Outside toilets, frozen in the winter, freezing cold England, baths in front of the fire. Eeeh! We 'ad it 'ard back then! We were poor but we were 'appy! Welcome to some more reminiscences from great people all over the world about wot it were like growing oop in t'fifties.

Links to my other sites
Wilson direct lineage Growing up in Gillingham
Full list of names The Sparks Family
RootsWeb Wilson Tree, More about the fifties


Ruth from New South Wales, Australia, writes

I noticed that one lady from Australia already mentioned the outside toilet with the spiders lurking inside.  I can relate very well to that ... and also frogs .... but thankfully not snakes.  However, we did have an outdoor toilet when I was a little girl, and we had to walk up the garden path to it, and mum would stand outside with a torch while I was in there as there was no light inside.  The toilet had a chain  to pull to flush it, and it was too high for me to reach, so mum had to do that too.
We also had cold water only coming through the taps, and had to light the copper to get bath water.  We also had a chip heater in the bathroom, and I forget what that was for, but you lit a fire in a grate underneath it, and my brother put one of my new white shoes in while it was lit, and burnt it black.
We had an open fire in the lounge room, just as you described, with a fire guard, bellows and a poker, and there was a coal box out the back with a coal scuttle.  The coal man brought the bags of coal, and our baker also came each day with a horse and cart, and delicious fresh crusty bread (unsliced).  The milk was delivered in glass bottles with foil tops by the milkman each day of the week, and we got small bottles of milk to drink each day at school.
We didn't have TV here until 1956, when I was 8 years old.  My grandfather took us on a bus to watch it in a shop window, all snowy with very poor reception, black and white of course.  Then some neighbours got a TV set, and we were invited over to see it. We had to sit in the dark for an hour and weren't allowed to speak.  Tall aerials sprang up on all the roofs, as without a high aerial you could not watch the TV.  My parents started hiring one for the school holidays, as they thought it would interrupt our education if we had it in the house in school terms.
One difference in our childhoods .... your family had a car and no fridge .... ours had a fridge and no car!  Dad never drove a car. However, in the summer heat here a fridge was mandatory.  The first one I remember was a Silent Knight (old green fridge that worked on kerosene).  Then we got a Hallstrom electric fridge with a freezer, and Mum made ice cream!  Prior to the Silent Knight we had an ice chest, and the iceman brought huge blocks of ice for it. 

Brian Coy in Tacoma, WA writes.....

I am another expat - from Gravesend. I can remember going to Gillingham on the train, to the Strand. There was a lot of mud, but it was fun playing in the water and trying to get to the mud islands off the beach.

I left England in 1949 at the age of 14, and I can well remember the things you mention. We were fortunate to have electricity, but my aunt had gas light, and her radio (wireless) ran on batteries (accumulators) which had to be taken to a shop to be recharged. Our 'copper' did not have a gas burner - it had a fire box underneath where we had to build a fire to heat the water.

Lynne Berntsson, a 'Kentish woman' from Sweden writes....

Hi Bob that took me back to living with my Nan in the early 60's in Dartford we also had an outside toilet, and I used to have to take a candle out there in the winter months which usually got blown out, there was a gap under the door that used to blow the curtain in the cubby hole which used to make me think a monster lived there. Every day we used to be washed in the kitchen sink, but on Wednesday we used to go to Gravesend for a bath at great nans who lived in a prefab, when she died we had to go to the public baths. What memories! I tell my son this who is now 25 but can see the dis-belief in his eyes.

Referring to outside toilets, James Ellis says

I had to break the ice in the outside loo on a cold morning, We used to hope the main supply pipe to the cistern would freeze up because then Dad would get the parrafin heater out and leave it on until the pipe unfroze, but as soon as it did off went the heater.This could happen several times in a week.But then it was the choice of parrafin for a warmer loo or food. We were still recovering from the shortages of war.

Pam H from Adelaide, Australia, a Kentish lass contributes...

I was born in Beckenham Kent. 1955

My family had an allottment, a communal veggie patch down the back in between two rows of houses. The rag & bone man came past with his horse and cart, the milkman delivered milk in glass bottles with the cream on the top, again on a horse and cart.

Christmas we made snowmen and listened to the radio, we didn't have TV......we sang around the piano and did take-offs of the black and white minstrels at family get togethers. We toasted marshmallows and chestnuts over the fire and played hopscotch in the street. I had an oak tree in the garden and climbed to to see if Mr Wrigley (an elf) lived there and got stuck. I since grew up reading Enid Blyton.....and read it to my now 18 year old son (please read it to yours) and we played conkers, chased squirrels in the park, and were healthy and happy without X boxes, dvd's and nike.....But we had Kodak, the beatles and invitro.........our generation is in the forefront of getting the cures for Aids, Cancer and many other nasties.

On the downside, we developed nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction.....

I wouldn't be our kids for quids..........I like our history and we were in a transistion period........we have seen radio, B & W tv, colour tv, Lp's to tapes, to Cd's.....we saw the man land on the moon, cures for this and that.........we are the best generation. We no longer had TB and the plague, but we didn't have aids either......we saw the advent of women taking hold of their lives, the 60's music and the 70's........ I am glad I am me. We had a wringer washing machine, but didn't have to do it by hand.... didn't have driers, but who can say that a drier gives you the fresh smell from the air? We didn't have to lock our doors, we slept in the front yard with our friends in safety. Too too many things.... I am so glad I am me.....even though I have spinal injury, I wouldn't swap,some of those memories for anything,

tell, those things to you little one Bob and be proud.

Brenda Koster from down under adds...

While musing over memories of outside loos (on which I thought Australia had the monopoly!), I remembered a very silly song about "The redback on the toilet seat", a redback being a variety of black widow spider. They were (and are still) an ever present danger in shaded places. My kids grew up learning to check the underside of swings, tricycles etc. before use, such is a Queenslander's paranoia of this pest. And then there are the giant tropical cockroaches, crickets, huntsman spiders, and where I lived as a youngster, the occasional snake - every trip to the loo was an adventure.

Sorry about the rambling, there is a point to this...... I was thinking, well at least in the UK they didn't have to worry about Nature's nightmares, when the thought crossed my mind - how cold would it have been in an outside toilet in a UK winter? That would have been one heck of a hasty visit.

Another Lynn, this one from Montreal, writes

I grew up in the 50's, not far away from you, in Sittingbourne. Reading your memories sure bought back many similar ones of my own. We DID have an indoor bathroom, toilet and bath. It was an addition to the house, sort of tacked onto the end of the large row house that we lived in. I remember how cold it was in there. We did eventually have a strip heater, I think that was what it was called. It was on the wall above the bath. You certainly didn't spend too long in there. Anyway, we were considered "well off". Later on we moved and actually had a radiator in our bathroom that was considered the height of luxury! I had a friend who lived at the other end of my street who had an outhouse and funnily enough I thought it was wonderful! Of course I never had to venture out there at night. My grandparents lived in Wandsworth, London and had an outhouse and I do remember having our bath in a tin-tub in front of the fire in what was the dining-room/sitting room. The "front" room was never used in all the time I ever visited them!

One of my jobs was to go out to the coal bin with the skuttle and get the coal. There used to be horrible big spiders in there and that skuttle was heavy. Yes, you are right, it was right behind the bathroom. The coal men that delivered the coal were quite scary to me as they seemed so big and burly and.....dirty!!

Monday was always wash day in our house. I can recall my mother starting to do the wash as I went off to school in the morning and she would still be doing it when I got home at "dinner" time. I would help with the mangle. My poor mother "mangled" her fingers more than once. Then there was the job of hanging it all out on the line and later bringing it in and ironing the lot. Did you have any younger siblings? I remember the horrible job of boiling the nappies in a big saucepan on the stove, also my grandad (who lived with us) used to use handkerchiefs and they had to be washed and "boiled" too. How grateful I am for my washing machine and for boxes of Kleenex!!! I think it is a lovely gift to your baby girl. There are some books that you can buy where you can fill in all kinds of memories about your life to give to your daughter. It may be many years before she will understand or appreciate the gift but I am sure it will become one of her treasures. I have one that I have started, this had given me the incentive to get back to it again.

It is funny how remembering the so called "hardships" that we coped with growing up, we now look back on fondly or with amusement. I don't recall ever finding it amusing to go to bed in a room so cold that you could see your breath and having to wear socks and a dressing gown over the top of my nightdress. My Mother would already have put the hot water bottle in the bed, usually so boiling hot that you couldn't put your feet anywhere near it for the first twenty minutes or so. Remember that? Then you had the darn thing to toss out in the middle of the night because it was cold! In the mornings my sister and I would literally get dressed IN bed under the covers, shivering all the while. Until we got that fancy radiator in the bathroom that is, then we hung our clothes on it so that they would be warm to put on in the morning!!

I wonder what your future little one will make of it all. I have a son who is almost 30 and he thinks I grew up in the "middle ages".

Many thanks to these contributors! There are many other reminiscences that I have received that I have not yet been given permission to reproduce. I hope to add these later and if YOU have anything to add please write to me at It doesn't have to be connected to Kent.

Bob Wilson, Los Angeles.