Work 1951

There were a lot of changes between the years 1901 and 1951, more perhaps than ever before. Some of these changes had affected Stowupland by the 1950s and others were slower in arriving.

Jobs had begun to change, less than 7% of Suffolk was now employed on the land and more jobs were being created in the service industry. This was due to a change in how people lived their lives; they used shops more rather than producing food, drink and clothes in their own home and ready made goods were cheaper than those from trade and crafts men.

The car as we know it first appeared in the early 1900s but it wasn’t until the 1950s that it became a regular feature of everyday life. The car and the bus allowed villagers to travel in order to find work or to carry on their education.

Wages rose steeply throughout the 1950s from an average of just £5.8s a week in 1951 to about £7.15s at the turn of the decade.

Boundary Changes

The types of jobs of the residents of Stowupland had also changed because of the reformation of parish boundaries between the village and Stowmarket in 1934. In the past the River Gipping had been used to define the two settlements which meant that the industrial area around the river including the railway station was actually in Stowupland. The new parish boundaries meant that Stowupland lost all of the industrial area and its population fell from 1326 in 1901 to 966 in 1951.

Work in the Home

A lot of women on the censuses from 1851, 1901 and 1951 are listed as having no occupation - this does not mean they were not doing any work! Women worked within the home and the average working class women in a rural area would be bringing up a large family on a very low wages.

Self Sufficiency

These families would have had little money to spend in shops so many villages and their inhabitants would have been almost self-sufficient until the late 1950s. Vegetables and crops were grown in allotments tended by the whole family, in many places in Suffolk up until the 1950s women would have baked bread in brick ovens and many families would have kept their own pig. Women would also have brewed their own beer and cured their own meat. The changes after the Second World War did mean that these practices were beginning to die out but Stowupland has retained its small shops in the village.

1950s Hoovers
1950s Hoovers
The invention of the vacuum cleaner
made life a lot easier
With no modern appliances such as Hoovers or washing machines all of the household chores would have been done by hand until the 1950s or later. Some homes in the village would not have had electricity or piped water in the 1950s!

The late 1940s had seen a return to the idea of a woman’s place being in the home. The government, however, was soon faced with manpower shortages and by the early 1950s women were being asked to go back to work – but at only 49% of men’s wages! In the 1950s the number of married women in work rose by 30%. This was hard for many women as a few years earlier during the Second World War they would have been doing an awful lot of ‘men’s work’ outside the home at much higher wages.

The Village Mechanic

There were more car mechanics in the 1950s as car use became more widespread. Some of the mechanics were ex-blacksmiths who used the skills of their trade in this new business, others trained as mechanics either in the army or through apprenticeships, many of them were self-employed and built up their businesses on a good reputation.

Diversifying

As the demand for traditional skilled craftsmen declined traditional craftsmen either moved into new occupations in areas such as mechanics and electronics or diversified. A carpenter for instance would have produced more furniture and carried out more housing repairs as the carts and wagons he mended in the past fell into disuse.

A Shop Assistant

A consumer culture had grown in Britain after the Second World War as more products became available in shops. There was still rationing of some goods well after the end of the war, sweets were rationed until 1953, Eastern Electricity advert c.1955
Eastern Electricity advert c.1955
but people wanted to have new items after the shortages of the previous ten years. This was even reflected in fashion as during the war even the number of pockets and buttons were regulated, new skirts had yards of fabric in them and lots of detailing.

Consumer Boom

This boom in consumerism meant that there were more people employed in shops. An average shop assistants wages in 1951 were £4.10s to £5 – not a huge amount of money but more than the minimum wage for agricultural workers.

Cars and cheaper travel on buses and trains meant that the villagers of Stowupland could travel further to work; Stowmarket had a busy high street and the county town of Ipswich was only a short car, train or bus journey away.

Traditional Shops

Mr Roger Bray wrote his memories of shops in the 50s

There were no supermarkets just shops... a cake and bread shop, the butchers, the milliners, the haberdashers...all with beautiful ornate gold leaf and glass fascias. In the Co-op shop they sliced bacon from sides of pigs, cut cheese from huge roundels, weighed pounds of sugar from hundred weight sacks. Nothing was prepped, wrapped or labelled. All staff had the ubiquitous pencil stub stuck behind their ear and yes, some of them did add up on their starched cuffs!

From the online BBC News Magazine ’Was Britain Better in the 50s?


This exhibition is part of a wider sustainability project delivered through the Rural Museums East Partnership. It is funded by Renaissance East of England.

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