Working Class Life in the 1940s & 50s

Terraced Housing

This is my brother standing just outside the front door,as you can see the front door opens straight onto the pavement. Notice only one car is parked on the street. Look also at how clean and litter free the street is.
This is my brother standing just outside the front door,as you can see the front door opens straight onto the pavement. Notice only one car is parked on the street. Look also at how clean and litter free the street is.
My brother much younger stood in front of our nextdoor neighbour's coal house and the outside toilet in our shared back yard.
My brother much younger stood in front of our nextdoor neighbour's coal house and the outside toilet in our shared back yard.
My brother in our back yard and behind him you can see the houses on the next street that backed onto ours. Just above his head you can see part of the washing line.
My brother in our back yard and behind him you can see the houses on the next street that backed onto ours. Just above his head you can see part of the washing line.

Another World

When I look back on my childhood the late 1940s and into the 1950s it seems almost like it happened in another world. In a way it did because so many things have changed since then that if I were magically plucked up from that time and brought here to 2009 it would be easy to imagine that I had been transported by aliens to another planet rather than just another time.

I grew up in a working class district of the city of Nottingham the district was called the Meadows. The area had been built on what formally had been pasture land and meadows in around the 1840s but by the 1940s with street after street the area had precious little of its green open spaces left.

The only green I can remember was the local Recreation Park which had a children’s play area with swings seesaw and roundabout two public tennis courts, crown bowling green and a large field that was used for Cricket or Football depending on the season.

The housing in the Meadows was predominantly terraced brick built housing mainly two up two down with the front door opening onto the street and the back door opening onto a back yard that had a coal-house and an outside toilet.

How women managed to bring up families with all that entails in housing that had no inside toilets, no bathrooms, no fridges, washing machines, tumble dryers, no hot water will be a mystery to those who only know of a life with all these things as necessities.

These women, who did bring up children under such circumstances my mum being one of them, not only did manage but managed to do a superb job that left the children of my generation from the Meadows with very strong and positive memories of their childhood.


As a child growing up in the Meadows each the day of the week seemed to have its own structure and you could tell what day it was by what you were eating and what activities happened on that day. I remember that the weekends were especially busy. Every Saturday morning I would run errands for an old lady who would give me a shopping list with a purse and some money and I would go to the local Co-Op and get her weekly shopping. In those days the prices stayed the same from one week to the next and so you knew exactly what the shopping bill would come to if you ordered the same things. I would also run to the corner shop for any bits that she needed during the week. The old lady lived with her unmarried son in a house on the next terrace, her back yard backed onto ours, and I used to climb over our back wall to get to her house. The old lady's son would give me 6d on a Saturday morning for doing his mum's errands.

My mum use to work in a shop on the high street I think it was called the Home and Colonial. Mum had one of those brains that could out add a calculator. When she went shopping she would be adding things up as she went and woe betides the shop assistant that rung up mum’s shopping and got it wrong. Mum would know to the penny what the total was. The tills in the places that my mum worked in back then didn’t do the adding up for you the shop assistant had to be able to do that. Some use to write down on a piece of paper the cost of each item as you ordered it and then add the items up but my mum did not need to do that as she could do it in her head as she served you.

Dart Board

Dart Board

I think mum got so good at adding up in her head by being in a darts team and doing the scoring. A dart board has numbers 1 to 20 with an area that doubles the number and another that triples the number, so you had to be able to quickly work out the score from the three darts thrown such as treble 19 plus double 17 and treble 14 and add them all together to get the score. Mum could tell you the score as soon as the darts hit the dart board she also was good at working out the odds for my dad when he wanted a flutter on the horses. Because mum was usually at work on a Saturday I was sent to the butchers, which was just across the road from where my mum was working to buy the joint of meat for Sunday dinner. Traditionally even most working class families had a roast dinner on a Sunday, and we always had a joint of meat on a Sunday but I never can remember having a roast outside of a Sunday.

Coal Power

Coal Power Station
Coal Power Station
Kitchen Range used for heating the room and cooking
Kitchen Range used for heating the room and cooking

King Coal

In the 1940’s coal was king, virtually every house including the middle class semi detached and detached housing had coal fires. Gas which was also made from coal at that time was used for heating but this was not commonly the main source in most homes. Gas cookers were by far the most popular form of cooking with the old fashioned coal fired ranges coming next though electricity was beginning to be used also and electric cookers were thought to be very modern but most of my mum’s generation thought that they didn’t cook your food as well as a gas cooker did.

The by product of the production of coal gas was coke which was a smokeless fuel. Street lights by this time were usually powered by electricity that was produced mainly from coal fuelled power stations. Some streets and homes still were gas lit. I know that one of my uncles in Birkenhead still had gas light in his home as late as the 1950’s.

Christmas Turkey

We like most people would have a bigish bird but it wouldn't look quite like this no grapes would be decorating the serving plate.
We like most people would have a bigish bird but it wouldn't look quite like this no grapes would be decorating the serving plate.
The butcher
The butcher

Chickens and Turkeys

Strange as seems we only saw Chicken and Turkey at Christmas as poultry then was not intensively produced on battery farms where the birds never see the outside but were free range which made them expensive to rear. This meant that for most working class families poultry was only bought for very special occasions which for our family was Christmas dinner when a turkey was purchased.

On a normal Saturday morning my mum would tell me to go and say to the butcher that my mum wants a piece of (then she would tell me pork, beef or lamb) about this big, and she would show me with her hands how big she wanted the piece of meat. Then I would go to the butcher and say "My mum says I’m to tell you that Jean wants a bit of beef this big" showing him with my hands the size of the joint that my mum wanted.

More often than not we had beef and the fat and juices that remained after the meat had been roasted in the oven would be poured into a small basin and when it was cool and set this dripping as we called it would be delicious when it was spread on bread with a little salt on it. The butcher would always give you some extra fat to put on the top of your roast so that you would have more dripping after the roast had been cooked, bread and dripping was often given to the family for tea on Monday.

In working class England tea was the early evening meal and for most people with young children teatime was around five o’clock in the afternoon. At teatime the meal usually consisted of sandwiches of some sort, dinner time in working class areas usually was at mid day however, the middle classes would have their dinner in the evening.

Ration book

Poverty and Rationing

In many ways though we were poor we as children never knew that we were, everyone we knew lived in homes similar to our own and had a life style that was basically the same as ours. Poverty is often experienced as a relative thing, and so if everyone around you is in the same state as you there is no feeling of doing without or feeling underprivileged. Speak to almost anyone who was brought up in our neighbourhood around the same time as me and almost everyone will tell you that their childhood was in the main a very happy one.

Another thing that caused people to not feel hard done by was the fact that many items in the late 40’s and early 50’s were still on ration which meant that even if you had a little more money than someone else you still couldn’t buy more than your share of rationed items like sugar, sweets, tea, cheese egg etc

More about rationing and poverty and its effects on the working class will be in part two of this hub. I hope that you have enjoyed this small look back to a bygone era in the life of a working class family in the UK.

Other Working Class Based Hubs

If you enjoyed this hub I have put links to some of my other hubs that deal with similar material below.

All these Hubs have the common theme of coming from a Working Class perspective which differs quite a lot from that of the Middle Class and which has virtually nothing in common with the Upper Class perspective.

There is one period in modern times when all three classes had experiences in common and that was during the second world war.

I hope that enjoyed your foray into Working Class England if you did please leave a comment perhaps some feed back or if I didn't cover what you were looking for let me know and perhaps I can do another hub about that,

More by this Author

Comments 48 comments

TamCor profile image

TamCor 7 years ago from Ohio

What a touching hub, maggs...I always feel like I'm right there, living your life with you, as I read. Such wonderful images...

I love reading about your life back then, and can't wait to read part two!

maggs224 profile image

maggs224 7 years ago from Sunny Spain Author

TamCor thank you so much for coming and leaving such encouraging comments. I am gad that you enjoy reading about my family's past

Candie V profile image

Candie V 7 years ago from Whereever there's wolves!! And Bikers!! Cummon Flash, We need an adventure!

Wow! Maggs you recount these details so well I feel like I'm there. Life has changed, yes. People have not. The good ones always shine thru. (I'm talking about you, ya know!!!)

RNMSN profile image

RNMSN 7 years ago from Tucson, Az

Candie and Tamcor are right on it Maggs!! Love to read your writing!!! Looking forward to part 2!

raleyfamily profile image

raleyfamily 7 years ago

This was so interesting to read! The pictures helped to see it so well!

James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 7 years ago from Chicago

I love this article! I felt transported to that time and place. Thank you. You are a fine writer.

Connie Smith profile image

Connie Smith 7 years ago from Tampa Bay, Florida

I very much enjoyed this peek into the past. You really did a fine job of writing this in a way that transports the reader back along with you. I look forward to reading more. I also was very impressed with the picture of your street swept so clean. It highlights some of the differences with attitudes and work ethics today as opposed to the past.

Lisa HW profile image

Lisa HW 7 years ago from Massachusetts

This is an interesting and enlightening look at that time period in the UK. It was something I've never realized (having grown up in 50's/60's working-class US); and I think such a real-life portrayal of life back then will be informative to a lot of people (especially younger ones). :) I loved the photos.

prasetio30 profile image

prasetio30 7 years ago from malang-indonesia

it looks like reunion. the memories for long time ago. great picture also. You still keep it. thanks for share

maggs224 profile image

maggs224 7 years ago from Sunny Spain Author

Hi Candie thanks for your comments they always make me feel good and encourage me

maggs224 profile image

maggs224 7 years ago from Sunny Spain Author

RNMSN and raleyfamily thank you both for your positive comments it is always such a boost to get postive feedback

maggs224 profile image

maggs224 7 years ago from Sunny Spain Author

James and Connie as someone who is only just begining to call herself a writer and I might add that I still feel very vunerable when doing so, it really is so encouraging to get comments that specifically says something positive about my writing. Thank you both for taking the time to leave these comments

maggs224 profile image

maggs224 7 years ago from Sunny Spain Author

Hi Lisa thank you for your comments I loved the 50's and 60's it was a great time to be young on both sides of the Atlantic

maggs224 profile image

maggs224 7 years ago from Sunny Spain Author

thank you prasetio for your kind comments

gramarye profile image

gramarye 6 years ago from Adelaide - Australia

Wow, I just love all the history here. I'll have to come back another time with a big cup of tea and read for a while.

maggs224 profile image

maggs224 6 years ago from Sunny Spain Author

Hi gramarye, thanks for your kind comments, I'm with you reading always goes well with a big cuppa tea. lol

Phil 6 years ago

Excellent page, Maggs. One of my earliest memories is of our backyard in 1960 (in Newcastle). I must have been about two and a half years old. Then the slum clearances started, so we had to move. This was a hangover from World War 2, I think, when a lot of housing stock was either destroyed (by bombing) or not kept up to date.

I have read that it was official policy not to build any new houses during the war. When I look at the old pictures and see how many were destroyed, I think, how can this be possible? How on Earth did people cope? What did they do? I'm not suggesting you're old enough to know anything about this directly(!), but is it something you have ever heard about second-hand?

maggs224 profile image

maggs224 6 years ago from Sunny Spain Author

Hi Phil, my daughter lived in Newcastle for a while after finishing university up there, her first house was one that she originally lived in as a student this was an old terraced property with a back yard.

Many working Class people back in the thirties and forties were use to living in much poorer and smaller housing than today's working class.

My grandmother (my mum's mum) had ten children and lived in a two up two down terraced house. My mum was the oldest of the ten children. The girls had one bedroom and the boys the other. My grandparents had a settee that transformed into a bed in the front room downstairs.

Back then most working class people lived in rented accommodation and it was not unusual for people with large families like my grandparents to occupy just a couple of rooms in a large house.

For a little more insight you might find my hubs and interesting.

Thanks for leaving a comment I really appreciate you taking the time and trouble to do that.

Phil 6 years ago

Thanks for the links, Maggie. I was corresponding with an American university prof in the 1990s on the subject of animals on coins. He told me he'd found a desert tortoise in the street and was keeping it in his backyard. How cruel, I thought! I had in my mind our first backyard in Newcastle, walled and tiny, and with a concrete floor. Apparently, the Americans mean something entirely different by backyard, as it is generally very spacious (being America) and includes a large lawn or garden. Once I realised that, I was much happier about the idea of a desert tortoise living in a "backyard".

Incidentally, I first reached your site by surfing for images of a typical old-fashioned British backyard.

maggs224 profile image

maggs224 6 years ago from Sunny Spain Author

@ Phil,Thanks for the info on how you found this hub it is interesting to me to know how people find my hubs.

The slum clearances of the 1970’s did more than destroy housing stock it destroyed communities. Often working class people only moved a couple of streets away from where they were brought up and it was not unusual for two or three generations of the same family to be living on the same street.

This brought with it very many benefits such as the extended family provided an excellent support system. There were ready made baby sitters that you didn’t have to pay a fortune for, if you didn’t know how to do something one of your aunts or uncles would know how but if not they would know of someone who did.

Often the neighbours that you had were the ones you grew up with or related to someone you grew up with. If you ran out of money before payday you could often borrow off one of your neighbours, if you were ill they would keep an eye on you and help you out until you got better.

Many of these things were never to be found again in the new housing that people were relocated to. Yes the housing itself was of a higher standard and you had inside toilets and a bathroom and the problems with damp were gone but many people wished that the Council had spent the money on bringing the old houses up to date and kept the neighbourhoods intact.

Thanks again for leaving a comment.

samsons1 profile image

samsons1 6 years ago from Tennessee

Hi maggs224, I was referred to this site by a mutual friend, 50 Calibur, who noticed similarities in our writings and styles. I did enjoy this very much and your flowing style. Blessings to you as you write for HubPages...

maggs224 profile image

maggs224 6 years ago from Sunny Spain Author

Hi samsons1, I am glad that you enjoyed your little trip down my memory lane, I certainly enjoyed mine down yours on your hub about your first experience of television. I shall be reading more of your hubs in the near future. Thanks for your kind comments and for the blessing both are gratefully received.

BlueRose 5 years ago

Really nice hub maggs :)Brings back memories of my times, though I wouldn't remember half as much as you though!

I wasn't born back in the late 40s but I was born in the mid 50s (1956) and that time I was born, everything was changing rapidly. People had proper bathrooms, could afford cars, (I read somewhere that in 1959 30% had cars which is totally false. By the end of the 50s and early 60s, the majority of people owned cars)

We didn't have a dishwasher, we did have a washing machine and that was one of the few luxuries we had. Counting from that, we had a white bath with a sink (it was small but it still a bath!), no tumbledryer so we hung out our clothes to dry, a small fridge, no frozen goods, only chilled or fresh in those days, vaccum cleaners were carpet cleaners.

We had no central heating but how did we survive? We had fire of course! And those who were lucky enough to have an aga in their house had double the amount of heat. We didn't but my friend did and we used to thaw ourselves when we came back from snowball fights.

It did get cold at times, but we always wrapped up warm and at night time we would wear our dressing gowns to bed and put extra covers on our duvet.

When you look at it from back then the memories just come flooding back and you realise how times were much simpler. Reason is is because we had much less fancy technology (no computers, cellphones, HD TV, high-tech cars) we didn't have a lot to pay for, like gas bills, electricity bills. Children these days would think that our world must have been insane to not live without those things but you would feel more laid-back with less on your plate and that's what it felt like!

If you were one of the few people that didn't have a car, you could always get round by public transport like train, bus, or cycle.

And also we did have the many things that are still entertaining today like tv (black and white) record gramopone players, books and board games and using our imagination was the key thing of our generation.It's sad how imaginations drift away and being replaced with endless graphics mind-controlling you instead of you making things for yourself.

I hope you continue to write more!

maggs224 profile image

maggs224 5 years ago from Sunny Spain Author

Hi Rose, What a lovely comment and it is so nice of you to share some of your own recollections with me. They certainly were much simpler times and I am sure that many folk felt more content with their lives and their possessions.

Mark 5 years ago

What ticks me off about 2011 is the change in the working class standard of living.

Back in the 50's, my grandfather worked in retail. He was able to afford a home (now valued at 250k), 3 children, a car, gas, groceries, vacations, and retirement savings. All of this was accomplished on one income, mind you.

Show me a retail employee in 2011 who can afford a 250k home and 3 children?

The working class used to have a decent life. Today, everyone is going to college because being in the working class doesn't pay off. Heck, these days, even college doesn't always pay off. How sad.

maggs224 profile image

maggs224 5 years ago from Sunny Spain Author

Hi Mark, you are right there has been a change in the working class standard of living since the forties and fifties. Many of the things that even the poorest homes have now and take for granted were not even available back then even to the well off.

In my street when I was young only one of our neighbours had a car. My house number was 141 and it was just over half way in the street so in the late forties early fifties only my friends dad owned a car.

I think that was only because he worked as a lorry driver though things began to change in the mid fifties. One of my uncles had a motorbike and side car back in the early fifties and this was the mode of transport for his family of four. My other uncle had a Lambretta Scooter which he and my aunt would travel all over on.

By the sixties both of my uncles had cars, but my dad never owned a motor vehicle of any kind right up until he died in the nineties he and my mum relied on public transport to get around .

My parents never owned their own home and they really never had any desire to do so. They thought that a mortgage was a huge stone around your neck and they made it quite plain when my husband and I bought our first home that they thought we were mad to saddle ourselves with such a huge debt. By the way that debt was £2450 and the mortgage payment was £44 month.

You are right about education not opening the doors it use to my husband at one point worked in Organisation and Methods or Work Study and he watched as graduates came into his department which he would train and before long the original staff who had worked there for years would not have been eligible to apply for the posts they held because the entry levels into that office had over time become at graduate level only.

You would think that this would have increased the efficiency of this department but you would be wrong. You are so right it is sad that bits of paper have become more important a criteria than ability to do the job.

Thank you so much for taking the time to leave a comment and for sharing a little of your own family’s history I really appreciate you doing both.

Rebekah 5 years ago

This is interesting information and it helped me with my homework, thanks.

maggs224 profile image

maggs224 5 years ago from Sunny Spain Author

I am glad that you found it interesting and that it has helped you with your homework :)

Sid bellend 5 years ago

As a teenager in the late 1950s i remember my dad saying how he wanted a car, in our road there were just 4 cars in the whole street of about 80 houses, my dad use to say those car owners were on the fiddle and wondered why they were living in rented houses yet could afford a car.

My dad eventually bought a car after learning to drive in 1961 and was very proud of it, by then about a 3rd of the working class owned cars.

maggs224 profile image

maggs224 5 years ago from Sunny Spain Author

Hi Sid,I can identify with what your dad said about the few who did own cars back then.

It was like our parents had been brought up with very strong and rigid ideas about what was normal for working class people to be,to do and to own and anyone that differed from the norm was certainly looked upon with suspicion.

It is funny my dad never showed any interest in owning any sort of motorised transport. He had a push bike when I was young but later on even the bike went.

Like most working class families back then our work and leisure was normally within walking distance of our homes or or if not it was accessible by fairly cheap and plentiful local transport.

Thank you so much for visiting the hub and for sharing some of your own memories, I love it when people do that :)

P. Scully 4 years ago

Thanks for sharing these memories. It really brought me back.

maggs224 profile image

maggs224 4 years ago from Sunny Spain Author

Thank you so much P.Scully I am so pleased that it brought back memories for you. Thank you for dropping by and leaving a comment I really appreciate it :)

Valjay 4 years ago

Hi! I stumbled onto your great hub when researching the church where my parents got married in 1930's Grant Street, Radford, for a story I am writing. Not surprisingly, as I was raised in the late 1940s /1950s very working class Radford, my memories tally so much with yours. You are so right when you say that we lived in another very different to that of today.I remember tho, playng with a friend who lived on another street in Radford where they still had only a communal stand-pipe for water in the middle of the back yard and it would freeze over in winter. I felt so lucky that we had a cold water tap in our scullery all to ourselves...even tho we shared our outside, down the yard toilet with another family! We didn't have a back yard to ourselves tho; it was a two streets back-to-back communal yard with an entry at both ends. The yard was swilled down every Monday by all the women with the hot soapy water emptied from their washtubs; then they stowed the big rollered mangles under the back-kitchen windows next to the tin bath on the wall...(but that's another story!!) The washing lines were strewn across the yard and sheets and clothes galore sailed to the wind! Like you I have fond memories also of Home and Colonial Stores (on Denman Street Radford) mam didn't work there but they would sell you a bag of broken biscuits from the bottoms of the tins...and if you were very lucky there would be a few whole chocolate digestives in there too!

Well, much as I am getting carried away here, caught up in childhood memories, I do have to get back to my research...I will definitely read you again....and please do be confident and say your are a writer...a good one too! Best wishes.....Val

maggs224 profile image

maggs224 4 years ago from Sunny Spain Author

Hi Val, what a wonderful comment as kids we would often range as far as Radford on our rambling around with friends especially when we were old enough to venture a little further from home.

My husband lived in the St Anns area of Nottingham and he had a communal back yard with a cold water shared standpipe and shared toilet down the yard. Like you though they had a cold water tap in their back scullery too.

Your comments transfixed me and took me right back and for a moment I was not at my computer in Spain but back with you watching those women swilling down the yards with the hot soapy water emptied from their wash tubs.

Thank you so much for your kind comments but even more thank you for sharing your own memories and rekindling mine. Your comment was a real joy to read :)

ladydeonne profile image

ladydeonne 3 years ago from Florence, SC

I am happy that I found your hub pages. I love history and nostalgia. Love your photos. You do a great job of depicting life in various decades in your native England. I enjoyed the read very much and plan to come back and read more of your work. Thanks for sharing.

maggs224 profile image

maggs224 3 years ago from Sunny Spain Author

Thank you so much for your comment Deonne, I get such a great deal of pleasure when someone enjoys reading one of my Hubs, especially when it is one of my working class hubs.

Thank you so much for taking the time to comment I really appreciate that, and it was my pleasure to share this on Hubpages and each comment more than rewards the effort :D

AvineshP profile image

AvineshP 3 years ago from Chandigarh

Thanks maggs224, for taking us back to 50s era.....

Really appreciate.

maggs224 profile image

maggs224 3 years ago from Sunny Spain Author

I am so glad that you enjoyed your little trip down my memory lane, thank you so much for commenting I appreciate it :D

TOPTENKIDS profile image

TOPTENKIDS 3 years ago from USA

Thanks for the information provided. My grandparents are going to love it.

maggs224 profile image

maggs224 3 years ago from Sunny Spain Author

Thank you for your comment, it is my pleasure, and I hope that your grandparents do enjoy it :D

Ely Maverick profile image

Ely Maverick 3 years ago from The Beautiful Archipelago of the Philippines

Ah...those were the good old days. I am very much willing to go back there.

maggs224 profile image

maggs224 3 years ago from Sunny Spain Author

If only we could but I think that I would only like to go back for a visit as I love my life here and now too much to stay back there lol...

steven 2 years ago

i bet it was easy in the 50s

steven 2 years ago

my grandad and granma had a coalfire in bradford in an old terraced house in the 50s

thanks steven

Yorkshire Lass 23 months ago

Thanks Maggs,

Your picture of the coal range is exactly like the one we had in our house.

I'm writing about my childhood too and some of your memories match my own. I was born In Bradford in 1947 and, like you, have seen many changes. I'm glad I've lived to see more equality for women and minority groups, and I especially love the Internet and all that brings. I wouldn't go back a day but I like to in memory, especially to the Yorkshire Dales where I spent many happy hours.Kind regards, Lynda

maggs224 profile image

maggs224 21 months ago from Sunny Spain Author

Thank you for commenting Steven I am glad that this reminded you of your grandparents home. I use to love having a coal fire. Some things were easier back then but a lot of things were not lol...

maggs224 profile image

maggs224 21 months ago from Sunny Spain Author

Thank you Lynda, (Yorkshire Lass) for your comment, I am sorry that I missed it when you posted it. I hope you come back some time to this page as I would love a link to your childhood memories when you publish them on the internet :D

melanie weiss 17 months ago

something were okay

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