The year that was… 1953
by Ellen Castelow
In 1953 Queen Elizabeth II was crowned in Westminster Abbey, and Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tensing became the first people to scale the summit of Mount Everest.
A year to remember!
But the everyday life of the ordinary citizen in Britain was, by the standards of today, quite simple. But it was all about to change.
For the first time since the war petrol was un-rationed, and a huge influx of cars took to the roads. The new cars were very state of the art, but they still didn’t come fitted with seat belts. The relatively quiet country lanes became more congested of course, so major new roads were being planned to stretch to all parts of the country. By the end of the decade a new word was to enter the English dictionary …motorways.
Now rationing had ceased the clothes that the average person wore were very different to those worn before the war. Whilst some women still wore corsets, the younger women favoured a more relaxed waistline.
The fashion for young women’s ‘best dresses’ was for full-skirted dresses, with a stiffened petticoat underneath. These were very difficult to hang in the wardrobe, as the doors wouldn’t shut properly due to the bulk of the skirt.
Woman wore ‘Pancake Make-up’, this was applied with a damp sponge, and scarlet lipstick was the norm.
Trousers or ‘slacks’ as they were called, were only worn occasionally by women, as the feminine look was the thing. Ladies teetered along on very high-heeled shoes, as the flat-heeled ones were too reminiscent of the A.T.S. and the W.A.A.F.
Most men wore suits …together with waistcoats, ties and white shirts. Trilby hats were common, worn of course at the obligatory rakish angle, approximately 10 degrees from horizontal.
And everybody smoked!
Young boys at school wore short trousers and knee length socks, held up by elastic garters; (which could also double as a catapult when necessary), and peaked school caps were obligatory.
The 1950s housewife had recently taken delivery of her new washing machine with its detachable and very heavy mangle, very popular, especially on Mondays …if you didn’t have one, the clothes were sent to the laundry,
Duvets hadn’t been heard of; so all beds had sheets, layers of blankets topped off with a nice thick eiderdown, as most bedrooms were very cold indeed …remember the ice on the inside of the windows! Central heating in houses was very rare at this time. It was coal fires downstairs and electric fires upstairs.
Whilst still beyond the reach of most families until the 1960s, holidays abroad were beginning to become popular as prices became more affordable, and the aircraft journey was an adventure in itself. The air hostess brought round barley sugar sweets for passengers to suck during take-off, and ear plugs deadened the roar of the engines. The aircraft cabins were not pressurised in those days, and take-off and landings often caused severe earache.
Television sets started to appear, taking up their now familiar place as the focal point of the ‘living room’, and outside strange looking H-shaped aerials were clamped firmly to the chimneystacks.
Some things hadn’t changed at all though: murderers were still hanged for their crimes, and the pubs closed at 10 o’clock as usual.
Looking back now to 1953, life perhaps appears hard, but it did have several good points. There was virtually no vandalism, swearing in public places was an offence, and gentlemen still gave up their seats to ladies in buses and trams.