IN ENGLAND in the 1930s, everything was dingy and everybody smoked.

The houses were small and the rooms were cold. The toilets were often outdoors: very cold in winter. The beds were damp.

The tea was brewed until it was dark brown, as brown as bitter. Teeth were brown and misshapen. Stained by tea and fags. Fags held between yellow fingers, fags raised to dirty lips. Ash tottering on fag ends. Ash flaking over waistcoats and cardigans. The reek of smoke in the pub, the cinema, the living-room, the bus. The sepulchral rattle of coughing and the guttural smoky laugh.

The air was full of smoke from the coal fires that didn’t warm the rooms. It was murky and dim outside, shabby and small inside.  An old country making do with old things. Ordinary people scrimped and saved. Poor people endured hardship and hunger. Many went without. Without food, medicine, shoes, warmth.

People looked alike. MPs in morning suits and top hats. Dowagers in mink stoles. City gents in bowlers. Housewives in aprons.  Miners in cloth caps. Girls in belted dresses. There were few foreign faces or voices. Few eccentrics.

Green meadows blanketed the countryside, wild flowers popped open, butterflies danced and birds sang.  Deckchairs rested on the pebbly beach. Strawberries and cream were gobbled up by greedy mouths on holidays. Colour sprang from the imagination, from reading and talking and from listening to the wireless. Theatres, concert-halls and cinemas beamed out music and magic.

In England in the 1930s there was wonder and joy.

There was a war coming. There was the King and Queen. There was universal suffrage. There was democracy. The land was blessed.

Image of artwork, Entrance to a Lane, Sutherland, 1939

E80 Purchased 1953