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:

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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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Things We Never Even Dreamed Of In The 50s and 60s.

Phones you can carry around with you, that take pictures and can make video calls.

When we had our first telephone connected in our home I was about six years old. It was SO exciting! Our number was 9 as we were the ninth telephone in the village. It was heavy, black and was connected to the wall in one corner of our lounge. Not everyone had a camera and now we walk around with phones in our pockets which can take pictures too – as well as a multitude of other amazing things! I remember fantasising with my brother and sister about phones of the future. ‘What if you could see the person you were talking to as well! Just imagine!” Now children are growing up with Skype and Face Time and think nothing of it.

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Instant access to information of any sort at your fingertips.

When I was young, and indeed right into adulthood, if you needed to find something out you looked it up in a reference book. If you didn’t have one at home – in an encyclopedia, atlas, dictionary etc – you went to your local library. Now we can turn on a laptop or whip a phone out of our pocket and find out what we need to know instantly.

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Posting parcels in pharmacies, newsagents etc.

This is in here because I had to post a large parcel last week. Here in the UK, Royal Mail were the one and only postal service in the 50s and 60s. My parcel would have cost a fortune via The Post Office (who I normally use) so I researched couriers. I used a well known courier firm and located a convenient drop off point which happened to be a small pharmacy a few miles from where I live. It felt strange to be at a pharmacy counter, next to people picking up prescriptions and buying aspirin, to hand over my parcel.

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Cars with radios which can also tell you which way to go.

Radios years ago were too big and cumbersome to be carried around and most also needed to be connected to mains electricity. Being able to listen to the radio in the car wasn’t something which ever occurred to us as a possibility. My first car radio was bought as a separate item and had to be fitted in to the car. As for Sat Navs! We had maps, road atlases and, in our family, an AA Handbook which came with membership of the AA breakdown service and contained a wealth of information about anywhere you wanted to visit. The idea of a voice reading out directions as you drove along would have been completely unbelievable in my childhood – or even twenty years ago!

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People saying that red meat, bread, wheat, dairy, tea, coffee,sugar etc etc is bad for you. 

First of all, I do know that we are now far better informed about allergies and about food which is better taken in moderation. What makes me smile is that back in the 1950s, these things were the staples of life and were all considered to be ‘good food’. My grandmother on my dad’s side loved feeding people up and really did think that sugar was ‘good for you’. She would be more than a little puzzled to see the complicated labels on food now.

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Clothes made overseas which can be bought for less than it would cost you to make them.

In my childhood nobody we knew could afford to buy all their clothes in shops. My mum made most of our clothes and evenings were spent knitting or using her sewing machine. By the time my children were in school it was cheaper to buy ready made clothes than to knit or sew your own. Mass-produced knitwear and cheaper synthetic fibres meant that it cost me far more to go into a wool shop and buy the yarn to knit a sweater. I still enjoy knitting but as an enjoyable pastime rather than an essential.

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Flying being commonplace and affordable.

Nobody I knew flew in my childhood. I used to see planes in the sky but I never considered that ‘normal’ people might one day be using aircraft as a means of travelling to visit family or go on holiday.

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Buying things with a piece of plastic.

Back in the 50s and 60s, we had cash and we had cheques. I remember my mum and dad using cheque books in shops when we occasionally did a ‘big shopping trip’ such as to buy new winter coats and shoes. The rest of the time it was notes and coins. Cheque books looked like the above for many years (courtesy of Wikipedia) with the diagonal lines across and the account holder’s address always written on the back in the presence of the shopkeeper. I would now struggle to find my cheque book although I do have one somewhere!

I remember the first TV ad I saw for a credit card. It was a Barclaycard advert and it featured a girl in a bikini heading out to the beach and shops with just a rectangular piece of plastic tucked into her waistband.

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Buying things without even plastic.

My 2017 self can now purchase a huge range of goods – including rail and plane tickets from my Smart Phone or laptop.

 

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.
                        

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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.