No more than 2.4

There were plenty of reasons for a baby boom straight after the Second World War – happy times – but difficult times too – as families dealt with the challenges of day-to-day life in the late 1940s…

Outset Publishing

I’m sure there are many things that might trigger a rise in the birth rate – but consider these particular influencing factors for post-war Britain:

  • couples were finally able to celebrate the end of six years of war
  • wives and girlfriends could welcome the return of a loved one from the horrors at the front
  • British women had a chance to meet and marry a military man from the US or Canada who had come to Britain to help the Allied Forces.

Perhaps it was not surprising, therefore, to see the UK birth rate jump from around 795,000 in 1945 to over 955,000 in 1946. Quite a rise! But that wasn’t the real height, perhaps because there was a lag in the timing of demobbing, with some military men not arriving home until well into 1946. And so we see a further leap in numbers in 1947 to well over…

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This will do nicely…

Post-war Britain experienced such a dreadful housing crisis that many families had no choice but to take matters into their own hands…

Outset Publishing

Consider how it must have been after the Second World War for millions of families who were all desperate for somewhere to live – somewhere ‘fit for purpose’, many having lost everything during the wartime London Blitz and similar devastation across the country. House building on a grand scale was promised by the post-war Labour government, but it was taking too long and in many ways falling short of what was needed.

It should be no surprise then that some people chose to take the situation into their own hands. Shortly after the war ended – in the summer of 1945 – a group of people in Brighton decided to solve the housing crisis by ‘commandeering any house that is empty and installing in it a family in need of accommodation.’ These squatters called themselves the ‘Vigilantes’.

A year on, what had started as small-scale developed into something much more…

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Lessons to learn

The Butler Education Act, brought in after the Second World War meant many controversial changes to schooling, not least the 11-plus examination. A ‘negative experience’ for many, including Cliff Richard …

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‘A landmark has been set up in English education’

Times Educational Supplement, 1944

Such was the general reception to the Butler Act of 1944. The paper’s editor went on to comment that ‘there shall be equality of opportunity, and diversity of provision without impairment of the social unity’.

So why did the Butler Act promise such wide-reaching changes to education and how successful were they in reality? Up until this point state education provided for children aged five through to fourteen in one ‘elementary sector’. Butler, however, recommended a division in education between ‘primary’ (five to eleven) and ‘secondary’ (eleven to fifteen). Some local authorities were already offering state funded secondary education, but with this Act the intention was to ensure fairer and widespread access, particularly for girls and, more broadly, children from working class families.

Although the Act was passed during the Second World War, it wasn’t until…

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Choosing four wheels over two

There were barely two million cars on British roads at the end of the 1940s – a bit of a change from nowadays – when estimates report around 32 million!!

Outset Publishing

If you wanted to travel around Britain in the 1940s it’s likely you would have been walking, cycling or travelling on public transport. And if you were a critical worker, delivering milk to doorsteps early mornings, then you might even still be relying on a horse-drawn cart.

The average distance people needed to travel to get to work was around five miles and a bare six percent of workers choose to get there in a car. The motor car was still an unaffordable luxury for many.

Take the Ford Anglia, for example. In 1950 it would have set you back around £310. And to give that figure some context, the average house price in 1950 was £1,940 – making a car purchase one sixth of the cost of a house. So, converting that in today’s terms, (with the average house price around £256,000) it would mean the cost of an…

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I do…or I shouldn’t have…

With the perils of wartime looming large during the early 1940s there were plenty of couples who married in haste, but sadly repented at leisure – but plenty more who lived happy ever after!

Outset Publishing

The perils of war concentrate the mind when it comes to romance. If your sweetheart is about to go off to fight and you couldn’t be sure when or if you would see them again, then it would make sense to confirm your love for each other by ‘tying the knot’.

In the early months and years of the Second World War thousands of young women decided to marry. The wedding was often planned in haste, with no white dress or finery, no posh reception and certainly no honeymoon. Some couples might have managed a ‘knees up’ with friends and family at the local pub or village hall, but many others would merely attend the register office with the barest minimum of guests to act as witnesses before the solder had to return to the front.

Newly-engaged couple Marcelle Lestrange and Harold Lackland Bevan examine an engagement ring in a…

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Crossing the world

Many families experiencing austerity in post-war Britain were tempted to emigrate – to seek pastures new. But there were many more who chose to stay, despite the hardship, relying on the comfort and familiarity of the life they knew…

Outset Publishing

After the Second World War Britain saw arrivals of folk from all across the globe – many from Commonwealth countries who were intrigued to discover what the ‘mother country’ was like. But it was also a time when some British people decided to leave – to emigrate.

The situation in Britain was dire. For some families, it seemed that everywhere they looked all they could see was hardship. Decent housing was difficult and sometimes impossible to achieve, rationing of basic foodstuffs was still in place, secure employment was often unattainable and with the war debt hanging over the economy it seemed that the situation would be unlikely to change any time soon.

No surprise then that in spring 1948 a Gallup poll indicated that around ’42 per cent of people wanted to emigrate’ (Austerity Britain by David Kynaston). Nevertheless, there was a big gap between wanting to leave and…

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Better than a tin bath

Imagine a time when queuing an hour for a bath was the only way to keep clean! That’s how it was for many families in 1940s Britain…

Outset Publishing

When I dig around in my tin of old photos I find a picture of my brother – just a toddler at the time – standing in the kitchen sink to be washed. In 1940s Britain this would have been a typical scene in many houses as few had indoor bathrooms, with the only running water being a cold supply to the kitchen sink. Perhaps an gas-fired Ascot water heater would provide a little hot water, but for many families the only way to heat a large amount of water – enough for a bath – would have been to put a large copper pan over a coal fire to heat it up. The water, once heated, would be poured into a tin bath that would be taken down from its hook on the outside wall of the house and placed into the middle of the kitchen. Imagine how much…

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All washed up!

Any thoughts of labour-saving devices, like an automatic washing machine, was as far in the future for most families in 1940s Britain as putting a man on the moon!

Outset Publishing

Imagine yourself in 1940s Britain, when it was more than likely you would be sharing an outside toilet with other houses in the street, or sharing one on the landing of your block of flats. The kitchen sink might have doubled up as a bath for the little ones in the family, and the luxury of an electric washing machine was yet to arrive in most homes.

Monday was washday for most people. And the popular choice for the weekly laundry was to tackle it by hand – using the kitchen sink or a copper pot and a wooden scrubbing board to scrub the clothes. Steam clogged up the windows and red-faced housewives used all their energy to tug at the clothes with wooden tongs, trying – sometimes in vain – to keep their hands out of the boiling hot water! It was really back-breaking work. Then it was a…

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What a ball!

With little or no sport being played during the Second World War years everything took off in the 1946-1947 season, with fans up and down the country flooding back into stadia and cricket grounds…

Outset Publishing

After the six years of the Second World War, when sport of any kind was certainly limited, and at times and in certain places, non-existent, the cessation of hostilities brought fans of every sport flooding back into stadia.

The archetypal English game of cricket saw its first full season in 1946, and even the weather didn’t keep fans away. In 1947 there was test cricket against the South Africans, who were touring the UK for the first time since 1935. 1948 saw a 4-0 defeat in test cricket against the Australians and the decade ended with a tour by the New Zealand cricket team, resulting in a draw of all four test matches.

Summer 1946 also saw the first Wimbledon tennis championships after the imposed six-year break and other much-loved annual sporting events, such as the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race, the Grand National, and the British golf Open Championship…

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A new shopping experience

Thinking back to a time in 1940s Britain when self-service food shopping was considered to be nothing short of revolutionary…

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The food shopping experience of the 1940s was very different from that of today.

Customer making a purchase in a grocery shop during the Second World War. Interior view of a grocer’s shop with goods piled high on and behind the counter. The grocer offers a product to a woman customer. Egg substitutes and mixtures requiring no eggs are much in evidence.

Housewives were used to having the butcher, baker and fishmonger deliver to the door. They would take receipt of their goods and then put in their order for the next week. Milk was delivered by the morning milkman, arriving with his horse-drawn or electric milk float. So it only left a short walk or bus ride to the local greengrocer’s shop for their seasonal fruit and vegetables.

Women were comfortable in the knowledge that the salesmen knew what they wanted. They often stopped for a chat or a…

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