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Post War Liverpool

The difference between the soldier coming home from the First War and the soldier returning from the Second World War, was that there was no material damage to the city during the first.

Soldiers returning from the Second World War however, came back to a city that was almost unrecognisable to them.  It was therefore evident to all that the road to recovery for the City of Liverpool would be a long one, it was only from the 50' onwards that things really started to improve, in fact rationing was still in effect up until 1954, by then there was a glimmer of hope as new homes were built and life in the terraced houses began to improve. Gas lights were still in use in many homes during the 1950's but were being phased out as electricity was supplied to each home and household gadgets slowly followed making life easier all round.

A typical arrangement where a single socket was
used for multiple appliances
The electricity supply was extremely basic with wiring to ceiling lights only and no sockets or plugs and as many cases electrical appliances arrived before there was anything to plug them into,  householders used their initiative. Stripping the ends of wires on hair-dryers and electric irons and sticking the bare wires into the light switch was not unheard off. Nor was it unusual to find a single light bulb fitting with 2 or three appliances plugged into it using the very rudimentary Bakelite bayonet adaptors that were available to purchase. No thought was given to the safety of the home or the danger of fire.

Street gas lighting had been in use since 1816, outside the Town Hall, but had taken many years before it spread throughout the city.  The gas lamps were lit by lamplighters each evening and the lamp-posts were a never-ending source of fun to kids all over the city who used to hang ropes  from the two "arms" at the top to make swings.  The last  of the gas lamp was not extinguished until 1973.

In the early 60's television was a rarity and prior to that Radio was king. To be fair, nobody called it radio , it was called  'the wireless' and programs such as Sing Something Simple, The Billy Cotton Band Show, the Clitherow Kid and Two Way Family Favourites, which continued to send messages to those troops still stationed abroad, where the entertainment of the day.  Now and again, there would be boxing on  from America and if a British boxer was taking part then everyone stayed up until the early hours to listen to a crackly, hissing broadcast with a sound that faded in and out. The radio was also an essential bit of kit for thousands of men, and women to, who sat and listened to the Saturday football results and marked their football coupon, dreaming of the day the money would roll in.

Class distinction was still very much in evidence and the B.B.C. news was listened to with solemnity each and every day by millions, this was the only opportunity people had to keep up with world events. 
There were no local radio stations in those days, we had the BBC Home Service, The Light Programme also from the BBC and the English language service of Radio Luxembourg which began in 1933 as one of the earliest commercial radio stations broadcasting to Ireland and Britain. It was an important forerunner of pirate radio and modern commercial radio in the United Kingdom. It was an effective way to advertise products by circumventing British legislation which until 1973 gave the BBC a monopoly of radio broadcasting on UK territory and prohibited all forms of advertising over the domestic radio spectrum. It boasted the most powerful privately owned transmitter in the world (1,300 kW broadcasting on medium wave) in the late 1930s, and again in the 1950s and 1960s, it captured very large audiences in Britain and Ireland with its programmes of popular entertainment.

Local news came cortesy of the Liverpool Post and Echo which often would be passed from family to family to read, before ending up in the sanctum sanctorum, the outside loo, hanging on a piece of string on a nail. But the radio provided much more information and was the centre of entertainment in every home that could afford one.

The original Radios, before the advent of electricity, were massive pieces of equipment encased in a wooden or Bakelite cases, and powered by batteries. Many can remember taking the lead acid batteries that powered the valve heaters to the radio shop to be recharged. They were sometimes known as the storage battery. A popular British brand was 'Exide' made by the Chloride Electrical Storage Company. The technical name for one of these powerhouses  was an accumulator. It was imperative that these were kept up to speed and so every so often they had to be taken down to The Wireless Shop where the man in the brown overall would work his magic and the accumulator would be returned to the owner full of life again. There were wireless shops throughout the city that carried out the task for a small fee. Getting the heavy accumulator there and back without manging to spill any of its acidic contents onto yourself or your clothes was another trial.

How many of you took the back off
to see if you could fix something ?
Television sets for those that had the money for such luxuries were bought mostly on Hire Purchase or the “never never” because hire purchase meant just what is said you would pay your weekly fee for the telly which would never be yours.  Early TV sets were also notoriously unreliable, and like the wireless sets of the time had their own collection of valves,, large glass objects that glowed when active, and were prone to failure.  I remember our first TV came from HP Rentals on County Road and was a monster of a a thing, a big square cabinet with a tiny screen, we seemed to spend more time adjusting the vertical hold and the horizontal hold than we did watching the TV.  You would be half way through a show and the whole picture would start to roll upwards, or a change of camera or scene would cause the set to display a mass of horizontal lines worthy of a firework display.

The Army Game
Favourite shows to watch were, The Army Game, Wagon Train, No Hiding Place, Take Your Pick, and of course Sunday night at the London Palladium. And of course there were only two channels to choose from ITV or BBC and both went off air before midnight, leaving you to watch the screen until the little white dot disappeared. And in the morning they would start the day with the Test Card.

Scaffolding goes up outside the wrecked
Hendersons store in preparation for the demolition. 25 June 1960

Peace time it may well have been but an end to the war did not mean an end to suffering for some of the people of Liverpool.  In June 1960, 11 people were killed as a blazing fire tore through the Liverpool branch of the Henderson’s department store.  In the early hours of the afternoon, the store’s general manager was on the 3rd floor when he  reportedly heard a crackling noise above.  Looking up at the suspended ceiling and realising there was a fire, he told the store’s receptionist to contact the fire brigade, and attempted to fight the fire with little effect.  The fire, believed to have been started by an electrical fault, has been described as one of the most tragic yet significant fires of its type in the post-war era.
But in general life in the 1960s although not perfect was far better than anything previous generations and those who had lived through the war years, had ever experienced. Perhaps that’s why the sixties brought with it a Baby Boom, oh and also a Beat Boom, the Pill, parking meters, topless dresses, see-through blouses, sit-ins, love-ins, civil rights, flower power, the mini and the maxi.

For us here in Liverpool the Beatles, the Cavern and the Liverpool clubs, the bands, trend-setting fashions, world-class architecture and a thriving economy, all of these things came together to make Liverpool the success story of the Swinging Sixties.


Liverpool in the 1950s, is written by Robert F Edwards the author of the 'Liverpool Picturebook' website, the book looks back at life in post war Liverpool in the 1950s.  It is published by 'The History Press' the UKs largest publisher of local history books

By Robert F Edwards
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