Monday, January 25, 2016

Childhood Memories. . . . . . . . . . . .


As a much-needed change from ice and wildlife, today's post is about my childhood. Growing up in England following WWII was so different from today - perhaps you'll enjoy hearing bits of it now and then. We're trying to find more history on Bob's paternal grandparents who were from Ireland - we're hoping to visit there soon - digging into a family's history is always interesting.

The coronation of Queen Elizabeth II took place on June 2, 1953. I was nine and can recall some of the celebration in our town. Each neighborhood had a block party on the streets with long tables laden with homemade cakes and such, lots of bunting was waving in the Spring breeze, and it was sunny and warm. I'd never been to London but later that same year I was taken to the city to visit an aunt and uncle. Their neighbor had a daughter and we became friends for a few days. Although she obviously was much younger than me I remember us having fun and her name was Jacqueline. I vaguely recall this visit to the famous Trafalgar Square, a large public space with Lord Nelson's Column at it's center, a well known tourist attraction in central London.

I recently learned that feeding the famous feral pigeons, a flock of 35,000 at their peak, was banned by the city in 2003 as they had become a health hazard. As you can see from this one old, stained photo I found tucked away, we girls were obviously enjoying ourselves helping with the feeding - and yes, I'm still feeding birds here at the cottage eons later!

My mum, an accomplished dressmaker, made my beautiful coat for the big city trip. I remember the fabric was a deep petrel blue wool with a waffled texture. Although you can't see it well, the brooch on my coat was a coronation souvenir, a miniature metal book which opened to expose a pullout folder of tiny photos of The Queen on that special day. How I wish I still had it. Note our footwear, the same basic, comfortable Clarks leather T-strap, with a crepe rubber sole that every girl and boy in England wore in those days. Funny to think how limited the choices for footwear and clothing were back then compared to the massive amount of stuff kids have to pick from now. It was definitely much easier to get dressed in those days with so little to choose from!


via Wikipedia

Clarks popular 'Joyance'  T-bar children's sandals for girls and boys - launched
 in 1933 and in production until 1972.

A couple of years later, I remember taking a school trip to London - most likely still wearing Clarks sandals! This educational visit included a Thames River trip to Runnymede near Windsor Castle where King John signed the historic 'great charter', the Magna Carta on June 15, 1215. I wish so much I had photos from that London visit. These days with us photographing just about everything, it makes me realize how few we took back then with those little box film cameras! Hopefully our memories will keep going for some time yet - meanwhile don't forget to write family histories down, and put names and dates on the backs of your photos for the future generations of your family. They will thank you for that.

This post really came about due to things mentioned by two blogging friends last week - childhood photos, and what we British children wore when growing up - including Clarks sandals for both girls and boys, and those awful baggy elastic waist knickers we girls had to wear under our dresses and school uniform skirts. Remember, most girls never wore jeans or trousers in the early fifties in the UK, but I recall seeing American girls in the movies wearing trousers  - I'm guessing good legs were definitely a plus at that time. At age 12 I became the proud owner of my first 'two-wheeler', a shiny black bicycle to peddle back and forth to school in the Winter uniform of navy gym slip, blazer, and the always necessary 'mac' (raincoat), or green and white striped dresses in Summer - no slacks, pants, leggings in those days. BUT, it was around then girls started wearing plaid 'trews' - slim fitted ankle length trousers often in Scottish tartans - followed soon by the first casual jeans, mostly colored denim, blue jeans arrived later. 

I truly think casual life changed once girls could toss aside those skirts and silly knickers (of course we did eventually get to wear much cuter knickers!!!) pull on our trousers or jeans, hop on our bikes. . . . . . and experience a bit more freedom at long last! 

42 comments:

  1. Oh, Mary, that brought back memories!! I too had tartan trousers in the late 50s, and as a child always wore the Clarks sandals with white socks. In Winter did you ever wear a Spencer...a sort of vest that buttoned on to the knickers! Teens today dont realise that there was no such thing as a clothes shop for youngsters in those days, in fact was the word 'teenagers' invented?

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    1. I recall that we wore a 'liberty bodice' in Winter under our blouse/jumper when I was in primary school - is that the same garment? Hated those things even though they were for warmth - so confining - but guess with few heated buildings they were good. Our school classrooms had iron stoves which were fed with coal to warm us - of course we weren't allowed to get too close!

      Mary -

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  2. I remembered wearing my Clarks sandals, we didn't have much choice did we? and I had a coat just like your little friend, mine was pale green and the velvet collar was a very dark green. Those awful liberty bodices with rubber buttons. which always stuck into you as they had become hard after being washed and going threw the mangle. I enjoyed seeing Jaquelines post, showing the baggy knickers worn on the beach. But all happy memories. Nice post to relieve your icy weather. Hope it's still melting.

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    1. Velvet collars were always so elegant Barbara - and do you recall velvet blazers in the sixties? I was over here by then but snapped up a lovely black one in M&S on a visit home - I always felt so smart and stylish in it, and it could be worn anywhere casual or formal.
      Mary-

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    2. Oh yes , I had a black velvet jacket, and like you always felt dressed up when I wore it. My husband was in round table then ( don't know if you knew that association, it was formed for young business men ) My black velvet jacket was worn to many occasions.

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  3. Your post is delightful. And Clarks are great little shoes!!
    xo
    Lynn

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    1. Yes they were then and still are in their modern forms. Desert boots were started by that company and they've also been great too.
      Hope it's warm in your corner of NC Lynne.
      Mary -

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  4. Great memories and what a treasure to have some photos. I agree - people need to identify their photos - even the digital ones. When I save a photo I always put it in a folder with the current date - and then name it appropriately with the people (if there are any) and name of the place taken. I too remember not being able to wear pants of any kind to school when growing up in Alaska - always a dress - though we were allowed to were snow pants (bulky like down vests) under our dresses if we went immediately to the girls' restroom and took the snow pants off. Funny thing is, I can't remember where we stored the snow pants until it was time to go home. I do remember that recess was spent shivering because we weren't allowed to wear the snow pants during the school day. I often wished that just once, a boy or man would have to wear a dress just so they could see how cold it was.

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    1. JoAnn, I would think that going to school in an Alaskan Winter would require very thick, perhaps even fur-lined snow pants, haha!
      Yes, the boys just never knew how we shivered in the playground where we had to go outside for recess no matter the weather - and ours was often rain and more rain - but at least we did jumping jacks and played running games which kept the blood flowing, and was great exercise. No fat kids in the fifties!
      Mary -

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  5. When I was quite young , my great grandmother was still alive and she would write me letters. So my mom and grandmother, showed me how to write a proper letter back .
    Emails are easy but I still love getting real letters on paper written by hand.
    I got them often when my friends in London had time to write and my son in Japan always sent regular mail. that took forever to get to us ... in Argentina :)
    Now we are all back to telephones and email.
    I will have to move far away again, so only letters will do .. with all those interesting stamps !
    besitos. *I think the house sold today *

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  6. Dear Mary - We share a similar past. It was Clarks for me too although sometimes my mother would decide that we should have Start-Rite, the ones with the back view of a little boy and girl walking arm in arm up a long road. Winter and summer school uniform, ¾ grey socks with school colours at the turnover which I hated, and boxy pleated tunics. My mother would have new camel coats made for my brother and myself every winter with brown leather buttons, which we wore with dark brown hats.
    Lovely photo of you both, and lots of happy memories.

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  7. Mary, I enjoyed your reminiscing of your visit to London as a girl and the sandals, which I also wore as a girl, brought back memories. We visited Trafalgar in 1992 and people were still feeding pigeons then but it is good to know they aren't allowed anymore. I thought they were pretty gross! We weren't allowed to wear pants to school until I was in high school - probably grade 10. On cold winter days we wore pants under our dress or skirt as we walked a mile to school through snow packed sidewalks. It was cold and we had heavy snowfalls in those days. I remember wearing fleece lined bloomers when I was in elementary school and 'flesh toned' leotards too. Savage shoes had similar leather 'sandals' in the early 80's and our daughter had a pair of red ones. I think I wore dark brown leather oxfords and the black and white saddle shoes when I was in elementary school. We didn't have school uniforms. Thanks for the trip down memory lane. I hope you are doing well after the storm and things are back to 'normal' now. DC and NYC and other parts sure got a lot of snow! Hugs. Pam

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  8. yes, things were definitely different back then. Here and there. We had saddle shoes. That's it, and our little blue uniforms with white blouses. Play clothes were shirts and overalls. At least we didn't have to wear itchy dresses until Sunday. WE wore cloths until we grew out of them and then they were passed down.

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  9. Over on this side of the pond I had a coat much like yours, but with a velvet collar. I wore t-strap or Mary Jane shoes with white socks.in with terms we wore what we called knickers - the were horrid bloomer-like garments made of blue serge. Just awful! They went over our under panties and made us feel very bulky.

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  10. Mary, I still love to see children wearing "English" sandals. They are a classic that should never go out of style for little ones. Loved reading your post.

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  11. Wonderful post, Mary. The photos that go along with your memories add to the pleasure of reading them. I, too, had a mother who sewed beautifully and most of my childhood clothes were made by her. I never had a pair of the Clark's but had saddle oxfords. Pants were for play and chores and I always had to wear a skirt to school, even in the winter. Pants could be worn but taken off before going into class. I'm glad things changed by the time I went to high school.

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  12. My mother was British, born in 1929. She always called those Clarks sandals, "barefoot sandals". Does anyone else remember them being called "barefoot sandals"? I wish little children still wore them, they were so cute and classic.

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  13. My mother was British, born in 1929. She always called the Clarks sandals, "barefoot sandals". Has anyone else ever heard those shoes called "barefoot sandals"? I used to think my mother made up the name.

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  14. How fun to see you as a young girl Mary and hear your memories! I grew up wearing shorts and jeans, unless I was in school then it was dresses and skirts.

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  15. What wonderful memories from your childhood! I could immediately tell that the picture of the little dark-haired girl was you. :-) I love Clark's shoes...have a couple of pairs myself! They fit well and are comfortable.

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    1. Melanie, so funny - when I looked across from this old photo of me at age 9, my profile photo was almost next to it and yes, even I agree I recognize myself, haha! I was quite fair-haired as a very young child but turned to mousey brown later - and, goodness gracious I somehow became really blonde in my 20-30's, and have now been a redhead for a long, long time! Life doesn't have to be boring does it!
      Mary -

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  16. oh gosh, I feel SO full of sweet sentiment and tenderness reading your recollections here, dear Mary. And that photo? how precious indeed! I'm amazed you even remember that girl's name! I'm so horrid at that sort of thing. One wonders what ever come of her? She may well wonder what ever came of you? Who could have ever guessed that one day you would live in north Carolina...and yes, still feeding the birds! Haha, I did that too.

    Actually, feeding the pigeons in Trafalgar Square could be quite a scary prospect as what seemed like hundreds of birds would come flocking down in a rush al at once. Glad i never saw Hitchcock's "The Birds" by that point!

    Yes, Ive heard so many stories from my family of life in London in those past war years. My mother, born in 1930 there actaulyl went to Malaysia with her family as my gradnfather was a supreme court judge for Malaya back then and then they went to Australia just before the Japanese invaded, leaving some of her school friends to live under occupation, very much like "A Town called Alice" if you remember that old show.

    Anyway, by 1946 she was back in England gogin to Michael Hall, a Rudolph Steiner school in the countryside that I too almost went to, save for wanting to remain in London and NOT go to term boarding!

    Anyway, she has memories as did my recently parted Aunt. They were one of the last group to formerly be presented to the Queen (debutante ball( when coming of age. It ended a year or so after that. My Great Aunt Joan also lived in London through the war. All together I 've heard such incredible stories of rationing, etc. I could go on and on but for a mere comment, perhaps not! Anyway, yes SUCH a different time then. In many respects, some things have certainly improved, the freedom and opportunities for women beig one that first comes to mind! Still, it seems to me that life was simpler then and a common core decency and manners has since left our common discourse. We tend to have appealed to the lowest common denominator--a dumbing down as it were. It's the same here fro what I hear from my older friends. My dear freind, Bettie (79) says she almost does not recognise the country anymore and she is EXTREMELY progressive and quite the hippy as it is, so even for her!

    "Each neighborhood had a block party on the streets with long tables laden with homemade cakes and such, lots of bunting was waving in the Spring breeze, and it was sunny and warm."
    --I love that. It TOTALLY reminds me or the Queen's Silver Jubilee in the late 70's. We did the same thing on our Fulham streets. Then, of course, that was also doen for the Queen's golden anniv. What a living historic person she is. no one will ever have experienced so many times and famous people as her ever again, I should imagine.

    WEll, dear Mary, than you again for this lovely post. You really must do more. I love Runnymede btw. :) It is also so good to see that you and bob are both still strong adn fit enough to travel as much as you do. My mother last flew out here 23 years ago when my daughter was born It almost did her in. Due to her thrombosis and heavy weight she was given doctors orders to never fly again! As it is, now she would have no desire. It is quite endearing though, hearing her this last visit, rather wistfully wish to go by boat back to Singapore and through Penang -"such a glorious and beautiful passage," her favourite as she recalls. Of course, now it would be a sore reminder of the tyranny of development, plus I doubt such liners ever travel that way anymore. Far too expensive and taking so long!

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  17. P.S. You know, even in the 80's our school uniform shoes were Clark's, not sandals mind you. :)I was amazed when about a decade ago Clark's came over here and then positioned themselves from being fairly inexpensive decent shoes to high priced luxury footwear! go figure.

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  18. Oh gosh, what a fun post, Mary. How lovely to learn more about you and see such darling pictures! Makes me want to pull some of my own childhood photos out...but then again, maybe not. lol Anyway, I so loved it and smiled reading of the various places you spoke of. I leaned over to Mr. Toast and said, I know all of the places she talks about...thanks to you! :)

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  19. I loved reading this...you share such wonderful memories in a lovely way. Hearing about the way things were (and are) in countries I haven't been to. I also love hearing how your 'growing up' years were. So interesting and heart warming as I think of you as a young girl.

    Love to you,

    Jane

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  20. Oh Mary ..... I have EXACTLY the same photograph of my mum, sister and me feeding the pigeons in Trafalgar Square { which I was going to put on my blog but chose the other one } and I have the same coat as your friend Jacqueline .... hang on a minute ...... my name is Jacqueline !!! You don't think it was me do you ? She does look a lot like me !!!! XXXX

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    1. That would be amazing Jackie, however I think I'm much older than you! BUT, did you ever live in St. John's Wood by chance? That's where my aunt and uncle (mother's twin brother - a commercial artist) lived I believe. Later they moved to Great Bookham, Surrey and I remember visiting there on my first trip back to England in 1964. Oh the memories - hopefully I'll always have them even though the photos have disappeared!
      Mary -


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    2. I just realised that I was only 2 years old in 1953 so it isn't me but I really did think there was a chance it was !!!! I just looked at my photograph in Trafalgar Square and my coat is identical and my hair the same and your Jacqueline's and her face is very similar to mine .... mind you, every child had a coat like that and our hair was always taken back with a slide or a bow ..... AND, I don't think we knew anyone in St. John's Wood !!!!!! .... I got a bit excited for a minute !!!
      Such a shame that you haven't got many photographs but, as you say, you have the memories. XXXX

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    3. You got excited? Alex and I were freaking out over here! oh my goodness, that would have been so much fun. Well you are that girl's doppelganger perhaps then! :) Phew, my heart is STILL pounding here! LOL.

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    4. Jackie - I just looked up St. John's Wood and realize that these days I doubt I'd know anyone there - the property prices are unbelievable - 15 to 65 MILLION pounds! Wow, London must be hard if one wants to buy a home in the city!
      Mary -

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  21. Mary, I still have my little metal book brooch which my aunt brought to me as a Coronation souvenir. She also brought me a souvenir coin in a plastic case, a postcard with a picture of the Queen with glitter stuck to her crown and necklace (!), a metal bookmark and a bar of soap which has wizened up to nothing over the years. What fun to read your post.
    Sue in So. Calif

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    1. Dear Sue, thank you SO MUCH for sharing this - how absolutely amazing to hear from someone who actually has a brooch like that, and other items commemorating the Coronation. I wish you had a blog and should share these - or, if not asking too much and you have time, would you consider taking a photo of the 'book' and e-mailing it to me please. I would be so thrilled to see it up close. My e-mail address is on my blog.
      Many thanks for your comment - I love it.
      Mary -

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    2. Sue, I'm so excited, I just found one online in the UK and have purchased it!!! I'll do a post on it later when I receive it.
      Mary -

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    3. OOh, I can't wait! I love your enthusiasm, always learning, venturing, etc, dear Mary.

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  22. Wow, I LOVED this post. The photo of you looks JUST like Mom! How special! And the bit about how you're still feeding the birds -- obviously something you've always enjoyed, haha! This was just so interesting to me, as I was able to learn a little about your past and your mother, and in turn, my great-grandmother! And what a beautiful coat that she made for you. xo

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  23. What fun remembrances! I do remember Clark's shoes. I still think they are cute for children. Oh and wearing pants. I think when I was about 4th or 5th grade for my birthday a friend gave me some capri's. Oh how exciting that was. My mom wanting me to wear dresses, but those capri's just opened up a world of activity for me and my bicycle. That was a lovely coat your mother made too. What fun memories of being in London during that time.

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  24. Oh I enjoyed reading this! My daughter had a little pair of white shoes that were Clarks. I wish that I had kept them as they were so darling. I had not imagined that they were all that was available. Your mother was certainly a talented seamstress creating that beautiful coat for you. John still talks about the coronation (even as an American). His family watched on tv and he thought she was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. She certainly is lovely.

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    1. Thank you Vee - our Queen has been, and continues to be, one amazing woman.
      Mary -

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  25. Clark's is still a great shoe brand, Mary, but in some cases I don't think the all-leather sandals are made as well as they used to be. But when I was your age (actually, we're very close in age), the brand I wore on this side of the pond was Buster Brown. I have a picture of myself, around age 7, wearing a pair of brown leather, lace-up high tops. Oh, how I hated those shoes! But we didn't have much to pick and choose from in the hills of Appalachia. Later, I was fitted out with the brown leather Girl Scout oxfords because my feet looked like boats in what were called saddle oxfords. Long live the Queen!

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  26. I remember baggy knickers, my mother made mine & one day at school the waist elastic snapped & they flapped below my skirt - humiliation! I also remember playing hockey in the depths of winter in only navy blue knickers & an Aertex short sleeved top, we were hardy in those days.

    I was 4 on coronation day but remember it well. I was brought up in a slum area of Birmingham, surrounded by bomb sites (they were great for playing on!) A neighbour had a television delivered, great excitement & most of the street crammed in to watch. The street party was held in the factory over the road as it was raining. Jelly & blancmange!
    Regards
    Elaine

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  27. Ah yes, those pigeons now have to watch themselves as they let loose a hawk from time to time to deal with the problem. The last couple of times I have been down to the Square, I haven't seen any. I miss the bird seed man with his brown paper packages of seed and being smothered by pigeons. It was fun, no one died, so why stop it - yes, I know, Health and Safety and bird mess. I remember those shoes from when I was a tiny girl. Take care xx

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  28. Mary dear I'm behind in reading posts - I see I should have read this one first!
    It brings back many memories from my younger days too!
    My mother was a great sewer too so she would have made my coat!
    She made her wedding gown and trousseau - all silks - we had wonderful fabric shops back in the day!
    I have one photo taken in my sweet little coat, I wonder which box that's in!!!!
    After the war we remained on rationing for quite a while and only basic necessities were imported - a whole different world.
    And yes I wore Liberty bodices all through my childhood and bloomers too - imagine that today - my little granddaughters would have a fit!
    Love
    Shane

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