Posted in Activity, Bringing Alive The Past, Event, Fashion History, Historical Hair and Make-up, History, Maritime History, Motoring History, Museum, Review, Rural Heritage, Vintage, World War One, World War Two

Milestones – Hampshire’s Living History Museum

Milestones - Hampshire's Living History Museum, Basingstoke, Hampshire.
Milestones – Hampshire’s Living History Museum, Basingstoke, Hampshire.

Situated on the outskirts of Basingstoke, Milestones is Hampshire’s Living History Museum. I was recently invited to spend a day there, meeting Museum staff. Afterwards, I enjoyed a leisurely stroll around the atmospheric cobbled streets, visiting buildings and shops that have been recreated from a bygone era.

The well-stocked Co-op shop at Milestones. The Co-op were one of the first high-street retailers to pre-package many of the goods they sold.
A well-stocked Co-op shop at Milestones. The Co-op were one of the first high-street retailers to pre-package many of the goods they sold.

Milestones is a relatively new Museum and was the vision of curator Gary Wragg. In 1996, a Heritage Lottery Fund grant, of over £6 million, was awarded to build a Museum that celebrated Hampshire’s rich industrial and social heritage.  The new building also enabled some of the vast collection of objects housed in the county’s museum store to be put on display, for the very first time, in one location. Milestones was opened on 1st December 2000 by HRH The Duke of Edinburgh. The Museum has since gone from strength to strength and in 2003 was awarded the National Heritage Museum of the Year Social and Industrial History Award.

A Victorian chemist's shop window. Milestones.
A Victorian chemist’s shop window. Milestones.

There are over twenty-one thousand objects on display at Milestones from the Victorian era to the 1940s.  It is a pure delight for anyone with a passion for history, no matter what your age, to be able to enjoy domestic and industrial artefacts in their appropriate context.  In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the county of Hampshire was an extremely important centre for industrial manufacture and Milestones showcases this superbly.

1956 record player in 'You Must Remember This'. This record player was called 'Snow White's Coffin' due to the fact that the functions are clearly visible through the Perspex cover. Designed by Dieter Rams and made by Braun.
1956 record player in ‘You Must Remember This’. This record player was called ‘Snow White’s Coffin’ due to the fact that the functions are clearly visible through the Perspex cover. Designed by Dieter Rams and made by Braun.
A 1960s kitchen. 'You Must Remember This', Milestones.
A 1960s kitchen. ‘You Must Remember This’, Milestones.
One of my favourite areas of Milestones was 'You Must Remember This'. Room settings from the 1930s-1970s designed to encourage the visitor to talk about their own memories. Above image is the 1940s kitchen.
One of my favourite areas of Milestones was ‘You Must Remember This’. Room settings from the 1930s-1970s designed to encourage the visitor to talk about their own memories. Above image is the 1940s kitchen.

I asked the Commercial Activities Manager at Milestones, Louise Mackay, what exhibits are most popular with visitors?: ‘The steam locomotives are a favourite with all ages but the 1940s exhibits are probably our most popular at the moment. I think that one of the reasons is our older visitors can still identify with this period. Over the last few years, interest in all things vintage has also helped raise awareness of this era. In fact earlier this month we hosted our first Blackout Party. An after hours event for adults, with a 1940s theme. Guests listened to music from the era and many came dressed in Forties clothes. We had about four hundred guests. Next summer we are hoping to host another Vintage Festival here and expect this to be as popular with our visitors as the one we held in June.’

The historic Fire Station at Milestones. Children can dress-up in a Fireman’s outfit and climb on board a Fire Engine.

Milestones is divided into court yards, main streets and back streets which gives the visitor the experience of walking around an established town. In Anna Valley Place, enter Waterloo Ironworks and discover the history of W. Tasker & Sons Ltd, an engineering firm that was based near to Andover, Hampshire. Taskers was established in 1813 and for one hundred and seventy years became the leading manufacturer of a wide range of agricultural implements. In the Thornycroft works shed there is a large collection of vehicles manufactured by this Basingstoke firm. Another important industrial firm was Wallis & Steevens, based in Basingstoke at Station Hill. Founded in 1856 and during its one hundred and twenty-five years of trading they designed steam engines, tractors, wagons and road rollers. They were particularly known for their steam and petrol rollers.

This object caught my eye in the jeweller's and watchmaker's shop. It is a bracket clock in a gilt brass case by J. R. Arnold. English, London. c.1843. The clock would once have been covered by a glass dome.
This object caught my eye in the jeweller’s and watchmaker’s shop. It is a bracket clock in a gilt brass case by J. R. Arnold. English, London. c.1843. The clock would once have been covered by a glass dome.

On the main High Street you can take visit a wide range of shops stocked with artefacts from times past. Every type of trade is represented, greengrocer, ironmonger, jeweller and watchmaker, Co-operative Society, Post-Office, milliner, saddlery, sweet shop, cycle shop, gas showroom, garage, a pub, chemist, photographer, toy shop and many more besides.


The streets are filled with vintage vehicles and there is even a railway station which is a replica of the former Chesil Street Station in Winchester complete with a Governess Cart setting-down its passengers for an afternoon departure.

Replica of Chesil Street Station in Winchester and an arriving Governess Cart. Milestones.
A station porter greets a Governess, her charge and mistress at Chesil Street Station Winchester. Milestones.

A free hand-held audio guide is also available for visitors. This provides additional background information on the exhibits and helps to bring the settings to life.  I must praise the curatorial team who have avoided the common mistake, so often made with this type of museum, of creating a historical ‘theme park’. The costumed interpreters are not intrusive or pushy but extremely knowledgeable about their particular era and most importantly have a genuine passion for bringing the past alive and to as wider audience as possible. It is with this talented group of individuals that I found the heart and soul of Milestones.

The 1940s sweet shop at Milestones.
The 1940s sweet shop at Milestones.

Armed with my penny and mini ration book sheet, which visitors can obtain from the gift shop, I was escorted to the 1940s sweet shop by Kate, one of the superb costumed interpreters. The delightful young lady explained to me the idea behind this particular exhibit: ‘We would like visitors to experience a traditional sweet shop during World War Two when rationing was in place. They can select one type of sweet from the selection on offer here and for your penny you will get two ounces of sweets. We then mark-off your ration sheet to show you have had your weekly allowance. Two ounces were the weekly sweet ration in the 1940s. There is no chocolate available in this sweetshop either.’

Sweets were rationed in Britain from 26th July 1942 to 5th February 1953. Chocolate was rationed from 1941. The government banned manufacturers from using fresh milk. Consequently, Ration Chocolate was all that was available and this was made using dried skimmed milk powder.

Inside the 1940s sweet shop. Milestones.
Inside the 1940s sweet shop. Milestones.

Kate told me about the origin of various sweets that we all know and love today.  I didn’t realise that ‘Jelly Babies’ were originally known as ‘Peace Babies’Bassett’s created ‘Peace Babies’ in 1918, to mark the end of World War One. During World War Two, production ceased and in 1953 the popular sweet was re-launched as ‘Jelly Babies’.  I chose two ounces of Jelly Babies.

The sweet shop is staffed by a team of dedicated volunteers and open on weekdays 1-3pm and weekends, bank holidays and school holidays 12-4pm.  One of the volunteers told me why she enjoyed working in the shop so much: ‘It is the stories that we are told by some of our older customers who remember similar sweet shops during the War. One particular customer told me that when she was a child, her town was badly bombed one night. The next day she discovered that in addition to the homes that were destroyed in her neighbourhood, the sweet shop had also suffered the same fate. It was the loss of the local sweet shop that she had found particularly upsetting.  Another customer told me that when she got her weekly sweet rations she would choose sweets that she could cut in half so that they lasted longer. I also enjoy seeing grandparents talking to their grandchildren about their memories of Wartime and rationing. It is lovely to see such interactions between the different generations.’

In 1967, famous chocolate manufacturers, Bendicks, moved to premises in Winchester, Hampshire. Bendicks were established in 1930 by Mr Oscar Benson and Colonel ‘Bertie’ Dickson and began production in 1931 from a tiny basement beneath 184 Church Street, Kensington, London. In 1962, Bendicks received the much coveted Royal Warrant.  Bendicks dark English mint batons use Black Mitcham peppermint that is grown at a farm in the foothills of the Hampshire Downs.

Below are a few sweet brands that you might know, together with the year they first went on sale:

1881 – Rowntree’s Crystallised gums (later became Fruit Pastilles)

1887 – Cadbury’s Milk Chocolate

1899-1900 – Seaside rock first produced

1909 – Maynard’s Wine Gums

1911 – Wrigley’s Chewing Gum

1914 – Fry’s Turkish Delight

c.1918 – Fox’s Glacier Mins

1935 – Rowntree’s Chocolate Crisps (became Kit Kat in 1937)

1938 – Cadbury’s Roses

1951 – Bounty (Mars)

1959 – Mars’ Opal Fruits

1967 – Mars’ Twix

(Milestones, Living History Museum)

Inside the 1930s gramaphone shop. Milestones.
Inside the 1930s gramophone shop. Milestones.

Kate then accompanied me across the pretty cobble streets to the 1930s gramophone record shop.  This shop really is something special, a stunning interior packed to the rafters with home entertainment objects from a bygone era. Visitors select a record, from a large choice presented in a catalogue, to be played on a 1928 gramophone.  I just couldn’t decide, so asked Kate to choose her favourite, which was ‘Teddy Bears’ Picnic’ (1932).

Costumed interpreter Kate puts a record on the gramaphone. Milestones.
Costumed interpreter Kate puts a record on the gramophone. Milestones.

The playing of this record instantly transported us both back to our respective childhoods, only difference is that our household didn’t have a gramophone in it.  Kate told me: ‘I remember as a child that there was a gramophone in our home. My parents were very interested in history and vintage objects. I think that is one of the reasons why I have such a passion for the bringing the past alive. Nowadays, in these difficult economic times, people are looking back to a time when everything seemed to be more wholesome, better.’

Costumed interpreter Dickon, as a 1920s road repair workman in his 'living van'. Milestones.
Costumed interpreter Dickon, as a 1920s road repair workman in his ‘living van’. This van is often on display at outside events and Dickon assures me that the cooking range works really well. I would love to have had a go at cooking on it! Milestones.

I also spoke with another costumed interpreter, DickonDickon has worked at Milestones for seven years and his specialist areas of interest are transport history and industrial heritage.  I asked Dickon whether he had always been interested in living history?: ‘Yes, very much.  I come from an art and design background originally but inherited my love of transport history from my father who has been collecting vintage cars for over thirty years.  I also own a 1929 Austin 7.  I often attend vintage events in my spare time and have a Wing Commanders uniform that I wear when I am driving my Austin 7.’

Steam roller by Wallis & Steevens, 1927, used for road repairs. Milestones.
Steam roller by Wallis & Steevens, 1927, used for road repairs. Milestones.

Dickon has a number of different characters that he interprets at Milestones, including a 1930s car salesman. However, on the day of my visit his persona was a road repair man from the late 1920sDickon explained that during this period, workmen would travel up and down the country with their steam roller and towed ‘living van’.  I asked Dickon what his favourite exhibit at Milestones was?: ‘The 1903 motorcar by Thornycroft of Basingstoke. It is the oldest Thornycroft motorcar in existence.  It is a 10hp, two-cylinder and has had its bodywork completely restored. Luckily, we had the original drawings for the vehicle which helped considerably in the restoration process. The paintwork is not sprayed but all painted by hand. I particularly like the beautiful wooden spokes on the wheels, such attention to detail. The first owner of this car was Reverend H. A. Acheson-Gray. I haven’t driven the car myself but it is one of my dreams to be able to do so.’

Thornycroft of Basingstoke are probably best known for their shipbuilding, marine engineering and commercial vehicle endeavours.  However, between 1903 and 1912 they manufactured high quality motor cars. If you want to find-out more about Thornycroft’s car industry and read a full history of the 1903 car displayed at Milestones, which includes background on the restoration process, then CLICK HERE

Reverend H.A. Acheson-Gray takes his 1903, 10hp, Thornycroft motorcar to be repaired at the local blacksmith.
Reverend H.A. Acheson-Gray takes his 1903, 10hp, Thornycroft motorcar to be repaired at the local blacksmith. For more information on Britain’s first village garages then you might be interested to read my previous article on the subject. CLICK HERE.
The penny arcade was so much fun! On loan to Milestones until September 2013 is a large collection vintage, penny arcade machines and automata.
The penny arcade was so much fun! I changed a pound coin for some old-fashioned pennies. This private collection of vintage, penny arcade machines and automata is on loan to Milestones until September 2013.
Vintage penny slot machine. Milestones.
Vintage penny slot machine. Milestones.
I put my penny in the slot and asked Madam Zasha for a reading. Automata like Madam Zasha were very popular in the eighteenth century and the Victorian era.
I put my penny in the slot and asked Madam Zasha for a reading. Automata, such as this, were very popular in the eighteenth and nineteenth century.
Madam Zasha's gives her verdict.
Madam Zasha gives her verdict.

Milestones is such a wonderful day-out for visitors of all ages who are interested in history and vintage or just want a slice of good old-fashioned nostalgia. There is a well-stocked gift shop with a wide range of history books too and a 1950s style café for you to rest your weary legs.  For adults there is even a working Edwardian pub, Baverstock Arms (but do check its opening times upon arrival).  Alton-born James Baverstock (1741-1815) was a Brewer and thought to be the first person to make use of a hydrometer in the brewing process. In 1769 he married Jane Hinton, daughter of the Reverend John Hinton of Chawton, Hampshire with whom he had a large family and plenty of heirs to carry on his brewery business for him.

If you are looking for somewhere to visit over the Christmas period then the good news is Milestones will be open. The Museum is easily accessible by both car and public transport. I can vouch for the latter as this was how I chose to travel there.  Basingstoke is only forty-five minutes by train from London Waterloo. A shuttle bus (by Courtney Buses runs at regular intervals from outside Basingstoke Railway Station to Milestones (fare currently costs £2 return). Because Milestones is all undercover, there is no need to worry about the weather spoiling your visit either.  All in all the perfect day out for the whole family. For further visitor, collection and event information, please CLICK HERE. Admission charges do apply.

Christmas Opening Times

  • Sat 22 Dec and Sun 23 Dec: Open 11am–4.45pm
  • Mon 24 Dec to Weds 26 Dec: CLOSED
  • Thurs 27 to Mon 31 Dec: Weekdays open 10am–4.45pm, weekends 11am–4.45pm
  • Tues 1 Jan: CLOSED
  • Weds 2 to Sun 6 Jan: Weekdays open 10am–4.45pm, weekends 11am–4.45pm

Normal Opening Times

  • Tue–Fri, Bank Holidays, 10am–4.45pm
  • Sat and Sun, 11am–4.45pm
  • Last admission 3.45pm
  • Closed Monday.

    A spent ages in Collectors Corner and fans of vintage domestic bygones will adore this section. It is also chock-full of kitchenalia. Here are some early twentieth century, electric, cookers.
    I spent ages in Collections Corner and fans of vintage will adore this section. It is chock-full of domestic technology objects. Here are some early twentieth century, electric, cookers.
Collectors Corner. Tempera Permanent Wave Machine - Heat Clamp Method by Wella. c.1946.
A surviving rare example of a Tempera Permanent Wave Machine – heat clamp method by Wella. c.1946. Collections Corner. Milestones.
A spent ages in Collectors Corner and fans of vintage domestic bygones will too. There a cabinets full of kitchenalia. This one was full of vintage electric mixers.
Vintage electric mixers. Collections Corner. Milestones.
Posted in Bringing Alive The Past, Fashion History, Historical Hair and Make-up, Vintage

Happy 100th Birthday Woman’s Weekly Magazine

Front Cover First Issue of Woman's Weekly Magazine 1911

A very Happy birthday to the British institution that is Woman’s Weekly Magazine, which turns 100 a couple of week’s ago.  The first issue, then called The Woman’s Weekly, cost one penny and was published on 4th November 1911.  To mark this important event in the history of the women’s magazine industry, if you purchase a copy of the Special Collector’s Centenary Issue of Woman’s Weekly (8th November 2011, priced £1.25), you will find an extra special treat tucked inside, an exact facsimile re-publication of the first edition.   There is so much to delight lovers of all things vintage in both magazines. Ranging from snippets of advice given in the beauty pages over the last century, to a lovely feature depicting the changing shape of fashion from 1910 to 2000 plus much, much more.  Dash to your news agents and buy a copy in haste!

Here are a few of my favourite extracts from the very first issue, 4th November 1911:

Our Motto – a note from The Editor (p. 2)

‘….I am hoping that every page of this journal will prove to you that I am trying to “get at” the woman of the Empire in every home in the land…You will find that page after page is crammed with information and help that will assist women in their daily lives as no other journal has attempted before.  Our one desire is to please the average woman.  I say frankly that the women of Mayfair and the lady who lives in the castle are not catered for in this paper.  But the woman who lives in the villa or the cottage, in a large house or a small house – the woman who rules the destinies of the home, is going to be helped in her life, her work, and her recreation by this journal.’

Pin-Money Pages 

‘Half-a crown for every one printed.  This is the generous offer I am making this week to good Cooks and House-keepers everywhere…Send a thrifty, tested idea at once and try to win a Pin-Money prize.’

Apple Chutney (p.14)

‘Four pounds of apples; one pound of raisins; a quarter of a pound of salt; one and half pounds of sugar; a quarter of a pound of garlic; a quarter of a pound of onions; two ounces of ground ginger; half an ounce of cayenne pepper; half a pint of mustard seed; three pints of vinegar.

A very agreeable variant on pickles of the ordinary kind, and made from this recipe will, if well cooked, keep a long time.  Pare and core the apples and stew them to a pulp.  Stone the raisins and chop them very fine, together with the garlic and onions.  Mash all together with a potato beater. Add the mustard seeds after they have been left to swell in boiling water.  Finally add the vinegar and mix well. The chutney is then ready for bottling – Sent by Miss M. Hardy, Oakham)’

A Silk Hat Bag (p. 34)

‘This bag for a man’s silk hat can be conveniently hung up in his wardrobe. Procure a deep bonnet-box from the milliner, then make a case of some strong material such as linen.  The case must fit the box perfectly, and be fitted at the bottom with a circular piece. The upper edge of the case is provided with a draw-string. When the case is quite complete, place the box (without the lid, of course) inside. It serves as a protection for the hat, such as a plain bag could not provide.’

Dress Do’s and Don’ts by the Editor of “Fashions for All”

A Blouse Hint – For Girls (p. 20 & 22)

‘It is fortunate for the girl with only a little money to spend on dress that the Magyar blouse is as popular as ever.  It can be made out of a yard and quarter of double-width stuff, and your pattern can be used again and again.  Remember if the blouse drags under the arms you can remedy matters by inserting a small diamond-shape gusset of material.  If you possess a well-fitting slip of washing satin, or even sateen, it is surprising how many changes can be contrived by means of pretty little semi-transparent over-blouses of voile, ninon, or thin delaine. All the trimming they need is a little hand embroidery in coarse silk, crewel wools, or beads and a girl with clever fingers can copy the most expensive models she sees in the shops at very small cost indeed.  Piece-lace is another excellent material for the purpose, and if the patter is outlined and picked out in silk (simple darning stitch and French knots) a most distinctive garment will be the reward of your labours!’

How to Become a Nurse by Miss E. Margaret Fox, Matron of the Prince of Wales’s Hospital, London

1. Why Do I Wish To Become a Nurse? (p. 35)

‘Nursing is not quite what you are apt to think it is, and you must be sure your kindly desire to relieve suffering and help the sick and poor is strong enough to carry you through a great deal of hard and monotonous work; also, that you have plenty of patience and perseverance, and a real natural liking for looking after people when they are ill,  or you will never be a success. Will you, just for a moment, put to yourself some such questions as these: Is it because I am tired of the typewriting office, the shop, or the business, and just want a change? Because I find the old aunt or grandmother who lives with us a bore? Am I tired of living at home? Does my stepmother irritate me? Do I not get on well with my sisters or brothers? Is my liberty restricted at home, and do I want more independence? Do I really crave for excitement of some kind, to be taken notice of, to wear a pretty uniform, to be looked up to, to be admired? Or, do I wish to become a nurse in order that I may have a reliable, useful means of making a living, so that whether I marry or remain single, I may always be of real use to other people, and find my greatest happiness in serving the sick and suffering, and in doing good?’

Advertisement for Bird's Custard from the back page of the first edition of The Woman's Weekly, 4th November 2011.
Posted in Historical Hair and Make-up, History, Vintage

1940s and 1950s Hair and Make-up

The Glamorous 1950s Look.

Before the War, my grandmother ran a successful hairdressing and beauty salon in Mayfair, London. Her skills were much in demand among society’s elite. She had a large movie star clientele too, being chauffeur driven to assorted penthouses and beautiful houses across the city to tend their coiffures. Some of her memories of this period are just incredible, however, she was always discreet which is why I will never publish here, any of her salon tales. I have inherited her love of hairdressing and beauty, although I never trained professionally or pursued this career path, a choice I often regret, I do have her skill and confidence when it comes to creating period hairstyles.  This posting will focus on 1940s and 1950s hair and make-up trends.

Despite austerity measures experienced during the Second World War, looking good was still as important as ever to women.   Instead of discarding lipstick ends, they were melted down, moulded into pots and re-used.  When a lipstick ran out, solid rouge was used on lips.  Soot and charcoal were often used as eye-shadow and rose petals steeped in water produced a liquid tint that would effectively colour the cheeks.  Even boot polish was used as an eyelid-darkener.  Cold creams and make-up removal creams disappeared off the market as the War continued.  Sometimes,  a small amount of lard was used on the face to remove stubborn make-up traces.

Christian Dior introduced his ‘New Look’ in Paris on 12 February, 1947.  The antithesis of wartime utility dress.  The shoulder line was softer, waists were nipped in, and skirts were long and voluminous involving lavish use of fabric which would have been impossible to have achieved during the war.  Beauty houses correspondingly produced a wide range of “New Look” cosmetics to complement this fashion.   Cosmetic advertisements at the end of the decade show an emphasis on colour and novelty packaging.  Elizabeth Arden produced a wide range of matching lipsticks and nail polish colours.  Rimmel introduced an ingenious lip colour palette which incorporated a mirror and brush.  Goya were known for their ‘Thick and Thin’ lipstick, two metal lipstick containers, one slim and one thick, joined together by a delicate chain.

Setting lotion was also difficult to obtain, sugar water was sometimes added to dampened hair before setting.  Hairpieces were popular, false braids, fringes on combs and falls of curls.  Curls remained popular until 1947. Perms were all the rage, particularly the new cold perm method.   In the mid 1940s, the topknot or doughnut emerged.  The hair was put-up all the way around from the roots into a mass of curls at the top.

Early 1940s

  • there were fewer shades, powder and lipstick was dry and flaky;
  • shortages of alcohol meant more perfume and less cologne;
  • shortages of fat, oils and the complete dearth of glycerine resulted in products with no emollients;
  • Boots No. 7 began in 1935 and continued to be popular throughout this period;
  • nail polishes were made with film scrap instead of nitro-cellulose;

Late 1940s

  • a ‘fresh young-natural look’ emerged which was less harsh.  Lipstick shades became lighter and emphasis began to shift away from the lips to the eyes;
  • Pan-Cake by Max Factor was extremely popular, it came in 6 shades and first appeared in 1947.  Max Factor used film stars for his advertisements and top French models were employed to promote his cosmetic range;
  • artificial eyelashes, fluid eyeliner, cake eyeliner, eye shadow sticks, cream shadow, waterproof creme mascara.  Eye make-up remover was now available in pads;
  • eyelash curlers began to appear;
  • Coco Chanel introduced her lipstick range;
  • beauty spots came back into fashion.

During the 1950s, the range of face powders and foundations was matched by an equal variety of lipstick, eyeshadow and nail varnish colours.  Paler lipstick tints appeared designed to enhance and contrast with the beauty of a summer tan.  Gala added titanium to their lipsticks to give them a bright white appearance on application, ‘Italian Pink’ was a favourite colour in this range.  They also manufactured a large number of mid-tone colours, ‘Sari Peach’ was one of the most popular shades. At the lower end of the price scale, Woolworths produced a more affordable lipstick line.

  • softer coloured lip shades made the mouth less noticeable and attention was now drawn toward to the eyes;
  • the range of eye shadow colours was vast.  Eye shadows were sold in cream or compressed powder which would be applied with water and brush.  Some eye shadows resembled colour crayons and were sold in metal holders.  Glitter eye shadows were created by adding fish scales to the powder;
  • colour combinations in make-up were bold, violet mascara, blue eyeliner, silver eye shadow, copper mascara with green frost shadow was popular;
  • the upper lid of the eye was emphasised by a thick black line applied using the newly fashionable liquid eye liner. The eye decoration resembled that seen in ancient Egypt;
  • natural brows were accentuated with dark pencil;
  • Audrey Hepburn’s ‘urchin’ hair-cut was very popular in the early 50s.  This drew the attention to the face’s bone structure and eyes;
  • soap ceased to be rationed in September 1950 and this made-way for all kinds of shampoos, hair tints, hair dyes and setting lotion.

Forties and fifties inspired fashion continues to dominate current British fashion trends.   The playsuit teamed with wedgy espadrilles, floral prints and tailored dresses with full skirts, flared trouser suits with halter necks all can be seen on both the catwalk and the high street.  Pattern companies are delving into their archives, recognising the obvious commercial potential of re-issuing patterns from the 40s, 50s and 60s.   Original patterns from this period are also at a premium and can be expensive.  I know this as I have recently purchased a 1952 blouse pattern and want to buy more but not at the inflated prices that some retro-retailers are charging, cashing in on the trend.  I think it is time to have another rake around my mother’s attic and see if I can find any pattern gems hidden away in a forgotten, dusty corner.

  • For more information on life in 1950s Britain, together with lots of lovely images to inspire you from the decade, then you may find my four part series on the subject to be of interest. Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four.
  • In the Summer of 2010, the concept ‘Vintage at Goodward’ was launched, a blend of 40s, 50s and 60s fashion and popular culture.  For further information click here.
  • One of London’s top notch Vintage Fairs is ‘Clerkenwell Vintage Fair’ held at The Urdang, The Old Finsbury Town Hall, Rosebery Avenue, London, EC1R 4RP, 11am-4.30pm. The next three Fairs take place on Sunday 25th September, Sunday 25th October and Sunday 13th November.  For further information, click here.


Posted in Activity, Fashion History, History, Vintage

Make Do and Mend – Recycling Fashion 1940s Style

My 2011 twist on the 1940s Make Do and Mend ethos. Take one length of 1940s dress fabric.
Add modern trimmings and buttons. Transform spare fabric into a matching purse.
Turn rest of spare fabric into a rose brooch with button detail.

Recently my friend and I found ourselves flicking through the rails in our favourite vintage clothing store, Foxtrot Vintage Shop in Salisbury, Wiltshire.  My friend found a lovely 1940s summer dress, with knitting motifs on the fabric and matching belt detail.   It fitted her perfectly, the only problem was that it was just too long.  Sensing my friend’s disappointed and possible decline to purchase, I suddenly had a flash of inspiration.   I could cut the excess fabric off of the bottom and turn it into a matching purse and rose brooch, the latter perfect for pinning on to a matching cardigan.  Both of us left the shop thrilled, my friend had purchased a charming dress that fitted her like a glove and I had a craft project on my hands. This got me thinking just how relevant the 1940s government campaign, Make Do and Mend, was to us today in these cash strapped times.  

What was the Make Do and Mend campaign?   By Spring 1941 the amount of clothing reaching Britain was in short supply.  On 1st June 1941 the UK Government introduced clothes rationing, allowing each person 66 clothing coupons per year.  In 1943 The Ministry of Information distributed the pamphlet ‘Make Do and Mend’, supported by advertisements in magazines and on newsreels.  DIY fashion was born.  One advertisement issued by the Board of Trade in 1942 declared:

‘If you care for clothes you naturally want to take care of your clothes.  This is a really important War job for every woman to take seriously today.    Fortunately, you are rewarded for the extra trouble, not only by feeling that you are helping to win the War, but also by looking your best all the time.  And you save money as well as coupons.’

Here are a few examples of 1940s Make Do and Mend advice:
  • Turn worn-out sheets into tea-towels or glass cloths;
  • Join a Make Do and Mend class;
  • Rayon – don’t soak, dip them.  Don’t boil them, use lukewarm water, don’t wring or twist them.  Hang evenly so they do not pull out of shape;
  • Always keep a needle and thread handy.  Deal with a ladder or tear straight-away;
  • Old bath towels can be turned into flannels and the more badly worn towels can be used for dusters or floor cloths.  A swimsuit can also be made out of bath towels;
  • Unpick dog biscuit or sugar bags and turn into tea towels;
  • Hat netting can be made into fish net stockings;
  • If your suspenders need renewing, knit 4 inch-wide bands and replace worn suspenders.  Re-attach old grips to knitted bands;
  • Sew loops on your towels and hang them up, they will last longer.

Clothing and shoe exchanges were also very popular.  These would have been run by local schools or women’s organisations such as the WVS/WRVS.   Clothing rationing ended on 15th March 1949.

Posted in History, Vintage, Vintage Retail

Two recommendations for fans of all things Vintage

1950s room exhibit, Museum of 51 Exhibition, South Bank

If you are a fan of all things Vintage, I have two recommendations for you:

  • Vintage Life Magazine– This monthly magazine (£3.70) is perfect if you are a fan of 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s nostalgia.  Regular features on beauty, fashion, lifestyle, music and food.  Good news is that the publication is easier to source than before, since WHSmith now stock it.  I love this magazine and the classifieds section at the back is great for sourcing Vintage goods.
1950s Scarf, exhibit in the Museum of 51 exhibition, South Bank


  • Blitz Vintage Department Store Opened earlier this month in London.  A huge five-room Victorian warehouse has been turned into a department store to cater for all of your vintage fashion and lifestyle needs.  Situated just off Brick Lane, 55-59 Hanbury St, London, E1 5JP. Tel: 0207 377 0730. E-mail:
Posted in Event, Vintage, Vintage Retail

Vintage Festival South Bank 29th-31st July

This weekend, as part of the ongoing celebrations on the South Bank London, a Vintage Festival is taking place.  The event promises music, film, fashion, art and design from the 1920s to 1980s.  Highlights include:

  • The Vintage Marketplace
  • Pop-up catwalk shows and ‘Best in Show’ parades
  • Daily decade-specific revue shows in the Royal Festival Hall auditorium
  • 10 night clubs including Vintage favourites the Torch Club, Let it Rock and Soul Casino, plus new clubs The Studio and The Penthouse
  • Themed restaurants and bars

Jo Wood and Pearl and Daisy Lowe will be storming the runway in exclusive catwalk shows.  If you want to enter into the spirit of the occasion, then why not treat yourself to one of the decade specific make-overs.  The only question is, which decade will you choose?  I’m a Victory roll and Make Do and Mend kind of girl, I’ll make mine the 1940s I think.  

Souvenir powder compact from the 1951 Festival of Britain
Posted in About This Blog, Vintage

A Blog For Anyone Passionate About History

A very warm welcome to ‘Come Step Back in Time’, a non-commercial blog, which promises to be an interesting read for anyone fascinated by history.   My name is Emma and am a writer, researcher and historian living in Hampshire, England.   I originally trained as an art and design historian but my areas of historical interest are now quite varied.  I love discovering new topics to research, the more obscure, challenging and quirky the better, although I do confess to having a few favourites: fashion and the history of retail; all things now referred to as ‘vintage’; architecture; interior design; food; medicine; motoring and theatre.   All photographs that illustrate my articles, unless otherwise stated, have been taken by myself.  Happy reading and Enjoy.