Haven\’t we all got richer?

Interesting little number:

a typical home in 1952, but at that time around two thirds of properties had no hot water.

It\’s around and about true, inflation adjusted, measured by GDP per capita, that the UK in 1952 was as rich as China is today.

Those who say that it\’s not got better over the decades are simply ignorant.

35 thoughts on “Haven\’t we all got richer?”

  1. So Much For Subtlety

    Once the Greens have finished reducing our carbon footprint, we will be there once again. Just wait.

    In the meantime, no hot water? Loooxury! We dreamed of not having hot water.

  2. An older friend was reminiscing about living in Chelsea in the 60s. Very swish, I thought, until he pointed out that the house, divided into 3 or 4 flats, possessed but a single shared bathroom. Standard for the time, so he said.

  3. Not disagreeing, but by comparison in 1954 my newlywed working class parents move into a smart new bungalow in Barton Seagrove, with hot water and a flush toilet and a garden and everything. I think they might even have had a motor car, though I’m not sure about that. Certainly did by 1961 when my sister was born.

    Also, I know that the mains water was run into Geddington (where mother lived as a child) in the early 1930s; many of the locals objected and were happy with the water from the village well, despite it being right outside the pub and people used to wee in it. My grandfather installed the central heating in their house himself; he was an engineer (played a part designing the ship winding gear for the PLUTO line at Stewarts and Lloyds during the war).

    One could reasonably say that a century ago we were, economically “third world” by today’s standards. By the 1950s we were doing better than that, so the comparison to (rapidly growing) modern China seems apt.

  4. “at that time around two thirds of properties had no hot water”: I don’t believe it. Conceivably it’s a lie, using “no hot water” to mean no hot water tank, the water being heated on demand rather than stored. I do remember gas-fired heaters that were used for that job.

  5. Probably several factors. Low number of immigrants meant lower levels of street crime. Burglary was largely confined to the much smaller number of relatively wealthy people with stuff worth stealing (before the consumer device revolution, what were you going to steal from the working classes, their kitchen table? Crockery?). Much lower levels of drug use meant less gang violence and murder. Etc.

  6. “Don’t you think a lot of crime went unreported 50 years ago?”
    David was writing about murders and I doubt if many of them went unreported.

  7. @David: the wiki page you reference changes from 2000 onward from reporting the murder rate for England & Wales to reporting the rate for the UK as a whole.

    The current murder rate for England & Wales is 0.98. So it is worse, but not quite as bad as it seems at first glance.

  8. Mario, see
    “Medical advances mask epidemic of violence by cutting murder rate” BMJ 2002;325:615.2
    “A Century of Change: Trends in UK statistics since 1900”, House of Commons Library, Research Paper 99/111, 21 December 1999
    Crime has got approx 37 times worse (3700%) since 1900. I’m willing to believe some of that statistic is due to more crime being be reported, but I still think it’s reasonable to believe that crime has gotten a *lot* worse since 1900.

  9. It’s not that simple. I spent the whole of the 1950s as a child in Alpha Road, [inhabited mainly by epsilons], in an insalubrious area of North London, on the Tottenham/Edmonton borders. Hot water in the downstairs bathroom [off the kitchen] was provided by a poorly designed machine called an Ascot, a toxic fume-generating gas-fired water-heater that in many houses tended to explode on occasion. Some houses did not have them, and depended on kettles heated on the gas stove and a tin bath. The better quality houses a street away were late 1930s semis, where the hot water on tap was heated by coal-fired back boilers behind the living room fire grate.

    All houses could be bitterly cold in the winter, as central heating was unusual and did not become general until the 1960s.

  10. Ian B (#6), I suspect the relevant word there is “new” (as in “new bungalow”).

    Even if new houses were being built with plumbed-in hot water, it would have taken some time for existing homes to have it fitted (except for those, like your grandfather, who had the skills and tools to do it themselves).

  11. I suspect Tiremola (#14) has the key to it.

    Without paying to read the article, I would guess they are mixing up two things:
    1) having no permanent source of water heating (relying on a kettle on some sort of hob);
    2) not having piped hot water to different places, so a water heater in the kitchen from which it had to be carried to other places.

  12. ‘No hot water’ means running water, yes. That’s implicit.

    As for murder rates, bear in mind that some percentage of murders were either not considered murder sixty years ago, or would not have been identified as such.

  13. I can confirm zero hot water at that time other than from kettle on gas stove. No inside lavatory either; tin bath in front of fire on Fridays. There were two bedrooms for four adults and three children. Can also confirm our neighbours in similar position had television set. We moved to swanky new house in ’56 which featured hot water from back boiler (coal-fired stove) and a bathroom. Unfortunately we could only afford to heat the water for one day each week. It has most certainly got better over the decades.

  14. “Low number of immigrants meant lower levels of street crime.”

    Controversial :), I remember living in Toxteth and you’d be much more worried about the scousers than any of the foreigners!

  15. Do sort of doubt that 2/3 without hot water figure. I’ve renovated quite a few late Vic/Edwardian terrace houses & most of them had a ‘back boiler’ incorporated in the kitchen hearth as original fit. Sometimes they’ve even had the convection powered tank at upper floor ceiling height providing ‘hot water throughout’.

    ‘Ascots’ certainly bring back one amusing memory. First ever home of my own was a bedsit on the Cromwell Road.The communal bathroom had an Ascot needed a particularly light touch. If the tap wasn’t turned on full there wasn’t sufficient gas flow for the pilot to ignite it. On the other hand, at full water flow the Ascot wasn’t man enough to heat the water past tepid. The trick was to back off the water flow till it ran hot without the flame shutting down. If you misjudged it you HAD to go back to full on & try again. What happened if you didn’t is, in the shape of a startlingly blonde Swedish temporary resident unfamiliar with the vagaries of UK plumbing, as follows: She got the less water/more heat part, OK, but missed the ‘if goes out turn water FULL ON, FAST!’ bit & just waited for the flame to relight. Which it duly did when the gas in the flue built up sufficiently. The thump shook the top floor of the building & rattled the windows. To be closely followed by the appearance of an hysterical, naked, dripping wet, soot covered Scando. Alas a promising relationship abruptly terminated.

  16. We are, undoubtedly, a whole lot better off materially now, than we were back then. But there is one feature of my childhood days that I would never wish to part with, and that is the real chimney and hearth in my little house. So I would never want to move into a new-build.

  17. bloke in spain

    They must have been the upmarket variety of Edwardian terraces. Yer average working man’s cottage round ‘ere was built with a kitchen range, open fires, no bathroom and an earth closet down the bottom of the garden.

    When I worked as a housing officer in Lewisham in the early 1980s, the borough was gradually working through a renovation programme for its older housing stock (mainly 1920s/30s, I think) that involved putting in a bathroom & toilet, hot water and central heating.

  18. @JamesV,

    Because it’s not just London. Here in Northampton we’ve got The Kettering Road, The Wellingborough Road, The Drapery, The Horsemarket…

  19. James [email protected]
    “Why is it that only roads in London come with a definite article all of their own?”
    For the same reason there’s none whatsoever in The City?

    Apart from that, just customary.
    the Cromwell Road
    the Old Kent Road
    the Kings Road
    Oxford Street
    Regent Street
    & definitely not
    the Kentish Town Road

    Yes, Francis, but you are talking south of the River. Which as a true Cockney, I’ve of course heard of but never visited. Very primitive folk down there one’s told.
    My own terrace, 1899, was part of the railway developments built radiating out from the stations on the Great Eastern. Further from the station the cheaper the house & my deeds said “a house to be built for not less than £350” so pretty well the bottom end. But with back boiler.
    Can’t say I’ve ever done a house in Tiremola’s Alpha Road but many round there had them. Problem was, the iron pipes used to fur solid & with them inaccessibly buried in the brickwork, it’s common to find them cut off, abandoned & forgotten. Until someone drills through the lead mains supply, that is.

  20. So Much for Subtlety

    Dave – “As for murder rates, bear in mind that some percentage of murders were either not considered murder sixty years ago, or would not have been identified as such.”

    Like what? It has actually gone strongly the other way. Entire categories of what was considered murder, now aren’t. Felony murder is a good example. A lot of those “constructive” murders are now not murders.

    Add to that the advances in medicine and you can see things have got a lot worse.

    Which is why most figures look at homicides, not murders as such.

  21. I changed schools a few times when young (pre-teens, ’70s) and each time I had a new start to history, beginning with Roman central heating. Nothing else about Roman Britain, just fucking hypocausts. Not until my late teens did I realise that my teachers regarded these as marvels of technology.

  22. Pal has an old Essex house. Oak framed around a medieval brick chimney core. All the upstairs rooms get a piece of that stack. Like toast when there’s a good blaze in the fireplace. Certes! Centrale heetinge, forsoothe!
    Stuff the Romans. Whatever did they do for us?

  23. So Much For Subtlety

    Luke – Not until my late teens did I realise that my teachers regarded these as marvels of technology.”

    No doubt time for the inevitable Churchill quote:

    “Do you realise that from the time the Romans left Britain until the arrival of the American heiresses, this country was completely without central heating?”

    Other people did too. I think I understand the decline of the British Empire now. Bloody central heating weakened the moral fibre of the country.

  24. Should bleedin well hope houses are better than they were in the 50’s: we pay enough proportionately for them.Late 50’s Mini £496 av House £2,124=x4; 2011 Min £11810 Av House £116,597=x14 .The improvement is truly wondrous.Of course,the difference is accounted for by land price inflation but, as we all know this is a fact of nature and there is nothing that can be done about it. Even by the best economists and politicians money can buy.

  25. I do not regret living in a house where you do not get frost on the inside of the window anymore…despite the nostalgia of dearieme and co.

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