Say Cheese!

Something which has changed immeasurably is the way we take photographs. Since the advent of digital photography the number of photographs we take has rocketed. They cost nothing so we take pictures of anything and everything, we send them to people instantly using a variety of means.

Back in the 1950s and 60s when I was growing up film was expensive and photographs were expensive to develop. We were careful with the photographs we took. I can still remember the excitement of a new pack of photographs to open – and the disappointment we felt if any of them hadn’t come out properly. Perhaps somebody had moved and the image was blurred, maybe the photographer’s finger was in the way, a shaft of light over-exposed the photo or it was too dark and no detail could be seen.

Film was delicate and had to be carefully inserted into the back of the camera and wound on with the camera closed. If light was allowed to leak into a roll of film the whole thing was ruined.

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My first camera was one of these Brownie 127s.

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These are the sort of cameras I remember adults using in the 1950s.

Originally the photographs were all black and white. The prints were often stuck into albums and in those days the albums had matt black pages. Gummed paper corners were bought to fix the photographs in a way that meant they could be removed. Notes on the photographs, if added, were written in white or yellow crayon. I didn’t see self adhesive photograph albums until the late 1970s.

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These are my two first photograph albums filled with photos taken with my Brownie 127 – which I used until 1974 when I bought my first SLR camera!

 

It was the 1960s before my dad started taking colour photographs and he favoured slides. He was a very keen photographer and took photographs of both the family and his work in the forests. When a new pack of slides arrived in the post it was always very exciting. We had a hand-held viewer which could be passed around but eventually my dad bought a projector. Until he could afford a screen, my mum used to hang a white sheet on the wall (walls all tended to be covered in patterned wallpaper then) and the pictures would be projected on to that with the lights off and the curtains drawn.

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My Dad’s first colour slide camera was similar to this and he used it for about twenty years. The flash wasn’t built in, you attached bulbs and a reflector to the top of the camera. Light meters were separate too and my dad had a hand held one a bit like the one on the left below. He would take a reading then set the shutter speed and the aperture manually.

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FullSizeRender Typical 1960s slide projector, screen and colour slides.

Perfume – or Scent as we called it then.

First of all, I want to say that I love perfume so the research for this post has been very enjoyable. I feel undressed without a hint of perfume about me, however subtle. I have been known to ask perfect strangers what perfume they’re wearing when I smell one I like on them.

Secondly, my friend Sue suggested this topic to me. Unfortunately, Sue is anosmic so has no sense of smell whatsoever, although she is able to remember the smells she used to like before losing the ability to smell them.

Here are a few quotes about perfume:

A woman’s perfume tells more about her than her handwriting. — Christian Dior

Perfume is the key to our memories. — The Perfume Garden

What do I wear to bed? Why, Chanel No. 5 of course. — Marilyn Monroe

Long after one has forgotten what a woman wore, the memory of her perfume lingers. — Christian Dior.

So, getting back to the 1950s and 60s. When I was a child we knew it as scent, not perfume or fragrance. It usually came in tiny bottles and was dabbed out direct from the bottle onto the skin. Always behind the ears and on the inside of the wrists. From being very young I was always intrigued by perfumes. Top of the range perfumes were around at that time – Chanel, Dior, Estee Lauder and Guerlain, for example. But none of the mums and aunts I knew in the 50s wore any of those. I’m sure they weren’t sold in your average small town Boots or chemist’s shop. So this is my own memory of perfume in the 50s, not a definitive history.

Many perfumes were simply flower perfumes. Probably one of the first I ever owned was a little bottle of Devon Violets bought in Devon with holiday spending money. Then there was Apple Blossom, English Lavender, Lily of the Valley (Muguet des Bois if you were feeling posh!) and various rose perfumes.

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There was also something known just as eau de cologne. I believe the one known as ‘the original eau de cologne’ is the famous 4711 which I didn’t come across until the 1970s. The non-specific eau de cologne I remember was splashed around by ladies in hot weather, dotted onto cotton hankies and dabbed on the temples if one had a headache.

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For going out, (which my mum and dad didn’t do very often!) my mum’s ‘best’ perfume was White Fire. If I smelled that now it would take me right back to my mum getting ready in a pretty 50s full-skirted dance dress, a stole and dabbing scent from her tiny bottle of White Fire. I have looked it up and it was made by Grossmith. They still make perfume and at some point there was talk of White Fire being re-released but as far as I can see it hasn’t been.

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The other ‘best’ perfume I remember my mum having in the 1950s was Evening in Paris which sounded so glamorous to me!

As children, we loved making perfume in the summer. We would gather up rose petals, crush them in water with a little salt then decant the resulting ‘perfume’ into old aspirin bottles or whatever we could find that was available. This was given as presents to our mum, our grandmothers and various other relatives – and was probably vile!

Moving on the men’s fragrances now and the one which springs straight to mind is Old Spice. Looking up the history of aftershave when researching for this post, I learned that aftershave began as an antiseptic to prevent nicks and cuts becoming infected, progressed to include skin calming ingredients to ease the sting of freshly shaved skin, then was enhanced by the use of perfume. Old Spice was launched in 1937 – as a women’s fragrance. Old Spice for Men arrived the following year.

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However, this blog is based on personal recollection and it seems to me that when TVs and TV advertising entered our homes men were suddenly exposed to ads for Old Spice aftershave featuring impossibly hunky men and rugged sailing ships. I know that in our house it was only after seeing the ads that we started buying our dad aftershave for birthdays or Christmas. I can also remember us thinking we were extremely modern when we bought our dad some pre-electric shave lotion when he acquired his first electric razor.

I will probably write a Part 2 at some point and talk about some of the new fragrances which came out in the 1960s.

The Dawn of the Packet Mix.

Another food post! This time I am looking at the instant food mixes which arrived during my childhood and were extensively advertised on TV and in women’s magazines. Preparing food for a family in the 1950s and 60s was hard work and totally dependent on what was available in the current season. Households in Britain at that time didn’t have freezers and many didn’t even have a fridge. Everything was made from scratch and there were no food processors or electric beaters either.The idea that one could produce a tasty dessert by adding milk to a powder and whisking must have seemed like magic. There were the cake mixes – one of our main brands was Green’s. They advertised that all you needed to add was an egg. I believe I have read somewhere ages ago that the manufacturers felt that if egg powder was in the mix so that you only needed to add water, the maker would not have felt as if she (well, it was always a woman!) was doing proper cooking. Adding an egg made it feel more like she was producing a home-made cake.

 

lemon meringuecake mix

I believe you made your own pastry base and meringue topping and the mix was for the lemon filling. The cake mix was usually Green’s. I think this photograph is 1970s.

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The trifle mix contained a few different sponge fingers and dry sachets for making jelly, custard and the fake cream topping. Sprinkles might also have been included. I think you provided your own fruit (tinned). The Carmelle pudding was an instant way of creating a creme brulee style dessert just by heating some milk and opening two sachets.

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Dream Topping gave you a whipped cream topping in an era when you didn’t often have fresh cream available- and in those pre-fridge days it was considered a step up from tinned cream! Before Instant Whip and Angel Delight there was only blancmange which was made by heating milk with cornflour, sugar and colouring. The thickened mix was poured into a mould, allowed to cool then turned out and eaten with fruit and jelly. Instant Whip and Angel Delight, on the other hand, only had to be whisked with cold milk eaten. Also, they were crammed full of chemicals to make them set and to make them taste extra sweet and fruity – so kids loved them.

 

smash    vesta        surprise peas

In the 1960’s instant mashed potato arrived on the scene. We Brits do like our mash and this saves all the peeling, boiling and mashing. Next came Vesta. In the 1960s we were beginning to be aware of food from other countries but few people had access to the real thing. It was the height of cool to be able to serve a curry in your own home! Surprise Peas were amazing at the time. Until the freeze-drying method of preserving peas was invented, the only way of eating fresh garden peas was in the pea growing season. The rest of the year the choice was either tinned peas or dried peas (soaked overnight and when cooked turned into what we know as ‘mushy peas’). Surprise Peas, when added to boiling water and cooked for a few minutes actually tasted exactly like real, fresh peas. Once domestic freezers became a common household object, these peas were superseded by frozen peas and are no longer available here.

The things to remember about the popularity of these early convenience foods are that

  • Preparing and cooking food was a time-consuming business in the 1950s
  • Ingredients were limited to what was available seasonally and grown in this country
  • TV advertising had just burst onto the scene and made these things look sophisticated, trendy and modern so people wanted to try them

Now many people look down on instant food but then it was novel and the height of cool. I remember my mum trying some of them out (probably when we children clamoured for them after seeing the ads!) but she always said that for a family of five on a tight budget things like Smash, Vesta and cake mixes were totally impractical as the portions were small and it worked out more costly than making the food yourself.

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!

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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.
                        

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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.

             

Social Events and Fundraising in the 1950s

It occurred to me the other day that there are things which used to happen when I was a child which I never hear about these days. That might sound odd. I’ll try and explain what I mean!

In our village, which was tiny, (the village school had just under 30 pupils, that should give you an idea) the school building was used as a village hall. There was always a big New Year’s Eve party held there which started very early with games for the children then a tea and went on until midnight. Later in the evening various people would sing, recite or play the piano.

Every so often there would be a fundraising event held on a Saturday afternoon – perhaps by the WI or the Young Farmers. Whatever body was organising the event the people helping and those attending were always the same. The whole village would be there. I never hear of anyone holding a Sale of Work now or a Bazaar. I think the bazaar was what is also known as a jumble sale and they don’t seem to happen anywhere any more either. A Sale of Work was what might now be called a Craft Fair with goods and produce made and sold by the villagers. Refreshements at all of these affairs was always the same. Massive urns of tea, juice for the kids, sandwiches and home-made cakes. All the food was made at home by the women of the village and served up by them at long trestle tables.

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Two popular events were Whist Drives and Beetle Drives and they don’t seem to be around much nowadays either. My grandmother who lived with us loved these occasions!

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My mum and dad rarely went out apart from to the village events I’ve just described but two or three times a year they would go to a ball in the nearby town. I think today’s equivalent would be a ‘dinner and dance’but then they were known as balls. I remember that the three main annual events which everyone went to were The Mayor’s Ball, The Police Ball (odd, as we only had one policeman!) and the Firemen’s Ball (our firemen were all voluntary and part time and did other jobs). I loved to see my mum and dad getting dressed ready for a ball. My mum would make herself a new dress, always full skirted and knee length, my dad would wear a dark suit and black shoes. I thought they were SO glamorous! These balls were held in either the Assembly Rooms or the Church Hall so no marble pillars and chandeliers!

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Each year in the summer small towns and villages held a carnival. Our village one always had a fancy dress parade first which assembled in the school playground and walked down to the field where the carnival was held. All generations could dress up for the parade. Some years my mum, dad, my brother, sister and I all dressed up. I can still remember some of the outfits we wore – all made by my mum. This photo shows me and my sister, three years younger than me, dressed up as the couple on the Quality Street tin – which was an iconic image of the time. My mum was an excellent seamstress and made the costumes. There wasn’t any spare money for expensive materials so my inventive mum made the costumes on her Singer sewing machine out of crepe paper. My sister was holding a Quality Street tin – I suppose that was in case anyone didn’t get what we were dressed as!

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I’m sure there would have been a few very simple stalls on the field – cakes, drinks, raffle, tombola etc but the thing I remember best and loved is the races. Children ran normal running races but in addition there was always an egg and spoon race, a wheelbarrow race, a three-legged race and a sack race. We loved them! I believe three-legged and wheelbarrow races are now considered dangerous for children and aren’t seen anywhere.

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Keeping Clean

I was cleaning yesterday and, as I rummaged through my cleaning cupboard, looking through my vast array of sprays, wipes and cloths, it occurred to me that this is yet another way in which life has changed immeasurably since the 1950s. I’m calling this post ‘Keeping Clean’ because I’m looking at household products and toiletries.

I have often mused on the fact that everything is branded nowadays. We don’t just have milk, distributed by our local farm or dairy. We have the choice of branded milks – Cravendale, Arla, Dairy Crest. Water doesn’t only come out of taps, we can choose Evian, Volvic, Buxton, etc etc. In my childhood, dusters, dishcloths and floor cloths were unbranded and bought in a local hardware shop. Dusters were always yellow and square, floor and dish cloths were white cotton and sold in a roll to be cut into handy lengths.In our house, floor cloths were always recycled old vests discarded by the family when too small or worn. Everyone wore vests then, they were always white cotton and made ideal cleaning cloths. We now have a bewildering assortment of wipes and cloths to choose from – J-cloths, many brands of sponge and microfibre cloths, and even branded dusters e.g Swiffer!



Cleaning products tell the same story. In the very olden days, people used generic substances like carbolic soap, beeswax and bicarb. In the 1950s there were brands to choose from but far fewer than now. People had brand loyalty too. My Mum preferred Daz washing powder, other households used Omo or Persil. I remember Mansion Polish, too and Dura-Glit for cleaning brass. There was no fabric conditioner so, although I don’t remember thinking this at all, towels must have been hard and scratchy after being dried out on the line.

In the world of toiletries, too, there were fewer brands. We always had Gibbs SR toothpaste and Lux soap, some preferred Imperial Leather, Pears, Colgate or, from the early 60s, Signal. What did the SR in Gibbs SR stand for, by the way? Dry skin was moisturised with Nivea or Ponds. There was no such thing as hair conditioner then and getting a comb or a brush through wet hair after washing was a nightmare, especially long or curly hair.