H&G in the Fifties

The new Elizabethan era, a glance backwards at Homes & Gardens magazine


HRH Princess Elizabeth’s marriage to Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten in 1947, heralded the start of a new optimism for the country. Homes & Gardens developed a right Royal obsession with Elizabeth appearing on the cover 16 times. It was as if the magazine had an access all areas pass for the seats of power, featuring not only the private rooms of Clarence House and Windsor Castle but also No.11 Downing Street and the homes of Churchill and press magnate Viscount Rothermere.

Another key source of optimism was the Festival of Britain which inspired a renewed focus on all things British. The magazine began speaking to a younger audience with suggestions for furnishing for the first time and working with small spaces. It even launched its own interiors problem page. One simply sent in details of the size and aspect of your room, listing existing furniture and fittings and then the furnishings editor (later editor) Psyche Pirie would reply with a stern brief that left little room for your own personal touch.

The comfortable fiction of the war years gave way to edgier reads such as ‘What Is A Nervous Breakdown’ and ‘Shall We Stay Married’. Fashion pages went out on location, celebrities shared diet tips and the food section featured aubergines and sweet peppers. Televisions were everywhere.

Hot H&G topics:‘Concerning’ blackout blinds.The benefits of a built-in kitchen.

Key influences in the 1940s and 1950s


Discover more of the history of Homes & Gardens

In the Zeitgeist

  • Rationing (and how to get around it).
  • Coronation fever.

Headline news

  • The creation of the NHS.
  • Marilyn Monroe visits Britain.

Cultural radar

  • The Abstract Expressionism art of Pollock, Rothko and co sprung from European surrealism and was the first American art movement to have international influence.
  • In the summer of 1951, more than eight million people flocked to experience The Festival of Britain – a project promoting British advances in art technology, architecture and design.

Lifestyle moments

  • Christian Dior’s debut collection in February 1947 launched a new glamour with nipped waists, full skirts and soft shoulders. The clothes met with an ecstatic response, revived the French fashion industry and influenced fashion for decades.
  • When Bill Haley & His Comets hit the airwaves, the kids went crazy for rock ’n’ roll and teenagers were suddenly big business.

Household essential

  • The gas mask. Not as glamorous as the cocktail shaker or the wireless, but the government was taking no chances and everyone had to have one. Fines were issued for non-compliance.
  • Often, but not always, a Dansette, the record player of the Fifties, looked like a small suitcase right down to the carrying handle. Back then, a playlist meant stacking singles on the spindle and the mechanism played one record after the other.

Who knew?

  • Bing Crosby’s recording of White Christmas remains the biggest-selling single ever, with estimated sales of over 50 million copies.
  • A new prosperity meant that there were a lot more cars on the road. Illogically, the M1 wasn’t the first motorway – that honour was bestowed on the M6 Preston By-Pass.
Jennifer Ebert

Jennifer is the Digital Editor at Homes & Gardens. Having worked in the interiors industry for a number of years, spanning many publications, she now hones her digital prowess on the 'best interiors website' in the world. Multi-skilled, Jennifer has worked in PR and marketing, and the occasional dabble in the social media, commercial and e-commerce space. Over the years, she has written about every area of the home, from compiling design houses from some of the best interior designers in the world to sourcing celebrity homes, reviewing appliances and even the odd news story or two.