Posted in Mrs Beeton, Museum, Vintage

1950s Britain – Part Four

Ration book Britain. St. Barbe Museum and Art Gallery, Lymington, Hampshire.


At the beginning of the decade, food and cookery in Britain lacked variety and failed to inspire the palette. The nation’s cooks were sick of having to keep coming-up with innovative recipe ideas for the limited range of available foods. Food rationing placed a considerable strain on the beleaguered housewife. In 1951, meat rations were meagre. Finally, in 1952, tea was de-rationed, followed a year later by eggs and cream.

Powdered egg a kitchen staple in ration book Britain. MShed Museum, Bristol.

Sugar rationing ended at midnight on September 26th 1953 after thirteen and a half years of restrictions. In the four months leading-up to the de-rationing of this essential food item, the weekly ration, per person was one pound of sugar. The de-rationing of sugar gave a much-needed boost to the manufacture and retail sales of sweets and chocolate. In 1954, at midnight on Saturday 3rd July, butter, margarine, cheese, meat and bacon were de-rationed.

American born Alice B. Toklas her cookery book, The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook, published in 1954. Written while living in France, it is a mix of recipes and reminiscences and it became a great success. At the time that Toklas wrote the book’s introduction, butter had just come off of ration in Britain, she commented:

Butter being off the ration now in Britain, no better use for it can be found than in cooking. The margarine-minded for whatever reason will do well to remember that margarine has a definite taste and is more watery than butter. If, in view of expense and after the chastening effect of so many years’ rationing, you feel you must adulterate my butter with part margarine, pray reserve that substitute for dishes and sauces of strong individual taste.

There are so many lovely recipes in this book but one of my favourites appears in the penultimate chapter, ‘Recipes from Friends’. Toklas had a circle of friends drawn from the high society and the arts. Cecil Beaton sent Alice his recipe for ‘Iced Apples (a Greek pudding, very Oriental)’, here it is:

Iced Apples by Cecil Beaton

Prepare syrup with 2 cups sugar and 3/4 cup water and the rind of a lemon. Peel and cut in very thin slices 2lbs apples of a very good quality. Put them in the syrup and let them cook from 2 to 2 1/2 hours. Pour into a mould. Surround when removed from mould with a vanilla custard sauce. Decorate it with candied fruit. Serve very cold. Should be prepared the day before, or in the morning if served for dinner.

The housewife became the hero of the home front, keeping her family fed for fourteen years with limited provisions at her disposal. In 1953, Mr Leslie Gillitt, the President of the National Federation of Grocers’ and Provision Dealers’ Associations gave a speech at the Federation’s annual conference. He heaped praise upon the housewife and her response to dealing with the restrictions of ration book Britain:

We believe that the housewives of Britain, to whom we take off our hats in tribute to the fine job they have done throughout the years of rationed dictated dullness, deserve and will welcome a return to free choice of attractive varieties with no couponed limits on quantity.

I found in my mother’s treasure trove of vintage cookbooks, a really lovely Penguin paperback, Preserves for all Occasions by Alice Crang. My mother still uses the chutney and jam recipes today. Published in 1944, 1946, 1948 and 1953. The 1953 edition is the one my mother has. In the introduction there is another nod to the legend that was the fifties housewife:

The busy housewife, who is already trying to fit in so much extra work… this book is intended for those who have little time to spare and who have not done very much of this type of work before.

At the time this edition went to print (1953), sugar rationing still remained and the book addresses this problem in relation to preserving:

Sugar, being rationed, is the first consideration. Without it there will be no jams or jellies, for at the very least it will take half a lb of sugar to make one lb of jam or jelly. So before starting the season’s preserving it is well to take stock of the sugar supply and same some of this for the favourite jams.

Here are a few of my mother’s favourite recipes from this book:

Apple and Marrow Chutney

Ingredients: 1lb cooking apples; 2lb marrows; 1/2lb shallots; 1/2lb sugar; 1 1/2oz salt; 1/2 oz bruised whole ginger; chillies, peppercorns and 1 1/2 pints of vinegar.

Method: cut the prepared marrow into small pieces, put in a basin with the salt sprinkled over, leave overnight and drain well. Chop the peeled onions and apples finely, tie the spices in muslin, put all the ingredients except the vinegar in a pan and cook until tender. Add the vinegar and cook until it is of the consistency of jam. Remove the bag of spices and pour the chutney into jars. This yields about 3 and half lbs of chutney.

Green Tomato Chutney

Ingredients: 5lbs green tomatoes; 1lb onions; 1lb sugar; 1/2 – 1 teaspoon of salt; 1-2 teaspoons of mixed spice; 1 and 1/2 pints of vinegar.

Method: Slice the tomatoes, cut-up the onions and cook them together in a covered saucepan till they are soft. Add the sugar, spices, and vinegar and cook gently without a lid on the pan and with occasional stirring until the chutney is of the desired consistency.

Elderberry Relish Sauce

Ingredients: 3 pints ripe elderberries; 1 and half pints malt vinegar; 1/2 lb sugar; 1/4 tablespoon of cayenne pepper; 1 tablespoon cinnamon; 1 tablespoon allspice; 1 tablespoon cloves.

Method: Measure the elderberries after they have been removed from their stems and stew gently in the vinegar until soft. Sieve the pulp, add the spices and sugar and simmer until it begins to thicken. Pour while hot into hot bottles and seal. Sterilize in water as recommended above. Yield is about 1 quart.

Plum Sauce

Ingredients: 4lbs plums; 1/2lb onions; 1/2lb sugar; 4ozs currants; 1 quart spiced vinegar; 2ozs salt; 1oz mustard (dry); 1/2 oz ground ginger.

Method: Dark coloured plums are best to use. Cut up the plums and onions and cook them in half the vinegar for half an hour. Rub the pulp through a hair sieve, add to it the remained ingredients and simmer for one hour with occasional stirring. Bottle it while hot.

My copy of British Baking in 2012.

If you are still stuck for Diamond Jubilee catering ideas then I have a recommendation for you. I found this newly published, brilliant little book at my local Sainsbury’s supermarket, British Baking in 2012 published in conjunction with website.’s website also has a great section containing lots of Jubilee Baking recipes.  It costs £2.99 and has thirty recipes that can best be described as British classics: Victoria sponge; Jubilee cupcakes; Union Jack tray bake; jam tarts; Bakewell slices; Eccles cakes;  Bramley apple cake; raspberry ripple ice cream; coffee and walnut layer cake; shortbread; Welsh cakes;  Jubilee trifle; pasties; cheese party twists; cheese and mustard scones and much, much more.  If you don’t have a local Sainsbury’s then you can purchase a copy online. CLICK HERE.


The lifting of food restrictions heralded the beginning of new chapter in domestic cookery. For those who could afford it, the kitchen became a shrine to ambitious materialism. American and British designed gadgets to make the housewife’s life easier flooded the marketplace. Everything from vacuum cleaners, food mixers, liquidisers to fridges with associated advertisements that promised to reduce the time spent by the housewife on domestic chores so she had more free time to care for her husband and children.

In fact, these labour-saving devices often left the housewife chained even more to the kitchen sink and expectations of what she could realistically achieve with her daily chores were increased! For those families who couldn’t afford all the gadgets and white goods, life was a very different story.  If you want an alternative take on what life was like for women in the 1950’s, then I recommend you read the recently published Fifties Mystique by Jessica Mann (Quartet, £9.99). Mann draws upon her own experiences to highlight the many domestic and professional challenges faced by women in the pre-feminist era of the fifties.

A snapshot of my Great Aunt’s newly fitted kitchen. 1955-6.

The fitted kitchen, part of the American Dream, was made possible by the mass production of cheap units. Kitchens were no longer spaces for just preparing food, they became spaces to dine and socialise with friends and family.

Kitchen diner. 1955.

In the era of the kitchen-diner, hatches were often installed between the kitchen and dining-room. Alternatively your handyman husband could knock-up in a weekend, a large wooden structure to divide your kitchen in two, thus creating a separate dining area.  In Christine Veasey’s Pins and Needles Treasure Book of Home-Making (1955) she suggests: simple upright timbers supporting open shelves above. On kitchen side, to sink height, there are easily fixed plastic tiles to match the splash back around the sink. Note how the contrast walls of the dining alcove look. An inspiring room and project for any handyman.

Veasey also recommends that the kitchen cabinets can be re-arranged to create an area which can be used as a playpen for your toddler, so you can keep an eye on him/her ‘while mummy is working.’ On the subject of kitchen storage Veasey advises:

One of the goals of kitchen planning is to reduce the number of steps necessary in performing routine tasks. To accomplish this, modern kitchens are divided into work centres. That is, all the supplies and all the equipment for one general kind of kitchen work are grouped together. Therefore, in planning storage space for kitchens, the first thing to decide is the amount and location of the space needed for each main task.

The English Rose kitchen became the most sought after make of units in the latter part of the fifties. This brand offered high quality and style. The units were colour-coated and made of high-grade aluminium left over from the production of Spitfire nose cones and propellers. Trimmed with stainless steel and bolted together like Meccano. The English Rose kitchen is still popular today thanks to a renewed interest in 1950s vintage interiors. Re-using pre-loved fixtures and fittings also makes good green sense. Units on e-bay fetch high prices, although if you do decide to re-fit your kitchen with English Rose, remember that it can be difficult to incorporate modern appliances into the design layout. The Bath-based company Source Antiques specialise in restoring English Rose kitchen units and will can also help you design kitchen layouts. For more information about this company, CLICK HERE. For a short video clip about Source’s restoration team, Rod and his son Tom Donaldson, CLICK HERE.

In the second half of the decade, the housewife in her shiny, newly fitted kitchen needed something different to cook in her thermostatically controlled gas oven, enter the adventurous food writer. Elizabeth David’s exotic Mediterranean Food (1954), Ambrose Heath’s The International Cookery Book (1953) and the more traditional The Constance Spry Cookery Book (1956).

The first TV chefs appeared: Fanny Craddock, Robert Carrier, Philip Harben and Marguerite Patten all demonstrating dishes to inspire your culinary prowess. For the housewife without a TV then magazines such as Woman’s Weeklyprovided an alternative source of cooking inspiration with regular columns giving advice on food related matters as well as simple, tasty recipes.

Party snacks and open sandwiches featured in my 1958 Womans Weekly, bacon supplement.

I have a copy of a supplement on Bacon Cookery that came with a copy of Woman’s Weekly from September 27th 1958. I printed some recipes in an article posting in November last year. Here are few more from the ‘Party Snacks’ section. If you are planning a vintage-inspired Diamond Jubilee party in a few weeks and looking for recipe inspiration, then you could try some of these:

Ham Cornet Sandwiches

Ingredients: 2oz thinly cut boiled ham or bacon (2 slices); 4 slices of bread and butter, with the crusts removed; a few leaves of watercress; 1 small tin oven baked beans.

Method: Cut each slice of ham into four triangles. Form on into a little cornet, lay it on a slice of bread and butter and at once fill it with baked beans – this will help it to hold its shape. Make the other cornets in the same way, placing two cornets on each slice of bread and butter, with a garnish of watercress leaves between them.

Tomato Daisies

Ingredients: 4 ozs minced cooked bacon; 4 circles about 3 inches in diameter of bread and butter cut from the square slices; 1/2 level teaspoonful dry English mustard; 2 pickled walnuts; 1 teaspoonful tomato relish or ketchup; 2 tablespoonfuls single cream; salt, if necessary, and pepper; 3 tomatoes.

Method: Put the minced bacon into a bowl with the mustard and tomato relish. Chop one and a half pickled walnuts (keeping the remaining half for the decoration), add this to the mixture and bind it with the cream. Season it with salt, if necessary, and pepper, and spread it on the slices of bread. Peel the tomatoes. Cut the flesh of the tomato into petal shapes and arrange them in the shape of a daisy on each sandwich, with a little piece of pickled walnut for the centre.

Bacon Hamburgers

Ingredients: 12 oz minced cooked bacon; 6 soft round bread rolls; 1 level tablespoonful finely chopped onion; 2 teaspoonfuls tomato ketchup; pepper; 1 egg; a little fat for frying; 12 spring onions or rings of raw onion.

Method: Mix the minced bacon and the chopped onion with the tomato ketchup. Beat the egg well and work it into the mixture, then season it well with pepper – it is unlikely to require salt. Form the mixture into six flat round cakes about the size of the bread rolls. Heat a little fat in the frying pan and fry the hamburger cakes on both sides to heat them thoroughly. Place one between each cut roll and insert two spring onions or the rings of raw onion on top.

Coronation Chicken

Coronation chicken, a British BBQ and buffet staple, is an invention of fifties Chef Rosemary Hume.  Hume created the recipe for the official banquet lunch to celebrate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953.  The recipe appeared in the first edition of The Constance Spry Cookery Book (1956).  For more information about  Hume’s coronation chicken recipe, I found a recent article by Andrew Crowley (Telegraph on-line edition). The article also includes a reprint of the original recipe. CLICK HERE.

Curried Chicken – Mrs Beeton Style

I know that Mrs B is not a 1950s cook, however, I couldn’t resist a nod to my food heroine.  Here is her recipe for curried chicken:

Ingredients: 1 chicken, ¾ of a pint of white stock, 2ozs of butter, 1 tablespoonful of curry-powder, 1 dessertspoonful of flour, 1 teaspoonful of curry paste, 1 dessertspoonful of desiccated or fresh cocoanut, 1 dessertspoonful of chutney, 1 tablespoonful of lemon-juice, 2 tablespoonfuls of cream, 1 apple, 1 onion, salt, cooked rice.

Method: Divide the chicken into neat joints, and fry them lightly in hot butter.  Remove them from the stewpan, put in the onion minced, fry for 2 or 3 minutes without browning, add the flour and curry-powder, stir and cook for a few minutes, then pour in the stock and stir until boiling.  Replace the chicken in the stewpan, add the curry-paste, cocoanut, chutney, sliced apple, lemon-juice, and salt to taste, cover and cook very gently for about ¾ of an hour if the bird is young, or until the flesh of an older bird is tender.  Arrange neatly, add the cream to the sauce, and strain over the chicken.  The rice should be handed separately.


Coffee bars/houses enjoyed a revival towards the end of the decade. Cosmopolitan meeting places serving continental foods, such as Swedish-style open sandwiches and exotic drinks in coconut shells. Brightly decorated interiors and curios such as the pet monkey and exotic birds kept at El Cubano Coffee House on Brompton Road in London. Some coffee houses offered creative activities to its customers, such as painting. Although for the more conservative Briton, coffee houses were thought to be a left-wing concept where dangerous liberal thinking took place! The coffee bars were popular with young people too. By the end of the decade the coffee bar had become so popular that it threatened the survival of the traditional British pub.  Pub landlords and breweries fought back by undertaking ambitious programmes of modernisation to the interiors of their establishments in an attempt to attract a younger customer. Here are a couple of short British Pathé films featuring 1950’s coffee bars, including the El Cubano on Brompton Road:

Posted in Event, History, Motoring History, Vintage

1950’s Britain – Part Two

Traditional 1950s, British living room. Exhibit at Portsmouth City Museum. Not everyone in post-war austerity Britain could afford to have the latest modern design interiors that emerged during this decade.


The shortage of housing and available workforce to build it, reached crisis point at the start of the 1950s. Prefab housing was one solution to the problem, it was relatively cheap, easy to erect and required less manpower to construct than a brick-built house. Winston Churchill began working on a temporary housing programme as early as 1944, resulting in the passing of the 1944 Housing (Temporary Accommodation) Act. The construction of prefabricated housing became a priority and £150 million was committed to the project. Factories that had once manufactured aircraft parts and armaments were now put to good use churning out prefabs.

I found an excellent short film by British Pathé, ‘A Home of the Future’ (1944). Essentially, a piece of government propaganda promoting the benefits of prefab living. However, the film features a middle-class housewife inspecting and giving her seal of approval to the interior of one of the show homes opened to the public on Millbank, London in 1944. The prototype is aptly named, ‘Churchill Villa’. To watch the film, CLICK HERE.

Prefabs were bungalow-style homes with mains electricity, bathroom (complete with heated towel rail), kitchen, lounge, bedrooms and a small garden plot. The kitchen was ultra-modern with a gas fridge and even an ironing board that folded out-from the wall. The prefabs were only ever intended to last for ten years and provide temporary accommodation while new, brick-build homes were constructed by local Councils. When it came time for people to finally move into their new, permanent homes, many did not want to leave their much-loved prefab. Some even remained for the duration of their lives, refusing to budge.

The prefabs, with their plain, simple aesthetic, were popular with large sections of the population. For those who had been living in slum conditions or bomb-damaged terraces, a newly fitted kitchen, indoor toilet, central heating and hot water must have seemed the height of luxury. The prefabs were dubbed by some the “People’s Palaces”. There were downsides to living in a prefab, the walls were thin, they were cold in winter despite the heating system and condensation became a particular bugbear.

My great-aunt’s ultra-modern living room. My great aunt married in 1955 and this was her first home. They were a stylish, young couple and wanted a home to match.

During the latter part of the decade private, modern-style, new builds were fashionable among the middle-classes. The average cost of this type of house would have been £2,000. For the average man earning £800 per annum the maximum mortgage that could be obtained was about £2,400. This new type of housing had fewer rooms than a traditional Victorian or Edwardian home which had been popular amongst the middle-classes in pre-war Briton.

With this new wave of young home-owners came the popular trend of DIY (do it yourself). The 1950’s is sometimes referred to as the ‘decade of DIY’. In 1955, Christine Veasey, the founder and Editor of Pins and Needles Plus Home-Making, a monthly DIY magazine for the up and coming DIY’ers declared that:

..everywhere you look, today, there is evidence of the tremendous “do it yourself” boom that has started to make Britain’s home-owners into a new generation of week-end carpenters and decorators…There isn’t a room in the house that will not offer us some chance for improvement at a modest outlay, so let’s become spare-time craftsmen in repairing, enlarging, modernising and cabinet-making.

People had already been conditioned to ‘Make-do and Mend’ during the war, therefore thrifty regeneration had become firmly embedded into the British psyche. DIY seemed the natural next step on the road to customizing the interiors of your home. DIY Magazines, home decor books, hardware stores and television programmes, such as ‘Barry Bucknell’s Do It Yourself’, were emerging left, right and centre. The colour palette of the 1950’s home went from monochromatic to polychromatic. The DIY boom gave rise to a number of inventions that are still with us today such as Polycell’s range of adhesive and filler products. In 1953 the Czech chemist Dr Saloman Neumann invented Polycell, a water-soluble wallpaper paste. In 1954 he developed Polyfilla, a cellulose-based plaster and wood filler. Dr Neumann went on to create in 1957 a wallpaper stripper, Polypeel and a brush cleaner Polyclens. Finally, in 1958 he brought-out a paint stripper, Polystrippa.

In 1924, the Electrical Association for Women was established by Mrs Matthews and Dame Caroline Haslett of the Women’s Engineering Society.  The aim of the Association being to foster women’s interest in the domestic consumption of electricity. The bewildering array of electrical kitchen gadgets available in the fifties, meant there was a real need for an organisation that could help demystify their existence and promote safe usage. The Association came to an end in the UK in 1987.  In Christine Veasey’s Pins and Needs Treasure Book of Home-Making (1955) there is an entire chapter on electric lighting, repairs and safety.  A particular problem during the decade would have been radio-interference. She advises:

..buzzes, bangs and crackles on your loud-speaker, snowstorms and spots chasing across your TV screen are probably due to radio-interference.  It can be caused by certain types of electric motors in vacuum cleaners, hairdryers, sewing and washing machines, mixers, etc., and by faulty thermostats on electric irons and blankets…If your neighbours complain and the cause is traced to your house you must by law have it put right either by repair or by fitting a “radio-interference” suppressor.

Formica, the heat-resistant plastic covering that rejuvenated worktops and tables was invented in 1912 and subsequently introduced to Britain in 1947.  It was easy-to-clean, hygienic, stain resistant and provided the homeowner with ‘wipe-over’ luxury. Even your dining table could be covered with a wood grain design which Formica boasted would result in the finish outliving the table.  Formica came in a wide-range of bright colours. Formica was not only used as a heat-resistant covering it was also used in the production of heated hostess trolleys, teasmades, steam irons, heated trays and kettles.

In the 1958, April edition of Southern Gateway, the wonders of plastic were praised:

…the contents of the average kitchen have been quite revolutionised by plastics. The modern refrigerator is full of polystyrene mouldings and parts right down to the ice-cube trays. Washing machines have many plastic parts, and are finished off with tough, colourful plastic paints…..many foodstuffs and vegetables are now packed in plastic film. Polythene bags and wrappers abound and are invaluable…I think it is quite clear that plastics have virtually taken over in the home. We have to realise that the family has been joined by Polystyrene, Polyethylene, Polyvinyl-chloride, Polyester, and many others. They are all glamourous, colourful and tough. Plastics make a major contribution towards better living and an easier time for the housewife.

G-Plan dining set from 1950s featured in a room display designed and styled by Kiera Buckley-Jones for Homes and Antiques magazine. The room display formed part of the Museum of 51 exhibition at the Royal Festival Hall, London in 2011.

In 1953, the G-Plan furniture range launched, produced by the High Wycombe firm E. Gomme Ltd. The range was designed by Donald Gomme, the grandson of the company’s founder Ebenezer Gomme. Ebenezer, began making furniture in the 1880s from his home in Nettlebed, Oxfordshire. Following a move to Totteridge Road, High Wycombe, Ebenezer set-up a chair workshop behind the family home. In 1898, he went into partnership with his brother-in-law, Jim Pierce and in 1909 they opened a factory on Leigh Street, High Wycombe. Before the Second World War, the company had 800 employees and established itself as one of the biggest furniture makers in the country. During the Second World War, two of E.Gomme Ltd’s top designers, Mr Barnes and Edwin Clinch, were on the board set-up by the Government to design the Utility Line of furniture. The name G-Plan is derived from a shortened form of the tag-line created for the range by advertising executive, Doris Gundry (of J. Walter Thompson Advertising Agency): ‘the Gomme Plan, a Plan for living.’

G.Plan’s Librenza room divider. Part of the Museum of 51 living room displays by Homes and Antiques magazine.

G-Plan was extremely popular in 1950’s Britain for a number of reasons:

  1. it was made of light oak, stylish and reflected modern design principles;
  2. the first range of furniture that could be brought piece-by-piece, thus enabling the budget conscious customer to save-up for each item but knowing that even if it took a while between each purchase, all the items would still go together;
  3. E. Gomme Ltd rolled-out an aggressive advertising campaign aimed directly at the public consumer and not just the retailer. This was an unusual strategy for goods in the early 1950’s;
  4. The customer could view the furniture in situ in staged room settings at the showroom. The room settings also included suggested items of accessory.

All of the above points resulted in such a high demand being created for G-Plan furniture, that an eighteen month delivery wait came into force. In 1954, a showroom for G-Plan opened in London. The G-Plan Gallery was located in Vogue House, St. George Street London. In 1954 E.Gomme Ltd took over two other furniture factories in High Wycombe, Birch’s and Castle Brothers.

By 1958, E. Gomme Ltd and the G-Plan furniture range had reached its peak of popularity. In the Southern Gateway magazine, March 1958, a report was printed on G-Plan. The writer noted that the 1958 range represented a shift towards a more sophisticated, contemporary and smarter style. The report continues: ‘The aim is to create furniture which is not only decorative, but eminently practical and suited to the current way of living.’

Interestingly, the piece of furniture cited as being the best illustration of this, is G-Plan’s contemporary four-poster bed, inspired by the past but an entirely modern interpretation. The report comments that:

It’s proportions enable it to fit as happily into a small bedroom as into a large one; in addition it has such characteristically present day advantages as drapes which are easily detachable and washable, and built-in diffused lighting which obviates the necessity for a bedside lamp.The four pillars were slim and made out of brass and a colourful chintz frieze with flower design surrounded the canopy and bed itself. The bed came in two sizes, 3ft or 5ft.

The report also mentions that E.Gomme Ltd’s announcement that:

…in spite of the rising costs of raw materials and wages in the furniture trade, not only have they been able to keep the prices of their furniture steady but in a few cases they have been able to reduce them. The firm believe that the upholstered prices are remarkable value for money in view of the unusually high standard of materials and craftsmanship employed in making them.

Other interesting items of furniture from the 1958 G-Plan range included the ‘K’ang sofa’. Inspired by the ancient Chinese, the sofa could accommodate a small group of people in an intimate atmosphere for example around an open-hearth. The idea being that if you teamed together two of these sofas you could seat six or eight people at any one time, thus challenging the traditional lounge seating arrangement created by the three-piece suite. Nylon was introduced into the G-Plan range for the first time in 1958.

The G-Plan Gallery for that year was decorated predominately in black and white, offset by: ‘Siamese pinks, peacocks, flamingos, biscuits, nasturtiums and a whole gamut of greens from eau-de-nil to lichen. In complement to these colours the wallpaper of the Gallery features large floral designs often on a plaster white ground.’

HMV television. Model 1811. 1949-50. On display at the Sammy Miller Museum, New Milton, Hampshire.
TV from the Museum of 51 living room.

The growing number of households owning a television and/or Hi-Fi equipment by the end of the 1950s, is also reflected in E. Gomme Ltd’s G-Plan furniture ranges around this time. G-Plan responded to their customer’s growing consumer needs by offering them furniture designed with a complete speaker enclosure, acoustically engineered by Goodmans. The Campaign Chest from 1958, in walnut brown and black lacquer was a particularly ingenious mutli-use item of furniture, it could be a dressing-chest, studio chest and seat, a stand for a tv set. The long low table could be used to hold a Hi-Fi cabinet or cocktail cupboard.

1950s TV from the room display at Portsmouth City Museum.

The annual Daily Mail Ideal Home Exhibition attracted curious onlookers and design savvy home-owners in equal proportion. In the 1950’s visitor figures were high. The exhibition was in its Golden Jubilee year in 1958, the first exhibition having been held in the spring of 1908 in which Lord Northcliffe launched the event at Olympia, London. In 1958, the exhibition was a lavish affair. At the west end of the main hall there was a representation of the Palace of Fontainebleau, complete with a boulevard of green carpet lined by 25 ft high trees and a horseshoe staircase leading to the terrace of the Palace. One of the terrace rooms in the Palace was designed by Cecil Beaton in an Edwardian style, another by Sir Hugh Casson – the music room – an all-white interior, finger-tip control panel swivel-fixed to a couch and all upholstered in scarlet. The music room had been designed to show how to create the best possible conditions for undisturbed music listening. The finger-tip control panel enabled the listener to also adjust the room’s lighting. The Palace was a marriage of old and new in terms of design and style. The ultra-modern music room contrasted with the side galleries that contained historic furniture from a number of National Trust properties. In 1958 there was also a Gallery of Furniture and Décor, consisting of fourteen rooms, eight of which were contemporary in style and the rest from different periods, including: a Swedish farmhouse of 1790; a traditional Japanese kitchen and a modern Paris flat. Contemporary interior designer Mrs Gerald Legge designed a bedroom in flame and aquamarine punctuated with bright gold furniture.

Fashion and beauty also featured prominently at the 1958 exhibition. There was a Fashion Theatre sponsored by Woman. During each week of the exhibition, the Fashion Theatre showcased clothes made out of natural fibres, each week a different natural fibre was chosen. Make-up manufacturer Max Factor sponsored a Palace of Beauty with numerous make-up demonstrations and competitions. There was also a Do-It-Yourself Theatre, a TV feature, an Avenue of Carpets, Household Services and Domestic Labour Saving Sections. The exhibition continued as The Daily Mail Ideal Home Exhibition until 2009. It is now known as the Ideal Home Show and is now a much more scaled down version of its former self.

For a delightful, light-hearted look at the 1958 Daily Mail Ideal Home Exhibition, take a look at this short British Pathé film taken at the event. I think the commentator’s remarks sum-up the Exhibition brilliantly: “Mix the things you can afford with the things you can’t, so that you will be dazzled, without being depressed.” For film, CLICK HERE.

A few more British Pathé, home interior gems:

Bailey’s Maestro caravan. 1955. This was on display at MShed Museum, Bristol’s recent vintage weekend. The caravan is part of the Museum’s permanent collection.


Caravanning was a leisure activity that increased in popularity by the end of the 1950s due to the growing level of car ownership and mass-consumption juggernaut. At the 1958 exhibition, a twin maisonette caravan went on display. The post-war housing shortage also fuelled demand for caravans as permanent homes.

Bristol based caravan firm, F. G. Bailey Ltd (now trading as Bailey Caravans), formed in 1948 and is one of the longest established, UK caravan manufacturers. Its founder, Martin Bailey, had worked as a sheet metal worker during War with the Bristol Aircraft Co. After the War, he became a cabinet-maker, producing utility furniture; the transition into caravan building seemed the right next step. It took him six months, working single-handedly, to build his first caravan which he sold at Ashton Gate Market for £200. He soon launched his first caravan, the Maison, a 20 ft long by 7ft 6 inches wide mobile structure suitable for both holiday and domestic use.

Interior of Bailey’s Maestro Caravan, 1955.

He followed this in 1951 with the Bailey Maestro, designed for all-year round living. As the decade progressed, production increased and the cost of materials became cheaper. The 1955 model of the Bailey Maestro that you see here cost a relatively cheap £288 (ex works), thanks to a government reduction in Purchase Tax. It was 14ft long by 6ft 6 inches wide with an all aluminium exterior and fully insulated. The interior boasted a large food cupboard, kitchen unit, one double and two single beds, large opening windows, stable door style entrance and a large Perspex roof light. The dinette tables and benches convert into a double bed, there is a two-ring gas cooker, gas lighting and a chemical toilet but no fridge, oven or electricity. The Maestro’s body is wooden-framed with hardboard panelling inside, Isoflex insulating material was used between the two skins. The roof was painted canvas, a common technique at the time. In the same year Bailey also launched the Maison 18, more suitable for static holidays or private let. The Maison 18 was an 18 ft luxury, four-berth caravan. The interior had a large end kitchen, full-size gas cooker, toilet and hand basin, two wardrobes, sideboard, four large shelves, large kitchen sink and drainer. The cost of this luxury model was £399 (ex works).

Another very successful caravan manufacturer that benefited from the surge in popularity of caravanning in the 1950s was Bluebird Caravans based in Parkstone, Dorset. The MD of Bluebird, Mr William Knott (sometimes referred to as Bill Knott), enjoyed all the trappings of his new-found wealth. Mr Knott had started his business in 1935 and managed to keep much of his retail prices relatively low due to his skill at buying bulk raw materials at competitive prices. In 1959, nearly three-quarters of the caravans that his firm made were intended for the residential as opposed to the touring market. However, in 1959 Bluebird launched their first motor homes, a popular addition to the Bluebird range. In July 1963, Sprite caravans merged with Bluebird to become Caravans International (CI). This new company concentrated on producing holiday homes and mobile homes. I found another British Pathé gem, ‘Caravan Man’ (1959), featuring William Knott. To view the film, CLICK HERE.

At this year’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show (22nd-26th May), garden designer Jo Thompson created a display on behalf of the UK Caravan Club to celebrate its 105th anniversary.  What do you think the centrepiece of the garden was? Yes, you guessed it correctly a 1955, aluminium caravan, called Doris.  The garden is called ‘Celebration of Caravanning’ and won a Silver Gilt Medal. CLICK HERE for more information on this exhibit.