Memories-of-the-1940s | Spring Chicken

Top 10: Growing up in the ’40s

I have been searching my memory for objects which were important features of my early life.

I was born during the war in January 1943, so I remember nothing of World War 2. My earliest memories are probably of 1946 and the first solid memory that I can put a solid date to is of my uncle coming into the house and remarking about the depth of the snow. 1947 was a bad winter.

We lived with my mother’s parents until 1948. They were Irish immigrants. I am not sure when they arrived in England but I think it was the early 1930s. My grandmother was the driving force. The house was large and accommodated lodgers who became part of the family. In fact, my father was a lodger who married his landlady’s daughter.

Many of the objects that I have chosen have some big connection with my grandmother mainly because she had such an influence on me. I hope to capture some of their relevance as I describe them. I have listed them 1 to 10! have made no attempt to quantify their importance to me but I suspect that the order in which they came to me is some evidence of that.

1. Bellows

bellowsA bellows is described as ‘a device constructed to furnish a sharp blast of air.’ You will be familiar with them but not many of you will use them on a daily basis. They were though an essential part of the fire making process. the domestic fireplace was a vital source of heat and had to be alight all day. In the house there were 7 fireplaces although Grandma was very careful financially and rarely allowed other fires to be lit other than in the kitchen.

Fire-lighting was a work of art. Success depended upon the right amount of tightly rolled up newspaper, wood and coal were used. It was very easy to snuff out a fire by overloading it with coal.

The bellows (or “bellers” as Grandma called them) were an essential back up if things were spluttering. the sharp blast of air would create the flames needed.

2. The outside lavatory

The outside lavatory had newspaper cut into squares and pinned onto a device looking like a butcher’s hook. This was the toilet paper the ‘40s. Coupled with the hazard of freezing conditions, it is a miracle that the population did not suffer from chronic constipation!

3. The mangle

Again, at my Grandma’s house, there lurked a mangle, lodged between the scullery and cellar.

It was in constant use, to wring excess water from washed clothes, sheets, nappies and towels. Heaven knows where everything was dried. I can only assume that these items were not washed as frequently as today (nappies excepted).

4. Dough

Grandma was always baking. The fireplace was a kitchen range. The fire grate on the left-hand side and the right hand side became a hot plate and oven. The dough in a large brown bowl rested on the hot plate, allowing it to rise, before being placed in the oven. Soda bread, made with sour milk, was a family favourite. Toasting bread also took place here, with the bread held in a vertical position at the end of a long fork, when presented to the fire There was a fender which described the area of the kitchen range and it possessed 2 seats, one at each end.

I have assumed that these had a double purpose. First, to keep the occupant warm and also to enable the user to attend to the activities of cooking and so forth. I can see my grandad sitting there now! He was the most prolific beneficiary of the delights of those seats. He lacked Grandma’s energy and drive, but he excelled at making himself comfortable.

I ought to explain that Grandma maintained that she was one of 17 children. That sounds implausible but I am sure re very many of them. I met 3 or 4 of her sisters. Clearly, she was a tough fighter!

5. Coal bucket

coal bucketI now realise that my choice of items reflects things about the constant battle against the cold. The coal bucket was regularly in view in the kitchen area. It was always kept topped up. I don’t recall anyone having responsibility for it, but someone was forever making the journey to the cellar.

No one seemed to resent having the task of filling the bucket. I suppose everyone was united against the common enemy.

It is fascinating the today people are complaining about austerity, there is no comparison between life in the 1940s and today.


6. Letters of the alphabet

Grandma taught me to read before I went to school. She did this with the aid of wooden letters of the alphabet and some basic reading books. I remember that I was ahead of the other children in the class, who didn’t have anyone resembling my grandma. My mother deserves a mention. She was a brilliant mother but she was in poor health. She spent weeks at a time in hospital, so that is why she does not appear in this tale.

7. Ration books

These were vital. We were subject to rationing for food until the early fifties. As it was the world I grew up in I never questioned it. The only feature that I was aware of was food rationing. It meant that one could only buy a fixed (and small) amount, of certain foods each week. Coupons were surrendered for this purpose. Clothes and petrol were also rationed. Queuing for rationed goods was commonplace.

8. The Co-op

Co-op in 1940s

The local Co-operative store was the only store I can remember visiting during my early life. We bought meat there. I think we also bought butter there. The assistants all wore white coats and served us from behind a counter. I cannot remember whether we bought vegetables there or at a greengrocer’s. However, the shopping ventures supplied the food for the week.

9. The weekly menu

Grandma’s dinner menus never changed: Sunday-A roast. Monday-Cold meat from the roast and bubble and squeak, smashed up version of Sunday’s veg. Tuesday- repeat of Monday. Wednesday- Stew – still using up Sunday’s leftovers! Thursday- Meat and potato pie, or, more accurately, potato and meat pie. The meat element was close to fantasy. Friday was fish (or egg) and chips. Eggs were rationed to one per person per week. I have no recollection of Saturday’s menu. The only other food I can recall is dripping sandwiches, with salt. Artery clogging but delicious!

10. Hot Water Bottle

Most of us have used a hot water bottle but I guess not everyone has used a stone hot water bottle. I believe that these were the only type. They were difficult to use and inefficient. They were usually very hot and likely to burn you if your body touched one in bed. They warmed up the immediate area where they had been placed, leaving the rest of the bed cold. Of course, you could wrap them in a towel, but that reduced their heat output. You could not cuddle up to one as you can with today’s rubber ones. There was also the risk of leakage which could cause scalding. Thank goodness for the advent of central heating!

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  • Queuing for the Co-op dividend in Aberdeen. Always a big event, helped to buy new shoes, coats and trousers and shirts for the boys. Remember it used to be 2s.6d. In the pound so worth shopping. 1940s seem a long time ago.

  • I remember queuing outside Sainsbury’s at 6 am Saturday morning ready for them to open. The queue was exceedingly long. I was born in 1944. So Can t remember wartime queuing. But I can remember the ration books.

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