Sheffield history: Did you have Chinese Girl by Vladimir Tretchikoff hanging on your wall in the 1950s?

There was little in our home when I was a child, that we would consider modern by today’s standards. But my parents were glad to have a spacious council house after the turbulence of the war years.

By Monica Dyson
Friday, 4th March 2022, 2:46 pm
Updated Friday, 4th March 2022, 2:46 pm

We had no central heating, and the house was freezing cold except in front of the fire in the living room.

My sister and I shared a bedroom which had a fireplace much sort after today as an ‘original’ feature, as it was black ornamental cast iron.

We had stone hot water bottles which had our night clothes wrapped round them.

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highrisenw: A view of Regents Court, Hillsborough, photographed in 1958.

When we woke up in the morning the hot water bottle would be very cold and so would be the bed!

This was made with sheets, then blankets and then a candle wick bedspread which was good for picking bits off, leaving bald patches!

Many people who grew up in the fifties and earlier, remember the feeling of spending the night burrowed under the bed clothes, then gingerly putting their nose out to feel the freezing cold room, which would often have ice on the inside of the windows in winter.

Usually there would be a race downstairs to get dressed in front of the fire.

We had a black cast iron Yorkshire range with an oven built into the side and a tall mantelpiece which held ornaments and a clock.

The range was used for heating water for washing clothes and for cooking stews.

Black cooking pots were hung on hooks over the fire and the oven used for baking pies, bread, and rice pudding with nutmeg on top which made a lovely brown skin.

The room was very warm when the range had been on for some time, and I heard of families who placed the still warm oven shelves into beds at night. The range involved quite a lot of work each morning.

Father rolled up newspapers into coils, placed into the grate, putting sticks and then coal on the top.

Then it was lit with a match.

There were little drawers underneath the grate which were pulled in and out according to how well the fire was lighting.

If unsuccessful, he would put newspapers over the entrance to the fire to ‘draw it.’

Often it would draw too much, and the newspaper would catch fire! That was so exciting!

There were no such things as fitted carpets.

Just lino with rugs on top which were shaken and beaten outside each day, with used dried tea leaves sprinkled on first.

My mother acquired a vacuum cleaner in the late 1950s together with a twin tub washing machine.

The washed clothes were hung on a line outside held up with a wooden prop.

As children we played many games running in and out of the sheets, getting into trouble for doing so.

Wash day was uncomfortable if it was a rainy day as the whole house smelt of wet clothes, the windows steamed up and the house felt damp.

One of the items that my father used was a ‘hobbing foot’ which he used to mend shoes, placing the shoe or boot on to the wooden contraption.

You could buy sheets of leather from the market.

Eventually Woolworth’s, which ceased trading in 2009, started to sell stick on soles and heels which made life much easier.

Another and now obsolete tool was the wooden mushroom my mother used for darning socks which is something that never seems to happen in to day’s throwaway society.

The Yorkshire range was taken out in the late 1950s and replaced with a tiled fireplace and a very shiny Cannon ‘gas miser’.

Today the original ranges are seen to be collector’s items.

The housewives of the fifties were excited by the thought of a fire which came on at the click of a switch.

But somehow, stews and pies never tasted the same again!

We also acquired an upright cooker with eye level grill.

The cooker was fitted when the range in the living room was taken out and was the ultimate in sophisticated cooking then.

However, any house bought to renovate these days would soon have it removed.

It did mean that we could no longer toast bread in front of the fire using a long toasting fork and getting our faces and legs bright red.

You had to be very sure that you always had enough money for the gas meter, or you ended up with a half-cooked meal.

With no fridge, mother shopped daily for meat and fish with no means of keeping them fresh for long.

It was fashionable in the 1950s to replace everything with Formica.

Plastic sideboards replaced solid wood dressers and chests of drawers which were chopped up and used for firewood.

The doors in our house were ‘flushed’ when the panelling was covered with hardboard.

Brass door handles replaced with plastic ones.

Ceiling roses, coving and picture rails were removed.

To inject some style into your décor, you could go to Boots and purchase prints in their bargain basement.

There were many houses at that time with ‘Chinese Girl’ also known as ‘The Green Lady’ and which was one of the most popular art prints of the 20th century by Vladimir Tretchikoff, hanging on their walls!