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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

1950s Home Decor.

There is plenty of information available on the Internet about 1950s styles. Some are now being reintroduced as fashionable. I’m no style historian but I have very clear memories of the way things looked in my home and in other homes we visited. The photographs shown here are images which match these memories and I am in no way covering 50s styles completely.

Kitchens were not fitted, they had freestanding cupboards and cabinets. This is like the one we had. The middle section hinged out to make a working surface and I have very clear memories of being just the right (wrong) height to bang my head on the corner as I ran through the kitchen to go outside to play. In the middle is an image of the blue and white table ware which was very popular then – and is now quite collectible. We didn’t have a full service of it but I remember breakfast bowls and a milk jug. The clock is a popular 1950s style and was often seen on a kitchen wall.

1950skitchencupboardlarder               Cornish-blue-tableware.jpg           clocks 50s.jpg

lemon squeezer.jpg   50s tea set.jpg

Every kitchen had a glass lemon squeezer like this one – I now have (and use!) my mum’s. Tea and coffee sets with different coloured cups and saucers were briefly popular in the fifties and we had a set of six – I still have three or four of those.

The 50s was the era of spindly legged furniture. Those tapering legs looked so modern compared with the heavier 30s and 40s furniture which they replaced.

furniture  sofa

furniture 50s                   philips2 radiogram

The fourth item above is something called a radiogram, now an extinct species. Very cool at the time, they were basically a sideboard (everyone had sideboards then!) with a record player and a radio inside and cupboard space for records.

Making a quick visit to bedroom styles of the time, my main memory is of candlewick bedspreads. The one below is very similar to the ones I and my sister had on our bunks. We also had sheets just like the ones on the right. The close up gives an idea of the texture of candlewick – I can feel it now when I look at that! The stripes on the sheets  were known as candy striped and we had cotton in summer and lovely warm, cosy brushed cotton (flannelette) in winter.

c wick     cwick     sheets

 

Moving on to ornamental things, we really did have three flying ducks on the wall! i have managed to find pictures of some of the other things I remember us having. They now turn up in charity shops as bric a brac.

ducks.jpg   wade.JPG   china ornament

re pouf-600x600  This is a pouffe – very common then, less so now!

 

Finally, here are a few furnishing designs like ones I remember.

wallpaper.jpg     -1950s-wallpaper-custom-fabrics-lights-diamonds-183984      curtains    curtains 50s   lampshade x

1950s-atomic-ranch-house-atomic-retro-lampshade.jpg

There were also plenty of floral and striped designs around but these are the ones which were very much of the 1950s.

I will think about moving on to what I remember of 1960s styles next.

 

 

Nursery Rhymes

nursery rhymes

I grew up hearing, reading and singing Nursery Rhymes. I brought my daughters up knowing them all too. They are a part of our history. Talking with friends the other day I was lamenting the fact that many children starting school at four years old (in my school anyway – it could be different elsewhere) know hardly any of them. They might just know Twinkle Twinkle Little Star or Baa Baa Black Sheep but rarely more than that. I said that I would hate for them to be lost from out culture. A friend then pointed out that many of the words were, in fact, violent and dark.

When I thought about it I recalled cats being drowned in wells, choppers chopping heads off, babies falling out of trees, helpless blind mice having their tails cut off, robins being shot with bows and arrows, a boy and girl falling down a hill and the boy fracturing his skull and an overweight lad chasing little girls and trying to kiss them. I could go on!

Apart from the literal meanings, we now know that most of these rhymes refer to historical events and people, albeit in the form of a simple children’s rhyme. I won’t got into all the meanings and origins here, they are extensively covered in texts and on the Internet. I thought I would take a few of the ones I knew and loved best as a child and say whatever comes to mind.

HumptyDumpty

Humpty_Dumpty_1_-_WW_Denslow_-_Project_Gutenberg_etext_18546

One theory is that Humpty Dumpty was the name of a very large cannon used in the Civil War in Colchester in 1648 which fell off a church roof and become damaged beyond repair. That might or might not be true but what is known is that Lewis Carroll was the first person to illustrate Humpty Dumpty as a comical egg character.

Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary

Mistress_Mary,_Quite_Contrary_1_-_WW_Denslow_-_Project_Gutenberg_etext_18546

This was one of my favourites as a small girl. I think that was probably because it has such pretty girly images in the words! The Mary in the rhyme is reputed to be Mary Queen of Scots.

Old Mother Hubbard

Old_Mother_Hubbard_Illustrated.png

Until I researched this picture I hadn’t realised Old Mother Hubbard had so many verses! There is a cottage in Devon which is supposedly where the real Mother Hubbard lived. I always felt sorry for the poor dog. My daughters and I always refer to having a Mother Hubbard cupboard if supplies are running low and we need to go shopping.

Lucy Locket

lucy locket

When I was in primary school Lucy Locket was a circle game we played a lot in the playground. Lucy Locket and Kitty Fisher are believed by some to have been courtesans in the time of Charles II who had a quarrel over a lover.

Are nursery rhymes sweet and historical or are they gross and the stuff of nightmares?

I love them and think it would be very sad if they disappeared from children’s lives.

 

Things you don’t see any more – and things you don’t see so often.

  • Kids with bare knees in winter.

Boys wore short trousers until their teens – with knee length socks in winter, short socks in summer. Girls wore skirts and pinafore dresses all year with long (knee-length) socks in winter.

boys in shorts

 

  • Most adults wearing hats out of doors.

Whether it was a cloth cap for working outside or a trilby for walking to the shops or the office, men wore hats outside. It was rare when I was very young in the 50s to see a hatless man outside. The hats were always removed on entering a building. They were also removed if a funeral cortege went past. Women, too were rarely hatless. My mum had ‘best’ hats for church, going out hats for visiting people or going somewhere ‘nice’ and everyday hats for popping to the local shops. These came in winter and summer varieties. My grandmothers always had hat-pins in theirs!

hats

  • Women wearing gloves in summer.

When women went somewhere smart they wore gloves even if it was summer. Summer gloves were usually white or cream and made of cotton. I also remember me and my sister having to wear white summer gloves with our best spring outfits to church at Easter and Whitsuntide.

gloves

  • Bus conductors.

I lived in the country so visiting a town was exciting and going on a bus or a tram was part of the adventure. You entered at the back of the vehicle and the conductor came to you in your seat to sell you a ticket from his machine which he carried strapped to him.

conductor

  • Rag and Bone men.

This is another thing we didn’t see in the country but we did have one which used to go past my grandmother’s house which was in a town.When I was small I used to think he was shouting ‘Rainbow!’. What did they do with the bones, I wonder?

rag and bone man

  • Delivery vans selling practically everything.

We had each week (some came twice a week) – a butcher’s van, a bread van, a grocery van, a fish van and a pop van. My mum once cancelled a bread man because he used to put unwrapped loaves on the seat he had just been sitting on to drive while he got his change out.We were only allowed to have pop very occasionally as my mum was very careful with our teeth.

delivery van

  • Shopkeepers adding up on paper.

The tills didn’t add up in the old days. The prices of the items were jotted down in a column and then added up before being rung into the till. The paper they added up on was very often the top one of a pile of paper bags or sheets of greaseproof. My mum used to say she could add up a column of figures as quickly upsidedown as she could the right way up from years of keeping a close eye on the bill and making sure it was added up right!

 

Grocer

 

  • Kids climbing trees.

I, my brother and my sister spent half our childhood up trees I’m sure! I don’t ever remember falling or hurting myself.

tree climbing

  • Metal dustbins.

All bins were metal and were carried on the bin men’s backs and shoulders. Nothing was wrapped in bin liners in those days so they must have got pretty smelly at times!

bin men

 

************************

Home Made Clothes and Entertainment

When I was a teenager in the mid 1960s my friends and I were all caught up in the fashions and music of the times. We lived in a remote area,  money wasn’t plentiful and as we were still at school we didn’t have spending money apart from a bit of pocket money.

The latest single (known as a 45) was saved up for or, if you had a birthday coming, up you might be bought it as a present. At home, my dad bought a reel to reel tape recorder, I remember it was a Grundig TK14. We used to tape pop songs from the radio (I believe it was illegal but we didn’t know that) by holding the microphone near to the speaker of the transistor radio. The quality must have been terrible but we were happy! You had to be smart on the record button to make sure you didn’t get the presenter’s voice at the beginning and end of the song.

dansette01      TK14 good pic

My brother, sister and I used to have fun pretending to be radio presenters and putting our own commentary on the tape in between songs.

I loved Honey magazine and used to read each issue cover to cover many times. My mum was an excellent knitter and sewer and made most of our dresses, jumpers and cardigans. Once I spotted a delightful green dress in my magazine and showed it to my mum. She copied it for me by combining three different dress patterns and I was SO proud of it! I think I wore it all the parties and dances I went to that year. The picture and the patterns aren’t the actual ones but similar.

green dress                    Dress5                         mccalls-8755

I had a lovely pair of cream T-Bar shoes for best which I wore throughout one year with a camel coloured A-line dress. The following year camel was out and turquoise was big so I bought a Lady Esquire shoe dye and dyed the shoes turquoise. My sister and I also used to use Dylon dyes to give clothes a new look.

60s shoes                                     shoe dye

One winter, when capes were in fashion, I longed for one. My mum had an old policeman’s cape which had belonged to my dad’s policeman brother. She cut it down for me, put new fastenings on it and lined it with emerald green satin from one of her old dance dresses. I thought it was fabulous!

 

cape