As the coronavirus lockdown continues, and it becomes clear that it is having a disproportionate impact on the lives of women, with warnings of a regression back to the 1950s for many, I thought I’d look further at the actual experience of my nan in the 1950s, who was also bringing up small children around the same age as mine are now. The parallels are stark – particularly the burden of unpaid labour.
“I now had all the children I wanted [3 by 1952] – it being the main object of getting married and I think Les [my grandad] thought the same, although when we did get them, it was mainly my job to see to them. Now, 40 to 50 years on [in the 1990s], marriage is more like a partnership with the male doing more domestic chores and certainly seeing to the children more.
I can’t remember Les ever changing a nappy, let alone doing any washing of same. Les did do some DIY but I learnt to tackle much of that as well. I sometimes thought he didn’t pull his weight as much as he might have done, with regard to the kids that is, but then I pulled myself up short and remembered what a difficult time he had during the war, and how young he was when he went overseas, spending most of the war in inhospitable conditions. He really jumped from the frying pan into the fire by entering matrimony and fatherhood at such an early age.
He didn’t really have much fun but, as he said, he entered into a steady relationship, which counted for a lot. Mind you, just after the war, there wasn’t a lot of light relief – travel had not yet got underway and people did not have much money to spend. We were lucky that he had a job that he enjoyed, had somewhere to live and three lovely boys.
With buying the house when we went to Dorking, that had to come first. I used to keep the gas and electricity money in separate tins with a weekly amount in each tin. Often, I would rob Peter to pay Paul, but we managed to keep our heads above water and kept out of serious debt. Number 2 Ashcombe Road cost £3000 and I still have the Building Society book that shows we paid a mortgage of £13.10.0 a month and that was pretty hard going in those days. We had to be very careful with money; we didn’t go out much and spent very little on luxuries.
I can’t remember how much Les earned then, but I know I got £2.10.0 housekeeping money, with 10/- extra now and again if we had visitors; I remember Les accusing me of spending money unnecessarily, so I started accounting for every penny I spent. I kept a book and it is still available. Sometimes, I was scratching round for the odd penny or sixpence (2.5p) to get something at the end of the week. I would look down the sides of chairs to see if an odd coin had escaped from someone’s pocket and felt really rich if I found one. I often went without a dinner or two at the end of the week so that there was enough for Les and the boys, but nobody ever knew about that!’