1950s Bristol Shoppers queue to get a bargain in the sales

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1950s Bristol Shoppers queue to get a bargain in the sales
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Image by brizzle born and bred
In the 1950s, the mangle, crisps and dance hall admissions were popular. 1950s saw the introduction of fish fingers, electric fires, washing machine, ink and toilet paper.

Most food shopping in the 1950s was done every day and from local shops. Not every household owned a car or a refrigerator, so food shopping was part of the housewife’s daily routine.

It would have been quite normal to visit separate shops for your bread (bakers), meat (butchers), vegetables (greengrocers), fish (fishmongers) etc. It was quite common too, for tradesmen to deliver their goods direct to the housewife. Groceries and greengroceries were often delivered each week in a motorised van and milk was delivered every day.

1957: Only a handful of shops in the country were self-serve (pay as you go out). The first Sainsbury’s to try out this innovation was opened in June 1950 in Croydon.

2007: There are more than 33,500 supermarkets and convenience stores in the UK

A shopping basket in the 1950s would have included items such as: wild rabbits, mangles, corsets, candles, wireless licence and gramophone records.

Fresh fruit and vegetables came mainly from Britain, so strawberries would be in the shops for just a few weeks in the summer, and there would have been no fresh peas, beans or salads vegetables during the winter months.

In the 1950s, a typical home had a cooker, vacuum cleaner and a plug-in radio. Only 33 per cent of households had a washing machine. Most people were still doing their washing by hand.

Only 15 per cent had a fridge and freezers and tumble dryers were scarcely heard of. Only 10 per cent of the population had a telephone. People listen to gramophone records.

Most families’ entertainment came from the radio (or ‘wireless’) or through listening to 78rpm records on a gramophone. However, a single event in 1953 gave a huge boost to the uptake of television. This was the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II on 2nd June 1953 at Westminster Abbey. Cameras had never before been allowed inside Westminster Abbey for a coronation, and the general public were thrilled to be able to watch the event live. Families crowded into the home of anyone lucky enough to have a television to watch the event.

Two-thirds of homes owned a television. The programmes were shown in black and white. A second and commercialised TV channel was added in 1955.

People spent most of their leisure time at home – reading, listening to the radio, watching television or pursuing hobbies. The most popular hobbies were knitting and needle-work for women, and gardening for men.

Children spent a lot of time playing with other children outdoors. They also enjoyed a range of hobbies such as stamp collecting.

Families enjoyed playing board games such as Monopoly, Ludo, and Snakes and Ladders.

There was a craze for yo-yos, 3D-spectacles, I-Spy books and hoola hoops in the late 1950s.

It was an era when women stayed at home, a 9-to-5 job meant just that, workers had a job for life and nobody had a Blackberry to ruin their holidays.

1950s when most Britain’s spent their holidays in the UK.

In 1952, just four per cent of people worked part-time. Today, the number has ballooned to one in four workers, equal to astonishing 26 per cent of the entire workforce.

Today’s workers may whinge that they are over-worked, but it was their parents or grandparents in the 1950s who had a lot more to complain about.

On average, workers did a 48-hour week in 1952. Today, a typical worker with a full-time job does only 37 hours.

Of all the seismic changes, it is probably the type of jobs that people did which have changed most dramatically.

In 1952, 8.7million people worked in manufacturing. Today, the number is a paltry 2.5million.

Around 880,000 worked in ‘mining and quarrying’, compared to 60,000 today, while the number working in agriculture, forestry and fishing has tumbled from 725,000 to 460,000.

There are some jobs which barely existed 60 years ago. In 1952, there were only around 20,000 people working in personnel, compared to today’s army of around 400,000.

But some things that never change. Around six million people worked in the public sector, which is exactly the number which currently make up the State workforce.

And how many people did not work? Not very many, according to the report, which shows that the number of working women was much higher than expected.

Around one in two women of working age had a job in the 1950s, compared to two-thirds today.

Local Bristol Stories that made the news in 1950s

Feb 7th 1952

Ethel May Challenger (24) 2, Akeman Way Avonmouth, previously charged in Bristol with attempted suicide by drinking zinc solution was today put on probation for two years. Dr. J. L. Faull said Challenger had brooded over problems of money and rearing five young children. Her husband was told by the magistrates: " Your wife needs all the help you can give her."

Aug 1952

Two coloured stowaways Cyril Benjamin Mcleod of Jamaica, and Philip Bertand of Dominica, who were arrested at Avonmouth Docks when the s.s. Cavina berthed, were sent to prison for 21 days in Bristol. Bertand said: ‘Things were very bad in the West Indies – there is no work.’ Mcleod said he was a graduate of an agricultural traing centre, and wished to work as a dairyman.

Aug 12th 1952

Harold Edward Peacock (52) Dorian Road, Horfield, was fined £5 in Bristol court for stealing 6lb of onions, from Southmead Hospital market garden.

Aug 12th 1952

Six hundred filmgoers sang community songs to while away the time when the power failure stopped the projectors at the Kingsway Cinema, Two Mile Hill, Kingswood, for 90 minutes last night.

The cinema was almost full of customers who came to see a popular film – the Marx Bros, in ‘Cassablanca’ – when, during the showing of the ‘trailers’ of fourth coming films the screen went blank. The main film was due to be screened 10 minutes later, at 6.10 p.m. The manager, Mr. John Crew, immediately went on the stage and explianed what had occurred. He told the audience that any one who wanted to leave would be given complimentary tickets for tonight’s show.

‘A few people left, but most stayed and entertained themselves with singing songs’. The power came back on at 7.30 and the cinema was able to show the complete film.

Feb 7th 1952

Bristol Fire Brigade were today damping down the smouldering ruins of the blaze in St. Pauls Street, where the damage is estimated at £40,000.

As the blaze ravaged adjoining tannery offices and warehouses, explosions rocked a wide area, and hundreds of people dashed for shelter as burning debris rained down. The premises belonging to Messrs. J. R. Hawkins and Co., leather manufactures and Messrs. Wilkinson nand Riddell (Bristol). Ltd., textile merchants. The fire which started inn the tannery, gutted Messrs Hawkins workshops, burnt out a large part of offices and destroyed a warehouse belonging to the textile firm. The flames fanned by a hign wind, threatened nearby houses in Orange street, as firemen fought to control the blaze.

A young boy Royston John Hurley of Claremount Street., Stapleton had a very lucky escape when a three- foot piece of drain pipe fell from the blazing tannery. It struck him on the leg causing only slight injury. This was the third fire in the tannery in the past three months. It was the largest post-war fire in Bristol and took 48hrs to bring the fire under control.

November 1958

It’s interesting, but not really surprising, to find that 50 years ago the weather – in another gloomy November week – was dominating the headlines. Fog enveloped Bristol – or at least the Eastville and Fishponds areas of the city – (aided, no doubt, by pollution from the many coal fires) almost paralysing transport.

By 11pm visibility at Filton was down to five yards, with traffic almost at a standstill on the Gloucester Road. But while the city suffered, the Bristol Evening Post said that many country areas were clear. Despite this, the Aust ferry – which carried passengers and cars over to Chepstow – was cancelled indefinitely. Dense fog was reported at Portishead. No aircraft were arriving or leaving from Whitchurch airport and there was a complete hold-up of sailings from both Avonmouth and the City Docks.

Trains were arriving from London up to half an hour late and city businessmen were taking an unprecedented 50 minutes to get to work from places such as Clifton and Henleaze. It was chaos. Other news of the week concerned bus drivers and conductors (they were the ones who took the money and gave you tickets in those far off days) who were due get a pay rise of 11 shillings a week (just over 50p). Maintenance workers, however, were only to get eight shillings and 3p a week more.

The unions had been asking for between 16 and 33 shillings. As it was estimated that the rise would cost the Bristol bus company an extra £100,000 a year, guess what? Yes, you’re right – fares went up by 2p and 3p the following week.

You’ll no doubt be pleased to hear that busmen of all grades would now be getting between £7 and £8 a week – with drivers getting £7 and 18 shillings. That, incidentally, was about the average wage in those days. Of interest – if only because it’s recently been announced that it’s on the way back – was the Corporation’s collecting of kitchen waste to use in pig swill. The average weekly collection totalled 300 tons which, after ‘treatment’ yielded about 260 tons of so-called ‘Bristol pudding’, collected by farmers and used for pig food.

Only five other cities in the country had such a service, and Bristol’s was considered to be the best. Chief credit for this, said the Post proudly, were the city’s housewives. Each week they filled 130,000 specially- provided bins. People were being asked politely not to put their cutlery in the bins – the pigs didn’t like it.

Still on the subject of housewives, many of them (if not all) were delighted to hear that purchase tax was to be withdrawn on household brushes, brooms and mops (remember them, the stringy ones?). The idea was to help the trade, rather than the household purse, especially as many blind and disabled persons derived their living from it. Still, people must have been revelling in domestic bliss back then – one festive street ad suggesting: ‘She’ll love a Hoover Steam Iron for Christmas’. Such a wonderful present at only £4 19 shillings and 6p. Want a tip? Don’t take that advice today.

Some items of great concern for those interested in this great city’s illustrious past popped up in the Press 50 years ago. One was a story about the Hogarth altar piece, three oil paintings commissioned by the Vestry of St Mary Redcliffe some 250 years ago. This triptych – which had been in store for some 80 years – was being handed over to the Corporation of Bristol to be hung on public view in the City Art Gallery. So where, you are entitled to ask, is this priceless Bristol treasure now? As far as I know (and I might very well be wrong) it’s still languishing in the abandoned St Nicholas church museum, locked away from public view.

Bristol’s reverence for its past was also revealed in a story about the last service to be held at the Old King Street Baptist Church in Broadmead. This chapel had a longer history than any other Baptist church in the city – it was founded at Quakers Friars in 1640 and it moved to Old King Street in 1815 – so of course it was being demolished. The reason? It was in the way of the ‘new’ Broadmead shopping area.

The congregation moved to Redland. Another one of Bristol’s treasures, on the other hand, was getting a thorough inspection. Brunel’s suspension bridge was closed for the week to all but pedestrians while workmen began examining and testing one of the two cross-girders. The old one, removed and taken away to be tested ‘to destruction’, was to be replaced by one coated with zinc.

A shocking Bristol court case that made the headlines 50 years ago concerned a ‘savage assault’ allegedly made by a 35-year-old Southmead man on his wife using a broken milk bottle.

The couple, the court was informed, had been married 15 years and had three children, aged six, 12 and 14. Their life together had not been happy, and three months previously the man had put his wife ‘out of the house’. She had moved into lodgings, but then resorted to prostitution. There was evidence, it was said, that the husband had received some of the money earned this way. On the evening of the alleged assault, the couple had been out drinking.

There was a quarrel on the way home and the man told his wife: ‘I’ll rip your face so that no man will look at you.’ She was crying when they reached the house, so their 14-year-old daughter made a cup of tea. After using bad language, which the daughter tried to stop, the man threw his cup of tea over his wife. ‘As she stood up he punched her hard in the mouth with his left hand,’ said the prosecution. ‘She fell back against the wall.

Then he picked up a milk bottle, smashed it against the wall and took hold of his wife by the back of the head. ‘Holding her with his left hand, he struck her repeatedly in the face with the jagged glass, causing very severe injuries. She was taken to hospital and had 16 stitches inserted, 14 in the face.’ In evidence, the wife said that while they were walking home her husband said ‘I’ll ‘chiv’ you’. During the alleged attack she felt a sharp pain and everything went red. She told the court: ‘He was saying ‘I’ll finish you off’ and dragged me up by my hair and slung me around the room.’ A policeman said that when he went to the house the woman’s face was badly cut and bleeding.

‘All she could say was, ‘take him away, he’s mad’.’ In his defence, the husband said that he had told his wife that if she did not change her ways he would change them for her for the sake of the children.

He had made allegations against his wife, and his eldest daughter slapped his face. ‘She started to yell and shout and I lost my temper and struck her,’ he said. ‘She fell face down among the glass from the broken milk bottle and that was how her face got cut. ‘I did not actually intend to cause the injuries – I threw the milk bottle at her and it smashed against the wall. While I was punching her, her face was twisting about and must have been going into the broken glass.’ The man was committed for trial – on a surety of £100 – at Bristol Assize (the old Crown Court). The jury found him guilty.

Ruth’s Peony, Memorial Day, 2014
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Image by David Illig
A bit of family history for family and friends.

In April, 2013, cousin Bob Baughman and I went to the cemetery at the Little Redstone United Methodist Church near Fayette City, Pa., to scatter some of my brother George’s ashes at the site of my sister Ruth’s grave.

Ruth was born in 1931 and died of scarlet fever at the age of 22 months in 1933 or 1934. Some relatives, the Shooks, shared the grave site where their infant son was buried. My parents had no money for a grave stone, so they marked Ruth’s grave with a peony, which survives to this day.

George was born in December, 1934, and he died in October, 2012.

While Bob and I were at the grave site we dug up a bit of Ruth’s peony and I brought it home to Maryland and planted it in front of our roses. It is now blooming for the first time in Maryland. It is most fitting that it should open in full bloom on Memorial Day.

Photo by David and Leona Illig. Leona held a gray aluminum window screen between the sun and the peony to diffuse and soften the light a bit.

Made at Gambrills, Anne Arundel County, Maryland.

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