Category Archives: Shopping

Post-war Britain in 1947

On Wednesday 2nd July 1947 Edie Rutherford – a South African housewife and Socialist now living in Sheffield, England – recorded in her Mass Observation diary:

Chinese laundry near here has a new notice up, ‘a few customers taken in.’

She also recorded that:
‘Today, for the first time for years, I opened the door to a  ‘Will you buy something from a disabled ex-serviceman?’ man and he opened his case with alacrity.      He seemed to have nothing I wanted, but, as I have done door-to-door selling, I always buy if I can. So I took two pairs shoelaces and bodkin, 10d the lot.
He then offered me elastic but, as I have enough just now, I declined with thanks. He was young and looked fit enough. One had hopes that this kind of thing would not follow the war this time.
Husband has sent to Selfridges for sports coat advertised at 48/-. Prices here around are £5 for a coat worth buying, and thirteen coupons.

It will take many years for Britain to recover from the conflict – but they would succeed.

Would you like a sweet?

For many in Britain Thursday 5th February 1953 holds one of their best War-time memories.  ‘Why?’ you may ask.  I’ll tell you why – it was the day that sweets came off ration!  Children, and a lot of grown-ups too I suspect, all over the UK must have cheered.  During the Second World War there was a shortage of so many of the ingredients sweets were made of, like sugar and chocolate. People were allowed a very small quantity of sweets if they could find anyone selling them. In April 1949 there had been an attempt to take sweets off ration but it didn’t work, because demand far outstripped supply. Within four months there were shortages and sweets were back under ration again.

But today – Thursday 5th February 1953 – the release was correct.  All over Britain children began emptying out their piggy-banks and heading straight for the nearest sweet-shop as the first unrationed sweets went on sale today.  Toffee apples were the biggest sellers, with sticks of nougat and liquorice strips also disappearing fast.

One firm in Clapham Common gave some 800 school children 150lbs of lollipops during their midday break; and a London factory opened its doors to hand out free sweets to all comers.

Adults joined in the sugar frenzy, with men in the City queuing up in their lunch breaks to buy boiled sweets and to enjoy the luxury of being able to buy 2lb boxes of chocolates to take home for the weekend.

Many wondered how long it would be before they went back on ration but the Minister of Food, Major Gwilym Lloyd-George, told the House of Commons that he had no doubt that stocks are sufficient and that he had ordered a one-off allocation of extra sugar to manufacturers to help them meet the anticipated surge in demand.

Sugar itself, though, still remained rationed.  Manufacturers said that the Ministry of Food should have freed sugar supplies as well as those of sweets and chocolate.  Their challenge was to make enough sweets to meet the demand of a de-rationed market, but with only 54% of the sugar supplies they had before the war.  It was a challenge but, overall the industry gave a warm welcome to the news. “We are very glad about it,” said a spokesman for the Cocoa, Chocolate and Confectionery Alliance. “We will do all we can to make it work.”

Despite the volume of sales – there were already shortages of the most popular brands – there was no signs of panic buying.  One reason for this was probably that the price of confectionery had nearly doubled during the war!  However, the de-rationing of sweets had a dramatic effect on the confectionery market. Spending on sweets and chocolate jumped by about £100m in the first year to £250m – a year which, according to the confectionery industry, was “as dynamic as any in the industry’s history”.

Just to put this all into perspective – consumers in the UK now spend in excess of £5.5bn on confectionery each year.

A bolt from the blue

It really was a ‘bolt from the blue’ – a bolt of soft, exquisite lace falling from the top of a stack of bolts of blue linen. It bounced off Jimmy’s head and his reflexes were good enough to catch it before it hit the floor.

‘Oh my goodness; I’m so sorry. Are you OK?’ She was shortish, ‘softly built’ and of indeterminate middle age – and now looking very flustered.

‘I’m OK. Soft lace landing on a soft head does no damage’, he said. ‘It’s a very nice piece of lace I must admit. My wife would have loved something like that.’

‘Oh; can I cut you a length to take home for her? It’s the least we can do after dropping it on you.’

‘No, that’s OK – she passed away last year – in fact 12 months today it was.’

‘Oh, I’m sorry.’ Tears started to show in her eyes. ‘My Jim passed away this time last year as well.’ She sniffed, trying to bring herself away from the memories.

There – would it be wrong if I took you over there’ Jimmy said, pointing across to the snack bar, ‘and we both had a cup of coffee or something? Would your boss mind?’

‘He’s up on the next floor – and it’s my break anyway. I was going for a coffee when I knocked the lace on to you.’

‘So you’ll join me then?’       She looked round. There was no staff member to be seen. ‘Yes, thank you; that would be nice.’

‘We’ll take this lace with us for now shall we?’ Jimmy said. ‘Can’t have it falling on anyone else can we,’ he added with a chuckle.

She smiled too.

They found a seat in the corner of the snack bar. ‘I’ll get the coffee’, she said, smiling again, ‘It’s the least I can do. I did, after all, hit you on the head – and, anyway, I get it for free!’

The next 15 minutes were the best 15 minutes of his life since his Alice passed away thought Jimmy.

‘Oh look – it’s time I went back to work. It’s been very nice talking to you.’

‘It’s been my pleasure’, Jimmy said. ‘I see from your name badge your name is Alice. That was my wife’s name. You said your husband was Jim – my name’s James, but I’ve always been called Jim or Jimmy. There has been something special happening to us both today. Take care.’

Alice looked flustered. ‘I must go – thank you; I won’t forget today either.’

Jimmy stood there for a minute or two, then realised he still had the roll of lace. He went over to where the incident had happened. Alice was nowhere to be seen but another member of staff was there.

‘Hello, I’m looking for Alice,’ Jimmy said to the girl, ‘I have to give this bolt of lace back to her.’

The girl looked at him as if he was out of his mind. ‘We have no-one here called Alice as far as I know.’

‘But she knocked this roll of lace onto me half an hour ago – and we’ve just had coffee together,’ he said passing the lace to the girl.

She looked at him, and then down at the lace. ‘I don’t think we have had any lace like that in this store for a year or so. It was a big pile of lace like this that fell on Alice last year – the same day that her Jim died.’

She looked up to see his reaction. There was no sign of him.

Jim had disappeared – just like his beloved Alice.