An Insight into CHILDHOOD IN 1950S BRITAIn
Emerging from the ravages of the Second World War, the resulting camaraderie, and the patriotic feelings for the country, British families worked together through the highs and lows of the 1950s. Although brief, this blog aims to provide an insight into childhood in 1950s Britain.
POST WAR BRITAIN
There is no doubt that the war had a long-lasting effect on families in Britain. Families, torn apart by death, evacuation, and the departure of American and Canadian service men, took time to adjust. Many children grew up in fatherless homes and the divorce rate increased as people struggled to adapt to life after war. In addition to this, despite the war ending in September 1945, some rationing continued for a further 9 years. Children waited until February 1953 before the rationing of sweets and confectionary lifted. Rationing of sugar followed just over six months later, in September 1953. However, rationing for meat, and other limited food items, remained in place until July 1954.
CHILDREN’S HEALTH AND DIET
Despite the rationing and austerity experienced in the early 50s, it is widely believed that the diet of young children then, proved far healthier than children’s diets today. Indeed, a study by the Medical Research Council, in the late 1990s, found the nutritional intake of 1950s children to be far superior to that of comparable children in the 90s. 1950s children ate far higher quantities of milk, bread and vegetables, therefore increasing their intake of calcium, fibre and iron. They consumed far less sugar too!
Until the mid 1950s, eating out remained a luxury for the upper classes. However, the introduction of American styled burger bars by Wimpy in 1954, brought change to British families. Teenagers, for example, loved the hamburgers and milkshakes these exciting new venues offered! An influx of migrants from Hong Kong also introduced the British to the delights of far eastern cuisine. Even Billy Butlin introduced chop suey and chips into his holiday camps in 1958!
Political social changes, at the back end of the 1940s ensured that the health and well-being for everyone began to improve. Children had free access to health care in the 1950s, thanks to the establishment of the National Health Service in 1948. A mass vaccination programme in 1958 endeavoured to vaccinate all children under the age of 15 against polio and diphtheria. The introduction of anti-biotics also helped to control and indeed eradicate some diseases like tuberculosis.
A NEW MONARCH
After the sudden demise of the much-loved King George VI, a new monarch took to the throne. The coronation of Queen Elizabeth II took place on 2nd June 1953 at Westminster Abbey. The BBC televised the event. However, many families did not own a TV set, so some rented one, whilst others watched with friends and neighbours. The BBC recorded the event both in colour and black and white (most families watched on the latter format). Those with no access to a TV, listened to the radio! The whole of Britain joined the celebrations. Streets and towns displayed bunting and flags. Street parties brought families together and despite the typical British weather (it poured down at the coronation); everyone had a wonderful time!
Britain experienced a post-war baby boom. As a result, particularly in urban areas, class sizes grew. In some cases, classes held as many as fifty pupils at a time! Schooling concentrated primarily on the three ‘R’s, reading, writing and arithmetic. Students learned with a blackboard and chalk. Discipline certainly differed from today too! Children deemed to be ‘naughty’ received corporal punishment. Boys often felt the thrash of the cane, girls a rap of ta wooden ruler against their knuckles! The free milk policy introduced in the 40s continued, ensuring every child had their daily fill of calcium!
Children began school usually at the age of 5. As part of the Tripartite system, they sat an 11 plus exam. According to how successful they were, students then progressed to, grammar school, the secondary technical school (not in all areas) and the secondary modern school. The general leaving age for school remained at 15, although reviews of this began at the end of the decade. As most children walked to school and traffic levels rose, an act in July 1953, introduced the first school crossing patrols!
ADVANCES IN TECHNOLOGY
Advancements in technology helped to improve life at home for many families. At the beginning of the decade, women, now encouraged back into the home to be mothers and housewives, often spent up to 70 hours a week doing their chores. Labour saving devices like washing machines, vacuum cleaners, food mixers and freezers all helped to make life easier. By the end of the decade, women enjoyed more free time. Some women looked to increase family income by taking on part – time job roles giving families, and their children, more money to spend on luxuries.
An archived report from 1950 stated that only 46% of English homes had bathrooms. Most used tin baths and outdoor toilets! Up to 10% of homes in the Midlands, Wales and the South and East of England didn’t even have plumbed in water. Filling baths with water heated in pans and kettles took a lot of time and effort, with families sharing bath water in a set pecking order. Slowly, with government grants, clearing of slums and regeneration of badly bombed areas, houses with indoor plumbing became more available to all. However, even by the mid 1960s, 25% of British houses still lacked an indoor toilet or bathroom!
PLAY AND WORK
We’ve tried to give you an insight into childhood in 1950s Britain, however, for those that grew up during this period, this may be the most important section!
Children in the 1950s certainly knew how to enjoy the great outdoors! From climbing trees, go-karting, hopscotch, football, cycling and adventures in the woodland, children enjoyed freedom. With far less traffic on the roads and no sense of health and safety, children, with a packed sandwich in their pockets, disappeared for the day for fun and adventures and returned when it got dark, or they got hungry! Just think about Enid Blyton’s Famous Five adventures! Children had great respect for their elders too and people in authority like teachers, policemen and park keepers. They knew that if they mis-behaved it was quite normal for someone to give them a ‘clip behind the ear’!
Plastic toys became popular in this decade. Cheap and readily available, plastic helped to increase the range of toys available to a wider market. Toy farm sets, garages, dolls houses, and even Barbie, all appeared in the toy stores! Children loved to emulate their heroes too, like Roy Rogers and the Lone Ranger! Saturday morning visits to the cinema helped to make these characters popular with the masses, so western outfits and guns often appeared on a child’s Christmas list!
From the age of 15 children went to work. The birth of the teenage culture began in this decade too! Older teenagers enjoyed another export from America, rock and roll! This music brought colour, excitement and dancing into their lives. Films, like rock ‘Around The Clock’, had eager audiences, keen to enjoy the music of Bill Hayley and his Comets! Teddy boys appeared among the working class youths and music fed the soul!
We hope our blog has given you an insight into childhood in 1950s Britain. Here at Sweet and Nostalgic we are passionate about celebrating the nostalgia of our past. Find more gift ideas from the 20th Century at our online shop.