TOTTENHAM MEMORIES - LIVING IN THE 1940s AND 50s- DAPHNE BRADLEY
(Formerly Thomas nee Atkinson)

 

 

 

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DAPHNE ATKINSON C 1941

 

The present generation would find it difficult to understand how very different it was to be a housewife in the 1940’s & 1950’s, compared to the present day. We had none of the appliances that are now taken for granted. Washing had to be done by hand. You were very fortunate if you possessed a washing machine.

 

I was then married and bringing up two baby sons. I had an elderly father to care for, with whom we lived, and he owned the house we lived in. That also was unusual, as people then didn’t generally own their own homes.

 

My mother died when I was fourteen so I didn’t have the help and comfort that a mother usually gets, from her own mother, when bringing up youngsters.

Money was usually short so we had to make everything last and be economical.

The babies’ nappies were made of towelling and, as with only 15 months between my two boys, I was usually up to my eyes in nappies and other baby things. I envy the mothers of today with the luxury of ‘disposables’.

The solids had to be emptied down the lavatory, and then the nappies were put to soak in a bucket of cold water. I then washed them by hand in soap flakes (usually Lux or Fairy) in our deep ‘Butler’ sink. Everything was washed in the Butler sink, including the babies and us. Water had to be boiled first as we had no hot water system.

My father wore two flannelette shirts, winter & summer - the one underneath being pure flannel. I can remember standing there very wearily, pounding away to get them clean and then rinsing them, and rinsing them, to get the soap out. They were then wrung out by hand, before being fed through the rubber rollers of our ‘Acme’ wringer, until all the water was squeezed out. The rollers were turned through gears, by a large handle at the side of the machine. All washing was done this way, so it was quite hard work.
Nappies & other baby clothes had to be done every day. Easicare fabrics hadn’t reached us by that stage, only woollen & cotton materials were available.


During the summer, when the weather was good, getting things dried was no problem. Winter, of course, was quite different; drying took much longer - especially the woollen things & flannelette shirts.

It wasn’t until much later that I had an electric iron. Up until then, we had to heat two flat irons on a gas ring, using each alternately until the ironing was finished. Because the handles got rather hot, the irons had to be lifted from the stove using a thick square piece of cloth.

My father worked hard and expected a dinner during his lunch hour, which he’d always been used to. At 12 o’clock, on the dot, his dinner had to be on the table. It mattered not how hard I’d worked all morning or how tired I may have been during times when the babies had cried at night - as babies often do - that was my duty and I never questioned it.

Dinner consisted of meat in some form, greens and potatoes; followed by a sweet, that we called ‘afters’. There were no convenience foods; such as there are today - no microwave ovens.

 

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COOKER 1940’s

Everything had to be prepared first and cooked in an oven, or boiled on top.

If we had a pie of any kind it had to be made from raw ingredients and the pastry made by hand. I can never remember buying ready-made pastry, but in those days there was no frozen food either. The very first frozen things I saw in the shops were sold under the name of ‘Frood’, which was mostly peas, but I never bought any.

Sunday was roast dinner day, and that usually comprised of a joint of lamb, beef or pork, green vegetables of some kind and roast or jacket potatoes - done in the oven. If beef was on the menu, Yorkshire pudding had to be made. Pork dishes were supplemented with stuffing and applesauce.

This was usually followed by apple pie and custard, or, perhaps, a suet pudding or some stewed fruit and custard. It all had to be prepared by myself… A time consuming task let me tell you!

 

Like other mothers of the time (and today), I’d already done the routine jobs such as bathing babies, cooking breakfast, and making beds, etc., before settling in to the preparation of the ceremonial Sunday dinner.
Sunday afternoon & evening was a comparatively relaxing time though - a time to enjoy the babies and for stimulating family interaction. I suppose, to a large extent that too is the woman’s role - to use her feminine skills to co-ordinate quality family time in an era of hardship. Until they were old enough to feed themselves, babies required specially prepared food, which was fed to them with a spoon. Although there were no packets or jars of food specially prepared for babies - as there are today - the joy of nurturing them was just as great, if a little frustrating at times.

I can remember buying a beef marrowbone from Catens, our local butcher located two doors from us in Church Road, for 4 d (i.e. four of our old pennies), and one penny’s worth of ‘pot herbs’ from Roskams’, the greengrocer on the other side of the road. The marrowbone would be boiled to get all of the goodness out of it, then allowed to stand overnight. The next day the solid fat was skimmed off it and the liquid reheated thoroughly.

The potherbs consisted of onion, carrot, Swede and turnip. These had to be cooked, together with potato, then pushed through a fine sieve, with a spoon, until a pulp was formed.

We had no electric blenders to make the job easier. The pulp was added to the bone marrow gravy and this was dinner for the babies.It wasn’t until the late 1950s that we had a refrigerator, so nothing could be kept for very long.

Sometimes I would cook white fish or scrambled egg, which was served with mashed potato.

Housewives had to use their imagination in providing a varied diet for their families. Although it was hard work, I must admit I got a lot of satisfaction in putting a good meal on the table, which I had prepared and cooked myself. At one stage I even made my own bread, and I certainly made my own cakes and pastry.


There were no supermarkets at that time, nor the choice and abundance that there is today.

When the children started school I had a little more time on my hands, but they always came home for their dinner at midday.

Housework was very time consuming. Dusting, cleaning and making the beds, as well as the constant washing up by hand.

It was a great boon when I discovered the ‘Bagwash’. All cotton things, such as pillowcases, sheets, tea cloths and shirts would be placed in a linen bag provided by the Laundry Company. The bag had the house number and street of the customer stamped, in heavy letters, on the outside.

 

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TYPICAL LONDON BAGWASH

It was a great boon when I discovered the ‘Bagwash’. All cotton things, such as pillowcases, sheets, tea cloths and shirts would be placed in a linen bag provided by the Laundry Company. The bag had the house number and street of the customer stamped, in heavy letters, on the outside.

Usually I got my sons to take the washing to the ‘Bagwash’ laundry, which was situated in White Hart Lane. Once there it would be cleaned whilst still sealed in its bag. The laundry’s washing machines seemed enormous and there was always a pungent odour of bleach and starch throughout the premises.

My boys would collect the clean bag the very next day. The washing was always beautifully clean, and once it was dry all I had to do was iron it.

In the earlier years we didn’t have carpets in the bedrooms, only linoleum (lino), sometimes called ‘oil cloth’, covered by rugs and small mats. The floors had to be swept with a broom and washed with a bucket & mop. The stairs were cleaned with a dustpan & brush, and most people didn’t have carpets on the stairs - just linoleum. Of course, after brushing, the lino had to be cleaned by getting down on your hands & knees to it.

Also, we didn’t have carpets downstairs, again just lino & rugs. I can remember taking the rugs out into the garden, putting them on the clothes line and beating the dust out of them with a carpet beater, which was shaped like a huge spoon and made of cane. Again, the downstairs floors had to be washed with a mop & bucket.

We didn’t have an electric kettle, and I can remember when we bought our first vacuum cleaner. My eldest son, Peter, who was then about eight years old, went around telling everyone, “My mummy has got an electric broom”.

Some homes had television, but not ours. I remember watching the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, in 1953, on my sister’s ‘Bush’ television, at her Southgate home. It was an amazing innovation, despite only showing images in black & white.
In our home, we didn’t have a television until 1956. On the day it was delivered we were all very excited… Moving pictures & sound in our own home was a revolution!

The very first programme we watched was hosted by the Australian artist, Rolph Harris, drawing a little boy called ‘Willoughby’. Rolph made him into a cartoon character that was able to talk.

Later, when the children had gone to bed, we watched a play with Bernard Braden in it. We thought it was wonderful having moving pictures, with sound, in our own living room.
At first we didn’t have an outside aerial, instead we constantly moved the internal antenna around the living room until the picture stopped being snowy or fuzzy. This was usually achieved by holding the inside aerial in quite an impossible position (a bit like one of the Mr Bean situations).

Many years later my teenage son, Peter, used some of his part time grocery delivery job money to go out and buy a decent outside antenna. He fitted it to one of the outside walls, ran a cable to the TV and we had perfect pictures for the first time. We were also then able to watch the new BBC 2 channel, broadcast on the UHF frequency band.

Also, it wasn’t until the 1960s that we had electric light for our outside lavatory. Before that time we’d managed with just a gas flame on the lavatory wall. Again, it was Peter who purchased a length of power cable, a bayonet light fitting, bulb and plug and extended existing electrical facilities to the lav. Before then, going to the toilet on a cold winter’s night could be a spooky experience for superstitious and faint-hearted souls.

 

 

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DAILY DOORSTEP DELIVERY OF MILK – LONDON 1950’s

The milkman came every day, and on Friday he was paid. We had a side entrance and a large gate, not unlike something the 7th Cavalry built to keep Indians out. However, as there were no Red Indians around and crime was then relatively rare, there was no need to lock the gate. The milkman would collect the empty & clean milk bottles from a table, sheltered under the lean-to, just inside the gate. He would know how much milk we needed that day by reading a note that we’d rolled up in the neck of one of the bottles. He’d then leave the requisite number of full bottles on the table.

In the very early 1950s milk was rationed - a legacy from the war years. Another legacy was the physical state of Frank, one of the Co-operative Dairy’s milkmen, who delivered to our house for many years. The poor man was just skin and bone for a long time, until he slowly recovered from the consequences of a long period of captivity in a Japanese prisoner of war camp.

Like the milkman, our baker would come through the gate, but would leave the bread on the windowsill of the kitchen. He too was paid on Friday.

The insurance lady also made house calls. Her name was Miss Griffiths. If we were going to be out, we’d leave her money and insurance books on the kitchen windowsill. It was never stolen.
Next door they had a pet cockerel which used to stand on a high wall, situated just opposite our bedroom window. In the summer it would start crowing at around 3 - 30 in the morning. Good rustic sounds were no compensation for a decent night’s sleep though. Also, it would fly over to my father’s shed, at the very end of our garden, and peck at the roofing felt, making holes all over it. Needless to say, we grieved little when it died of old age.

Our house, in Church Road, wasn’t very far from an army barracks that was located between the High Road and James Place (the junction of our road with James Place was just two houses away).

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The Territorial Army (Territorials) used to meet at the Barracks two evenings a week, as well as each Sunday morning. They were well endowed with bugles and trumpets but, sadly, lacked musical panache. Often, as I’d just settled the children to bed - around 7 o’clock at night - we would be swamped & deafened by a cacophony of tuneless brass instruments. It wasn’t uncommon to suffer the same fate on Sunday mornings, when the TA would spread its joy more widely by marching through the streets.
I would often get annoyed when the children were kept awake on the evenings before school, so I made my feelings known to one of the officers at the Barracks. Ada Smith, who lived in one of the prefabricated houses (‘Prefabs’) which had been erected in James Place, just after the war, joined me. Her house was immediately adjacent to the barracks. We went over there, tempers very much aroused, because her children too were being kept awake by the noise. Although we’d made our point, the free concerts never really abated, and so, despite the stress caused, it was something we just had to put up with.


On Sunday morning, once a month, the Boys Brigade from the local Baptist Church, located in the High Road, would parade, with their band, around the streets. Most of us would turn out to watch, as they, at least, were able to stay in tune. The local children would usually march behind them.


One day it was advertised that a real live American cowboy was going to visit Bruce Castle Park. His name was ‘Cal McCord’. We’d never heard of him, but cowboys were heroes in those days and it was going to be a big event. Arrangements were made for him to ride up Church Road, on his way to the park.


The children got very excited as we awaited his arrival. Then, all of a sudden, we heard singing from a loud speaker in the distance. It was the song, ‘An old cowpoke came riding out one dark & windy day.’ We rushed into the street and there, before us, was the mystical Cal McCord, in all his splendour. He was on the back of a lorry, followed by dozens & dozens of little boys, many wearing cowboy costumes of their own.We followed him to the park, where, it seemed, every little boy from miles around and dressed in cowboy suits, had congregated.

Cal was to have given a demonstration of his cowboy skills, but because there were so many children, he couldn’t find a space big enough to do his thing. I don’t recall how it all ended, but it was a very exciting day for my two sons

 

At Sunday teatime we nearly always had salad. Usually it was ham or sardines, or even tinned salmon. I often cooked home made bread and a sponge, which I filled with fresh cream.


In the first years of the 1950s, we used to listen to a wireless that belonged to my father. It was powered from a rechargeable battery called an ‘accumulator’ (lead acid). This had to be charged up frequently at the radio accessory shop (called ‘Holmes’) across the road. It was very heavy despite the short trip.

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RADIO ACCUMULATOR

My father kept the wireless & accumulator on a shelf in the living room. The shelf was fixed to the wall with rawplugs. One day, without so much as a creek or groan, it suddenly came crashing down on my feet. I was lucky no bones were broken, but they were black & blue for weeks after that.

Later, we bought a little electric ‘Pye’ radio, encased in a light cream coloured plastic. We were very proud of it, particularly as it could be plugged into an electrical socket.
We’d only had the radio a day when disaster struck. My husband had gone to work and I needed to soften up some butter, which I’d just removed from the fridge. Warm, valve operated radio - cold butter… I had the brilliant idea of putting the two together. Unfortunately, shock-horror, I forgot about it until I noticed slimy yellow stuff cascading down the sides of our new toy. How I managed to get it clean I don’t know, but my husband never found out about it until I confessed years later.

Sometimes, on Sunday, we’d have winkles for tea. The winkle man would ride round the streets on his horse & cart, calling out, ‘Shrimps & winkles, all fresh’. These were sold in pint and half-pint pots and we’d usually opt for a pint of winkles. My younger son, Andrew, would refuse to eat them but wouldn’t say why until many years later. The revelation was that he didn’t like the idea of sticking a needle into winkles’ heads to wind them out of their shells.

On one occasion, while I was at work (as a telephonist), five years old Andrew was being looked after by one of my friends. She’d prepared a pot of spaghetti, jokingly telling him they were worms. That was it… He wouldn’t touch the meal.

There are many things I remember about the 1950s, but most of all I recall sharing life with the boys. We went to swimming galas, school plays, cub & scout activities, ‘Saturday Morning Pictures’ and going out in summertime to Hilly Fields or Whitewebbs Park, in Enfield. We would collect conkers and have a picnic.

To get to these places, we’d have to catch a bus because we didn’t own a car until the 1960s. We took it all in our stride though; travelling everywhere by bus & train was quite a normal activity for most people at that time. On reflection, and seeing the chaos on our roads today, I often wonder if it wasn’t better to have been without a car?

 

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TOTTENHAM COACH OUTING

Sometimes, on a Saturday, I would book a mystery coach tour for the boys and myself. It would cost half-a-crown, or 2/6d, for me (in the old money) and was half price for the boys.

We’d board a coach at ‘Elm Coaches’, in High Road, Tottenham, at 7 o’clock Saturday evening, and be taken to around the country lanes to places such as Ware or Widford, in Hertfordshire. The highlight of these tours was a stop at a little country pub somewhere, and we’d indulge in lemonade and crisps.

Of course, before we set out we’d have no idea of the destination, and this added to the fun. The coach usually arrived back in Tottenham, about 10 o’clock at night.

As the boys grew into their teens, society became more permissive and materialistic. But this was the 1960’s, a time of great social change, for better and worse, for freedom & enlightenment… We had more material comforts, but I found it hard to trade these against the sense of achievement I’d felt in earlier times with the closeness of a young family around me.

 

Recently, pasted in my photographic album, I came across a poem by Patience Strong.   It was entitled, ‘HAPPY YEARS’.

Where did they go - the happy years
- when there was so much to be done…
When we and the children were young
together - and life was all bustle and fun?

Now we are left we are wondering –
why time had to hurry us so…
The best was over before we knew it.
Where did the good days go?

 

Well, that about says it all!

Daphne V. Bradley

 

EDITORS NOTES: For many years Daphne Bradley and her husband were very active supporters of our local Bruce Castle Museum and devoted much of their time and energy to this cause. Daphne Bradley (formerly Thomas nee Atkinson ) was the granddaughter of a Victorian Violin maker named William Thomas Reed Atkinson' and his story has also been published in our TOTTENHAM HISTORY SNIPPETS section

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Article prepared by Alan Swain - May 2015

Based on original article by Daphne Bradley supplied by her son Peter Thomas.

Background image: Daphne's father William Thomas Camper Atkinson - Church Road 1940s

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