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Memories of Childhood in England During the 1950s

Author:

Glenis, a child of post-war Britain, has a B.A.Hons. in English Literature. She is currently working on her memoire.

Age 5, photographed by a travelling door-to-door photographer

Age 5, photographed by a travelling door-to-door photographer

Quiet Sundays in an English Market Town

When I was a young child traffic in my hometown seemed to come to a standstill on Sundays. The United Kingdom was a Christian society and Sunday was a day of rest. I clearly recall my cousins and I stopping in our tracks on the way to Sunday school to gaze at a black car tootling slowly along the road. It seemed so remarkable that I later told my mother, who said that it was probably a doctor on his way to attend a patient.

Religious Observance in 1950s England

The Bible tells that God made the Earth in six days and on the seventh day he rested. So, following the lead of our Maker, we were not allowed to play out in the street with friends. In my family this proscription must have been more about observing convention than religion, because the only times I can recall my parents setting foot inside a church was when there was a wedding or funeral to attend. But, although ours was not a family of church-goers’ my father taught me to say a bedtime prayer, followed by a wish for God to bless a list of family members.

As I lay me down to sleep

I pray the Lord my soul will keep

If I die before I wake

I pray the Lord my soul will take

Retrospectively, I am sure that memories of the Second World War, service in the Royal Navy, and German bombing of our town were still vivid in his mind in those days.

We children were despatched to non-conformist Sunday school in the mornings. Dressed in our Sunday-best clothes, my younger sister and I, after a detour to pick up four little girl cousins, trooped to Barnbygate Methodist Church. That was before we became old enough for our parents to pay attention to our protests.

Keeping in Touch With People Oversees in the 1950s

Invariably, when I returned home from Sunday school the wireless was playing and Mum was singing along to Two-Way Family Favourites as she prepared lunch. These were the times of National Service - the BBC broadcast touching messages via the British Forces Network to and from loved ones serving overseas in the armed forces. No computers or cell phones for Facetime or Zoom calls in those days! Communication beyond our shores was mostly written - on flimsy blue airmail stationery.

The Pleasure of Reading

There was no tv in our house until I was ten years old. I was encouraged to read. My mother had taught me to read before I started primary school. I spent hours during Sundays immersed in books. Each week, after work on Friday, Dad perched me on a child's seat attached to the crossbar of his bike and we rode to the public library. He later enrolled me in the Children's Book Club, which delivered one book each month, at the cost of two shillings and sixpence. My sister and I eventually had so many books that we spent an afternoon pretending to be librarians and indexed them all. After I had raced through the book of the month, there was the children's library in town, which I visited every Saturday when I was old enough to be allowed to walk there alone.

Sunday Observance and the Shops Act of 1950

The Shops Act of 1950 prohibited shops, with a very few exceptions, from opening. It was not until 1994 that Sunday trading became legal. Licensing laws restricted the Sunday opening hours of public houses to 12 -2 p.m. (Dad, like many other working men, often went out for a lunchtime pint of beer and game of dominoes with a neighbour on Sundays) and from 7-10 p.m. in the evening.

Traditional Sunday Lunch in England

In the 1950s, unlike nowadays, beef was cheap - chicken was a free-range luxury eaten at Easter. Sunday lunch (called dinner in our house) was always a roast joint, usually beef with Yorkshire puddings and vegetables from the garden, followed by a fruit pie filled with apples or plums from our fruit trees and smothered in Birds custard.

There were no restaurants in our town and public houses didn’t serve food. The only places where it might have been possible to eat out on Sunday during the 1950s was at one of the two, less than glamorous, hotels. Though I doubt that many could have afforded the luxury. These were the years of post-WW2 austerity - at least until Prime Minister Antony Eden told us that we ‘had never had it so good’.

Foraging for Food

After dinner, Dad sometimes took me for a bike ride in the country lanes. When I was little, I perched on a seat fitted to his crossbar. We were on a mission to forage amongst fields littered with cowpats for mushrooms and blue stalks and in the hedgerows for blackberries that dyed my fingers purple and scratched the backs of my hand.

Sunday Entertainment During the England of the 1950s

In the afternoons of cold winter months, my family played board games - Tiddlywinks , Ludo and Snakes and Ladders -beside the coal fire. Sunday tea was usually a salad or sandwiches followed by tinned fruit and tinned Nestle cream. If the weather was mild, we sometimes went for a family walk in the early evening, dressed in our best clothes.

A special treat was a visit to James’s milk bar on the corner of Kirkgate for a strawberry milkshake with a scoop of ice cream in the bottom of the tall sundae glass, sucked up through paper straws. Before bedtime, Mum switched on the immersion heater, or heated water in the back boiler behind the coal fire, and I had my weekly bath, my hair washed with stinging ,vivid green, Vosene shampoo. Afterwards there was cocoa before bedtime.


We live in a twenty-four /seven world nowadays. Sunday has become for many a day for the national hobby of shopping (at least until lockdown prevented it), for day trips, workouts at the gym, and sport on television. The pubs are open throughout the day.

But I still follow a Sunday routine of sorts. Tea, toast, check emails and social media. Freshly ground coffee to sip as I watch the Andrew Marr politics show. No housework and no hanging out washing to dry on Sundays! Dinner is in the evening, and we sit at the dining table to eat. Though a joint of roast beef served with Yorkshire puddings and three veg is rarely on the menu!

© 2021 Glen Rix

Comments

Maria Logan Montgomery from Coastal Alabama, UsA on October 03, 2021:

Thanks for a sharing a look into life in post-war England. I enjoyed reading it.

Glen Rix (author) from UK on October 02, 2021:

Thanks for your comments, Patricia - and particularly for the last lovely remark.

Patricia Scott from North Central Florida on October 02, 2021:

Very interesting to read of your memories of the 50s in England and compare to my youth of the same time period. Perhaps not surprisingly, there are many similarities. We did not have to forage for blackberries as we had about a quarter acre of blackberry bushes. I did get scratches on my hands too and one time fell over into a pile of briars...ouch. Thanks for sharing this lovely walk down memory lane. Angels are headed your way this evening. ps

Glen Rix (author) from UK on October 02, 2021:

Yes, Peggy, life seemed so uncomplicated in those far off days.Hopefully that is the way my young grandchildren think. Mine are fortunate to be living a simple life in rural Scotland but soon will be moving to the city.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on October 02, 2021:

Thanks for sharing what your childhood was like in the 1950s. I also wrote one about mine in the 1950s. Times have certainly changed! I am glad that we grew up when we did and have those types of memories.

Glen Rix (author) from UK on October 02, 2021:

Thank you Liz. How life has changed since we were young - and not for the better in many respects.

Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on October 02, 2021:

Well composed and well presented, thanks for sharing.

Liz Westwood from UK on October 02, 2021:

This is a fascinating and extremely well-written account. I was a child of the 60s, but I can relate to much that you desribe in this article. My father was a vicar so Sundays were definitely different in our house. I remember my parents objecting when my brother wanted to mow the lawn on a Sunday. We had Vosene shampoo too. Beef and chicken have swapped places these days for cost.

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