Childhood Sunday’s in England in the 1950s

When I was a child, England came to a standstill on Sundays. The United Kingdom was still a Christian society, and Sunday was a day of rest. The Shops Act of 1950 prohibited shops, with a very few exceptions, from opening. It was not until 1994 that Sunday trading became legal. Licensing laws restricted the opening hours of public houses to 12 -2 p.m. (Dad often went out for a pint of beer with a neighbour) and from 7-10 p.m. on Sunday evenings. I grew up in Newark on Trent. There were no restaurants in our town and public houses didn’t serve food. The only places where it might have been possible to eat out on Sunday during the 1950s was in one of the two hotels, though I doubt that many could have afforded the luxury. These were the years of post-WW2 austerity - at least until Prime Minister Antony Eden told us that we ‘had never had it so good’.

 Ours was not a family of church-goers, but we children attended non-conformist Sunday school in the morning. Dressed in our Sunday best clothes, my younger sister and me, after a detour to pick up four little girl cousins, trooped to Barnbygate Methodist Church. That was before we became old enough for our parents to listen to our protests.

I knew that when I got home, the wireless would be playing and Mum would be singing along to Two-Way Family Favourites as she prepared lunch. The programme broadcast messages via the British Forces Network to and from loved ones serving overseas in the armed forces. No computers or cell phones for Facetime or Zoom calls in those days! Communication beyond our shores was written - on lightweight blue airmail stationery. 

Sunday lunch (called dinner in our house) was always a roast joint, beef usually, followed by a fruit pie and Birds custard. Mum filled the pies with apples or plums from our fruit trees. In late summer she used blackberries gathered from the hedgerows. In the 1950s, beef was cheap. A chicken was a luxury eaten at Easter. 

After dinner, Dad sometimes took me for a bike ride in the country lanes. When I was little, I perched on a seat fitted to his crossbar. Later I had a bike. We foraged in the fields for blue stalk fungi and hedgerows for blackberries. Otherwise, I spent Sunday afternoons quietly at home. Parents forbade children from gathering to play together on the large grass oval in the middle of our road. As there was no tv in our house until I was ten, it was during those early years that my love of books developed. My father enrolled me in the Children's Book Club, which delivered one book each month, at the cost of two shillings and sixpence. After I had raced through the book, there was the children's library in town, which I visited every Saturday, to fall back on.

Afternoon teas was usually a salad or sandwiches followed by tinned fruit and Nestle cream. Afterwards,in the cold winter months the family played board games by a coal fire. During the warmer months we went for a family walk, dressed in our best clothes. A special treat was a visit to James’s milk bar on the corner of Kirkgate for a milkshake with a scoop of ice cream in the bottom of the tall sundae glass. Before bed we had our weekly bath, followed by cocoa.

We live in a twenty-four /seven world nowadays. For those who have a day off from work, Sunday has become for many a day for the national hobby of shopping (at least until lockdown prevented it), for day trips, workouts at the gym, and afternoon television. The pubs are open throughout the day. 

But I still enjoy a Sunday routine. Tea, toast, check emails and social media An egg for breakfast, freshly ground coffee to sip as I watch the Andrew Marr show. No housework, and no hanging out washing to dry, on Sundays! Dinner is in the evening and is rarely a roast joint.


Our annual two-week holiday at Cliftonville, Kent


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