Photo: Flickr / Marion Doss
Those who have lived during wartime or the Great Depression know that desperate times call for desperate measures.British journalist Hunter Davies uncovered some of the most interesting austerity trends — for example, cooking sheep brains for dinner — in his book Cold Meat and How to Disguise It: A History of Advice on How to Survive Hard Times.
We’ve compiled some of the top trends here.
Most sensible families were already in the habit of saving food, but the Ministry of Food also encouraged citizens to 'experiment with food they had never tried before,' namely oft-discarded parts like 'nettles, dock leaves, whale meat, or ... sheeps heads or brains,' says Davies.
'Bread, fish, offal and vegetables were not on 'coupons,' as rations were called, and were usually available in season,' writes Davies, 'but almost every other item of food, such as sugar, tea, butter, margarine, cheese, jam and sweets, were all strictly limited to around 1-8 ounces per person.'
'Millions of husbands who set up home in the 1930s were being exposed to an avalanche of books, magazines and newspapers instructing, nay, commanding them to Do It Yourself,' recalls Davies, whose father came of age during WWII.
The range of items to make was astonishing: One magazine called Hobbies Handbook taught men how to DIY everything from guitars to electric clocks to lamps and gramophones.
'Many of these were must-have gadgets and adornments of the times, which every household longed to have, but they were still very expensive in the shops and beyond the reach of most ordinary working folks,' says the author.
'There was a sliding scale whereby you could insure against a child dying before the age of five, which cost only a few pennies a week, but all you got back was £3 when they died,' explains Davies.
'Or you could insure them up to the age of 10 and get more money back, but of course you paid for more. It was an age when all classes had large families--and lost many of them before they grew up.'
Per Gadget Magazine: Rather than nip off the end of an unfinished cigarette, people could off about an inch from the end of a discarded pen cap then slip it on the cigarette to use as a makeshift snuffer.
Another magazine told readers to pick up old cigar butts, open them up and sell the tobacco.
Plenty of magazines were in the 'business of telling you how to make money as well as save it,' says Davies.
In fact, it wasn't uncommon to see 'alluring adverts for earning easy money by sitting at home making sweets or clothes, which you sent off to a central point, or how you could become instantly rich by correctly answering competitions and puzzles and win big money prizes.'
One edition of Fortune ran a contest promising 10,000 prizes to readers, including a motorcar, billiards table and typewriter, if you could guess the lucky numbers hidden in four consecutive issues.
'A whole industry grew up suggesting ways and means for children to be amused, or to amuse themselves, with the minimum expenditure,' says Davies, who notes that families couldn't afford a nanny.
Some games from 1912 didn't cost a single penny. There was nursery football where children colour a hen's egg to resemble a makeshift football and then try to blow the 'ball' into goals.
Then there were window games, like counting how many men are carrying a parcel or baby, that emerged in this period. 'The first child spotting a soldier walking either way was the first one to win,' Davies notes.
For adults, the games were a cheap alternative to buying a billiard table.
Yes, it sounds mildly disgusting, but during wartime even fats couldn't go to waste.
'They're essential for health and strength!' wrote Wise Housekeeping in Wartime magazine, which advocated for 'scraping thoroughly the papers in which butter and margarine have been wrapped,' and even reusing the papers themselves for 'greasing baking dishes or covering food while it is cooking in the kitchen.'
This tip comes from the March 1949 issue of Gadget Magazine: 'Slit the tube, open it out flat, and proceed to remove the enamel lettering by briskly rubbing with Aceton and fine steel wool or similar material.'
Then using scissors, the magazine told readers to clip the letters and cement them to glass to use as signs or house numbers.
The shreds could also be used to decorate wooden bowls, cover ornaments, glass vases or inkwells.
Clothes rationing began on June 1, 1941 and lasted until 1949 in England, says Davies. But because the styles of clothes rationed were 'so poor,' families turned to darning, sewing and 'repairing knickers' to stretch what they owned.
Almost every family had a sewing machine in their home. Buttons were sewn, elbows were patched and men's clothing was turned into women's as people tried to make do with less.
The phrase 'putting on frills' emerged in that era and refers to revamping old frocks.
'A booklet from the early 1950s called 20 New Bungalow Plans gave detailed instructions and plans on how to build your own bungalow--at prices from £1,900,' writes Davies.
'Sounds quite a lot to me, when old terrace houses at the time could be had for £500, but having a new bungalow was clarty posh, a true status symbol, and could cost £4,000 - £5,000 if you were buying one.'
Both were used to stash coins 'without giving the slightest evidence of value therein,' Davies says.
People also hid money 'in the family Bible and under the mattress,' a place where burglars weren't likely to find them but that was easier to access (and less expensive) than banks.