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LIFE IN THE 1950’S - Through the eyes of a child

Enter The 1950’s

Adults didn’t seem the same back then. It's hard to explain really. They all seemed to look older, more serious, and they acted in a more adult way than the following generations, as if their minds had matured and aged earlier than they should have. Was it because of the two World wars in a relatively short space of time they had endured? Did that make people in the 1950's somehow different? When I look back, they seemed older and more serious. I have often wondered if they actually were, or just seemed so, simply because I was a child at the time. I suppose even young adults look to be old when you are a child. Most of the men had served in the forces. Seen and done terrible things, and lost friends or relatives in the conflict. The ones who were left at home had to live with the fear of the bombings, of which the East End had more than its fair share. Quite a few of them had gone through both wars. Add to that the fact that rationing had been in force for 14 years, they had put up with quite a bit. Yes, looking back it's no wonder they looked older earlier than the adults of today. By the time the fifties arrived, things were getting back to normal, after the end of the war in 1945, and I will try to recall aspects of family life as seen through my young eyes. I'll avoid the usual bullshit, about how hard those times were, because they weren’t a fraction as bad as the generations before had endured.

Milk Delivered by Horse

You don't see a local milkman with his battery powered float these days. there were loads of them around in the 50’s It's easy to nip into Tesco and pick up a fresh pint. Our milkman, Jim, lived in our street, and still used a horse and cart. He parked it outside our street door on Sundays. Kids used to stroke the horse and it always dumped a pile of manure in the kerb. The houses on the opposite side of the street had gardens at the back. Our side had concrete yards. My granddad used to send a shovel full of it for his mate across the street. "To put on his Rhubarb". "Ugh! I prefer custard on mine", I thought to myself.

No Fast Food

There were no McDonald’s or KFC shops around then. The only take away I can remember, was fish and chips with a Wally, or a couple of penny onions. You could always take away from the pie and mash shop, but almost everyone ate it in the shop. The first Chinese takeaway, The Silver Star, opened in Cambridge Heath Road, in the mid sixties and it's still there now in 2022. Nowadays people have so many fast food shops and ready made meals from supermarkets. Also the habit of eating out has escalated in recent years. Eating places springing up all over the East end. Sunday tea was always the same. In the morning the "Winkle man" would arrive with his handcart and park it by the wall at the back of the Bethnal Green hospital. A couple of shouts from him (never could make out what he was actually shouting), and he had a long queue in front of him, including me. That's another thing we did in those days that seems to be a dying art now, especially at bus stops, queue! A pint of Winkles, A pint of shrimps, Mussels, Whelks, Cockles. Sunday tea was always seafood with bread and butter (or margarine). I used to sit there with my pin digging the Winkles out of their shell, sticking the little black hats all over my face. Happy days.

The Versatile Loaf

Dripping from the Sunday roast was always saved. Poured into a pudding basin when hot, it soon solidified into a thick white mass with brown jelly at the bottom. This was for ‘bread and scrape’. We spread the dripping on bread or toast with a bit of salt and pepper. No sliced bread then. All cut from a crusty loaf which was bought still hot from the local baker. Another snack we used to get was sugar bread. Just spread the butter on the bread and rub it in the sugar bowl. Not very good for the teeth, but it made us eat the bread! Like most things then, it never went to waste. All stale bread was collected and used for other tasty treats, mainly bread pudding. Not the mass produced rubbish you buy now, but proper thick spicy chunks, bulging with raisins and currants. Bread and butter pudding was another way to use up the stale loaf and the milk that would ‘go off’ tomorrow.

Healthy Eating

All meals were cooked from fresh in those days. All the meat and vegetables came straight from farm, to shop, to table, with only an occasional tin of something being opened. When I say occasional tin, I mean the odd tin of processed peas or baked beans with dinner or a tin of Sockeye Salmon on special occasions. I was six when food rationing came to an end in 1954, after 14 years, but there still wasn't a great variety in the local shops. Supermarkets were yet to make an appearance. I think 'Key Market' was the first one to open in Bethnal Green Road in the sixties. There was less insistence on hygiene laws where food was sold and I think that’s what built our resistance to some of today’s childhood diseases. Frozen foods were non existent because no- one had a freezer. In fact hardly anyone even had a refrigerator! I remember our first fridge, and I must have been ten or eleven when we got that. Even the cat had to drink sterilized milk in our house because the cows milk would go off in the hot weather, especially if nobody was at home when the milkman left it on the doorstep in the sun. All the milk and other drinks came in returnable glass bottles back then. No plastic. Food was wrapped in brown paper bags and anyone doing the shopping carried their own bags; a net bag for the soiled vegetables and a normal heavy bag for the rest. In fact, many women out for the weekly shop took a pushchair with them to carry the shopping. Then a bright spark invented the shopping trolley. Food we take for granted now and eat frequently were too expensive back then. There were no factory farms turning out livestock for food at today’s rate. Chicken was a luxury, served only for Sunday dinner. In fact some families only ever got to see chicken on the table at Christmas. I didn't find out what Turkey tasted like until after I was married. "Afters", which we now refer to as dessert, were also a Sunday only luxury. Normally a Spotted Dick or home made jam tart with custard. On special occasions we would have tinned pineapple or peaches with Carnation or Libby’s evaporated milk poured over it (cream was another Christmas only luxury). Sometimes though, I would be allowed to take the cream off the top of a bottle of gold top milk if the weather allowed a break from the sterilized. My favourite after's were Pineapple chunks. I used to like the way they made the milk curdle when you poured it over.
Food was still being rationed in the 50's My Mother in her NAAFI uniform End of Rationing 1954 Pie and Mash