Suburb Garden Town/Living Standards
Chapter III: Living Standards
The growth of the British economy kept pace with the population. There was a baby boom in the twenties, which is not surprising. At the other end of the age scale the advances in medicines - sulpha drugs and penicillin, stress prevention, and the treatment of shock, were some of the experiences gained from the battlefield. All these, and other treatments, raised life expectancy levels. This rise in the working population added over three and a quarter million to the workforce. This did not just improve production but also raised demand. This increase in working population now included a much larger share for women. Even though returning men from the war eased women out of jobs more associated with ‘men’s work’ the role of women would never return to those of pre-war. A far greater number of women were independent, earning their own living. Professions and occupations previously closed to women now received a number of applicants granted inclusion.
Reading certain history books - giving a social history of Britain, you might be led to believe that by 1929 the mass of the population were leading a life different from that lived ten years before. It is not so. Some men had not worked continuously since returning home from the war... others engaged on one job at a time - competing for vacancies every morning. In the early thirties the newspapers were filled with stories of the nation’s economic troubles. There were millions unemployed and stories of unrest among the workers. There was real human suffering and the picture from the north of England was bad. The mills were silent, groups of idle workers on every street corner. Clogs were worn - echoed on the cobbles. Scores of children were undernourished. In many towns factories were being torn down for the bricks to be sold on as seconds. As will be pointed out this was a true picture of the industrial sector - up north.
1931 saw the faint glimmer of hope. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Neville Chamberlain, was a skilled financier; he had already made a name for himself for being an excellent administrator when Minister of Health, now he was to show his skill attending to the nation’s money. His plan was to save by introducing cuts in wages and salary of all people, not just the lower paid. In a series of stringent budgets he presided over a policy of protectionism, great saving were made by converting two thousand million pounds of the five per cent War Loan to three and a half. By this time the schemes for house building had begun and more of the money saved went on rearming the nation. In 1937 the fifteen to sixty-four age group represented nearly seventy per cent of the working population. This added three-quarters of a million to the workforce over a period of thirteen years. The increase, in birth rate, life expectancy, and the resultant consumer spending generated by both, increased national output. These five key decisions: protectionism, reduced wages, realigned interest rate, stimulated house building, and rearmament saw the nation slowly begin its recovery - to begin a ten year cycle of improvement. This programme was mainly directed towards the industrial sector of society. Light engineering, the new sources of power, communications, and the service industries, were never as seriously affected by the depression.
During The National Government's years in office there was a steady improvement in the public’s standards of health. As well as a reduction in the death rate there was an improvement in a child’s life expectancy - deaths dropping by ten per cent. The normal teenager’s death rates: from scarlet fever, diphtheria, whooping cough, and measles, improved greatly – doubling in twenty years. There was a steady improvement in adult height and weight. The 1937, 'Survey of the Social Structure of England and Wales', considered that it was the improvement in: housing, water provision, sanitation, hygiene, and advances in medical skill which contributed to rise. This improvement was common throughout England. All covered by the 1936 Public Health Act, extended later to include the Food and Drugs Act.
The new housing estates, the local planning authorities concern for recreational space, the nations completed sewer system, improved, nutritional diets, and greater health provision - through local cottage hospitals, maternity units and nursing and auxiliary services, all contributed to improved standards in public health. In 1934, an act was passed empowering local authorities to make free or subsidized milk available to schoolchildren. This was distributed in third of a pint bottles by classroom monitors providing a straw for each child. Three years later over three million children had the opportunity to drink milk. By 1935, there were two thousand three hundred doctors and five thousand three hundred nurses engaged in servicing the school’s medical services. In 1936, local authorities had to provide trained midwives. Three years later all schools in Harrow and District provided subsidized school meals, plus a percentage free for the needy.
The National Insurance Act 1912, applied to nearly twelve million workers… by 1921, fifteen million, and finally twenty million by 1938. The scheme provided a free doctor service. For families of insured workers – included most of the middle classes, reliance placed on private schemes and sick clubs. Other health services had to be paid for. Payment for a visit to the hospital in 1928 was a two tier arrangement split between local authorities and voluntary hospitals. Only the very poor had free treatment. Harrow was considered to be the best place to receive medical treatment and your chances of survival from treatment far greater. It has always been the case that life expectancy is greater where there is an improvement in living conditions - environment and diet. In 1930, the BMA suggested a system of health insurance for practically all adults and their dependants. This would include dentists, maternity and ophthalmology. It took over fifteen years for the National Health Service to be fully operational – until after The Second World War.
All towns were provided with public lavatories, some more elaborate than others. North Harrow’s was a brick built and tiled roofed building - in an architectural style in keeping with all the local buildings, sited next to the services road. It boasted a permanent staff of an aged couple who were most particular how their toilets were turned out. The brass work shone and the tiled floor sparkled. The Association for the provision of Drinking Fountains and Horse Troughs had its beginnings in 1847 when the Liverpool local government bought out the private water companies. Their object was to construct public baths and stimulate interested parties to built drinking fountains. Twelve years later Samuel Gurney, a London MP, started an association with the aim of building drinking fountains to provide pure cold water… the first to be built on Holborn Hill on 21st April 1859. With the collaboration of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals drinking fountains for both humans and animals acclaimed as necessary public amenities… linking up with the evangelical movement gave the movement a strong link with the church. It became so popular that thousands of water troughs were installed on city and town streets. Henceforth, it became obligatory for local councils to provided space in all new town development. North Harrow had two, one on Station Road the other on Pinner Road, close to the town’s main cross-roads. By 1936, the association stopped building new troughs, as cars and trucks took over from the horse. However, more fountains were built at schools and parks… the metal cups chained to the bowls gave way to a small jet, for the sake of hygiene. West Harrow Park, Headstone Park and Pinner Park all were provided with a fountain, the most elaborate sited at West Harrow the oldest park of the three. The standard 1929 design can be seen at each in addition to the more elaborate commemorative fountains.
The dust cart came round once a week – on a Wednesday. The lorry was painted green and the collection was tipped into domed compartments covered by bowed sliding doors. Anything which could not be placed in the back of the cart was put on the roof. Every house had its own metal bin. I do not remember any complaint about having too much rubbish or throwing away an awkward shape or extra heavy item. Everything was taken away without question by the dustmen. The Road Sweeper pushed his metal sided cart to his allotted station, there he took from the rack his broad headed broom to sweep the pavements pushing the rubbish into the gutters. When he had finished the pavement he swept the rubbish into neat piles in the gutter to be later shovelled up and placed in his cart. At the end of his day he pushed the cart to a collection place behind the shops where the council dust cart carried the waste to the dump. All the pavements and roads were similarly treated there was never any rubbish left lying about.
As unemployment rose, after The General Strike, into the thirties, a series of Government Acts were passed to provide extra levels of benefit. It was soon transparent that there were gaps in the payments, benefits and contributions. Many of the poor still had to apply to the Poor Law, and after 1929, to the Public Assistance Committees, of the local authorities. The government soon recognised the gaps - especially the exceptional diversity of employment. The Unemployment Assistance Board Acts of 1934/5 still didn’t seal the gaps and a further series of acts were needed. It took until 1937 for the majority of the unemployed that received assistance under the Public Assistance Committees of the local authority transferred to the Unemployment Assistance Board. By the early 20s the Family Endowment Society was advising a national family allowance system, providing 12s. 6d. per week for mothers, 5s. 0d. for the first child and 3s. 6d. for each subsequent child. This suggestion never got off the ground for it was considered by the government that this would destroy work incentives and reduce the mobility of labour. In 1931/2 Chamberlain took the issue out of the local authority hands and set up the Unemployment Assistance Board in 1934. By 1939/40 the government give way, but not for the original social reasons but to suppress wage claims, labour disputes, and therefore, to control inflation. But the principle was laid…! The Beveridge Report 1942, made family allowance a cornerstone of social insurance.
It is perfectly understandable to find, in census figures, that congregations shrunk after each war, and did so throughout the passing centuries. The First World War had a profound affect on a society staggering from the unsettling results of a shifting population, buffeted, and confused, by industrialization. These uncertainties took their toll. Increasingly, in the twenties, Nonconformist, made inroads upon the established church. It was not because they required less commitment, but less ridged, and prescribed behaviour. Their services: complimented by, song, colourful-tracts, and religious-leaflets, drew-in their congregations - giving them a sense of belonging. Although the graph for York shows that Anglican attendees continued to dominate until after the Second World War, the Nonconformists were waiting to take up the reins soon after that. The figures for Catholicism, on the other hand, show a steady rise throughout the whole period. This is born out by what was happening in North Harrow. Between the wars the attendance figures for Baptists, Wesleyan, Methodists, United Free Church and Congregationalists showed little change. Their attendance figures, reflected the strength of the connection to the youth association, adopted by the church or chapel; for instance: a strong Boys Brigade Company saw a strong congregation. Similarly, Scout Group, or Church Lads movement. For well established churches, and chapels, that catered for the full range of young people, the attendances were higher still. As with all institutions, if they are run by a team of dedicated officers over a long period, and if the takeover, after they retire, is sound, church attendance figures stayed consistent... Although church attendances steadily declined, from the early, strict Victorian period, throughout all social classes, society continued to adhere to the churches principles and teachings. From the end of the thirties... into the war years... and beyond, those principles and teachings has been undermined, disregarded, and in some cases, abandoned. Nevertheless, the values, influencing the new culture, were Christian.
The vast majority of children attended State Schools working towards an in-school – set, marked, and invigilated, exam. I do not think that those children at the bottom of their year looked up to those above, nor do I believe that those in the highest streams looked down on those below. As far as I can remember it was a structured conveyor belt of things you had to do… you stepped on at twelve and alighted three years later. Not one of us displayed any fear for the future or suffered from sleep disturb nightmares. The future – leaving school for work, was another step on the path to adulthood. There was an abundance of jobs. What one ended up doing was as much to do with 'father’s job', as to the result of year’s report.
A number of boys quickly and quietly went from Secondary School to Polytechnic, Trade School or Technical College. They had worked out what they wanted to do. Others went to a prearranged apprenticeship. It wasn’t a question of this job, or that line, or this was paid better. It was up to fate, and a little luck. The Labour Party adopted the principle of secondary education for all, irrespective of the income, class, or occupation of their parents; that children maybe transferred at the age of eleven plus, from primary to one or other of the secondary schools, and remain there until fifteen. This principle was a cornerstone in the Hadow Report in 1923, and came into being in 1926. The two types of secondary school were, Secondary Modern Schools and Grammar. The children attending secondary modern schools were to leave at the age of fifteen. The Hadow Report was accepted but the implementation delayed by the poor state of the country’s economy. The majority of children by 1938 were operating within the reorganized secondary modern system. Some fee-paying schools, from the private sector, qualified for ‘direct grants’ for taking on a number of scholarship boys.
My primary school was Longfield. The class sizes in 1938/9 were between twenty-five to thirty children. The first class was The Introduction Class, a further three classes held a years difference between each. Similarly upstairs, the Junior School operated the same class structure – years 8/9, 9/10, 10/11. The school had been built at the same time as the rest of the town displaying the then modern style – brick walls, metal framed windows and a flat roof. All the furniture and equipment was new. The New Secondary Education system followed the pattern voiced in the thirties – that there should be different schools for different abilities, and the children tested to decide which school system, at the age of eleven.It is impossible to write about England’s class structure without some reference to education. It is what is taught, how it is taught and why, that defines for the recipient where they fit in the social structure. Children are carriers of the parents assumed place in society. When educated they carry also the school’s aims and objectives which includes aspired place for their charges. This overlays their parents opinions, lies in sympathy with it, or, gives them their own place. It is highly likely that these opinions, shaped by heredity, environment, and education, are confused... can be easily changed, depending on circumstance. Class is a subject which will always have to be defined, and the answer will always include: the parents education, the home, the environment, the school, place in year, what university, which course, who taught it, and with what result. As today’s thinking suggests education is a continuous event… social class, for the individual, is beyond defining.
In 1929 William Morris of Oxford was dominating the car production industry. He alone, out of fifty-eight companies, was way out in front, producing a series of models to take British car production ahead of France, to become Europe’s largest car producer. In 1937 Britain provided fifteen per cent of the worlds vehicle exports – a record level of production. By 1938 Morris Motors included MG, Wolseley, and Riley In 1939 Morris Motors produced twenty-seven per cent of the car market - the largest share. By 1924 Britain was producing 146,000 units; thirteen years later the figure was over three times that number. The years at Britain’s lowest production level – in the middle of the depression Britain produced more cars than in any previous year. By the end of our period there were nearly 400,000 employed in motor manufacture. In 1935/6 a popular model could be bought for half the cost of one produced ten years before. The motor vehicle industry was closely linked to aircraft production, motor cycling, push bikes, electrical engineering and kitchen equipment. The whole industry was sixty per cent higher in 1937, than the figures for 1924. From the early thirties rearmament boosted up production in electrical and mechanical engineering – particularly those industries closely linked to military vehicles and aircraft. The chemical industry developed many new materials from oil: Plastic, rayon, synthetic dyes, fertilizers, animal food and gas. The industry employed 100,000 by 1939, catching up fast on engineering. Once again, rearmament served the chemical industry well creating many new materials and uses.
The largest influence to change society forever was the cinema. The life-styles, values, language and music of American film producers exerted pressure, which, through a weekly injection, altered mainly working class morals, behaviour, speech and expectations. Many of Britain’s best actors and comedians followed the trail to America when jobs were hard to find here. To stimulate British films production the Cinematograph Films Act of 1927 was introduced. A wave of lavish productions by Alexander Korda, through London Films, tried to wrestle work away from America. It failed, not having the production cost effective. A spate of cheap ‘quickies’ also failed to satisfy quota requirements. Eventually the Act was modified in 1938, and again later, evened out production schedules and quotas. Another film company in 1928, built upon the Neptune Film Company, became established as the Ideal Film Company, owned by Ludwig Blattner. The Blattner Studio was leased to Joe Rock Productions who bought the company, the whole eventually becoming British National Films Limited. Gainsborough Film Company was also operating at the same time producing comedy films with Will Hay.
Associated British Cinemas, established in 1927, merged a number of Scottish cinema circuits… becoming British International Pictures, later absorbed into Elstree Studio complex – Graham/Wilcox company. This merged with British National Studios. During the 1930s grew to become ABPC. The owner John Maxwell died in 1940 his widow sold out to Warner Brothers. In America Warner Brothers developed the Vitaphone, sound on disc system, producing The Jazz Singer. This was the start to Hollywood musicals. MGM won the first Oscar for the musical Broadway Melody in 1929, following the Wall Street crash. Busby Berkeley reshaped the musical stage with his cleaver editing and unusual camera angles. The first animated musical was Walt Disney’s Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs. Quickly followed by MGMs 'The Wizard of Oz' in 1939. The thirties was a period stage stars turned to the film studio for work including Fred and Adele Astaire, Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald. It was in the 1930s that a series of British film comedies lifted the British cinemas audiences. The works of Will Hay, Old Mother Riley, George Formby and Max Miller drew in the crowds.
Rank’s venture into film making began when he was a Sunday school teacher. He punctuated his teaching with showing religious films to his own class and to other schools. Eventually he made his own and the distributed them. The Methodist Society complained that about the negative influence American films were having on young people. Rank took up the challenge to make his own ‘family friendly’ films. Within British National Films Company J Arthur Rank created Pinewood Film Studios. He found that after making Turn of the Tide he could not get it screened – the American movie industry denied access. Rank solved the problem by buying a large part of both the distribution and exhibition systems – formed a partnership with C M Woolf to create General Cinema Finance Corporation. He then used that company to buy out General Film Distributors, the UK arm of Universal Pictures. By 1937 Rank consolidated his film making business in both Pinewood and Denham Film Studios, within a new company called the Rank Organisation.By 1939 four million cinema seats gave daily access to the false, romantic, sham and colourful escapism of Hollywood… The first Technicolor film musical was The Wizard of Oz and from 1939 there was a string of fantastic musicals still produced on the stage today. The following year Rank bought the Odeon cinema chain, and Amalgamated Studios in Elstree. The Rank Organisation then bought Gaumont–British Picture Corporation and Lime Grove Studios. The following year negotiated to buy Paramount cinema chain, in 1942.
The country’s citizens were entertained by other popular mediums: the radio, football and boxing. These sops to the daily grind of life, supplied relief replacing religion which never recovered from the tragedy and farce of The First World War. Churchgoers fell from twenty per cent to twelve, between 1910 and 1960 From the start of the thirties consumerism manifested considerable influence: there was more to buy, a more colourful society to copy, more money in the housewife’s pockets and jobs were becoming available. Things were looking up…!
Harrow, as we know it today, was a merger of Harrow-on-the-Hill Urban District, and Wealdstone and Hendon Rural Districts in 1934. The town’s chief claims to fame are its public school, church and hill, upon which both sit. Prior to the 1920s its population gathered around the hill unevenly spreading further out towards London. Every town in the vicinity had its own cinema. Naturally the largest town required the largest cinema which more often than not the smartest. Harrow had its Granada cinema which boasted an organ – the only cinema that had one close at hand. In 1929 there were about four thousand cinemas in Britain. The Granada was, when built, considered to be one of the new super cinemas that could seat upto four thousand patrons.
The Harrow Coliseum, as with all large theatres of the day, was resplendent in gold paint and red velvet cloth. The carpets, thick and lush, and the seats, soft and springy. All covered in red velvet with gold headed nails. It represented ‘High Victorian’ design - mouldings and motifs, statues, niches and plaster cornicing. The Coliseum was opened in 1940 in Station Road, Harrow, by Queen Mary. The auditorium, circle and boxes designed to seat two-thousand patrons in luxury. The theatre was closed fifteen years later, in 1955. The original site was a 1922 cinema, foundered by the owners of Hammer Films – whose doors opened to the public in 1923 to great acclaim.
The Local Authority Greenhouses and Nurseries were situated at West Harrow Park. It is important to explain that Parks, Gardens and Walks were under the authority that maintained and stocked their gardens, verges and beds. To be able to do this there was an organized nursery system large enough to cope with all their needs. It was on a grand scale overseen by the Head Gardener. His position was guaranteed by his previous experience… upheld by the gardeners below him - maintaining a high standard. All the Borough’s flower beds were immaculate, every bit as good as those seen at large holiday resorts on the coast. A competition was held by all the parks as to who’s the best each year. This prize was eagerly sought after and suitable notices and reports made in the local newspapers. The only way a gardener could apply for an advanced position, if he could show how well his gardens performed in competition. West Harrow Park had a paddling pond that provided space for those keen enough to sail their model boats. The park held the local tennis courts and Bowling Green as well as providing a bandstand. The park was for perambulating not for children’s games, running about or cycling. The grass was perfect and the flower beds a riot of perfectly formed colour and floral design. Headstone Manor Park was home to Bessborough Cricket Ground, circled by stately elms. Pinner Park had a fountain, and Streamside Walk meandered beside the River Pinn, bridged over to allow movement along the further bank. All these local parks were perfections of horticultural splendour policed by park keepers who stopped children running, cycling or walking on the grass. They were places for peace and quiet providing seating for contemplation and rejuvenation.