Denis Kilcommons: Domestic history of the ’70s

THE sugar shortage of 1974 lasted from July to at least November, according to Mrs Broadbent’s Diary.

THE sugar shortage of 1974 lasted from July to at least November, according to Mrs Broadbent’s Diary.

The late Ivy Broadbent lived in Greenhead Lane, Dalton, and kept a meticulous diary of daily events which her son, Richard Broadbent, has transcribed to provide a wonderful slice of domestic history.

The year of the sugar shortage was momentous. The Government enforced a three day working week to ration electricity because of a miners’ strike over inflation and capped wages.

Around 40% of the country suffered blackouts and people learned to live with candlelight at home. Television stations had to close at 10.30pm, petrol deliveries were cut and a 50mph speed limit was imposed.

Abba won the Eurovision Song Contest, Chris Tarrant launched Sally James and TISWAS on TV, the average house price was £10,900 and a gallon of petrol cost 42p – that’s 10p a litre.

Ivy first mentions the sugar shortage on July 16 when the Co-op was limiting sales to four pounds per customer. She notes the price was 10-and-a-half pence for a two pound bag. A week later it had gone up one pence and the ration was two pounds a customer.

“Some shopkeepers are cashing in on the shortage by charging up to 18p for a bag.”

By late August people stockpiling meant the Huddersfield Co-op hadn’t had any for three weeks and the price had gone up another four pence. And by the end of October she notes the price was going up to 19p for a two pound bag. “Although there isn’t any in the shops this week.”

Helen Megoran, of Huddersfield, also remembers the sugar shortage.

“We lived in Walthamstow, East London, in the 1970s,’’ she said. “You could have one bag of sugar per grocery order.

“Goods used to be piled on pallets (and in those toddler enticing pyramids of tins) and I remember watching two harridans diving on to the last packet of sugar on the pallet, each trying to clutch it to her Les Dawson bosom and the bag splitting and sending its contents all over the floor.”

The sugar shortage, she says, inspired someone to start a rumour about the reforms in the Soviet Union. It said a salt shortage was looming because the Russians were no longer sending people to the salt mines.

“I remember chuckling over prissy articles about our wonderful Cheshire salt mines with hundreds of years of salt left in them.”

And, yes, there really are salt mines in Cheshire. Northwich even has a salt museum.

“There was also a bread shortage and a jolly old neighbour used to take bread orders so mothers with small children didn’t have to queue. He said how much he enjoyed the Blitz spirit and chattiness in the queues.”

Today Europe is reeling from recession. Would the country be as resilient again with a three day week?

 

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