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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

Life in the 1950s | 1960s | 1970s | 1980s | 1990s

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 Britain's roads. Petrol rationing remained 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.


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.

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.


The Second World War brought fast, frantic (and often American) dance music - boogie-woogie or jitterbug. Dances were held in church halls, village halls, clubs, Air Force bases - everywhere! But slower, romantic songs were also popular as loved ones went away to fight, such as Vera Lynn's 'We'll Meet Again' and the song about coming home again, 'The 'White Cliffs of Dover'.


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 got 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



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 | Money | Websites

Life in the 1950s | 1960s | 1970s | 1980s | 1990s

Connected Earth WebsiteConnected Earth
Children are able to learn about the reasons for and results of the changes in British life since 1948. There are five main areas that children can investigate changes in British life: working life, home life, popular culture, population, and technology.
Three free activities engage students with the subject, Text a telegram, Voices from history and the Web Quest online treasure hunt, with full background and guidance available in the lesson support material.

Digital Brain Website Britain Since 1930 - Changes in Technology and Transport.
Major changes in technology since 1930 have been the invention of the television and other electrical devices, the dramatic increase in the use of the motor car, space travel and the miniaturization and use of computers and the use of plastic.

Cars since the 1930s

Photographs from Burnsall School

Post War Immigration - Bound for Britain
Between 1948 and 1970 nearly ½ million people left their homes in the West Indies and came to Britain. Children study the evidence here to find out what life was like for these people when they arrived.

Fashion through the decades

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Woodlands Junior School, Hunt Road Tonbridge Kent TN10 4BB UK