Tag Archives: 1940s

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Christmas in the 1940s: How Did Wartime Families Celebrate the Festive Season?

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How people celebrated Christmas in the 1940s - homemade decorations and gifts.

How people celebrated Christmas in the 1940s.

For the first few Christmases of the 1940s, families were divided by war. Even for those left at home, Christmas may have been spent in air raid shelters, rather than in their own homes. The Christmas break was cut short for those vital to the war effort, with some shop and factory workers returning to work on Boxing Day. With the ships of the Merchant Navy under attack from German U-Boats at sea, supplies were becoming scarce and food rationing was introduced in January 1940.  Despite the many challenges faced by families Christmas was still an important celebration.

What did people eat at Christmas in the 1940s?

Turkey was not on the menu in the war years; those lucky enough would have eaten goose, lamb or pork or even rabbit or a home-raised chicken, accompanied by home-grown vegetables. Ingredients were hoarded weeks and even months in advance.

As the war progressed and food became more difficult to come by, creative alternatives were developed such as ‘mock’ goose (a form of potato casserole), and dried fruit in Christmas puddings and cakes replaced with breadcrumbs and grated carrot. 

How did people decorate their home for Christmas in the 1940s?

Homes were still enthusiastically decorated for the festive season, even if the blackouts meant there were no Christmas lights in the streets.

Cut-up strips of old newspaper were turned into paper chains, and holly and other garden greenery adorned the pictures on the walls.

What Christmas gifts were given in the 1940s?

Presents were often homemade. Scarves, hats and gloves might be hand-knitted using wool unravelled from old jumpers and homemade preserves were welcome presents.

Find out what it was like growing up in a prefab at Christmas or discover the history of the 1940s prefab at the museum.

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Leagrave Cottages

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An 18th-century barn converted into cottages

  • This building started life as an 18th century barn in Leagrave, near Luton in Bedfordshire.  The barn was converted into cottages in the 1770s.  The date of conversion was confirmed by the discovery of a mint condition George III copper farthing under the brick paving near the south gable.
  • Interviews with the Marks family who lived in one cottage from 1913 to 1928 are held in the Museum’s archive.
  • Although it was a listed building, permission was given for demolition in the 1980s because it was unfit for human habitation.  This was when it was donated to the Museum.

Things to do:

  • Explore the two contrasting cottages – go up the stairs in the 18th century and down the stairs in the 1940s.
  • Don’t miss the historic outdoor privy in the back garden.  Unlike the Caversham Public Convenience, this is no longer in use!
  • Enjoy the beautiful garden in summer.
  • What Can I Hear? In the lean-to are the sounds of a cobbler (someone who fixes shoes) at work.
  • Our Historic Baking Experience Days take place in Leagrave Cottages.


Leagrave-Cottage-600pxThese are two cottages, side by side, which have been restored to show two significant periods in the life of this building. The cottage nearest the road interprets the 18th century and the cottage with the fenced garden depicts the building as it was in the 1940s. The building came from Leagrave, near Luton, Bedfordshire, and was rescued by the Museum after it had been condemned as unfit for human habitation in 1982. A careful survey of the building, and other research, has revealed a fascinating history that is summarised here.

The building started life in the early 18th century as an agricultural building, thatched with long straw and weatherboarded on all sides with central double doors at the front. In the late 18th century the barn was converted into two labourers’ cottages: the chimneystack and bread ovens were built, doors and windows were inserted, and an upper floor was put into the building. The outshot at the gable end – now the Cobbler’s shop – also dates from this period. The Museum has restored the cottage nearest the road to this period in the building’s history, and the form and furnishings of the cottage are appropriate for the 1770s. Many alterations were made in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Larger window openings were made, the weatherboarding was stripped off the back wall and replaced by lath and plaster, and later brick infill replaced the weatherboarding on the front wall. Extensions were built onto the front. The Museum has restored the cottage further from the road as it might have been in the 1940s. Although by this date the bread oven was no longer in use and a range had replaced the open hearth, there is in fact little difference from the 1770s cottage in terms of internal living space.

In 1851 there were 7 members of one family living in one of the Leagrave Cottages Joseph and Rebecca Thomas – Agricultural Labourer and Straw Plaiter. And their children: Emma (17), Esther
(12), Caroline(6), Straw Plaiters, Joseph (3) and Dinah (7 months).

Construction Materials

The cottages are timber framed. The 18th century cottage is weatherboarded.

The roof of both cottages is thatched with wheat straw.

Both cottages are built on a brick plinth. A brick infill replaced the weatherboarding at the front of the 1940s cottage.

Lath and plaster
The weatherboarding to the rear of the 1940s cottage has been replaced with lath and plaster.

The rear window in the 18th century cottage is of blown glass. You can see the base of this sheet in one of the panes on the rear wall.

Some of the windows in the 18th century cottage have panes separated by leadwork.

An 18th century re-enactor outside Leagrave Cottages  Inside 1920s Leagrave Cottage

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Amersham Prefab

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Postwar housing

There was a housing shortage after the Second World War, and prefabricated temporary bungalows (“prefabs”) were one solution. Prefabs were made using different materials to normal houses. The parts were ‘prefabricated’ (ready made in a factory, taken to the site and then put together), which is where the name comes from. 160,000 prefabs were made in the late 1940s they were only intended to be used for 10 years – but many were still lived in up to the 70s.

The Prefab at the Museum was one of 46 on the Finch Lane Estate in Amersham.  There were 18 different designs and this one is a Universal House Mark 3 design and was made by a company in Rickmansworth, and was originally built in 1947. Robert and Ethel Brant lived here with their three children and pet parrot. The Museum is in contact with the Brant family who lived there from 1948 – some of their family photos are on the mantelpiece.

1940s prebab living room

Why is it here at the Museum?
Prefabs weren’t made to last forever, so the Finch Lane estate was being demolished to build more modern houses. The Museum wanted one because lots of people remember them and they are an important piece of our local and social history.

What is it built from?
The prefab is built from 26 asbestos cement panels, bolted together on a wood and steel frame. This stands on top of a concrete base.

post war housing prefab

What can you see in the Museum’s prefab?
In our prefab you can see the master bedroom, children’s bedroom, bathroom, kitchen and living room as it would have been. You can go into the children’s bedroom and try the historic toys such as a pin ball machine, you can open the wardrobes and see what clothes they would have worn. The kitchen has an electric fridge and cooker – a modern luxury in the 1940s! Our visitors love to take a trip back in time to 1950 and reminisce, many visitors know someone who used to live in a prefab and we love hearing their stories and memories.

In the garden there is an Anderson shelter used as a garden shed and garden showing the post war ‘Dig for Plenty’ campaign. The prefab is opposite our WW1 and WW2 Nissen huts and next to our ‘Dig for Victory’ allotment creating a timeline of local history.

post war housing prefab

Film and tv
The prefab has been used for filming various television programs and documentaries including Call the Midwife.

Watch a Video Tour of our 1940s Prefab


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