Report by Sandra Millsopp
The opening meeting of Bangor Historical Societyís 2013/2014 season was held on 12 September. Peter Smyth gave a fascinating talk on Northern Ireland in the 1950s. He began by comparing the period with the present day. There were no supermarkets, no cult of celebrity, no millionaire footballers and no regulations from EU. Moreover people dressed appropriately for their age, and religion and respectability were very important. Yet there were slums, little central heating and gas lighting.
Mr. Smyth then turned to some of the major changes which have taken place. Farming was still an important occupation, although there was a drift from the land: life was hard and mechanisation meant less work for labourers. Cattle were a major export and they were driven down Oxford Street to the Belfast docks for export to mainland Britain.
The largest centre of population was Belfast, but apart from Londonderry the other towns were small. A house on the Malone Road would have cost £4,000 - £5000 while a house in Grovehill Park in Bangor was £1,650. Malcolm McKee, a solicitor and expert on history, wrote frequent letters to the Spectator. He thought Bangor was on the road to perdition due to all the new houses being built. Local services were not as efficient as today. Problems with the water supply meant restrictions in the summer. In 1953 fluorescent street lighting was introduced in the town.
Wages varied greatly according to age, gender and type of work. A cabinet minister earned £1,700 while a skilled Harland & Wolff worker might receive £350. The chairman of the Ulster Transport Authority earned £6,000 pa.
Mr. Smyth then turned to the question of how people spent their money. He used a list of businesses in the Spectator at the end of 1954 to give some indication: there were at least 16 grocers, 10 auctioneers, 7 bakers and 6 drapers and outfitters in the town. Today supermarkets provide many of these services.
Food rationing did not end completely until 1954. In 1950 the Spectator published advice on menus for its readers. The end of rationing brought a wider range of food such as chicken noodle soup, pizza and Vesta curry. Sweets such as Mars and spangles were also available.
Mr. Smyth concluded his talk by looking at leisure. One particular feature of everyday life was smoking. Dancing was popular at such venues as Caproniís in Bangor, while square dancing took place in the Marine Gardens in summer. The cinema was also very popular. Youth culture was growing with Teddy boys and rock and roll.
Irwin Bonar gave the vote of thanks on behalf of the society for an excellent talk.
The chairman then paid tribute to Jean Green, a long-standing member who had died during the summer. Her daughter will be giving a talk about her wartime experiences in the spring.