Following my comments in this post and this one on how food was in Fifties’ Britain, I found my synapses buzzing. I thought I’d just jot down a few extra random thoughts. I am confining my memories to when I lived in Sheffield, where I was born in 1953 and stayed until November 1962. Some of my memories will therefore be on the cusp of the Sixties.
Eggs were a seasonal food and their price varied accordingly with availability. Although they came off ration in the year that I was born, they were certainly not used with the abandon that the Battery years brought. I am sure that powdered eggs would still be in use throughout the Fifties, but I have no personal memory of their use by either my mother or my nana – and my other Grandma got her eggs from her own chooks.
Although battery systems were developed in the USA in the 1030s, they were not in wide usage in the UK in 1951 – only 8% of our eggs came from Battery farms at that time and 80% of our egg producers were still free ranging. By 1956, the time of my probably first recall, the percentage of battery eggs was up to 15 and only 45% of eggs were produced from free-ranged hens. Those figures would suggest that my memory of egg production fluctuating by season are in fact correct. Ten years later two thirds of our eggs came from caged birds and only 8% from-free rangers. Another decade on and an appalling 94% of our eggs were supplied by battery farms. Production peaked four years later and then declined slightly. (ref.)
Anyway, at the time that we are considering, eggs would have been too expensive for my Dad to go to work on one each day – despite the efforts of the British Egg Marketing Board and their little Lion Stamp (1957) Their diligent work, along with some splendid advertising,
saw British egg consumption peak at 5 per person per week in the 1960s. Then we decided that eggs were actually bad for us…
Chicken was expensive and a special treat. Really special – it would not figure on the Sunday dinner table, let alone midweek. Chickens came as whole birds, not in bits and pieces… not in my part of the world, that’s for sure – although this advert shows that pieces were available at some point in the Fifties. Mind you, we Northerners would not have known what a Sainsbury’s was…
It’s funny but I cannot recall when I first ate chicken, other than the Christmas Capon.
Cold Meats and Sandwiches
Cold meats… sliced meats were not the stuff of sandwiches when I was a child. Not for us, at least. Menfolk might have some meat in their lunchtime “Snap” sandwiches – it was after all their main meal in many cases, certainly it was true for my father. A can of corned beef would furnish his lunch, thinly sliced, for the best part of a week. Add a smear of HP sauce, or mustard… very tasty.
For the rest of the family a slice of meat might appear on the Sunday Salad tea plate. Ham came from a can, of course, and was triangular in shape – it appeared at high days and holidays… Christmas and Easter and if company was expected for tea. For the rest of the year it might be Pork Luncheon Meat (tinned), Corned Beef (tinned) or a nice slice of Haslet from the local Pork Butcher. Only the one slice, mind. There was one of everything on the plate: 1 lettuce leaf (limp), 1 half tomato or maybe just a wedge, 1 spring onion, 1 slice of cucumber, 1 half boiled egg.
In sandwiches it was jam for tea or, to pack up for days out, we had meat and fish pastes from jars, polony in a soft sausage shape from the pork butcher, little pots of Sutherland’s Potted Beef (made locally in a shed outside the local park), or peanut butter and a lettuce leaf.
Bread came from the Bakehouse at the top corner of our street. Usually one of us was sent on an errand to fetch it. Mum favoured Fletcher’s (a local bakery) wrapped sliced loaves, though on occasion we would have a milk loaf – a cylindrical ribbed loaf made in a special tin. The bread was white and soft and fluffy, with a pale golden soft crust. It was especially favoured for weekend tea-times, served thinly sliced and buttered with tinned fruit and evaporated milk. She would also buy uncut brown loaves, on the premise that it was “better for you”.
Biscuits also came from the Bakehouse, weighed loose from large tins on a special rack. Broken ones were cheapest.
Sometimes, when there was a few pennies to spare, there would be trifles from the window display… in square waxed cartons, topped with synthetic cream and a garish-looking cherry.
At the bottom end of the street, across the road that ran crossways, was the “Beer-off.” This is where we ran our Sunday errand, for a bottle of Woodpecker Cider or some Mackeson milk stout and a bottle of Lemondade. Nobody thought anything of sending a four or five year old to buy alcohol (or cigarettes) in those days.
The Beer-off was a fascinating shop, to me. I suppose it was just a run of the mill corner shop, with license for off-sales. I remember that it was dark and poky and crammed full of goods. On the counter was a large block of bright orange cheese, and a bread knife. The cheese was scarred with wavy cut marks. I coveted that cheese, but Mum would not let us have it. It was not proper cheese, she said, but processed rubbish. I just thought that it looked very pretty and I longed to try it.
The bottles that we bought were sealed with paper tags across the top of the rubber screw bung tops. Soon after we took them home, they were opened and served with Sunday dinner. We had a small glass of cider or a stout shandy after our glass of hot cabbage water.
If we were at home for Sunday dinner we (my twin and I) were normally tasked with some aspect of preparation before being sent for the drink. We were kept out of the way, if possible – so my memories of Sundays involve a lot of time sitting outside on the back doorstep, with a colander and a bag of peas for podding or potatoes for scrubbing. Occasionally we got lucky and had not work but a small diversion – same place, same time, but a saucer of sugar and a stick of rhubarb to dunk and nibble… while Two Way Family Favourites or Round The Horn emanated from the radio.
On other Sundays we would board a bus to visit our paternal Grandparents in Eckington where we would literally feast. There was far more on the plate there – it always seemed to be roasted pork joint with all the trimmings … coming after a big plate of Yorkshire Pudding and thick onion gravy. Afters would always be an apple pie and custard. I loved to watch my grandma making the pie.
What can I say? It was bleak. Much of what was served to me went in the pig bin. I hated school meals when I was small and in particular I loathed any meal that contained meat. Heaven only knows what rubbish was served to us in those years of austerity.
My main memory of that time is when there was a potato famine. I cannot find anything to substantiate this memory but it is so vivid that it must be real. Normally our plates would be graced by one or two lumps of plain boiled potato but there came a time when potatoes were in shortage. In their place we received two half slices of dry white sliced bread. I can remember days when I had only dry bread and gravy to keep me going all day as I eschewed the roast meat and the accompanying vegetable, which was boiled butter beans. I spent most of my life believing that I do not like Butter Beans, mainly because of the way that they were served up then… as large pieces of anaemic-looking starchy tasteless things with tough skins that had to be spat out.
School dinners were instrumental in teaching me that many foods were offensive and it has taken most of my life to find that most of the items that I have shunned are in fact delicious when treated properly. I sorted out the custard issue a long time ago but I am still trying to handle my suet pudding aversion. Spotted Dick? I run a mile!
It’s all at the Co-Op
The majority of our food shopping was done at the Co-op an done of the first lessons that we ever learned was the committal to memory of the Divi Number. I shudder to think what would have happened had we run an errand and failed to record the expenditure properly.
We used two of the many local Co-op outlets, known to us as The Store. The closest was the smaller and the more modern and was the port of call for daily errands. Big Shopping was done in Attercliffe, at the larger Store.
This was The Store With The Cat – the one that was rumoured to pee on the cheese rind.
Shopping at The Store was fascinating. There were many things in open sacks on the wooden board floor – items such as dried fruits, sugar and flour were weighed out and packed to order. The heavy blue bags for the sugar were my favourite packaging. I also loved to see the butter being taken from the huge pile on the counter and being formed into a block with wooden butter pats.
The was a large roll of brown wrapping paper on a brass fixing at the end of the long wooden counter and goods were wrapped into brown paper parcels and tied up with string or popped into a string-handled brown paper carrier bag.
These sound like inherited memories, like they came from the 19th Century, but they are genuine and it was the 1950s and very early 60s.
Ha – gotcha! There weren’t any.
The markets in the town centre provided for many needs. Potatoes by the stone, weighed loose and tipped into a shopping bag along with the other loose vegetables. Fish, meat… Christmas birds hung by their feet and with heads and feathery necks still attached.
I particularly enjoyed the open Sheaf Market in the winter, all lit up with lamps (paraffin? oil?) and with hot chestnut man to hand with his barrow of coals and sweet chestnuts. The indoor Norfolk Market Hall was replaced eventually by the new Castle Market, nowhere near as enjoyable as the Sheaf or Norfolk markets.
Anything could be had, including pets. I remember one Saturday afternoon pestering Mum for a hamster. Eventually she gave in, but it meant spending our bus fare home and we had to walk, clutching a box each containing our chosen hamster. I think we were still pre-school then, so it was a stoic effort on the part of our wee legs.
Pocket Money, Sweeties, ice-cream, playtime and Picture Houses
There wasn’t much money in our childhood years but there was pocket money on Saturday mornings. A shilling each would pay us into the Saturday Morning picture show at the Balfour Road cinema, with thruppence left over for a lucky bag to sort through while the Lone Ranger did his thing.
If we didn’t go to the Saturday morning picture show we would probably going swimming at the public baths in Attercliffe, and buy a hot Vimto drink afterwards.
Vimto figured largely in our childhood lives. In the summer we spent time in the local park at High Hazels, and our pocket money was spent with Mr Gough in his café.
Drinks came in a variety of pocket money sizes and I liked a 3d glass of Tizer or a hot Vimto. A special treat was an ice cream wafer sandwich, with the ice cream cut from a family block of Neapolitan ice cream… all three colours/flavours caught in the one portion
As can be seen from Picture E, they sold Wall’s ice cream and I am reasonably confident that my dad would have been their delivery man. Click here to see a large version of picture E. See that advert on the counter? “Big Chief, here soon” – do you remember those? I do. We ate a lot of those…
When the Big Chief was launched it was promoted with a coupon saving offer. If you handed in sufficient coupons, you got a DIY moccasin kit. We both had a pair of those moccasins, and wore them happily in our wigwam in the garden (i.e. pocket handkerchief patch of grass in the back yard) I doubt we ate our way through the whole save, but Dad certainly brought home free samples and would have had access to cast-off wrappers as he went about his rounds. The box of samples necessitated greed – we had no refrigeration so we had to eat a whole case of lollies in one go, the whole family each eating three at the one time if I recall correctly.
Back in those days, when one lost one’s tonsils, the diet consisted of mush and soothing things… plenty of jelly and ice-cream, so imagine if you will the delight of a ward full of youngsters recovering from tonsillectomy, when my dad turned up (he was working and delivering to the kitchens) with lollies for all! We were the Misses Popular, I can tell you.
One of the other benefits of my father’s work was that he would be given complimentary tickets to the cinemas where he delivered ice cream. One local one in particular, the Lyric, was so frequently generous that we knew the manageress as “Auntie Marjory” and we saw just abut everything that came along. Dad would treat us all to something to nibble – we girls would share a box of Rowntrees Fruit Gums and Mum had a box of Payne’s Brazils, or some Newberry Fruits.
Of course there would be a tub of ice cream too, between the B and the A film. Most of my favourite films were originally lodged in my memory at these outings – the Disneys such as Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and 101 Dalmations (allegedly, Cruella was so terrifying that we had to be removed from the cinema to be calmed down) and the musicals… like Carousel.
If I ever had spare pocket money I liked to get good value for my money and was fond of four-a-penny sweeties. Sherbert-filled Flying Saucers went a particularly long way and so did Black Jacks, Fruit Salads, and Pink Shrimps. I preferred 1d and 2d Cadbury’s milk chocolate bars to the larger, thicker and more expensive ones .In loose sweeties, I would always go f or the tiny long-lasting ones and buy a 2 oz twist of Squirrel Floral Gums or Cherry Lips, or some Sherbert Pips.
If I had plenty of cash I’d treat myself to a Duncan’s Walnut Whip – back then they had a walnut inside as well as one on the top. The coffee ones were gorgeous. When I was less flush, Duncan’s made a small filled bar… no walnuts but the same cream filling. I think they were called Dunco Bars, but have never found anyone who recalls them to be able to confirm that. Other treats included sweet cigarettes (they still had red “glowing” ends back then) and matches and sweet coconut tobacco, a sherbert fountain or absolutely any form of liquorice from the big box of assorted shapes that adorned every sweet shop counter – Catherine wheels, pipes, bootlaces, watches, Wilko-sticks…
I also had a passion for peanuts – bought loose by the quarter pound from the hot peanut machine in Woolworth’s and sweet-salty things like bars of Peanut Brittle and Sweet Peanuts.
There were generous supplies of chocolate in my younger years too. We had a bachelor Godfather, whom we adored for many reasons – not least of which being the fact that he always arrived at our house bearing edible gifts. His parents owned a newsagents and sweet shop you see… Oh, how happy he made us! Actually, one of the best gifts that he ever brought us was not edible at all… but shop window dummies – bars of wood, wrapped in chocolate wrappings and great fun to play at shops with.
It was common, when we were very young, to be given sweeties by all and sundry, including strangers. We were twins and therefore had a high cuteness factor. Sweeties were just off the ration. People thought they were being kind… Stranger Danger was an issue even then, even if it had not been named so, and we were warned not to take sweeties from “strange men” – being children of great enterprise, we were not above accepting donations from strange ladies… but maybe not as strange as Cruella. Great wisdom lies in small children.