparently, the sales of frozen food were boosted during the Second World War as metals for tins were in very short supply but I reckon that would only have been in cities and not in the more rural areas such as where I grew up.

The face of Birds Eye in the UK – Captain Birds Eye.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Cars Broke Down – A Lot!

I was driving back from Manchester Airport with a friend recently and we were remembering how breaking down was just an accepted part of motoring in the 1950s and 60s. And nobody had mobile phones then. So how did we manage?

Sometimes the car just needed a rest and to let off steam – literally! At the top of any long uphill route – and we have plenty of those in Wales! – there would always be two or three cars with the bonnet up and steam billowing out from the radiator.

If it wasn’t a simple case of overheating or a puncture then you needed your trusty breakdown organisation. It is still a good idea to be in one and there is plenty of choice now. But back in my childhood there were two. The AA and the RAC – in full The Automobile Association and The Royal Automobile Club.

The AA was launched in 1905 specifically to help motorists avoid police speed traps after new penalties were introduced in 1903. From 1906 until the early 1930s they also managed all road signage until the responsibility was passed to the local authorities.

An early AA man putting up a road sign.

A very early AA patrolman saluting a car with an AA badge. An RAC or AA patrolman driving or riding about always saluted a car displaying a member’s badge. What I hadn’t realised until researching for this post was that if a patrolman from your organisation didn’t salute you as he passed, that was a sign that there was a policeman around, possibly with a speed trap.

Moving on from a bicycle to a motorbike . .

. . . to four wheels.

A 1960s RAC patrolman helping a female motorist.

 

 

The badges which were displayed on the front of the cars of members.

Both organisations produced a members’ handbook which was updated regularly and eventually annually. The first AA handbook was a list of nationwide agents and repairers. When I was a child the AA and RAC handbooks also contained maps, route information, a list of the car registrations from all the towns and counties of Britain and a summary of useful information about all the British towns above a certain size. The latter was extremely useful when you were on a long journey and needed a pit stop.

Modern AA and RAC patrolmen.

The call boxes to which members had keys.

 

How Cameras Have Changed.

Where to start? This has got be one of the most rapidly evolving pieces of everyday equipment in our lifetimes! So I’ll start right at the beginning and do a very quick potted history of the camera – which is now 115 years old. Then I’ll write from personal experience about one of the most amazing gadgets known to Man.

1814 – Joseph Niepce achieved the first photographic image using the camera obscura.

1837 – Louise Daguerre introduced the daguerreotype, a fixed image which didn’t fade.

1851 – Frederick Scott Archer invented the introduced the Collodion process which reduced light exposure time to 2 – 3 minutes.

1888 – George Eastman patented the Kodak roll film camera.

1900 – the first mass-produced camera, the Kodak Brownie, went on sale.

1927 – the General Electric Company invented the modern flash bulb.

1948 – Edwin Land launched the Polaroid camera.

1963 – Polaroid introduced the instant colour film.

1978 – Konica invented the first point and shoot autofocus camera.

1984 – Canon demonstrates the first digital electronic still camera.

2000 – the first mobile phone with a built-in camera appeared.

2004 – 2014  the second generation of smartphones appeared, then from 2015 – 2017 the third generation of smartphones, followed by the fourth generation which have been appearing since 2018.

I was born in 1951. There are no baby photographs of me apart from a studio one taken when I was Christened. My dad had a camera and was a keen photographer. He enjoyed taking pictures of his firstborn. In those days, and for many years after, we were cautious with the number of photographs we took because film and development were both so costly. My mum and dad lived in a very quiet place in South Wales – Brecon, for those who know it. I’m not sure of the details now, and Mum and Dad are gone, so I can’t ask them, but I remember them saying that they went out and when they got home the camera with the roll of film inside it had been stolen from the house. I seem to remember my mum saying they had left it near a window. Nothing else was taken – it was probably the only thing of value in the house – but the worst thing for them was that the roll of film inside was gone and was irreplaceable. As young parents with one salary and bills to pay, it was a while before they could afford a replacement. So, no baby pictures of me.

   

Some examples of late 1940s cameras. My dad’s might have looked like one of these.

As a keen photographer all his life, in the early 1960’s my dad bought a 35mm camera with which he used to take colour slides. He was also a very organised man so all his slides are labelled and catalogued – and there are hundreds of them! The colour transparency is not as easy to access or copy but even so, it is a fantastic record of our childhood and also of his work in the forests of mid-Wales. The film used to get sent away and we loved the excitement of receiving a new pack of colour slides in the post. Then came the slide show when the projector and screen came out and we all sat, with the curtains drawn, to enjoy the photographs of our holiday, Christmas or a recent birthday.

    

The above photographs are of my father’s much loved and much used camera, flash and light meter which my brother now has in his collection of cameras.

When I was nine I got my first ever camera for my birthday. I was beside myself with excitement! I still have it and I also have several albums full of the photographs I took with it. It was my only camera until I was in my early twenties. It was a Kodak Brownie 127 and this is it!

In 1974 I bought myself a brand new shiny 35mm SLR Zenit E and I was as proud of that as I had been of my Brownie 127 on my ninth birthday. I started off taking slides and then, when I had my first child in 1980, switched to prints. Sharing baby photographs with the family was easier with prints than with slides.

An example of the Zenit E.

Twelve years ago I moved into the digital age when my husband bought me a digital camera for my birthday. It’s a lovely compact size, ideal for carrying in a handbag, and has been a brilliant camera ever since I got it.

However, since the dawn of the smartphone, it gets easier and easier to take photographs with my mobile and, of course, I can send them to people immediately without getting a cable out and downloading the pictures to a computer to save or send. When we go away I take my little digital camera but for day to day stuff I use the handy smartphone in my pocket.

We all take so many photographs now! We do because we can. It’s easy, we don’t have to buy film, send it away for developing, pay for the photographs. We don’t have to adjust  any settings if we don’t want to. If we take too many or if any don’t come out right we can just delete them. We can send as many copies to people as we want to. No more digging out the pack of negatives, selecting the right ones, taking them to be developed, waiting a few days – then paying!

Part of my brother’s collection of old cameras.