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Littlewoods Catalogue
SETTING THE SCENE

PRE-WAR BRITAIN

The quiet revolution that unshackled women from the drudgery of constant home management started unpromisingly. The western world toiled in the throes of the greatest slump in history. Britain was still in the grip of painful transition and 44 million people saw their traditional industries, practices and life patterns clouded in uncertainty. Almost a generation after the First World War, the population of the United Kingdom remained unbalanced.

The theory that any career was open to a woman was a sham: she could not, for example, practice on the Stock Exchange. In other professions and especially in industry, discrimination was widespread and blatant.

One in two Britons lived in towns of 50,000 people or more. Four fifths of the nation crowded into the 5 million acres of the major conurbations and about half had never traveled more than 50 miles from the places where they were born.

Homes and possessions combined - the assets of three quarters of the British people were valued at less than 100 each, yet just one per cent of their fellow countrymen owned two thirds of the nation's wealth.

littlewoods mail order catalogues and home shopping website The first electronic medium of mass home entertainment, radio, was ten years old, and the BBC's newsreaders were required to wear dinner jackets before the microphone.

The United Kingdom was ostensibly a Christian country. There were 8 million confirmed members of the Church of England in 1932, including 3 million regular communicants; 2.5 million Roman Catholics; and 2 million members of the free churches.

But church attendance was in decline and the true deities of the age, the shining paradigms held up to women, were Hollywood film stars. Through the medium of the cinema, a world beyond the experience, beyond even the wildest dreams of ordinary people became almost tangible. For a few precious hours a week, a housewife could step off the treadmill.

And Littlewoods launched its first home shopping catalogue.

HARD LABOUR

Women accepted that it was their fate to work from morning to night looking after the family and home, with few labour-saving devices to help them. There were no washing machines or tumble driers in those days.

Huge kettles or copper boilers were heated up, and clothes washed and scrubbed by hand, then squeezed through a mangle and hung out on lines to drip dry. They were taken down still damp, and ironed using bulky steam irons or flat irons that had to be warmed on the fire.

Even if the family home had electricity (which millions didn't), vacuum cleaners and shampooers were not widely available, so rugs and carpets were draped over the same washing line and beaten clean.

In the kitchen, virtually everything was done by hand. There were no food processors, mixers or microwave cookers, few electric cookers, and no dishwashers, refrigerators or freezers. Dixons Electical was not on the high street in the 1930s.

THE LONG TRUDGE HOME

Shopping was a grind rather than a pleasure. Even big towns boasted no more than a handful of stores, and there were no supermarkets where most of a housewife's weekly purchases could be bought under one roof at one visit.

Buying food for just a couple of days could mean trudging round half a dozen widely-scattered shops. With very few families owning a car, large-scale shopping expeditions were in any case out of the question.

A system of shopping that did not involve grueling trips to the high street laden with young children as well as heavy packages, was at the very least unappealing.

Home shopping cataloguesbecame the housewife's saviour and today it is big business, worth billions of pounds a year, yet it still fulfills its original purpose of 80 years ago: to supply a vast range of goods to people in their own homes, and so allow women more leisure time through easier shopping.