The postwar days of the 1950s were austere in many ways, but they taught us patience and resilience.

We had no central heating until my teenage years. My grandmother lit the coal fire in the sitting room at 27 Wilcot Avenue, Oxhey during the afternoon and kept it stoked until well into the evening. I did my homework on the edge of the table in that room, as it was too cold upstairs.

Houses then had wooden or metal window frames with single panes of glass. In winter, condensation poured down the windows or, worse, there was ice on the inside. Warm woollen jumpers were the norm, under which was the dreaded Liberty Bodice. A left-over from the days of ladies' corsets, the padded armless close-fitting wool waistcoat with tiny rubber buttons provided warmth but stifled its small wearer's liberty! Home-knitted woollen gloves, socks, scarves and hats were essential; not just fashion accessories.

Watford Observer: A snowy 27 Wilcot Avenue, Oxhey, early 1960sA snowy 27 Wilcot Avenue, Oxhey, early 1960s

Every meal was home-made; there were no supermarkets and no ready meals. In the middle of the kitchen was a free-standing Aladdin paraffin heater, the fuel for which came from Crawleys in Villiers Road, on the Upper Paddock Road corner. It emitted a dreadful smell when my mother lit the wick each winter morning but it kept us warm. The heater was undoubtedly a fire risk, especially in a busy kitchen. I'd dash around the cold house, then return to its heat or, if past three o'clock and the fire was lit, to the sitting room; the only sources of heat in winter. At special times - Christmas or when visitors came - the front room was opened and the electric fire was switched on.

Watford Observer: The front room with the rarely-used electric fire, late 1950sThe front room with the rarely-used electric fire, late 1950s

Night-time in winter meant going to bed without dawdling. There were no duvets; just sheets and Witney blankets, with a hot water bottle for good measure. Showers were unheard of. My first experience of one was at the school summer camp; albeit showering cold water. As for toilet paper, Izal is best forgotten. It smelt of disinfectant and the shiny non-absorbent sheets weren't fit for purpose! Our elderly neighbours had an outside toilet and a bent nail on the back of the door on which they hung torn quarter sheets of tabloid newspaper; not for reading. A left-over from wartime. Baths were only run once or twice a week; in between, washes with flannel and soap had to suffice. Hair washing was in the bathroom sink. Lights had to be turned off after leaving a room, otherwise a telling-off would follow.

My father worked in London and my mother didn't drive, so lifts in the car were generally at weekends and only if essential. So, we walked a great deal and used buses, which were frequent. I remember one winter in the early 1960s when snow lay for days. I'd walked from Wilcot Avenue to the bus stop by Bushey Arches to catch a 306 bus to school, but none came. Instead, I walked to Rosary Priory at Bushey Heath and home again later - more than once that week. Schools rarely shut in inclement weather.

Watford Observer: The Pond looking south, early 1960sThe Pond looking south, early 1960s

Entertainment was self-generated, but games such as Ludo, Snakes and Ladders and Happy Families were popular. Watch with Mother, Andy Pandy and the Flower Pot Men were essential early years television viewing; in black and white. There was no 24-hour television. BBC was the only channel until the mid-1950s and broadcasting hours were strictly controlled. The Sooty Show, Mr Pastry, The Appleyards, George Cansdale's Looking at Animals and Crackerjack were later favourites but, come weekday evenings, my parents selected the programmes.

Doris Glenister, dressmaker of 119 Pinner Road, was my grandmother's friend. When I was seven, she gave me several outdated dressmaking catalogues full of fashion sketches. I loved them and drew my own mini-versions. She also gave me a pair of second-hand ballet shoes with long ribbons and wooden blocks in the toes. I remember prancing around the house trying to balance on my toes, but no ballet lessons followed; neither did swimming lessons. I taught myself to swim as a teenager. Devising little recipe booklets was also pleasing, as was a farmyard set from H. G. Cramer of 174 High Street. The toy and model shop suffered a disastrous fire in 1963 which gutted the interior.

Watford Observer: Advertisement for H.G. Cramer's toy shop, 1949Advertisement for H.G. Cramer's toy shop, 1949

Watford had an abundance of cinemas with weekly changes of programme. There were traditional plays at the Palace Theatre, with pantomimes at Christmastime. When I was tiny, I saw Babes in the Wood at the Palace - a magical experience.

We were grateful for what we had, without constant media badgering to possess the latest 'must haves'. We were constrained in terms of spending, but it taught us to look after our money. It was never a case of 'lessons learnt'; that overused modern phrase after errors of judgement have been made. Everything, in school days and beyond, had to be carefully thought through and carried out as best as we could the very first time. Then, when homework was completed, playtime called and so did friends around the corner. Despite all, we were supremely content.

Happy Christmas and keep well wrapped up!

  • Lesley Dunlop is the daughter of the late Ted Parrish, a well-known local historian and documentary filmmaker. He wrote 96 nostalgic articles for the 'Evening Post-Echo' in 1982-83 which have since been published in 'Echoes of Old Watford, Bushey & Oxhey', available at and Bushey Museum. Lesley is currently working on 'Two Lives, Two World Wars', a companion volume that explores her father's and grandfather's lives and war experiences, in which Watford, Bushey and Oxhey's history will take to the stage once again.