Lancashire Winters in the 1930s

Lancashire winters were dark and bleak in the 1930s. The foul smell of stale chimney smoke remained trapped in the still fog-filled air of industrial towns, lingering until fresh winds blew it away. Snow was intermittent and frost frequent.

We were warm children both inside and out as we walked to school. Mother had prepared a substantial breakfast of porridge, and bacon sandwiches. Well-equipped whatever the weather, we wore Wellington boots and broad woollen scarves crossed at the front and safety-pinned at the back. Lower layers consisted of fleecy liberty bodices and black stockings, long and thick. On exceptionally cold days we wore side-buttoned leather leggings and needed a button hook to do up the fiddly tiny buttons.

In school we recited numerical tables every day, and much of the learning was by rote. A peaceful and sleepy atmosphere pervaded the room as we settled to a writing exercise. Soon would come dinner time and the trek home to a hot dinner of plain nutritious food. A pan of pea soup made with ham shank might have simmered all morning on the open fire, and would be eaten with chunks of bread.
I recall stew and dumplings, sausage and mash and liver and onions, all served with potatoes and a variety of vegetables which changed each day.

My favourite dinner was ‘Milly Molly Manders’. This consisted of jacket potatoes well done in the Yorkshire range. Mother would scoop out the potato from the skins and mash it with pepper and butter. It was then replaced in the crisp potato jacket. Mothers took trouble with their meals in those days, timing meals just as we arrived home.

Childhood illnesses such as measles, chicken pox and whooping cough invaded the four of us and each went down in turn. If we were confined to bed, a coal fire would be lit in the tiny grate, adding warmth and comfort from the flickering flames. Only if the illness was really serious would chicken soup be on the menu, but you had to be nearing death’s door before being offered this luxury.

Monday mornings consisted of washtubs, rubbing boards and wooden punch dollies, satin smooth from long and frequent use. It was a hectic time of water, steam and starch. Broken washing lines were often a feature of Mondays, and upset the rigid routine. Sometimes the
washing had to be dried indoors because of the poor weather. A long clothes rack hung from the ceiling, and created in the living room a dampness which made the windows steamy. Despite the roaring fire, it was difficult to keep warm because of the clammy air.

The smell of new bread on baking days was much more cheerful. During school holidays I would watch my mother kneading and punching the dough. It was a vigorous task, and Mother’s face would be moist and flushed with exertion.

At bedtime, Dad would take the hot rods from the oven, the shelves and the cheek bricks and wrap them separately in layers of the Daily Herald or Reynold’s News and place them in our beds to warm them. Then he would sit each child in turn on the deal-topped dining table in the living room and wash us till we shone.

Our feather mattresses were known as shakeups, and in the white cotton sheets and woolly blankets we snuggled under feather eiderdowns. So comfortable were we all night, but next morning we had to wake up to a very cold bedroom often with thickly-iced windows. Bare feet on the cold linoleum brought us quickly to life to face another day.

Hilda Williams