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Britain Since the 1930s

by Mandy Barrow
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Changes since the war

Memory from a visitor to our website

I started school at Poppleton Road in York, England in 1945 – end of the war, still rationing, TV just starting, no computers - then with my parents emigrated to Australia by boat through the Suez Canal in 1950, since when I became first a diagnostic radiographer then a Salvation Army officer (minister) Now retired I am working with my wife at a Salvation Army Secretarial College in South Western Tanzania.

Inventions since the 1930s | Timeline from the end of the war

Life in 1948 | Population from 1991 | Money | Websites

In 1948:

  • A quarter of British homes had no electricity.
  • People often lived in the same town all their lives, near their families.
  • There were often more than three children in every family.
  • One third of the British population went to the cinema at least once a week.
  • There were only 14,500 television sets in the whole country and there was only one channel (BBC). Hardly any homes had a television.
  • Most families listened to the wireless (radio) for their entertainment.
  • Many homes did not have a telephone or an indoor toilet.
  • Cooking was done from scratch using produce grown locally. You could only buy items that were in season and most of what you bought was made or grown in the UK.
  • There were only just over a million cars on Britains roads. Petrol rationing ramined until 1954. For most people, this made the car an unaffordable luxury. Most people used public transport to get around.
  • Air travel was mainly for the rich. To go abroad, most people traveled by ship.
  • The average weekly wage was £3 18s (£3.90). Now it is about £400.

Working life

In 1948, most people in Britain worked in manufacturing industries, where they made things (in factories for example). Heavy industries like coal mining, iron and steel making, ship building and engineering employed millions of workers. Most of these workers were men. The majority of women stayed at home to look after their families and their homes.

Today, most people work in service industries such as education, health, shops, banks and insurance, where they provide services for other people. There is very little heavy industries left. People can buy of make the same things cheaper elsewhere. New technology means that factories use more machines to do the work and fewer people.

More women work today. It is normal for women to have jobs, even if they have young children.


There were no supermarkets in the 1940s. To do your weekly food shopping you would have needed to visit several different shops, one for fruit, one for bread, one for meat and so on.

baker's a shop which sells bread and pastries
butcher's a shop which sells various types of meat
dry cleaner's a shop which cleans clothes
fishmonger's a shop which sells fish
greengrocer's a shop which sells fruit and vegetables

Customers did not serve themselves like we do. They stood on one side of the counter and the shopkeeper would fetch the food items.


The Education Act (law) in 1944 gave every child free education to the age of 15 (raised to 16 in 1973).

Classrooms were cold and the windows were high up so you couldn't look out.

Each child had their own desk with a lid. Lessons were quite formal with an emphasis of learning things by heart. There were very few text books so most things had to be copied off the blackboard.

Teachers were strict and corporal punishment was common. Children were punished for being naughty or getting their work wrong by getting hit by a cane (thin walking stick)

Free Milk
Since the thirties, the government paid for all children to receive free school milk. The milk came in small glass bottles. Each child go their own bottle and a straw at mid-morning break.


Most people stayed in Britain for their holidays. They went to the seaside or camping in the countryside. Click here to find out more


In 1948, British currency was made up of pounds, shillings and pence. Click here to find out more


The home was an important aspect of lifestyle. It's decoration and furniture revealed what type of person you were and how well off you appeared to be.

Many houses did not have indoor toilets or a telephone. There was no central heating. Houses were kept warm from the heat of of a fire in the fireplace.

Few houses had fitted carpets, most had wooden or stone floors.

Most people washed their clothes by hand and hung their clothes out to dry on a line. In wet weather the clothes were hung in front of the fire.


Children had very few toys. Most children had to make up their own games. They enjoyed skipping, playing football and hopscotch. Thy played in the streets as there were not many cars around.


Inventions since the 1930s | Timeline from the end of the war

Life in 1948 | Population from 1991 | Websites


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Mandy left Woodlands in 2003 to work in Kent schools as an ICT Consulatant.
She now teaches computers at The Granville School and St. John's Primary School in Sevenoaks Kent.

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