A couple of months ago my old Aunt died, she was 90 yrs old and had lived most of her life a single lady doing as she pleased with whom she pleased. She was a teacher and used her holidays to good effect having travelled extensively.
When she was in her 60s she wrote her memoirs, they were never published but a few excerpts were quoted in some magazines. I was reading a couple of pages yesterday about her days at primary school in the 1920s in Rochdale. I have edited the wording slightly (sorry Mary).
"Our school was in an area of old property, most of it slums. To reach the school you passed Blossom Place: if ever there was a misnomer, that was it. There was a high stone archway joining two rows of noisome dwellings round a covered courtyard running with damp and filth and swarming with filthy children. Most of the girls didn't wear knickers except for school and all the toddlers seemed to be naked below waist level, so they all obeyed the calls of nature wherever they happened to be. The houses had no water, there was a communal tap in the yard, they had nothing that we would now call a toilet. Because of the room over the courtyard they had no direct light: the living conditions must have been fearful. Directly across the road was a cul-de-sac called Spring Gardens, just as poverty stricken but with a little more light !
It is difficult these days to visualise the grinding poverty and destitution of the twenties. Poverty is relative, what we now call sub-standard housing would have been a palace to these people, who frequently didn't have enough to eat and never had any money for even the smallest luxury. Many of the small children had to wear adult clothes cut down, little boys would wear trousers with the legs cut down and crotch half way down their stick like legs, usually they wore very old clogs. Girls slopped around in ladies shoes with the heels cut off and layers of unsuitable garments.
Malnutrition was rife with all its attendant diseases, the poorest children at school lined up to have a cup of Glaxo made with water and some cod liver oil, probably their only form of nutrition. Each morning we marched into the hall by class and stood shuffling and sniffing facing the headmistress. we sang a little song and said a prayer and then had a homily usually about cleanliness and the advisability of using a handkerchief instead of shirtsleeves. She would say those who cannot bring a handkerchief should bring a bit of clean rag. Since many couldn't bring any sort of rag let alone a clean one this was something of a lost cause".
Last nights main news compared the economic downturn of the last 3 months and the current big squeeze on living standards to 1920s. Fiona Bruce, as you sit behind your desk with your 35 grand a year clothing allowance, read this and don't talk shite.