Sounds of the 50s

This will be an odd one to write as it is to do with sounds and therefore does not lend itself as much to the visual element of a blog post. You will need to use your imaginations and,  if you date back to those times, your memories.

SHOPPING.

It occurred to me the other day when I was shopping in a local town that shops have a completely different sound to them now from when I was a child. I can’t climb back into those times and listen but here are some of the things I thought of which have changed.

Music. I don’t remember shops of any sort playing music in the store. Now most of them seem to. Some of them even have their own radio stations! I know Topshop had a very well known radio station for many years. Others which have or did have their own stations include Ikea, Debenhams and Asda. Announcements of special offers and new lines are frequently broadcast over the sound system in large supermarkets.

Tills. In any shop or restaurants these days the bleep is the normal sound of the tills. Bleep as each item is scanned, bleep as the amount is totalled, bleep when payment is entered, bleep for change and receipt. They are so low level and so universal that we don’t even notice them any more. Old fashioned tills had a loud ker-ching noise and a metallic clang as the drawer opened and shut.

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Examples of 1950s tills compared with a modern one

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Pneumatic Change Machines. Occasionally, on our shopping trips to a larger town or city, I would be overwhelmed by the sheer size of department stores. The different floors, the sales assistants in their neat uniforms, the lifts with uniformed attendants operating them and especially by the pneumatic cash tubes which dispensed your change and your receipt.The bill and your payment was sealed in a canister and posted into a tube. There was a whooshing noise and the canister was sucked into a network of tubes. Minutes later the case would be dropped back to the assistant with a receipt and any change due enclosed. I have had a lot of fun researching the pneumatic tube system. I thought it had disappeared but have learned that some hospitals now use the system to send materials – notes, medication etc around the building to different departments.

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The case in which money and paperwork was sealed to be sent along the tubes.

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The bit we didn’t see behind the scenes!

Shop doors.

Most shops were small independent shops. The classic sound of a small shop was the bell (they all seemed to have the same sound) which rang when the door was opened and alerted the shopkeeper.

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Markets.

One kind of shopping which has sounded exactly the same for probably hundreds of years is the market. No piped music, no traffic noise, stall holders calling out their goods for sale and special offers.

vk_jorvik_marketplace     canal-street-market

Viking market.                                         Victorian market.

JS46380121      Broadway street market in the East End of London

1950s market.                                            Present day market.

ROADS AND RAILWAYS  – AND AIR TRAVEL!

Pedestrian crossings didn’t bleep. Car engines were noisier and there was often that dismal noise of a car failing to start while the driver turned the ignition key again and again. Some cars now such as the electric ones are almost completely silent.

As for pedestrians, we are all used to the bleeping crossing we have now. In the 50s there was only ‘Zebra Crossing’ with the Belisha Beacon and the black and white stripes.

belisha-beacon-300x196           High Street (2745) (Old) Antrim H1

Let’s not forget the chug of a steam driven train and the noise of the whistle – sounds which are guaranteed to make anyone of my age feel nostalgic!

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The sound of aircraft in the sky above is a common occurrence. Even if you don’t live on a main flight path you will hear regularly light aircraft and helicopters overhead. It was a novelty back in the 1950s although I do have a memory of the very occasional deafening boom and being told it was a plane breaking the sound barrier. I have no idea if that was right. Our valley was used for test flights by the RAF so we did have pairs of fighter planes zooming up in between the hills from time to time.

RADIO AND TV.

Whenever I come across and old clip of 1950s radio and TV broadcasts I am struck by two things – the quality of the sound and the accents of the presenters. We sometimes fail to realise how much progress has been made in a few decades of sound production. Radio broadcasts from the 50s now sound so crackly! Even 70s and 80s broadcasts sound poorer if we listen to them now. In Britain at that time, and well into the late 60s, early 70s, presenters had extremely posh accents. Indeed, a ‘cut glass’ English accent is still often referred to as a BBC accent (the BBC being the only broadcasting company here at that time).

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KITCHENS AND COOKING.

There is a lot more bleeping in kitchens these days! The bleep of the microwave, the bleep when the dishwasher has finished, the timer on the oven etc. Fridges are quieter, there is often the whirr of a food processor or the hum of a washing machine or dishwasher.

COMMUNICATION.

Phones only had one sound – no choice of ‘ringtone’ then! Sometimes you could be walking past a call box and hear it ring. People without house phones would give out the box number to friends and family for arranged times so that they could keep in touch. Doors mostly had knockers or just a door to knock on. If there was a doorbell, they all had the same sound. Nobody had burglar alarms or car alarms. Church bells were a familiar sound everywhere. Now many have now been silenced sometimes as a result of health and safety surveys, sometimes because of complaints from residents nearby. Households now have the sound of email and text messages from mobile phones, laptops and PCs and printers. Electronic gadgets have changed how we check the time. Back in the 50s, if a clock or watch stopped and you needed to check the time, you could call the ‘Speaking Clock’. A well-spoken man (it was always a man in those days!) would tell you the exact time to the second. In our house it was as a last resort only as there was a charge. Sounds which typify today are the ubiquitous ring tones of mobile phones and the sound of people walking along by themselves and deep in conversation on them.

 

A few other things I’ve heard about even if I didn’t experience them personally (because I lived in a remote farming area) are:

Rag_and_Bone_Man,_Miall_Street,_Rochdale,_Lancashire_-_geograph.org.uk_-_192836

The rag and bone man who drove along in his horse and cart calling out ‘rag and bone’ – I heard it occasionally when we stayed at my grandmother’s as she lived in a town.

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The hooter signalling the start and end of the shift at the mills.

 

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Thermos Flasks, Primus Stoves, Deck Chairs, Postcards and Scotch Eggs.

This post is about holidays and day trips and the things we did, ate and took with us then which are not heard of now. It was prompted by a thought about postcards. With so many other ways of communicating now, the humble postcard is a shadow of its former self. When I was a child we had a two week summer holiday every year. I have very clear memories of my mum writing loads of postcards. She would take her address book and her card list – I’m pretty sure it was the same list as for Christmas cards – and would spend ages working her way through the list of contacts. We children were encouraged to send postcards to school friends. Back at home, postcards would arrive all summer. Friends and neighbours who didn’t go away on a holiday (many were farmers and couldn’t leave the farm) would send one from a place visited for the day in the school holidays.
Postcards mostly fell into two main types – examples are shown here – the views and the humorous ones. Until I moved to Yorkshire I had no idea that the ubiquitous ‘saucy’ postcard, seen all over the UK, originated in the town of Holmfirth. I remember browsing through them in newsagent’s shops and the humour going right over my head!

pc-porthcawl50s     cleethorpes-winter-gardens-1950s-1-large

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A feature of holidays and day trips was the picnic. In the 1950s there were no cool boxes, cling film or plastic sandwich boxes. People in general didn’t have the spare cash for cafe stops and there were no fast food outlets apart from chip shops. When a family went out for the day they took a picnic which consisted of some or all of the following

Note – this is a very British list and will probably bear no relation to memories from other countries and continents.

sandwiches wrapped in greaseproof paper

hard boiled eggs

scotch eggs

tomatoes

cold sausages, sliced ham, pieces of pork pie

fruit

cakes or buns

tea

The last item is, of course, peculiarly British.  How could a family pass a whole day without tea? It was unthinkable! The only way to have tea to drink with your picnic was either

a. to take a Thermos flask

b. to take a camping stove (Primus) and kettle and brew up.

Plastic picnic ware was not around in the 50s. The standard unbreakable picnic mugs and plates were known simply as enamel and were metal (tin?) with a white enamel coating and a blue trim.
                        

 1950_s_boxed_thermos_flaskcu4                                  

We had a gadget – pictured here – which made toasted sandwiches. Back then the ubiquitous toasties and panninis were not heard of. We made cheese on toast at home and that was the nearest. This tool, however, was brilliant for providing some warm food at a picnic on a cold day – a feature of British summers! You take a normal sandwich, place it in between two iron plates on the end of a pair of tongs, squeeze the plates together and hold over the flame of a Primus stove.  Result – one perfect toasted sandwich! These were the first toasties I ever ate.

              

There is now a vast array of lightweight foldable chairs and tables for outdoor eating.  They are easily stowed in the boot of a car. When I was a child there were deck chairs made of wood and canvas which were available to rent for the day on beaches or were kept at home for use in the garden.  What we all did then was to take ‘picnic blankets’.  Woollen and usually tartan, these would be spread on the grass or sand for everyone to sit on and eat their picnic.  If the picnic was by the sea or a river a towel was always there to dry any feet which went paddling. The picture shows a typical 50s towel. It’s only when you see one that you realise how even towel styles change with time.

             

Transport

   

    
My memories of car travel in the 50’s includes – and this is a child’s view, so there will be no observations on models, performance etc – bench seats in the front, handbrake coming out of the dashboard, the dip operated by a pedal on the floor, indicators which stuck out at the side of the car, no seat belts, no car radio, older cars being mostly black and smelling strongly of leather, frequent breakdowns.
My sister, the youngest of three often sat in the front on the bench seat in between Mum and Dad. At the top of a steep hill – and I grew up surrounded by hills! – there were always cars pulled over with the bonnets up and steam escaping from the engines. On long journeys, there being no in-car entertainments, we sang songs, played games and spotted things to tick off in our I-Spy books. The books were small and perfect for taking on a walk or a journey. My favourite of the ones we had was I-Spy The Unusal.
In the 60’s there were cars with individual car seats, wider rear and front windscreens, blinking indicator lights instead of flag ones sticking out and more colours including, I remember, some two-tone cars. As kids we spent hours playing outside in the mud and dirt with our Dinky, Corgi and Mathboxcars. We were impressed with the new two-tone look and used Airfix model paints to give our cars a more fashionable look. If we still had them, and we don’t, they would be worth nothing. Unlike the pristine ones in their boxes which can sometimes be seen on programmes like Flog it and Antiques Roadshow. But we had many hours of fun with ours so no regrets there!

in the 60’s came seat belts and reversing lights.  When reversing, the driver switched the reversing light on and had to remember to switch it off or risk getting a £50 fine! I remember this particularly because it was a recent development when I was first learning to drive in 1968.

This is all from my childhood memories.  I haven’t looked anything up (apart from the photos) so I’m sure there will be some slight inaccuracies. My intention is to spark off readers’ own memories of motoring in those two decades.

Although I called this post Transport, so far I have only covered cars. I will re-visit soon with more about trains and buses.