From rationing to rock and roll and cheap scooters – Somerset in the 1950s
If you could travel back to the Coronation of 1953, you would find a familiar world. Or would you? What about your mobile, trainers, tights, teabags, computer, credit cards, microwave, and all the other things we take for granted…
Come and see our 1950s kitchen. They didn’t have a fridge. What have they got in the food cupboard? Cabbage from Mr. Bloggs down the road, not beans from Kenya and peppers from Spain. Butter came from the Commonwealth, not France. Mrs. Smith would be lucky to have a washing machine but it wasn’t automatic.
The sitting room has this new contraption – a TV! Millions bought one for the Coronation and have never got out of the armchair since. Their chairs are rather old-fashioned, the children think – they’d rather have some ‘contemporary’ furniture with spiky legs. We have coal – coal fires were still the usual way of heating.
Taunton then was smaller, with half the population it has now. It was a working town with a number of factories – and even a communist party! Over a thousand council houses were built in the 50s, as well as private housing, with new schools, churches, shopping parades, sewage systems and reservoirs. The Somerset Light Infantry had their barracks here; if you were male and 18 you would have to join do your National Service and maybe serve in Cyprus or Malaya or Kenya. You’d have to learn to lay out your kit for inspection – come and see if we’ve done it right.
The ‘Bulge’, the larger-than-average number of children born in the years after the Second World, became teenagers and had money to spend. The boys dressed in Teddy boy gear, and were blamed for any problem.
If you had gone up to London to see the Coronation, you would probably have gone by train; not many people could afford a car though there were some about from before the War. When cars became more numerous – the down payment on a Ford Popular was £4.8s.5d. (£4.42) – towns like Taunton and Bridgwater on a major holiday route came to a standstill in the summer months. Imagine if the M5 came straight through the middle of town now. Scooters were handy to get through traffic; they did 200 miles to the gallon.
The average wage was £8.30p a week. (No, that’s the man’s average wage: women didn’t have equal pay.) What was that in old money? Come and see.
Football was a great spectator sport and cricket too, rather than watched on TV. Village cricket was alive and well, as were pub skittles. People went to the cinema – Taunton had three – and queued in the rain for a good film. Radio had the Goons and Hancock. The Festival of Britain was a festival of music, industry and the arts countrywide as well as in the South Bank.
With all this optimism, was it a golden age? Communism and Capitalism faced up to each other and the threat of nuclear war was real. Membership of CND soared and Somerset had a County Plan in case of Nuclear Attack – would it have protected us?
Visit the exhibition and see some of the everyday objects and clothes that characterised this period and for some of us were part of our “growing up”.
For more information, see motorcycle scooters
Mark Harris contributes and publishes news editorial to http://www.the-scooters-report.com.
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