Pencaitland | Two interviews of Janet Bassett by Liz Strachan and Jan Bundy Summer 2001

Janet was born in 1934

First interview

Living conditions

Bath in kitchen, toilet separate off the kitchen, with stone wash boiler, in corner of kitchen, piped water heated from fire. Bed recess with curtains in sitting room. Janet lived with grandparents: mother a widow. Other newer houses had separate facilities.

Windows far fewer

Park View – built after war, more windows required, radios and few TVs, very few cars. 40s washing: 2 sinks, one deep, ‘glass queen’ ribbed glass washboard, no poshers. Big boiler in kitchen for clothes washing. Washing machines in late 50s. Wringers between sinks, but mangles not used any more.

Food storage – larders; fridges came in in late 50s, no place to put them anyway, a fruit and veg. growing area and people ate what was in season, fruit and veg. van came round, helped selves to turnips from passing horse and tractors.


Mostly coal and wood for kindling from woods. All had electricity, very few without. Ranges went out, cookers came in. Bedroom fires to dry clothes – did not feel cold at time. Coal delivered to retired miners, others on coal van. Back to solid fuel in last 10 years.


Clippy rug (rag rug), the only carpet when Janet married in 1955, otherwise lino.

Cleaners – ewbank or carpet-beater. Winter and summer curtains, duvets now.


Everyone used cast-iron bath, once a week, otherwise sat on draining board with feet in sink, no bubble baths (60s), different soap for washing and washing-up soap, lux and palmolive, shampoos, no deodorants. ‘Californian Poppy’ and ‘Evening in Paris’ perfumes.


Some people kept hens, very large gardens in Queen’s Drive. Someone bred rabbits for food and fur. Everyone grew and swapped, went on to 1970s.

Shopping – once a week according to pay, weekends. All food available in Pencaitland shops. Paper shop, post office and bakery, garage for bikes and shoes, paraffin, co-ops for everything. Vans – fish,bread, fruit, ‘Willy come early’ (always late), hardware van. Lamp in dark, also sold treacle. Other door-to-door: blacksmith, and joiner’s workshops where Old Smiddy Inn was.

Main meal at night, treats at week-ends. Soups, stews, mince, roasts a luxury, large breakfast on Sunday, sausage, bacon, black pudding – no lunch – sat around table for all meals. TVs changed that, not so much baking.

Alcohol – The custom was that the men went to the pub at weekends. Tended to have a binge and get drunk when they got their pay packets, otherwise abstained. If they drank at home they were looked down upon and regarded as secret drinkers. Now, with fewer miners and manual workers and increased prosperity the pattern has changed. More drink at home through the week, not just at weekends.

Mother In general did all work, but children had to help. Did not go out to work because man didn’t like it. Family did washing-up together.


Gambling school in park, sit in ring on boulders and played cards. Gala used to be a great treat. Daffodil teas – each person would set up a table and after cards or dominoes would serve elegant tea to invited guests.


40s and 50s, sensible shoes, hardwearing, wellies, ‘guthy rubbers’ (plimsolls), hand-me-downs, coupons and rationing, anoraks came in and winter coats went out (cars). Long coats back in, hats out, gloves also and scarves, packamacs in 60s, umbrellas rare in 50s.

Working Sunday clothes and working clothes. Shopped in Tranent at huge co-op (‘divvies’ (dividends) twice a year – bought new clothes then) or for Gala. No mail order, but firms came round the village with vans which would take orders. Men have more clothes now, not just work clothes and best. Pullovers went out. Women with aprons and wraparound, a little tea apron for entertaining in.

2nd interview


40s nylon stockings, crimplene (long drawers went out), cleaned by washing, few could afford dry cleaning.

Hair 50s: teddy boys for men, before that short back and sides, Brylcream; shoulder-length for women, older still in buns. Gents’ barber went round houses, a postman cut hair in evenings, perms for women, tight ribbon around hair and roll. Used metal curlers and pipe cleaners and rags, scarves around head.


40s whooping cough and pneumonia much feared. Odd case of diphtheria, scarlet fever and tuberculosis. When health service came in called doctor more. Paid nurse regular sum before this. Either walked or took bus to Ormiston or Tranent if able. Otherwise Dr called.

First aid at home – went to old neighbour for old-fashioned remedies before trying doctor. Another helped with child-birth and layout out the dead. Janet remembers cascara to clear you out. Treacle and sulphur (teaspoon) for chests, once a year. Dental nurse came to school. Chiropodist came in later. Pregnancy – advice from family and neighbours before going to doctor. No pre-natal classes or special care. Maternity hospital in Haddington. Own doctor, District nurse, tinned milk and orange juice.

Disability. Can’t remember many in village. Family took care of those there were. 40s: handicapped children taken away to Gogarburn. Largely just pitied and ignored.

Mental, again tolerated but ignored. Family coped, otherwise despised.


Local cinemas, Ormiston, Tranent, or Dance Halls, Trevelyan Hall, Ballroom Ormiston, and Haddington. Lots of places to walk, still asked parents for permission. Had to walk home, opportunities for courting. Married in church (vestry or manse if baby on way). No white dresses. Now some married in hotels. Guests still get dressed up, but much less formally, e.g. Elvis gear or fancy dress, hats no longer de rigueur. Hire of kilts and dress suits now, used to be own best clothes – reception has not changed. ‘Pour-outs’ went out as traffic increased and it became dangerous in 60s. Also confetti not allowed in the streets .

New homes

No new houses so young couples had to live with parents. Houses now change hands frequently.


Died at home or in nursing home. Body left in house in separate room. Used to seeing dead body. Neighbours came in to pay respects. Now bodies well presented and made up, hair done. Help families to see loved ones looking good. On the whole people don’t see the dead nowadays. After funeral, always a big spread with alcohol for family and friends. Co-op in Tranent did all funerals. Now people shop around for different firms. Now people plan their own funeral and make arrangements, paid in advance. Most wore black or grey.

Attitudes to outsiders

No coloured, except Barnardo’s children. Prejudice there, but not put to the test because none in the village. Polish soldiers after war. 5 or 6 stayed in village. German POWs invited to tea eventually. A bit anti-English.


Used to care for at home. Considered old at 60, now have to be 80. Expect social services to look after them, not the family. Now want them put in home, partly because children move away.


Drunks were scorned. No understanding of alcoholism but ordinary drunkenness tolerated. Now church has visiting group. 40s and 50s neighbours and friends helped them.


Acceptable in 40s and 50s, then when cancer proved, gradually became unacceptable.


Not at all until recently, now school children meet behind pavilion. Some get hooked when in army.

Attitudes to Life

Church – old hymns have gone, far fewer go to church now. No longer needed for help, go to Social Services now. Many attended out of fear of hell. After war, more people questioned. More special services, e.g. for children, much more tolerant, less stern. Structure of organisation much the same as ever. More people help with elders. Used to be all older people – age range widened now. Events – Christmas, Easter, Outreach, visiting ministers and concerts, flowers.


45-50, Church of Scotland and Catholic. Now much wider range – Baptists, Salvation Army, Church of England, much more ecumenical.

Rites of Passage

Births – Haddington hospital or home. Now – Western General or home. More single mothers now than 40s and 50s; partners rather than spouses. Child molesters known, so children kept away from them, but not spoken about. Homosexuals – not spoken of or known – now probably prejudice exists, but as there are no obvious ones in village, not expressed.


War changed attitudes, but still a stigma. How would they manage financially? Now helped with money and house and some have babies deliberately to get away from home. Children still called bastards at school. Since the pill mores have greatly changed. Promiscuity used to be despised. Increase in materialism – ‘materials come before morals’.