- Second World War
IWM historian Terry Charman takes us on a tour of the 1940s house. The house is a reproduction of the home in which the Hymers family lived during the making of the Channel 4 series 1940s House (2001). The replica house was on display at IWM London until 2011.
You can download the images in this resource to help you understand more about life in a 1940s house.
For ideas to help you use this resource, take a look at our Suggested Activities.
The Living Room
In the Living room we see how families spent their spare time listening to the wireless and gramophone records. The family also used this room to sew and knit, having to ‘Make do and Mend’, after clothes rationing was introduced in June 1941.
The difference between a modern and wartime kitchen are highlighted here, in particular storing food without a fridge and washing clothes without a washing machine. Food and fuel rationing also affected activity in the kitchen. Bacon, ham, butter and sugar were the first foods to be rationed in January 1940, with meat going ‘on the ration’ from March 1940.
In this photograph from 1945 two women discuss food rationing. Behind them we can see a fruit and vegetable stall. Fruit and vegetables were never rationed, but they could be in short supply as very little could be imported from abroad and so Britain was reliant on home-grown seasonal crops. Some food rationing continued in Britain until June 1954. In the audio clip Joyce Henderson describes how food rationing affected her wedding in March 1944, and how she coped with clothes rationing.
Squander Bug air rifle target
The Squanderbug first appeared in press adverts, but quickly developed a life of its own after use in several poster designs, urging people to save for the war effort rather than helping Hitler by ‘squandering their money on consumer goods. Members of the public made their own effigies from materials like papier mache, using them for target practice and in town parades culminating in the symbolic hanging of the creature.
The Queue for the fish shop
Although fresh fish was never rationed, it was often in short supply, and quite expensive. Fish queues were always long and even air raids could not disperse them. Supplies were limited as the Royal Navy requisitioned much of the fishing fleet and the German Navy and Air Force restricted the activity of the remaining fleets in the North Sea. In this audio clip Lily Phillips explains how her mother used the black market to supplement their rations, and the excitement and inevitable queues when they heard about new goods.
The Dining Room
The focus in this room is food rationing and Terry Charman takes us through a typical rationed meal and how to use a ration book. In this room we can also see how the family prepared for air raids, with Splinternet tape on the windows and an Anderson Shelter in the garden.
This Ministry of Information drawing shows the multi purpose Morrison Shelter. It was available from 1941 onwards, and provided a solution for families without a garden, who could not build an Anderson Shelter ARP Wardens kept a list of houses that had an Morrison Shelter, so rescuers knew they should dig to free the family beneath the rubble. In this audio clip Ron Frost describes his family’s Morrison Shelter.
The Boys' Bedroom
In the Boys’ bedroom we discover the toys that the boys played with.Toys became more difficult to obtain as the war continued and companies such as Meccano produced weapons instead. We also see books with a wartime theme that the boys read. IWM historian Terry Charman goes on to explain how nearly two million children were evacuated from major cities and towns in September 1939.
In this photograph from 1942 a four year old girl is modelling utility underwear. Her pale blue wool sleeping suit cost 18s 9d and four coupons. Clothes rationing was introduced in June 1941. In the same year utility clothing was introduced to save on labour and materials. Clothing meeting Board of Trade standards were labelled with the CC41 insignia, denoting Civilian Clothing 41. She is surrounded by toys including a doll in a cot and soft toys. By 1942 toys were very difficult to buy new and many were handmade.
Toys were in short supply during the Second World War and many were hand-made. This pull-along toy dog was made by German prisoners of war for the Duke family children. This was the inspiration for Michael Morpurgo’s “Little Manfred”. In this audio clip Pamela Leopard describes how her Dad made her a wooden doll’s pram for Christmas and the difficulty her Mum had in getting her a doll.
The evacuation of children from towns and cities began on 1st September 1939, but due to the inaction of the Phoney War many returned home quite quickly. In June 1940 the government expected the Nazis to invade Britain. This led to the evacuation of coastal towns such as Southend. Children in other towns and cities were evacuated once again when the Blitz began in September 1940. In this audio clip Derek Milton explains that his Mother decided not to evacuate him, despite living in Kennington, London.
The Master Bedroom
In the Master Bedroom we see a bedroom which unusually has twin beds instead of a double. Terry Charman explains how clothes rationing affected men’s fashions. In 1942 the Utility Furniture Scheme (UFS) was introduced and here we see a utility bedroom suite. The emphasis was on good quality and economical use of materials. There were 22 items of essential furniture made in three designs and two qualities.
The photograph shows Marcelle Lestrange looking at her Utility furniture permit in March 1943. These permits were introduced in 1942 for newly-wed couples setting up home and for people who had been bombed out. Second -hand furniture did not require a permit and goods were also donated for distribution to those in need by the Women’s Voluntary Services. In this audio clip Betty Brown explains how Wrighton Aircraft Factory, where she worked ,also made utility furniture.
The 1940’s house had both an indoor toilet and bathroom which were still quite unusual at that time. Many families relied on a tin bath in the kitchen for their weekly bath and the toilet was located in the back yard. Bathroom products such as soap and shampoo were rationed from 1942. Every family was advised to have a First Aid kit in the bathroom to treat minor injuries caused by the bombing.
Hot Water Rationing
In order to save coal, essential for the war effort, a line of five inches was drawn in the bath. This showed the amount of water that you were asked to use. The British Government asked people to ration their use of hot water in order to conserve fuel. Even the baths in Buckingham Palace had lines drawn in them. In this audio clip Paula Harris explains how people obeyed the instruction to limit the bath water they used, despite there being no way to enforce it. She confesses to once using more hot water than she was allowed.