Anyone for Unox?


I’ve just come across this copy of Woman’s Realm, July 23rd 1966 and thought it might be interesting to look at it in comparison to women’s magazines today.  Then I remembered I don’t read women’s magazines today. So I’m just going to flick through it anyway.  No attempt at authoritative analysis, then, just some pictures…
Give or take a few readers’ letters (“Dear Woman’s Realm, To me, one of the sweetest sounds is the pealing of church bells.  Where I live, if the wind blows from the north, I can hear the bells of Gresford Church, famous all over Wales; but if a south-west wind is blowing, I can hear the mellow peal of the bells of Wrexham Parish Church.  Yours Sincerely, Mrs L. P”  Is it a symptom of our twenty-first century, over-entertained minds that I was thinking ‘yes…. And….?’)  and an article about how vegetables are good for you (recipe for ‘potato lettuce’, anyone?) your Woman’s Realm of July 1966 seems to be entirely made up of short stories and incredibly complicated knitting/sewing patterns.  The average 1966 reader would have obviously known her garter from her stocking stitch and been able to knock up a lace cardi between informing herself about Welsh church bells and applying a Toni home perm (see below)   


Most interesting, though, are the adverts.  Not a single mascara or anti-wrinkle cream in sight.  OK, so Woman’s Realm of July 23rd 1966 is obviously not aimed at the most fashion conscious of readers but the only concession to looks is an advert for H. Samuel jewellers. ‘Getting engaged? It’s more fun choosing your ring at H. Samuel. You’ve such a fabulous choice?’ Other than a picture of a woman looking quietly pleased with her ‘Heart Solitaire’ (yours for £16) its readers are allowed to go unmolested by the beauty industry.  Weirdest advert was this one for deckchairs, in which Hughie Green exhorts us to save two margarine cartons to get this special deal on ‘fabulous’ pic-nic chairs, which will, he assures us, ‘double our fun’.  Is it me or is it a bit sinister?


There are loads of adverts for food, particularly of the brightly coloured, severely chemically enhanced, convenience nature.  I suppose, as the 1960s woman’s working horizons were opening more and more while at the same time she was still largely expected to be the mainstay of the family, meals that could be made by opening a tin or rustling up something out of a box were of huge interest.  Shame that so many looked like something that had just been scraped out of a nuclear reactor,  See below.Image

Yum.  Unox. Dutch (as illustrated by pottery windmill.  I wonder if that came free in the tin?)  I would probably not be first in the line for a slab of pork luncheon meat with or without a few pounds of melted cheese on top, but one called ‘Unox’?  Since when has something that sounds like a brand of toilet cleaner supposed to get our taste buds going?  “Sounds tempting, doesn’t it?” Not really.  Still, I suppose your Unox supper frees you up for more time to knit and enjoy ‘doubling your fun’ on your Kraft deckchair, hopefully without Hughie Green grinning across at you.

The last page of Woman’s Realm July 23rd 1966 offers another easy-to-make convenience recipe, this time using a tin of Del Monte Pineapple Dessert Bits.  It makes free use of a raspberry jelly, a can of evaporated milk and the aforementioned Pineapple Dessert Bits.  Unfortunately the page has torn off so I can’t show you the bright pink and luminous result.  I have been looking around on the internet for something similar and found this one for Dole pineapple, possibly a bit earlier than 1966.


Bon appetit.


This Year’s Woman

margaret damer dawson 

This year I’m looking forward to talking about Margaret Damer Dawson, Britain’s first policewoman, born in Hove in 1863. I first came across her while doing some work in the Old Police Cells Museum in Brighton Town Hall (if you like the kind of tiny museums with jumbles of stuff everywhere run by enthusiasts who’ll talk to you for ages and maybe lock you in a cell if you ask them kindly, you need to go here). Margaret was already a high achiever before the forces of law and order called. She studied at the London School of Music, was a doughty mountaineer and was known for campaigning for animal rights and the anti-vivisection movement (apparently loudly and in a large hat) It seems, she started to think that having female police officers might be a good idea while volunteering at the outbreak of WW1 to meet and greet fleeing Belgian refugees arriving in London and seeing how vulnerable lone women were to the sex trade. She saw her chance when a call went out for volunteers to fill the gaps left by men going to the Front. The last thing anyone expected was for women to apply. Wouldn’t the sight of women running around the mean streets of London after criminals be a laughing stock?  Who was going to keep order in their kitchens?  And wouldn’t they trip over their petticoats?  Margaret joined forces with militant suffragette and journalist Nina Boyle to encourage women to apply nevertheless. The new Women Police Volunteers, soon to become the Women’s Police Service, was born and they were anything but a laughing stock. Many of the first ‘lady policemen’ (feel free to enjoy a fingers down throat moment here) were militant suffragettes who had had plenty of experience of policing already, albeit from the other side, having been arrested and imprisoned for disturbing the peace. Equality was still years away, though. The WPS had no powers of arrest, being deployed more in assisting with children being taken into care, giving a stern talking to women ‘in moral danger’ and educating women in giving evidence in court. They might not have had truncheons but they made the most, apparently, of rolled up umbrellas which they used to move on any disturbers of the peace or just to prod general miscreants. As Commandant, Margaret designed the uniforms herself (note – no flailing petticoat in sight.) After Nina Boyle left due to an ideological disagreement about being asked to police curfews for women, Mary Allen, who had previously been imprisoned for lobbing a brick through a Home Office window became Margaret’s right-hand woman. When the war ended it was expected that the WPS now numbering 357, would ‘go back to their washtubs’ as one male officer said. In 1916 the Daily Express had asked a Scotland Yard official whether women would ever be employed as police constables and had given a resounding no. ‘Not even if the war lasts fifty years.’ Luckily neither of these things happened. Margaret was given an OBE for her work during the war and there is now a blue plaque on her house in Cheyne Row, London.


Is this the man who said the ‘lady policemen’ could now go back to their washtubs?

More info on the history of women police officers here

A not so guilty pleasure…

lady audley

During my walking tours last year I was often asked ‘who’s your favourite Notorious Woman?’  Easy question.  Mary Elizabeth Braddon.  Sometime actress turned novelist, Braddon (1835 – 1915), who once lodged in Brighton’s New Road with her mother, managed to write over 80 novels in her lifetime, including the spectacular ‘Lady Audley’s Secret’, which rocked Victorian readers with its disturbing portrayal of a ruthlessly ambitious woman who will stop at nothing – bigamy, deserting her child, pushing an inconvenient husband down a well – to get on in life.  In 1862 when the novel was published (Braddon was only 27 at the time and had rattled off the final third of the book in a fortnight), the home and the woman’s peaceful and stable presence in it were sacrosanct to the Victorians.  Scary, nasty things were only supposed to lurk in haunted castles, windswept Gothic mansions, or abroad.  The thought that a woman – a wife and mother at that – could generate such horrific acts and murderous chaos was shocking indeed.  Lady Audley is presented unapologetically as just a ‘bad girl’ and – worryingly for the Victorians – there is no attempt to engage our sympathy for her by heartfelt descriptions of a sad childhood to blame it on.  Braddon was a pioneer of the Victorian ‘Sensation’ novel that specialised in people falling off cliffs, houses being set fire to, hauntings and general Oh My God moments.  The titles of some of her novels practically come with their own drumroll…. ‘To the Bitter End’, ‘Taken At the Flood’, ‘Dead Love Has Chains’.  I’m not an expert on Braddon’s life story but a few online accounts I have read  (a good one here – that, for her, life imitated art, if not the other way round.  ‘Crooked solicitor father’, ‘struck up a friendship in a graveyard with a man known as the ‘Don Juan of Coventry’,  ‘struck up a friendship in Yorkshire with a shadowy figure called John Gilby,’, ‘lived in sin with a married publisher’, ‘had a career on stage with the pseudonym Mary Seyton’ (was the resemblance to ‘Satan’ deliberate?), ‘mother of many illegitimate children’ are sentences that crop up in enough accounts of her story to suggest she was familiar with the boundaries she stretched in her works.  What really impresses me about Mary Elizabeth Braddon, though, is just how good a writer she was.  When I set about reading Lady Audley’s Secret last year for research, I expected something either longwinded in the Victorian why-use-three-words-when-fifty-five-will-do’ way, or, taking account of the subject matter, a breathless and hysterical melodrama.  What I didn’t expect was a perfectly polished, immaculately plotted work that would have me sailing past my bus-stop, arriving late for work and once cancelling a perfectly good evening out with friends just so I could get to the end.  How did she do it?  Of course she was remorselessly criticised and looked down on – much as chick lit authors are these days – for not being clever or literary enough, for catering too shamelessly for the masses.  Now, a hundred and fifty years later, where are these cleverer and more literary contemporaries of hers?  A great deal of them are forgotten, while Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s Lady Audley is still going strong in any number of stage plays, film versions and, of course, the book that’s never been out of print.  Did these criticisms upset her?  Did she have the time to let them upset her?  Hopefully she just shrugged her shoulders and laughed all the way to the bank.

Mary Elizabeth Braddon

(Incidentally, Braddon may have taken some inspiration from the real life Constance Kent murder case which occurred in 1860 and similarly shocked Victorian society with its young female murderer who was accused of disposing of the body of her young step-brother down a well.  This has a Brighton connection, which I will be exploring in a future post)