Remembering family life in a very different era
Some remember the 1950s as the golden age of family values and community. A time when family stayed close together and people conformed to set rules of respectability and decency. The number one rule at home was clear: adults are in charge and kids must behave or bear the consequences.
Times were hard and many households struggled to make ends meet. Kids survived with just a few books and toys, but the freedom to roam more than made up for that. Dads went out to work and mums ran the home and stretched the family allowance as far as they could. It’s easy to forget that a small thing for a family today, like takeaway fish and chips, was a real treat back then.
If all this sounds familiar, give yourself a moment to be a kid again and revel in this small selection of simple things that reveal how much family life has changed over the years.
Dad ruled the roost
It was Dad’s job to bring home the bacon and act as the head of the household especially when it came to discipline and big decisions. But times were changing and, while it was still common for fathers to keep the kids at arms’ length, many were choosing to play a more active (and fun) role in family life. Changing a terry nappy was still a step too far for most though!
Mum did everything else
A 1950's mum once said the best bit about having another baby was having a few days rest in hospital!
From a young age, girls were raised to be a model wife and mother. The house work was endless and the pressure to be respectable and conform to what was expected was huge. Remember how hard your mum would scrub the front step and the whites before they went out on the line for the neighbours to judge?
Family didn’t stop at the front door
A sense of belonging spilled out into the street. Members of your extended family often lived close by and grownups who bore no relation to you were ‘auntie this’ and ‘uncle that’. Neighbours looked out for you. Bobbies kept an eye on you. There was nowhere to hide!
Meals were eaten at the table
If someone was missing from the dinner table there would have to be a good excuse. Wasting food was unthinkable, so mum kindly gave you two choices - take it or leave it. If you were brave enough to leave it, you’d probably be given it for your next meal anyway, so you soon learned to eat what you were given.
Bath night once a week
One night a week was bath night and it was a communal affair. For some it was no more than a good scrub in a tin bath in front of the fire. Those lucky enough to have a proper tub didn’t fare much better though. Small hot water tanks and costly immersion heaters meant a few inches of hot water had to do the whole family one after the other. No jumping in the shower or languishing in a steaming bubble bath!
In front of the fire
In the evenings, families spent time doing things together. Listening to the wireless, reading, playing cards or board games. When television arrived, armchairs were turned from the fire to face the screen and everyone gathered to watch a programme. Dad in charge of viewing, kids on the floor legs crossed, mum knitting or darning something…
How did we survive?
If your brother or sister got measles, you could be thrown in with them in the hope you got it too. If you only had a cold, an extra jumper was enough to carry on regardless. You knew you were really ill when you got Lucozade and a day in bed.
The real miracle though, is how you have survived that most dreaded remedy of all…the lick and spit. One speck of dirt on your face and out came the hanky from up mum’s sleeve. There was no escape.
Home cooked food
There may not have been the variety enjoyed today, but mums cooked a fresh meal every day, except Monday when it was cold cuts and bubble and squeak because she’d been doing the laundry all day.
There always seemed to be something in the oven, simmering on the stove or being pickled. There are just too many favourites to mention. Jam roly poly, beef stew and dumplings, bread pudding and who can forget homemade chips? Tripe on the other hand…
Labours of love
There weren’t many outpourings of love back then. Fathers especially tended to keep their feelings to themselves, but they found other ways to show they cared.
Teaching sons to make a bogey out of bits of old wood and pram wheels, crafting a dolls house fit for a princess or a model boat to sail the high seas of the boating lake, even explaining the finer points of growing your own veg. Not much in monetary terms but priceless to you.
And finally, being ‘tucked in’
After an exhausting day playing outdoors or when you felt a little down, being tucked tightly in to a freshly made, perfectly smooth bed by mum or dad was such a wonderful feeling. Modern duvets may make life easier but they just don’t have the special comforting quality of old fashioned sheets and blankets, do they?
Do you share any of these memories of home life after the war? What do you remember best about your family and the things you did together? Are there any family traditions from that time you still enjoy today? We’d love to hear your stories.