KEEPING HOUSE IN THE 40's AND 50's
Before I started writing this, I was looking around our home and my mind was cast back to the days when everything was such hard work. Today, if the house is cold, we can be warm within minutes by the flick of the central heating switch, or the press of a button for the gas fire to be ignited, instant warmth is available and maybe it is taken for granted by those who have grown up with these modern conveniences. Another example is a supply of hot water in the kitchen, an electric/gas oven, microwave oven, automatic washing machine and dryer, not to mention a dishwasher. The bathroom is another luxury with central heating, a shower and all mod cons. My mother and grandmothers would not believe how easy it has become, to look after a home.
My least favourite day of the week was Saturday, this was the morning that the oven range as they were called, had to have a thorough cleanout.
The flus had to be cleaned, this was a filthy job which meant that before the fire could be lit, the flus and the ventilators had to be thoroughly fettled. The flu brush was a strange looking object, the handle being made from twisted wire, the actual brush head was long and narrow, so that the fire back could be accessed. Cleaning this was a long laborious process, then the coal rake was produced this was used to rake all the debris which had collected and loosened. The living room, which was the only room with any heating, was freezing cold, especially in winter and we would sit huddled in our coats until the fire could be lit. The coal oven was part of the range, and this was the only means of baking or roasting.
If the flus were not cleaned every week then baking day would be a disaster, as the oven would not be hot enough. After the ashes, cinders and soot had been shifted, the hard work would really start.
The centre piece of the home was this fireplace/oven (range), I dont know where that word came from. My mother would spread newspapers on the hearth and around the fireplace, and out would come the black lead. First of all she would wash the fireplace, to remove the ash and soot, wait for it to dry, which seemed forever, as we were still shivering, black lead was spread over all the fireplace with special brushes and she would rub and rub until she could see her face in it. The brass hinges on the oven door would receive the same treatment, next the fender and then thankfully the fire could be lit. If my mother didnt have any sticks (she couldnt afford to buy fire lighters), she would set us on making paper sticks from the newspaper she had placed around the fireplace. We were only too eager to do this, as it meant the dreaded black lead ritual was coming to its end for another week.
A black leaded fireplace, although ours was much plainer to look at.
A black leaded fireplace, although ours was much plainer to look at.
It never occurred to us to stay in bed to keep warm, that was not allowed, if mother was up and about, then so were we. A form of discipline I suppose, which did not do us any harm, even though our limbs were in danger of developing frost bite.
The blessed relief of the warmth of the fire, when it finally started to take hold, was almost worth the agony of sitting there, waiting and waiting.
Above the fireplace was the mantelpiece, these are now back in fashion, treasured family photos which had been framed, were placed on this, and maybe a vase or an ornament at each end, to finish off the effect.
Even this mantelpiece was functional, across it was hung a piece of thin twine, on which tea towels and such were hung, so that they could be dried by the fire.
My mother always insisted that we had a fireguard too, which was very wise, as quite often pieces of coal would be spat out and could quite easily have landed on the hearth rug, with dire consequences. It also was a safety precaution for the children of the family. My dad liked to use it as a foot rest, there he would sit in the rocking chair, toasting his feet, which were resting on this fireguard. Thank goodness he changed his socks everyday.!!!!!!!!
The above is a typical front room/living room (Photo by Rita Rogers)
I can remember being bathed at the front of the fire, the fireplace is the type with which the council replaced the black leaded fire place ( Yorkshire Range), my mother was thrilled to bits when we had one of these installed
(photo by Rita Rogers)
photo by Rita Rogers.
This photograph belongs to a friend of mine, Doris, who lives in Western Australia, it is of her mother, Rebecca Stubbs and it was taken in 1948. ( Middlesborough)
In this photograph, Rebecca is using the rubbing board or wash board ( Lonnie Donegan and his skiffle group, used this in the 1950's), the dolly tub, and there is an old fashioned mangel for wringing out the clothes. The dolly tub was filled with hot water, the clothes were put in and each and every piece of washing was placed on the rubbing board and scrubbed mercilessly with a piece of hard soap. Sunlight and Fairy were favourites, they were very hard slabs and very economical.
When my mum and dad were first married and lived in the little cottage, there was a wash house next to it, which had to be shared with the occupants of the adjoining cottage. My mum was very modern, for the time, she actually had this type of washing machine
The tub was a peculiar shape, you can see a handle on the top of the lid, this had to be vigoursly pushed from side to side in order to get the clothes clean, and clean they were. My mum used to "sweat" blood whilst doing her washing, but she was thrilled to bits to have such a modern gadget, the mangel was actually attached to the tub. I can remember my mum doing the washing and singing all the time.
Remember these, they were posh - after the ones below
CLOTHING THE FAMILY.
During the war, clothing coupons were issued and each person had a set amount of coupons, which they could use to buy clothes. I cannot remember when clothes stopped being rationed, but they certainly were in existence at the time of the wedding of the then Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip. I have read many times that people contributed their precious clothing coupons to the Princess so that she could have an adequate trousseau. I have mixed feelings about this, it was the right of anyone to give their coupons away, but I have do believe that the Princess would not have been short of anything she needed.
Once again, my mother always put me first, I have already mentioned that she gave me her one egg which she was allowed, during the rationing of food.
Whilst we did not have much money, she always made sure that at Whitsuntide, I had a new set of clothes, and she would take me to the C&A in Leeds. I used to love this adventure, going by train AND knowing that I was going to have a new coat at least. Girls coats were always sold with a matching hat, unfortunately for me and my mother I had a big head ( I prefer to say that I had a lot of thick hair), I could never wear these hats or bonnets, because they were simply too small. It would irk my mother, firstly because she was paying for something which I would never be able to wear and secondly it used an extra clothing coupon.
Again I was lucky that my mum was an excellent knitter and she used to knit my cardigans and jumpers. I have described wearing knitted cotton knickers and socks in an earlier chapter. Sometimes, she would patiently unpick a knitted garment which she had worn or sometimes it was one she picked up at jumble sales, unravel all the wool wash it and wind it on a card to dry, it would then be ready for re-use. When she was lucky enough to buy real wool, direct from a shop or a stall in the market, it would be in hanks and not in ready to knit balls of wool. The hours I have sat with a hank of wool held slightly stretched between my hands, whilst she patiently wound manageable balls of wool. I used to hate that, it was so boring, it wouldnt have been a barrel of laughs for my mum either. Sometimes, she would wrap the wool on the back of a dining chair and wind it that way. When she was pregnant with my brother, she knitted lots of little matinee jackets as well, unheard of these days, she wrapped them in tissue paper and it was a treat for me, that I was allowed to take them out of the sideboard drawer and look at them. Sadly, when we were flooded in November 1946, all these were destroyed by the filthy flood water, it was heartbreaking after all the love and work which had gone into them.
I had two aunts who were excellent seamstresses, one was my mums youngest sister, auntie Mary and the other was my dads older sister auntie Lottie and between them they made clothes for me and my little brother. It was amazing what they could produce from old discarded coats, and believe me, they had to be old, before they were considered no longer wearable.
The first thing which really sticks in my mind was a tartan kilt, which my auntie Mary made for me, her husband, my uncle Steve had been in the Black Watch Regiment during the war and had been allowed to keep his kilt when he was demobbed. It was beautiful material, in fact I think she made one for herself, using the remainder for a smaller one for me.
This kilt certainly lasted a long long time, it had straps (something like braces) which went over my shoulders, with a button on each strap. These were worn inside, I am not kidding, when I say that the length of the straps were as long as the kilt. The idea being that, as I grew the buttons could be moved and the length of the kilt would grow with me.
I wore it so much that eventually, tiny holes appeared in the folds of the pleats and it had to be discarded. I loved that kilt and it was like parting with a friend when it had to go. Normally, for school, I would wear a gymslip, these were unattractive garments, but they were serviceable, which was my mothers favourite word when it came to clothes.
She used to buy me Burberry coats for school too, the problem was, I had to have them several sizes too big, so that they would last. They invariably reached my ankles when new and by the time, they fitted me well, they were practically worn out. Still, nothing was wasted, these would by dry cleaned, the linings were patiently unpicked, then handed over to auntie Mary who would make a coat for my little brother, and one for my cousin who was roughly the same age.
I can remember, just before Whitsuntide one year, my mum managed to get two pairs of cricketing flannels, these went back to before the war and the material was the real thing. From these two pairs of trousers, my auntie Mary made four small pairs, two for my brother John and two for my cousin Philip.