Boys and Girls Come Out to Play.

First of all, apologies to all my followers, readers and fellow bloggers for a spell of silence! Due to a technical issue, I was under the impression I had published three posts since Children’s Favourites but was eventually informed by a reader that they hadn’t actually shown up in my blog! All resolved now, I’m pleased to say.

 

My idea for this post was to look at gender issues in the 50s and 60s in relation to children and to talk about how things have changed. I know things have changed but when I started looking into it I realised that there are still ‘boy toys’ and ‘girl toys’ and that many of them are very similar. I think children’s books is an area which has definitely changed for the better. Books for kids are now far less likely to tell stories about Tim helping Daddy to wash the car and dig the garden while Mary was washing up and dusting with Mummy.

I am not going to go into whether boys naturally prefer toy cars to dolls or whether they are given toys people think are gender appropriate. This is more of a reminiscing post so I will talk about the toys we played with in my childhood, show some adverts which now appear very sexist and hope to bring back a few memories for some of you.

 

Triang was a huge name in children’s toys in the UK and every boy (many dads too!) aspired to own a Scalextric set.

                  

Ah, Meccano! The main construction toy before Lego and a must for every boy.

           

Of course, girls became nurses and boys were the doctors – NEVER the other way around!

Well, I like the idea of bringing science into girls’ and boys’ play but . . . . a pink microscope?!

Girls baked, boys had adventures – in story books, anyway!

         

Girls appeared to be either pretending to be mums (kids still do that, of course!) or were having fun in boarding school!

                                         

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Good Old-Fashioned Soap and Water.

Soap is an essential item in everyday life but we don’t often look closely at its story. It has been around for thousands of years having first been used by the Babylonians and Sumerians. Soap has been important to us for many hundreds of years but not for cleanliness and hygiene; it was an essential part of the textile making process and was used to remove grease from wool and cloth ready for dyeing. By Victorian times, there was an increased awareness of the role of soap in the prevention of disease. Working class families used bars of carbolic soap for washing floors, clothes and bodies. In the late 1800s, branded soaps were arriving on the scene.

93c73029-4b12-4f70-82ff-313c5117b7f4              Unbranded carbolic soap.

soap_lifebuoy_85g             Lifebuoy soap.

 

Lifebuoy soap was one of the first, invented in 1894. By the 1930s it was sold in two sizes – the larger bar was known as Household Lifebuoy and was for cleaning homes and clothes. The smaller bar was for personal use.

By the 1950s, when I was a child, soap powder was available so clothes were no longer washed with bars of soap. My mum favoured Daz. There were milder, sweeter smelling toilet soaps available which were advertised as being good for the complexion.  Compared to using carbolic soap on the face, Palmolive, Camay or Pears must have felt luxurious. The ads would have had us believe that in order to achieve a perfect complexion all that was needed was the right soap! We always had Lux in our house.

Soap-Ad-1953         I still love the smell  of Pears soap.

Soap-Ad-1950

This is quite a claim!

 

e2d6b7ccb2d10919b426f530afa99361            soap          128a791b4706689570bb1db48ab3fc43

It all seemed to be about looking like a movie star and pleasing your man.

camay            l-nwgpwyqur95b7y        lux

There is now a bewildering amount of skincare products available. There are cleansers, toners, serums, night creams, rejuvenating creams, etc etc. The adverts still lead us to believe in the amazing properties of these products – but advertising laws are stricter now and the cosmetics companies can no longer make the claims that were made in the 50s and 60s.

f7f47eca698ffe5b31366f47db34264b      IMG_6033  silverberg-store-picture

Since this post has turned into a potted history of soap, I’m including a few advertisements from before the 1950s to entertain you.

Soap-Ad-1911           1911 – the earliest days of motoring.

Soap-Ad-1931       1931

Soap-Ad-1933     1933

 

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.

trifle                 carmelle

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.

dream topping     instant whip           ww240569angeldelight.jpeg

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!

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

img_0410

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.

             

The Books We Read and Loved.

I have talked about children’s books in the 50s and 60s before but this time I’m focusing on the ‘classics’. There were fewer books available then so those we had we read and re-read. They are still around but if they are known to children today it is more likely to be as a Disney film or a TV cartoon.

This is not an exhaustive list of classics from the time, it is a personal selection. I have limited it to the ones we had at home or borrowed from the library. As we were two girls and a boy, some of my favourite books were ‘girls’ books’ like Heidi. I remember less about the ones my brother read.

When we were still quite young my mum would read books like Alice in Wonderland and The Water Babies to us. Once old enough to read fluently I can remember losing myself in books like Black Beauty, The Children of the New Forest and The Secret Garden.

alice  I have such clear memories of our mum reading this to us before bed. We were in turn fascinated and horrified by it. Some of the images are pretty scary – a baby turning into a pig, for example!

black-beauty I absolutely adored this book! It is SO sad in parts! I pictured Squire Gordon as the kindest, most handsome man ever.

borrowers-mary-nortonMy sister and I were totally charmed by the Borrowers books. This was the first one then came The Borrowers Afield, The Borrowers Aloft and The Borrowers Afloat. Years later, as a teacher, I have read The Borrowers to children in my class and it still has a timeless appeal.

lion-witch-wardrobe-lewis      water-babies  As a child I was slightly disturbed by some of the weird things in these two books. I was easily scared I think and they had the same effect on me as Alice in Wonderland.

 

 

secret-garden What a lovely story this is! When I was about ten or eleven it was serialised on TV and shown at teatime on Sundays for eight weeks. The Sunday dramas were brilliant. Several of the books mentioned here were shown as TV serials in the 50s and 60s.

vintage-capt-marryat-children-of-the-new I remember when I was given this as a present my mum explained the Civil War to me in child’s terms. When we are young it’s difficult to picture the span of time and she told me years later that I completely misunderstood the time scale and asked her which side she’d been on!

little-princess-book-cover I’m fairly sure this was a Sunday afternoon serial on TV too but later than the 1960s.

 

poohbookcollectionThese were a huge family favourite! I think there were parts of some of them which the three of us knew off by heart.

heidi Oh, how I loved these books! I wanted to BE Heidi! I longed to live in a house with bedroom in a loft like Heidi’s. I read all three – Heidi, Heidi Grows Up and Heidi’s Children but my true love is the original Heidi.

Another book I really enjoyed was What Katy Did. There were two further books in the series – What Katy Did Next and What Katy Did at School.

katy

 

The following four photographs are showing the books I still have which were mine in my childhood and teen years. There are two showing spines only. This is because they have lost their dust jackets. In the ‘old’ days books had a paper jacket with a picture and writing on and underneath that was a plain cover with title and author on the spine. One of them is entitled Thunderhead and was written by Mary O’Hara. This was mine but had been my mum’s. It had been one of her favourite books as a youngster and she had kept her copy and gave it to me when I was old enough to enjoy it. It has her name and a date in 1947 written on the fly-leaf.

my-books           my-books-2

my-books3           my-books-4

These last few are just a collection of well known books from the time.

arabian-nights     secret-seven-on-the-trail     f-five     greengables26     littlewomen3-204x300

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

jumble-sale            jumble-sale-1

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!

whist-drive   beetle_game-card

poster

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!

dress                         dress-pattern

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!

quality-street         q-s

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.

carnival     three-leg-race three-leg-race

 

 

 

 

Things we didn’t realise were unsafe, dangerous or just plain inappropriate (non-PC!).

img_0311       These first three images come under inappropriate/ non-PC. Can you imagine letting a child have sweets which are pretend cigarettes now? I also remember that you could get pipes and pipe tobacco which were sweets.

img_0304    img_0309  These two speak for themselves. The Black and White Minstrel Show was huge in the UK in the 1950s – and, of course, every family had one of the ubiquitous gollies! Unimaginable now.

 

img_0303   Moving on to unsafe/ dangerous. I remember having a paraffin heater in the bedroom I shared with my brother and sister. We now know that there was a poisonous gas problem (carbon monoxide, in particular) with these but also a serious fire risk. In a cold winter with no central heating a paraffin heater was very welcome and comforting.

img_0307  I can remember helping a local farmer with his hay making. At the end of the day we children would be sitting on top of the pile of hay as the tractor pulled the cart down the lane towards the barn.

img_0308

I have covered this in a previous post but – yes, we did all have penknives as children.  We knew how to use them safely too!

img_0305  Cars didn’t have seat belts and children could sit in any part of the car – as in this picture.  I can remember my sister sitting on the bench seat in the front in beteeen my mum and dad on long journeys as she suffered with car sickness in the back.

 

img_0312

Finishing off with inappropriate/ non PC. Just why did everyone find it so hilarious to read about an overweight schoolboy who couldn’t run and who loved cakes? It seems so wrong now yet Billy Bunter was a part of our childhood in the 1950s.

Arts and Crafts for 1950s Kids

After too long a break I am back! This time I’m thinking about the large amount of art and craft activities we did as children in the 1950s. If it was dry we were outside, if it was a wet day or if it was winter and the evenings were dark we were inside and occupied with various games and activities – imagination games, board games, reading books and dressing up. One of my main memories however is of art and craft activities.

We always had paints, crayons and paper in the house. We also had a wide range of crafts we enjoyed, some were ones shown to us by our mum, others came in kit form. Art and craft kits were very popular gifts, especially for girls.

We all (including my brother) learned to knit very young and also to do cork work – known to many as ‘French Knitting’. My dad used to put metal staples into used wooden cotton reels for this activity and we made miles of the stuff using oddments of my mum’s knitting wool. The tubes of knitting produced have limited uses!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA       knitting-kits

Most of our activities were home-grown but here are some of the kit activities I remember being given as presents;

basket-weaving, raffia, plaster model making, painting by numbers and embroidery. My brother used to be given model soldiers to paint, Meccano and Airfix models to construct and paint.

basket weaving.jpg    beads   embroidery

paint-box

We always had Plasticine around too. We called it clay. It was SO hard to mould compared to modern materials such as Play Dough – but we didn’t know any different!

plasticine      sewing             vintage-1950s-mccalls-golden-make-it-book-kids-crafts   wood-burn   meccano  paint-by-number-kit

100-colour-paint-by-numbers-1950s-vintage-paint-set-top-best                  83501_toy_soldiers_in_boxes.jpg

I loved receiving a new paint tin as a present! The tins often had lovely pictures on the top. Best of all. however, was the inside with all the pristine squares of water colour paint each one with its name printed underneath it. I loved those wonderful words – Ultramarine, Burnt Sienna, Yellow Ochre, Cobalt Blue, Burnt Umber and Prussian Blue are some I remember well.

Bows and arrows, guns and penknives.

The subject of children playing with toy guns, knives etc. is a controversial one. Many parents will not allow their children to play with any toys resembling weapons. I am not going to explore the rights and wrongs of that here, my thoughts in this post are about the large number of toy guns, swords and bows with arrows we played with as children in the 1950s. We also had penknives, sheath knives and catapults (not toy ones).

First the toy guns. There was quite a choice! Cap guns had a little roll of paper with dots of gunpowder on. When you pulled the trigger a little metal hammer hit the gunpowder spot and there was a satisfying click followed by a puff of smoke and a lovely firework-like smell. Excuse my very un-technical description of the mechanism!                                               Pop guns fired out a cork from the barrel which was attached by a string so couldn’t actually hit anything but made a great noise.                                                                                              Potato or spud guns fired small pellets of raw potato. My memory of the details fails me a bit here but I believe the gun was pressed into the raw potato and a pellet was punched out ready for firing.                                                                                                                                                   Lastly, there were the water pistols. I never enjoyed playing with them as much as I didn’t like getting soaked with cold water!

 

potato gun.jpg                               pop gun 1

 

marshal-2 cap gun                                                   cap rolls

 

watergun03.jpg

 

To understand our love of toy guns, it’s important to remember how massive Westerns were at the time in the form of both TV series and films. Who remembers The Lone Ranger, Laramie, The Range Rider, Rawhide and Bronco? The gun-toting cowboys versus the arrow-firing ‘Red Indians’ were the stuff of our childhood – even here in the UK. As children we had cowboy (and cowgirl) and Red Indian dressing up outfits. Which neatly moves us on from guns to bows and arrows. The bought sets had suckers on the end of the arrows which would stick (if you were lucky!) to a door or window. The cheaper ones, however, were the ones we made ourselves using wood from hedges and trees. Willow was the most flexible for a bow I seem to remember.

 

bows and arrows 1                  bows and arrows

 

 

 

outfits.jpg                             lone ranger

 

50s toy sword

 

Whereas the guns were toys,  the penknives, sheath knives and catapults we had as children were real. It was the norm for kids, especially boys, to have a child-sized penknife. They might have been smaller than adult ones but they were nonetheless real. They were great for whittling sticks! Because we all had them, we knew how to handle them and not misuse them. The same applied to catapults. The picture shows a typical bought catapult but we also made them from twigs and small branches.

 

roy rogers penknives                         sheath knife

catapult

 

 

R.I.P. BHS – gone but not forgotten.

In the UK this week we have heard the sad news that the chain of shops known as BHS (formerly British Home Stores) closed all its stores yesterday for the last time. I wrote a blog post some months ago about shops and brands which are no longer around, so excuse any repetition but I felt I had to pay tribute to good old BHS. It is the latest in a long line of shops and cafes we in Britain grew up with which have now disappeared.

British Home Stores 1950s Cardiff

Here are some more.

Littlewood's,                                          richard shops

 

City Kardomah Cafe New Street Birmingham                        TimothyWhites

 

Wimpy             etam

dolcis          Home-and-Colonial-Store-Leek

 

johnmenzies        C & A

 

lewis'         army_store88

 

co-op        We still have Co-op supermarkets but there used to be Co-op departments stores too.

 

 

National Milk Bars      One for anyone else who grew up in Wales and remembers this chain with affection. This is the one in Machynlleth which I have been to many, many times and which only closed a few years ago.