My childhood in the fifties
My Mother – Wonder Woman! Part 1.
Being born in 1952 I really didn’t get to know my mother until I was about four years old. The one thing that does stick in my mind from all those years ago is how hard she worked. She was always the first to rise and always the last to bed, I cannot ever remember her sitting down and having a catnap or five minutes break. I seem to remember that she was always with child and I would have been fourth of six at that time. I was born and raised in a council house, we were lucky we had a three bedroomed house with an upstairs bathroom and an outside toilet as well!
My earliest recollections are of my mum shopping around the Horsefair area for our daily food, it was about a three mile walk. Howells supplied the fresh bread, Tommy Shindlers or Sid Simmonds for meat (although, during the week that was only for my Dad, our only source of meat was the roast on a Sunday) with numerous fruit and veg shops including Slaters and Fletchers a bit further on, The Co-op was the main place for tinned stuff etc. There was also a local grocery store just around the corner but my cash strapped Mum only used it late in the week when she would be so desperate that stuff would be bought on the slate which would be paid back on Friday or Saturday. The local store would be otherwise too expensive to use.
Mum always had and needed a very large pram, it was probably a Silver Cross but it would have been bought second hand as money wouldn’t have stretched to a new one, if truth be known that pram was the best investment she could have made, it carried three small children plus one on each side and all the days groceries including a bag of potatoes beneath, so – as you can imagine – pushing that weight was no mean feat, it got a lot worse when we reached the bottom of a hill that even buses struggled up! But we managed to reach the top.
As soon as we were home the first job was to put the kettle on, not one of those electric things but a kettle that went on the gas oven and whistled when it was boiled. It was always routine in those days to run the water for a time otherwise a vile taste would emit from the brew. No teabags either, it was loose tea that had to be put through a strainer before entering the cup. If it was a particularly cold day then the main gas oven would be turned up full, the kitchen was the only warm room in our house and even though it was only about nine by twelve it was the hub of the family.
To say that the life and the role of a fifties housewife was totally different from today’s women would be a gross understatement, In the mid fifties my Mum would have been 30 years old with six young children, she would have been prepared for her role at school where she would have learned the basics of cooking, sewing, darning, repairing and generally ‘making do’. Coming through the war years as a teenager would have taught her a lot more about life of course.
In those days the majority of women met the man of their dreams (hopefully, but not very often) or at least a good man who would look after them in wedlock and through to death, Once wed it was rare for these women to go to work, the male was the breadwinner and expected his meals on the table, his clothes washed, cleaned and ironed, and of course his conjugal rights! (not my words). In return he coughed up what he thought was adequate housekeeping on a Friday night, of course it never was enough, the rest would go down the pub over the weekend.
I suppose, that in short the girls were taught how to look after the husband, the children and the home.
The home in those days was of course totally different, Like everyone else I knew we had a ‘Best room’ which was kept for special visitors, special occasions or Christmas. While that big room stood empty for most of the year we more or less stuck to a room that was twelve feet square and heated by a very small electric heater, but then, with all that body heat in there it wasn’t often switched on! We had a coal fire in the Best room which was rarely lit, mostly on a Sunday to heat the water for bath night, Even during the Winter the only heating upstairs was a paraffin heater which flared up as soon as the front door was opened, the ceiling had a permanent black mark on it. The heater of course caused condensation on the windows, so it was not unusual to wake next morning with the inside of the windows frosted up.
Gas and electric was supplied by way of a shilling meter beneath the stairs, My mum had a knack of flattening sterilised milk bottle tops and slotting them in when times were hard, luckily the man who emptied the meter was a friend. If there were too many tops mum would have to pay the excess.
My Mum had inherited the Monday wash day from her mum I suspect, and just like my Nan Mondays was a full day of washing, in our kitchen next to the sink was a slot for a copper boiler and a gas point which connected it, (My gran was still using a Dolly tub!) So Mum would boil the clothes pull them out with a set of wooden sprung tongs, set them in the sink and rinse them through with cold water, she would then ‘Wring’ them with her hands by twisting, then they went through the mangle, they would then go out on the line, sometimes on a good day the wind would dry them quite quickly. So, like a well oiled machine this went on until at least mid afternoon. There was always a kitchen full of steam on Mondays.
While all this was happening a great saucepan full of stew would be simmering on the gas stove, I always thought we had stew every Monday to use the remnants of the Sunday joint, I know now that the real reason was because poor mum wouldn’t have had time to prepare anything else.
At that time there were no freezers, fridges were making their way into kitchens but only really for the better off, So Mum would have to shop daily for fresh foods, this of course meant that we had a set weekly menu, ie the same meal on the same day every week. I remember stew on Monday, egg and chips on Tuesday, corned beef stew on Wednesday and so on, all these meals were interspersed with bread pudding, rice pudding, and carnation milk poured over various tins of fruit. We didn’t have a milkman, sterilised milk was fetched daily from the local shop. But the most important thing was that I can never remember being hungry, Sweets were a rarity and crisps only available on a Whitsun when we were taken to the pub after the parade.
So the first two hours of most days saw mother dressing all the kids, getting the eldest to school and shopping, We went to school on a bowl of Scotts Porridge oats which Mum would mix in a big saucepan on the stove, we walked everywhere even though there was an excellent Midland red bus service which was always on time, but fares for five or six kids were just nor sustainable, I can’t remember anyone having a car in our street until 1962.
Every day Mum would shop and after getting back home about eleven There were beds to make, rooms to tidy and hoovering to get done plus of course the tea to get ready, In those days if you didn’t like what was put in front of you then youe went without, there was no other choice like there would be in most households today, then after tea she washed and dried and around 7.30 would finally sit down after a thirteen hour day, even then she would get out the knitting needles!
So that was my Mums working week – with no pay!
Weekends were more or less the same, except on Saturdays when the Corona man would call followed closely by the Davenports man. My Dad would get off to the pub at about ten thirty, returning at 2.30, He would then get ready about 6.00pm and back down the pub expecting Mum to join him about eight o clock. On Sundays all of the morning was used for preparing lunch ready for when my Dad came home from the pub, my sisters were encouraged from about the age of seven to don a duster and help out, from about the age of ten they positively had no choice but to help out with polishing, cleaning and general chores, meanwhile us boys were encouraged to get out from under their feet and play, we all ate at different times and it was very rare for us to sit at a table together not even at Christmas.
So my memories of my Mum were a hard working lady who really did lead a life of drudgery and slavery, but no matter how hard she worked she always had time for her children which would eventually be ten in all!
In 1958 we got our first television and things were going to change dramatically in our house.
But not for poor Mum – that would take a further ten years!
Until next time————