Britain In 1953

24 May 2013 - 05:23pm
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Queen 1952

We live very differently now, to how people did in 1953. To get us thinking about the coronation as it was then, here are a few facts about the country and how people lived sixty years ago:

Only a small minority of families had a television in 1953, but almost every home had a radio. There were three BBC stations: the Home Service, which broadcast from 6.30am to 11pm and featured music, news and variety; the Light Programme from 9am to midnight which played mainly music and featured “The Archers”; and the Third Programme, on from 6pm only, which was for serious music and talks. Television started at 3pm for a 5 minute women’s programme and “The Flowerpot Men”, then closed down until 5.30pm when it showed more for children and then adult programmes. The weather and news (sound only) finished the day’s programmes at 10.30.

Cinema was very popular still, although slowly declining in popularity because of television. Most children went to the pictures on Saturday mornings with programmes (featuring two films, trailers and a newsreel) running continuously so people arrived and left mid-performance. Each programme would close with the National Anthem.

Major films included the Ealing Comedy “The Titfield Thunderbolt”, Norman Wisdom’s first film “Trouble In Store” and “Genevieve”, voted the British Film Academy’s best film of the year.

Most people worked a six day week, with only Sundays off. They also had six bank holidays and one of two weeks paid holiday a year.

The seaside was the most popular destination for a day out or a holiday, and holiday camps were often used. Many families didn’t own a car, so trips were taken by train (steam in those days) or bus.

Football was incredibly popular, with Blackpool (with Stanley Matthews) beating Bolton Wanderers in the FA Cup and in cricket, England won the Ashes.

Winston Churchill was Prime Minister, having been voted out of office after VE Day in 1945, and being returned to power in 1951. He would finally leave 10 Downing Street in 1955.

Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay conquered Mount Everest on 28th May. News of the success reached Britain in time for Coronation Day. Hillary was knighted for his efforts.

Queen Mary, the new Queen’s grandmother, died on 24th March. She had stipulated that should she die before the coronation, mourning for her should not delay its taking place. Shortly before she died, she had told her friend Osbert Sitwell that she knew she was losing her memory but that she meant to “get it back”!


Housing was still in short supply after the war, and with the marriage rate so high, many young couples started married life living with parents.


Many wives stayed at home looking after the house and family. Work for married women was slowly becoming more acceptable, although most work was part time and pay was less than for men.

Four out of five households had gas supply, and nine out of ten had electricity.

Meat, sugar, eggs and sweets were still rationed after the war, although sweets came off ration in February, in time for the coronation and eggs and sugar were de-rationed in March and October respectively.

Mail order was becoming popular and hire purchase meant that more people could afford new technology, especially now that post-war restrictions had been eased (after the war, most goods were for export only, to get Britain financially back on its feet after being nearly bankrupted by fighting).

Fridges were not generally owned by most families, and very few freezers could be found, although frozen foods made their first appearance. Most families shopped for food several times a week, if not daily.

Washing machines were top of most brides’ wedding lists, some even preferring to have one instead of an engagement ring. Washing by hand was time-consuming and back-breaking work. However, washing machines were not as we know them now, they still had to be filled and emptied of water by manually connecting hoses, and clothes had to be spun separately.

Most children returned from school at midday to have a cooked meal. People did not eat out often, if at all, and families had a ‘proper meal’ together every day. The first clingfilm designed for domestic use appeared this year. This probably made packing lunchboxes easier!

The teabag had been invented in 1908 but became commercially available in Britain in 1953. Tea was still the nation’s favourite drink.

Most women did some cleaning every day, with rugs and mats instead of fitted carpets, which only became a feature in the 1960s. Linoleum was popular and easy to keep clean. Vacuum cleaners were becoming more widely available.

Most people had fires rather than central heating, and even then many houses only lit a fire in one room, and certainly not the bedrooms unless the occupant was ill.

The school leaving age was fifteen although pupils in grammar schools stayed until at least sixteen when they would take their O-Levels (introduced in 1951 and equivalent to a modern day GCSE).

The cane was still used in schools and discipline and respect for teachers were emphasised.

At Christmas, the Queen made her usual radio broadcast, the first Christmas message to be made outside Britain. It came from New Zealand, where she was on tour.

As a footnote, I have generally avoided the political happenings of this time, as the coronation was a happy event and it’s nice, in a sometimes horrid world, to focus on the positive.

photo credit: jinterwas via photopin cc

photo credit: cstm-mstc via photopin cc

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