As far as the working class, and the lower-middle-class were concerned, things had changed little in the early 30s, from what they had been in Victorian times. There were of course considerable social changes as a result of the vast number of men having been killed during the war. There was a high percentage of unmarried women in consequence. In my own case I had three aunts, one never married, one married when she was 40, and the other one married when she was 60. The majority of people in these classes lived in terraced housing, with a small or no front garden, and possibly a small patch at the back. Every kitchen had a range, fired by coal, which provided hot water, heating of a kettle or saucepan on a trivet, and an oven. Children were bathed in front of the range, everyone washed at a washstand in the bedroom, using hot water provided by a large enamelled jug. Adults would make regular trips to local swimming baths, which had individual bathing facilities. In the majority of cases, while radio was in its infancy, only those who were able to make their own crystal set, or knew someone with that capability, were privy to the king’s message, on Christmas Day, listened to by the whole family from headphones in a bakung bowl in the centre of the Xmas luncheon table. Subsequently valve operated sets, powered by a large dry-cell battery, and a 2 volt liquid accumulator, became common, ever increasing in the quality of the cabinet and the price, while the technology improved at a snail’s pace
We were a nation of hoarders, even to the extent that when a pan became thin in the base, many people would get a gypsy to repair the pan while seated on the footpath kerb. Where possible everything was repaired, and the general saying was, ‘ keep it for a rainy day’. Above all we were stoical, a leftover from WW1, and ‘nice’, a word which covered practically every condition, from gossip to behaviour. When an aunt of mine was proposing to marry a divorcee, the whole matter was discussed when I wasn’t there, and when she was ultimately married, I was not allowed to go to the marriage ceremony, because he was divorced, and consequently, not nice. I consider that was the epitome of the way life was conducted, if it wasn’t nice it was not banded about, but talked of in hushed voices. How you were viewed by others was seen to be important, something that I believe we inherited from the Victorian era, and, in most cases, was still in vogue by the end of the 30s. It wasn’t a case of keeping up with the Joneses, rather what the Joneses might be thinking about you.
Obviously, there were changes from the 20s to the 30s, but they were very slow, partly because of the effects of World War I, the state of the economy, and probably to some extent, that the man in the street was happy enough with his lot. In general cases he had a job for life, ambition was not as prevalent as it is today, and generally only the man in the household went to work. From my perspective the high point of 1935, when I was about 13, was that austerity by this time had diminished, middle-class people were beginning to own cars because they were in semi-detached or detached houses, and consequently had room for a garage. Municipal sports grounds were beginning to be made, enabling the population to keep fit, if they were inclined. The cinemas had become more sophisticated, and the quality of the films was of a much higher standard. People were once again going on holiday to the seaside, although it was only the wealthy who holidayed abroad. The way I remember that the era was as though the sun shone every day, and every day was a holiday. This is clearly absurd, but it was a sudden awakening. I believe schooling was more liberal, and facilities such as museums, boat rides on the River, and fanfares doing the rounds of the country added to this feeling of a load lifted off one shoulders. But this was not to last long, within four years, we, the children at school would be hustled off to become a burden to families in the country, and when I say families in plural, it was generally the case that the evacuee would have more than one home, even as many as four, before going back to his own home. This was a level of disruption which was felt right across the south of England.
On the day the war broke out we had air raid sirens, which startled quite a lot of people, but that was the beginning of the phoney war, but it wasn’t long before we would be faced with the reality.