Suburban Children

If there were children in the suburban household, the afternoon and early evening feeding and grooming routines centred on them—until their father came home, when they were promptly sent to bed to have their good long healthy sleep. Many 'modern' mothers in the 1920s and 1930s carried on late nineteenth-century trends in child hygiene and followed the advice book author Dr Truby King's famously strict (and thoroughly vitalist) hygienic recommendations to the letter—a heavily disciplined training process which started directly after birth with time-regulated feeding and evacuations (potty training) and which in the hands of a conscientious or germ-obsessed mother could become a nightmare.17 Powerful smells, plus elbow grease and kitchen cabinet staples, and possibly a few of the new aspirin tablets (acetyl salicylic powder was synthesized in 1896), were still the family's front-line defence against sickness. But nylon toothbrushes and hairbrushes, superior dental powders and pastes, cheaper soaps and heavily antiseptic-smelling, dandruffclearing liquid hair shampoos (Sebbix, Vosene) were making basic grooming a little easier and more effective; and supported a vigorous campaign in schools and homes to combat the continuing problems of children's body odours, head lice, and bad teeth. Progressive dentists recommended (in books, magazines, but now also over the radio) a preventive oral hygiene regime of a wholesome diet, plus twice-daily brushing and a biannual checkup: 'the intelligent and steadfast practice of the means indicated in these rules would result in far fewer teeth being lost'. Championed by Army dentists during the Second World War, the oral or dental hygiene movement took off in post-war private dental practice, heavily influenced (in Britain and elsewhere) by high standards of cosmetic dentistry in the United States. Since being available at a subsidized price on the National Health Service in Britain as an auxiliary service for dentists, oral hygiene has greatly reduced the number of teeth being pulled and the number of fillings done, compared with pre-war days.18

When their children grew up and went to the local school, quite a lot of parents might have been lucky enough to find that the local council had already adapted to the modern style of educational architecture, with plenty of large, low windows, open verandas, grass lawns, sandpits, paddling pools, kitchens, showers, toys, and Montessori reading and numeracy aids. Madame Montessori's infant school movement started in 1912 (as a successor to Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi's and Friedrich

Froebel's 'kindergartens') was a modern educational milestone; it emphasized the need to catch and train the 'human animal' when young. It trained through educating the senses, Rousseaustyle, and put children into a relaxed but intensive hygienic regime of feeding, sleeping, correct dress, play, and exercise, thrusting the infants and toddlers out into the sunlight and fresh air whenever possible, to get tanned and hardened—a belief that had only been strengthened by the tuberculosis sanatorium movement and naturism. Photographs show ranks of cots placed outside in gardens, and orderly groups of toddlers in white aprons blinking uncertainly into the sunlight behind the camera. By all accounts they often transformed the lives of those poorer children lucky enough to attend them, as well as slowly transforming primary school educational philosophy.19 Inter-war babies were bathed as ferociously in fresh air and sunlight as their eighteenth-century predecessors had been in cold water. Doctors, teachers, and parents were at one on the importance of the Lockean outdoor life for children. In the 1930s the journalist John Gale (himself a notably 'clean young Englishman' brought up barefoot and athletic in the early 1920s) and his wife were extraordinarily determined to do the right thing for their newborn child:

Because the flat was so small and had neither garden nor balcony, we decided to keep Joanna in a cage outside the window. It was an exaggerated parrot cage, made of what is known as elephant wire____An expert, a man in a small brown hat, came to fix it up.

He assembled it in a few easy movements, and screwed it onto the window-sill, adding a couple of metal supports for good measure... Certainly the cage was extraordinarily secure____at last, holding our breath, we picked up the basket containing Joanna, then less than a month old, and thrust her into space. Simultaneously, a number of startled and elderly female faces appeared from behind lace curtains in the windows opposite. Although they became familiar with the sight of the caged baby, the faces never altogether lost their look of shocked surprise... Yet, whatever the psychological risks of the cage, Joanna did well enough. She was nicely sunburnt; she became apparently immune to frost, instantly pulling off any glove or woollen boot and dropping it at the feet of the milkman; she watched traffic; she was a fine imitator of dogs and rag and bone men and a passionate admirer of the Salvation Army.. .When there was snow or an east wind, Jill zipped her up in a sort of sack with armholes, made from a worn-out blanket; even in this she humped around quite actively, abusing people in the street below, and getting more opportunity for exercise than could be provided by the largest pram... [After a year old] she grew out of it altogether. But it gave her an admirable start.20

Swimming facilities had become the norm for many British city children—like Angela Rodaway's young sisters, who 'went about in the summer wearing nothing but a pair of swimming trunks. Many children did this. I could not help comparing it with the flannel petticoats in which I had been dressed.' To get a swim, suburbanite families could take a trip to the vast new local open-air lidos built by towns and boroughs from 1929 onwards, with their aerating fountains, lawns, Imperial-sized pools, and terraced cafes. Some towns, starting recreational parks from scratch, added public tennis courts, bowling greens, infant paddling pools, and play areas. In 1935 the massive Jubilee Lido, jutting out into the sea at Penzance, was opened; and Cheltenham Lido had 100,000 visitors in its first opening season—with 10,000 cars.21 Outdoor lidos were a substitute for going to the seaside; but of course many people now went there for a week or so on holiday, as well. The inter-war years were a holiday boom time for car, caravan, coach, and rail trips to coastal resorts, beach huts, and holiday camps; two-thirds of all British holidays were taken by the seaside.22 Cycling and hiking were especially popular among young workers; and the Youth Hostels Association (YHA), copied from the German

20 The Tinside Lido jutting out into the sea at Plymouth, built in 1935 at the height of the swimming boom, now fully restored and in use during a heatwave in 2006.

youth Wandervogel movement, was founded for hikers in 1930, with almost 300 hostels by 1940 providing over half a million overnight stops—the YHA found that its initials were popularly translated by young women as 'Your Husband Assured'. There was more than a fair chance that they would meet up with a handsome young socialist, or young professional, well away from inquisitive family eyes—just as upper-class girls were courting on the golf course, the swimming pools, car race tracks, or tennis courts.

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