A Beamish project that looked at classified adverts helped us gather fascinating stories of life in the North East in the 1950s. Here Connor Emerson, Remaking Beamish Engagement Development Officer, shares some of the findings of these adverts.
Beamish worked with placements from Sheffield University through Transforming and Activating Places (a two-year knowledge exchange programme) to research the material culture of the North East in the 1950s through classified adverts placed in local newspapers through the decade.
The project took place in the summer of 2021 and the findings are now helping us in our research for the pair of semi-detached houses from Red House in Sunderland that we are replicating in our 1950s Town.
The idea was that classified adverts hold a tremendous amount of usable information in just a few words. Through them we can tell exactly what objects were in what houses down to the exact day, and even tell some interesting stories through these.
One interesting story comes from a house in Ramsgate Road on the Red House estate. On 9th April 1952, an advert was placed in the Sunderland Daily Echo which read:
FIVE large Aylesbury Pullett Ducks, One Drake, for sale, or will Exchange for Hens.
We pick the story back up over a year later on 30th December 1953, when the same house places an advert stating:
TEN young R.I.R. Hens. £5 10s.
It appears that the people who lived here did indeed exchange ducks for Rhode Island Red hens, but rather unfortunately did not have a good time with either type of poultry!
Another thing that the information gathered shows us is the amount of families with children moving into the Red House estate in the early 1950s. In 1953, from 35 classified adverts related to the estate, five of them were for the sale of prams, approximately 14 per cent. In 1954, this percentage had moved up to 21 per cent of adverts that year, showing just how many young children were living in the estate at this time.
As well as this, the rise in popularity in the 1950s of certain pets can also be seen through the adverts. Throughout the Red House estate there are a number of examples of households selling budgies. These seem to be only slightly more common than the sales of Alsatians, another popular pet at the time. There is also an advert in 1954 from Rosemary Road on the estate for the sale of pigeons. The County Borough of Sunderland Municipal Tenants Handbook of 1958 listed pigeons among birds not allowed to be kept under any circumstances.
Perhaps, though, one of the more puzzling adverts relates to a green settee that was located in a house in Rhodesia Road in 1954. Although it is a very common item found in every living room in the estate, it is interesting that we know about this particular one because the advert was placed in the ‘Lost and Found’ section of the newspaper, asking if anyone had found a green settee seat as theirs had gone missing!
Visitors to the semi-detached council houses at Beamish will be able to learn about the expansion of housing in the 1950s and what life on a new housing estate was like. There will be opportunities to help put on “plays” in the open plan living and dining space, see traditional cooking in the kitchen and help with brand new labour-saving equipment on laundry day! Visitors will even be able to assist the rent collector and make sure occupants of the houses are following the rules of the estate!
If you have any more information about the Red House estate during the 1950s, please contact Connor Emerson, Remaking Beamish Engagement Development Officer, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.