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.

 

 

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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.

 

New Foods

A few weeks ago I was doing some clearing out/ de-cluttering. I realised that quite a few of my recipe books were now looking extremely tatty. On flicking through them before throwing them out I started thinking about the food items which didn’t appear in them and definitely wouldn’t have been around in the 1950s! I will just say next that most of the foods I’m going to list here already existed somewhere in the world. They are not new, just new to us in Britain.

Reading about the history of food trends in Britain, the first wave of ‘foreign food’ cuisine was French which arrived in the late 1950s and continued to be popular through the 1960s and to the present. These trends are ones I’ve read about but I was unaware of them as a child. Fashions didn’t spread as quickly back then and the average person in Britain didn’t come across fancy restaurants or try out recipes from cookbooks like Elizabeth David’s 1950 publication A Book of Mediterranean Food.

A Book of Mediterranean Food: Elizabeth David                          A Book of Mediterranean Food (Penguin Cookery L... by David, Elizabeth Paperback

An early copy.                                                                Still in print.

This famous book came at a time when many foods were still rationed and very few people went abroad on holiday. With the rise of Italian, Chinese and Indian eating places in the large cities in the 1950s and through to smaller towns over the next few decades, new foods began to filter down into normal households.

Food trends continue to ebb and flow, almost without us noticing. Here are some of the things I hadn’t even heard of even ten or fifteen years ago.

Halloumi

This is a traditional cheese from Cyprus but I can still remember the first time I came across it, not much more than ten years ago. I loved it then and still do!

Image result for halloumi cheese  Image result for halloumi cheese

Jackfruit

I haven’t seen this here in my part of Yorkshire yet but I keep reading about it in magazines and online. It’s being particularly hailed  as a meat substitute for vegetarians and vegans. I’ll report back when I eventually get to try it!

Image result for jackfruit     Image result for jackfruit recipes

The raw jackfruit                                   Cooked jackfruit

Prosecco

Suddenly this drink is everywhere! Ten years ago I had never heard of it now there isn’t a party, wedding, dinner party or hen do without it.

Image result for prosecco  Image result for prosecco

 

 

Panini

Another first taste memory. We were in France on holiday when I had my first panini (and I loved it) and now nearly every cafe has them on the menu. They’re a version of what we here call a toasted sandwich but with different bread and more adventurous fillings.

Related image  Image result for toasted sandwich

Panini                                                     Basic British toasted sandwich

Couscous, quinoa, freekeh

Where once we had rice, now we have a whole load of alternative grains and seeds to choose from. To date I have tried quinoa and couscous but not freekeh.

Image result for freekehImage result for couscous

Pesto, balsamic vinegar, coconut oil, coconut milk,

Image result for pesto                           Image result for balsamic vinegar

 

Image result for coconut milk tin  File:Coconut Oil amp 30050.jpg

This is an assortment of items which now feature in many of our kitchen cupboards and which were unheard of here until recent years.

Green tea and herbal teas

Image result for green tea  Image result for herbal teas

Tea used to mean a hot drink made from the leaves of the tea bush. Green tea has become very popular now and is also from the tea bush but it seems you can now call any hot infusion a tea. We see every sort of leaf, fruit, herb and spice presented as a tea, often in combinations of more than one.

 

Labels

Wholemeal, wholegrain, gluten free, decaffeinated, ‘Free From’, vegan, vegetarian, meat free, additive free, sugar free, low fat, fat free. These labels are everywhere now and SO helpful when you have specific requirements in your food shopping, whether from preference or for medical and dietary reasons. Back in the 1950s, with rationing just coming to an end, food was food. Be grateful, like it or lump it was the attitude. How things change!

 

Image result for free from foods asda

 

 

 

Greeting Cards

It was my birthday last week and I was lucky enough to get a lot of lovely birthday cards. It got me thinking about how greetings cards have changed in my lifetime. They have changed not only in appearance but also in the range of events we can now send cards for and in the way we send them – there are many ways of sending cards electronically including e-cards and the ones which are ordered and designed electronically but send as paper cards in the post. I will explore all of this in this post.

First, here are some examples of the sort of cards which were around when I was a child. I don’t remember ever seeing ‘arty’ cards in the shops or even many funny ones. They were either pretty and floral like most of the ones shown or they were more manly and had cars, footballs or garden spades on them. Children’s cards might have images of children, toys,puppies, kittens or cartoons on them. They all had a certain look which was no doubt dictated by the processes available at the time. Photographic images were used more for picture postcards sent from holidays. Another difference I notice is that there was always a greeting printed on the front whereas now there is often no writing at all on the front, especially on the arty cards. One of the main differences, however, was inside. They always had verses in them.  You can still get cards with verses in them, and some people prefer them, but not every card has a verse. In fact, the ‘Blank for your own message’ style of card has become more common in the last few decades – something which was never, ever seen in the 1950s and 60s! Do any of you remember the dawn of the scented card in the 1950s? What a novelty! One of my grandmothers loved to send cards which had been carefully chosen for the verse and the scent. Fortunately, scented cards are no longer with us.

 

Image result for 1950's greetings cards uk   Image result for 1950's greetings cards uk

 

Image result for 1950's greetings cards uk   Image result for 1950's greetings cards uk

 

Image result for 1950's greetings cards uk

Next, the range of occasions acknowledge with cards today. There were always wedding cards, get well cards, sympathy and congratulations cards and a few more. Also, the 21st birthday was a big milestone. Now we have cards for every decade and sometimes even for half decades like 65 and 75. Below is a selection of current cards – and if you wanted to send one to someone whose cat was going to have an operation, or a friend who’d been made redundant or whose relationship had just broken up, then you buy a ‘Blank for your own message’ card or one saying ‘Just to Say’ or ‘Thinking of You’.

Image result for thank you card for house sitting   Image result for happy 30th birthday card

 

Image result for happy 75th birthday images    Image result for good luck in your new adventure card

Then, we move on to the different ways we can send cards. The good old postal service is still the main one. But, as well as paper cards we now have e-cards. I subscribe to one and I really rate it. It’s jacquielawson.com and the art work is brilliant. There are many more websites doing them. I find it great if I want to send a fun card to the grandchildren as they are animated. Also, if I am away on holiday and it’s a friend’s birthday or some other occasion, I can log in and choose one and send it on my phone. Amazing, isn’t it? There are also companies like Moon Pig where you choose your card on a laptop or phone, using your own photographs if you like, add your message in a style of your choosing then the card is sent as a paper one through normal post. They are somewhere in between ‘normal’ cards and e-cards, a sort of hybrid.

Finally, here are some of the cards I received on my birthday, including a Welsh one. There is a Moon Pig one with a photograph of me on it which one of my daughters had made up for me. Also in there is a hand-made card from a friend who loves making her own cards – a style of card I nearly forgot to mention!

Cards 1    Cards 2

Cards 3

 

 

Evocative Smells

I haven’t given myself the easiest topic this time! How on earth am I going to convey smells to my readers?

This has come about following a recent conversation I had with a friend. We were talking about Ponds face creams. It turns out that we both had grandmothers who used to use Ponds. Suddenly we were recalling the size and shape of the pots, the colour of the lids and the distinctive smell which we found we could conjure up in our minds and which would forever remind us of our grandmothers.

Image result for ponds vanishing cream 1950s

Nivea was the cream of choice in our family. Mum always had a tin in the house and in winter she would rub it into our cheeks and hands before we walked to school to stop the cold air drying our skin out. In summer it was rubbed into skin which had burned in the sun – back in the 50s, people didn’t know how much damage the sun can cause. Some households favoured Astral over Nivea. Both creams are still widely available here and both have distinctive smells which can transport people right back to their childhoods.

Image result for nivea tin 1950s

Image result for astral cream 1950s

Milky bedtime drinks were an important part of life in the 1950s. In those post-war years, when food rationing had only just finished, they were looked on as cheap, filling and nutritious. Cocoa and drinking chocolate were popular and are still enjoyed by many children. The two non-chocolate drinks which had their own distinctive smells were Horlicks and Ovaltine. If I were to smell either of those again I would instantly be under twelve, wearing flannelette pyjamas and sitting in front of a coal fire.

Image result for ovaltine 1950s Image result for Horlicks tin 1950s

Perfumes are big business nowadays. There is a bewildering selection available, new ones are being released every year and if you’re a celebrity the chances are that you have one with your name on it. Back in my childhood, the main perfumes or ‘scents’ as we called them were floral in name and nature. There were others available, which were the more expensive ones, and some are still around today – L’Aimant, L’Air du Temps, White Fire etc. But the average mum, grandma, teenage girl used a floral one. If I were to smell Devon Violets now I would be back in my mum’s bedroom reaching up onto her dressing table to sniff her scents and creams. Lavender water and Lily of the Valley were also very popular.

Image result for devon violets 1950s      Image result for lily of the valley perfume 1950s

 

Back in the 1950s, deodorants were not widely used. I remember my mum using one called Odor-O-No but many people still relied on strong-smelling soaps and talcum powder. The soaps I remember with memory-evoking smells were Wright’s Coal Tar Soap, Lifebuoy, Imperial Leather and Pears. Imperial Leather and Pears are still sold but nowadays you have look hard to find the section of the supermarket selling bars of soap as squirty soap and shower gels have taken over.

Image result for lifebuoy soap 1950s      Image result for wright's coal tar soap 1950s

Image result for Imperial leather soap 1950s  Image result for talcum powder 1950s uk

Tinned soups are still around, they are definitely not a thing of the past, but if I were to heat up a tin of Heinz Cream of Tomato soup now I would be straight back in my childhood. Tinned foods were in their infancy in the 1950s and as there were so few labour-saving devices around and very few fridges and freezers, tinned soups must have been a delight for the average ‘housewife’ – as they were called then!

     Image result for heinz tomato soup 1950s

 

 

 

 

As before, I would like to say that images used are freely available on the Internet via Google Images. If anyone objects to my use of an image please contact me and I will remove it.

 

 

Notable Firsts in the 1950s and 60s

All decades see changes, inventions, introductions and significant firsts. This post explores some of the things which were new, exciting or important during the 50s and 60s when I was growing up.

The 1950s

Recently, I heard the name Roger Bannister referred to and it brought back a memory from the 1950s of the much-talked-about 4-minute mile.

Image result for roger bannister

More than 60 years ago, back on a cinder track at Oxford University’s Iffley Road Stadium in 1954, Bannister completed four laps in 3:59.4, a record-breaking performance that many believed was not humanly possible. The image of the exhausted Bannister with his eyes closed and mouth agape appeared on the front page of newspapers around the world, a testament to what humankind could achieve.

Researching for this post, I realised that I couldn’t possibly remember the actual event as I was not even three years old. This quote from Bannister himself explains just why ‘the four-minute mile’ was such a well known expression when I was a child.

“It became a symbol of attempting a challenge in the physical world of something hitherto thought impossible,” Bannister said as the 50th anniversary of the run approached, according to the AP. “I’d like to see it as a metaphor not only for sport, but for life and seeking challenges.”

Laika was a Soviet space dog who became one of the first animals in space, and the first animal to orbit the Earth. A stray mongrel from the streets of Moscow, she was selected to be the occupant of the Soviet spacecraft Sputnik 2 which was launched into outer space on 3 November 1957. This really used to upset me whenever I heard about it on the news or heard adults talking about it. The thought of a tiny helpless dog being sent up into space seemed so unkind to me. I still don’t like to think about it.

After a week in orbit she was fed poisoned food, “in order to keep her from suffering a slow agony.” When the moment came, Russian scientists reassured the public that Laika had been comfortable, if stressed, for much of her flight, that she had died painlessly, and that she had made invaluable contributions to space science. So sad!

Image result for laika dog

Here is a list of some of the other notable firsts, creations and inventions from the 1950s.

Synchromesh gear changes  Invented in the 1920s but not used in cars until the 1950s. Before this invention, changing gear involved a process called double de-clutching where you went into neutral between each gear position.

Car seat belts. These arrived on the scene in the 1950s and were made a legal requirement in 1968.

Hula hoop These were invented in the 1950s and soon became a huge craze. I spent hours and hours hula-hooping. I loved it – and can still do it.

Organ transplant. This must be one of the most important firsts in medical history.

Pacemaker (internal).  Another amazing medical breakthrough. Before the 1950s there were pacemakers being used but they were external devices.

Not forgetting – Barbie, Colour TV, Tape recorder, Velcro, the Hydrogen bomb,  the Hovercraft, NASA.

The 1960s

And so to the 1960s. After the Soviet space dogs of the 50s (and, it seems there were dozens), the next step was to send a person into space. This time the plan was for him to return alive! I was in Primary school and was ten years old when the first human travelled into space. Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin was a Soviet pilot and cosmonaut. He became the first human to journey into outer space when his Vostok spacecraft completed one orbit of the Earth on 12 April 1961. Mr Lewis, the headteacher of my tiny school (approx 30 children ages 4 – 11), decided to buy the school its first TV in time for us to watch the launch live. It must have been a weekday between 9.00 am and 4 pm UK time and during a school term for this to happen. Given that many home didn’t have TVs in 1961 where I lived, you can imagine how exciting this was for us!

Image result for yuri gagarin

Eight years later, in 1968, Apollo 11 was the spaceflight that landed the first two people on the Moon. Commander Neil Armstrong and lunar module pilot Buzz Aldrin, both American, landed the Apollo Lunar Module Eagle on July 20, 1969, and Neil Armstrong became the first person to walk on the surface of the moon.

Image result for first moonwalk 1969

The Beatles were my first love in pop music. “Love Me Do” was their debut single backed by “P.S. I Love You”. When the single was originally released in the United Kingdom on 5 October 1962, it peaked at number 17.

Image result for the beatles    Image result for the beatles love me do vinyl single

My sister and I absolutely adored the Beatles. We knew the heights, eye colour, birthdates, likes and dislikes of all four of them We had Beatles magazines, Beatles jigsaws, Beatles badges and my sister even had a really dreadful Beatles wig. Made of moulded plastic it hurt her and forced her forehead into a frown – but she loved it!

Heart transplant. I remember this being massive news when it happened.  On 3 December 1967, Dr Christian Barnard transplanted the heart of accident-victim Denise Darvall into the chest of 54-year-old Louis Washkansky, with Washkansky regaining full consciousness and being able to easily talk with his wife, before dying 18 days later of pneumonia.

 

Christiaan Barnard 1969.jpg

First supermarkets in Britain.  In 1951, ex-US Navy sailor Patrick Galvani, son-in-law of Express Dairies chairman, made a pitch to the board to open a chain of supermarkets across the country. The UK’s first supermarket under the new Premier Supermarkets brand opened in Streatham, South London, taking ten times as much per week as the average British general store of the time.

Image result for premier supermarkets 1950s

Then there were these – Coco Pops, the audio cassette, the laser, the ring pull and Star Trek.

I’m sure readers of a similar age to me can think of many more!

 

 

Facts and statistics from my memory and from Wikipedia. Photos all sourced from the Internet. Anyone with any issues regarding my use of any photograph should contact me directly so that I can remove the offending item.

The Stories Behind the Brands

In the 1950s, in Britain and everywhere else, electrical good were still in their infancy. Most were home grown brands and were manufactured here. Some of those brands still exist but very few still manufacture in Britain.

In the 1950s, when I was child, if you had an electric kettle, it was probably a Russell Hobbs. Your iron and hairdryer would most likely be Morphy Richards and if you were modern enough to have a food mixer it would be a Kenwood. If I wanted to buy a new kettle today, I would go online or visit my local supermarket where I would have numerous brands to choose from and a multitude of styles.

I decided to look into the rise of electrical manufacturers and learned that Bill Russell teamed up with Peter Hobbs in 1952 and began by making a toaster, an electric iron and a then the first coffee maker with a keep warm function. In 1955 they made the world’s first automatic electric kettle.

Image result for 1950s russell hobbs kettle

Donal Morphy joined forces with Charles Richards in 1936  making first electric fires then irons. By the 1950s, many households had electric irons and most of them would have been made by Morphy Richards. When hairdryers became more common – I well remember our first one – they too were dominated by Morphy Richards. The company  was one of the few manufacturers to sell appliances with a factory-fitted BS 1363 plug before this became a legal requirement.

Image result for 1950s swan electric iron

Image result for 1950s Morphy Richards hair dryer A 1950s hairdryer exactly like the one we had.

When food mixers arrived on the scene here the household name was Kenwood. The name is from the manufacturer’s name which was Kenneth Wood. Kenwood began in 1947 and made toasters first then food mixers and processors.

Image result for 1950s kenwood mixer  I remember hearing about Kenwood Chefs but we didn’t rise to those dizzy heights. My mum had a small hand mixer like this one.

The main brand in TVs in the 1950s – when television was just a baby – was Bush. The company was founded in 1932 as Bush Radio from the remains of the Graham Amplion company, which had made horn loudspeakers as a subsidiary of the Gaumont British Picture Corporation. The brand name comes from Gaumont’s Shepherd’s Bush studios. From radios they moved on in 1950 to making TVs and in 1959 transistor radios.

Image result for 1950s Bush TVs

 

Roberts is British company which has been making radios for over 80 years   They made the first digital radio in 1999.

The Roberts Revival RD60 DAB was inspired by a handbag belonging to Harry Roberts’ wife Elsie. I have one of these and I didn’t know this!

Dansette was a British brand of record players, radiograms (remember them?), tape recorders, and radios, manufactured by the London firm of J & A Margolin Ltd, The first Dansette record player was manufactured in 1952 and at least one million were sold in the 1950s and 1960s. Dansette became a household name in the late 1950s and 60s when the British music industry shot up in popularity after the arrival of acts such as Cliff Richard, The Beatles and The Shadows. Teenagers would have used various Dansette players to take to and from parties to listen to the latest records.

Image result for dansette record player Everyone of my age remembers these!

 

 

In the early 20th century the company registered The Swan brand name. In the 1920s, the company began manufacturing domestic electrical appliances including kettles and irons. They pioneered the first electric element that could be immersed in water. This was a very important breakthrough because it meant that a whole 6 pints of water could be boiled in just over 9 minutes. This led to a whole range of products based around their “immersion element”, including tea urns, kettles, steamers and coffee percolators.

Later, they developed and patented a unique safety cut-out for kettles, where the connector would be automatically disconnected if the element overheated.

swan - heritage so elementary kettles

 

Before the 1950s most homes were heating their irons over the gas ring or still putting hot coal in them. I remember staying at my grandmother’s house and she would have two flat irons (non-electric). One would be doing the ironing while the other would be heating on a rack over the fire. When one cooled down it was replaced with the hotter one and put on the rack to heat.

 

Not strictly an electrical appliance but another household name was Ever Ready. When I was a child, most torches and batteries were made by Ever Ready. They also manufactured radios from 1934 up until 1964.
Image result for ever ready torches 1950s I had to put this one in – I had one EXACTLY the same in the 1960s!
Image result for Ever ready batteries 1950s and 60s

Make Do And Mend

Mending and repairing were everyday activities when I was growing up. I remember my mum darning socks and jumpers, shortening and lengthening skirts and trousers, replacing broken zips and my grandmother ‘turning’ collars. For those of you who don’t know what that means, it’s when a man’s shirt collar becomes frayed around the neck and you unpick the collar, turn it around the other way and sew it back on. Mums and grandmas sometimes unravelled an old knitted garment and re-knitted it into a new jumper or cardigan. I was taught how to darn by my mum as a young girl. She had a darning mushroom (the wooden item in the photos below) and I reckon most houses would have had one.

darning mushroom  sock darningDarningStep4-4

Even as recently as the seventies and eighties, I could still get small electrical items like kettles, radios and irons repaired at my local electrical repair shop. I once saw, in the eighties, an umbrella repair stall in a market in Cumbria. I doubt there are any of those anywhere here now.

People used to, and still can, buy new broom heads and handles, replace spade, shovel and hoe blades and handles. Although you can still buy decent brushes and brooms, there are many flimsier tools, with plastic handles and bristles, which just get thrown away when they have stopped being useful. There was a joke my dad used to tell;

‘This was my great-grandfather’s hoe. It’s had three new handles and four new blades.’

brush  plastic brush

One long-lasting, repairable and biodegradable, one flimsy and disposable.

The term tinker from tinsmith or tinsmithing was originally assigned to those working with tin who mended pots and pans. The words “tyckner” or “tinkler” were used in medieval Scotland and England for a metal worker. The term transferred to travellers who earned their way going from town to town and mending as they went.  These knife-grinders and  tinkers used to repair farm and garden tools, household utensils, umbrellas and chairs. This is how gypsies came to be nicknamed tinkers.

tinker knife grinder

Knife-grinders from the around the 1950s.

There are several factors here. The first one is that things were made to last in the old days from robust materials and by craftsmen and were worth repairing. Most modern day socks would not be worth darning as the fabric they are made from is flimsier and would not support a darn. Also, goods are so much cheaper now (relative to earnings) and far more plentiful so that in many cases it would cost more to repair the item than to buy a new one – even if you could find anyone with the skills to do the repair. Umbrellas, for example. Who wants to pay for a repair when you can buy a new one for £2 – 5? Where would you find an umbrella repairer, anyway?

When my mum and dad bought their first house, in 1955, the people moving out left their vacuum cleaner for us as they said it was getting old and not worth moving. My mum used it for decades As far as I remember, I last saw it in a rented flat of my sister’s in the late 1970s and still in use. My mum had a Hoover man who used to come to the house to do the occasional repair. It was more or less exactly the same as the ones in the pictures and those are described as being from the 1930s. The black canvas bag had the slogan ‘It beats, as it sweeps, as it cleans’ emblazoned on it in white, exactly as shown in the photos below.

hoover 3                               hoover750_1  DSC_3159

 

 

 

As usual, I credit Google images for my photographs. Anyone objecting to my use of an image can approach me directly and ask for it to be removed.

 

 

Libraries

I have loved books and reading for as long as I can remember. I was thinking about libraries the other day and I realised that I use libraries less now than ever before in my life. The reasons are the same as they are for everybody else –

I can now look things up myself on my phone, ipad and laptop using the mighty Google.

I can now buy second-hand books in charity shops for as little as 50 pence and also very cheaply online and often postage free.

New books, too, are extremely affordable when bought in supermarkets or online.

I can also buy e-books and read them on any of my electronic devices. (I don’t, because I still prefer books, but I could.)

It’s no wonder that libraries and independent bookshops are closing in Britain.

All through my childhood, teens, twenties and thirties, being a member of a library was very important to me. Wherever I lived, I joined a library, sometimes being a member of more than one at a time.

As a child in the 1950s, we went to the library whenever we were in the nearby town which was five miles away. Below is a picture of the building it was in – taken a bit before the 1950s! When I lived in that area the building housed the library , the Labour Exchange and my dad’s office – he worked for the Forestry Commission. Although there was no library in our village (it was tiny) there was a lady who lived in a little house next to a chapel who ran a small book lending system from her front room. The main library used to drop new books off with her every so often.

llandovery-clock-tower

What I remember about libraries in the old days (even though I loved them) is how quiet and serious they were. You absolutely did not make a noise of any sort or you would be told off. I loved them because I love books and reading but I can see how someone less committed to reading could have been put off by the interior of a library.

Library 1  Library 2

Above – the interiors of a couple of old libraries. The pictures can’t convey the deathly hush which prevailed!

library files      library book

The pre-digital way of book-lending.

I have no recollection of ever being asked to do any independent research for homework when I was in school – not even when studying for A-levels. Lessons were all based on notes dictated by the teacher then and on learning by rote – but that’s another blog post! While I was at university I preferred to do most of my work in the university library. This was partly so that I could use the reference books but also because the atmosphere was more conducive to study than a cold, gloomy student rented house.

Libraries now often have art or history exhibitions running, they have computers the public can use, they are bright, friendly and welcoming. The children’s sections have toys and games and regular organised activities. Yet libraries are still closing all over the country. Where they have been saved and continue to function, they are often rehoused in a smaller space in a new building. The one shown below is a Victorian library building near where I used to work. In spite of a well-fought campaign to keep it open, it was closed over ten years ago. I believe it now houses offices so at least it isn’t empty or worse – demolished. The new library which replaced it is in a modern purpose built community centre. Public lending libraries began here in Britain in the 1850s, the main pioneer being William Ewart. Since 2010, nearly 500 libraries  have closed in England, Wales and Scotland. Some libraries facing closure have been taken over by volunteers.

normy library

Finally, a nice little tale of recycling!

The iconic red telephone boxes found all over the UK are beginning to disappear but, thanks to a BT scheme called Adopt a Kiosk, many unused payphone kiosks have been transformed into libraries. This preserves the heritage of the red kiosk, particularly in rural locations and provides a library service in areas which lack one. Most of these libraries are left unlocked and are stocked by donations from local people. Anyone is free to borrow a book and donate a used book.

220px-Phone_box_library,_Whitwell,_IW,_UK    517d1d84e2bd9ff5150f1d852f0822bb--telephone-booth-free-library telephone-library-1

reading and And now, a few quotes about libraries:

Reading is an exercise in empathy; an exercise in walking in someone else’s shoes for a while. —Malorie Blackman

Whatever the cost of our libraries, the price is cheap compared to that of an ignorant nation. —Walter Cronkite

Libraries will get you through times with no money better than money will get you through times with no libraries. Anne Herbert.

Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body. —Joseph Addison

As usual, I would like to say that all images and facts used in this post have been gleaned from the Internet and are readily available. However, if anyone objects to anything in this post, for any reason, please contact me directly so that I can remove it.