• Jill Barry

Looking back to the 1920s

Here we are, one hundred years on since the start of 1920 and what better time to look back to that bygone era? Only two years separated the end of the Great War from the beginning of a new decade. Folk must have hoped peace would be maintained, but modern history tells us that, sadly, this wasn’t to be the case long-term.

What do we think of when we hear someone mention ‘flappers’ or ‘The Roaring Twenties’? No wonder so many people were determined to party!

Because this was the beginning of a post-war era, a period of economic growth, bringing prosperity plus a boom in consumer goods. With so much going on, the depressing slump the 1930s brought would have been far from people’s minds. Motor vehicle production increased. More people had electricity installed in their homes and “Wireless” sets appeared in many houses, bringing global events and organised entertainment into living rooms for the first time.

Hollywood began to dominate pre-war cinema, introducing a new brand of popular hero, the movie star, and showing weary workers a wondrous and glamorous world from across the Atlantic.

Consumerism was on the rise: some of today’s high street brands, like Sainsbury’s and Marks & Spencer, both established in the previous century, began to be noticed more. Shoppers enjoyed popping into a Joe Lyons tea shop. It was also a time of massive, mostly suburban and privately financed, house building.

In France, the decade was known as the "années folles" or “'crazy years”, referring to the era's social, artistic and cultural zip. Jazz blossomed and Art Deco peaked. Agatha Christie introduced dapper detective Hercule Poirot to her readers with the publication of “The Mysterious Affair at Styles” and there was another début when Dreamland Fun Park opened in Margate.

What were the changes for women? Well, the flapper redefined fashion for British and American females. More seriously, women took the struggle for freedom into their personal lives though they weren’t given electoral equality with men until 1928. This legislation brought equality in inheritance rights and unemployment benefits; and women profited from the Sex Discrimination (Removal) Act, which, in 1919, had given them access to professions such as law.

Women began to make a name for themselves in British politics and Oxford University admitted the first 100 women to study for full degrees, so beginning the “blue stocking” era. This original name, associated with an educated, intellectual woman, related to the 18th-century Blue Stockings Society led by the hostess and critic Elizabeth Montagu, born in 1720 and who would doubtless have been delighted by this progress.

Cadbury Flake, Hornby trains and Boy Scout Jamborees all made their débuts. The first film adaptation of Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights was released as a silent movie and amongst the top songs were Apple Blossom Time and Margie. Jazz musician Charlie Parker was born in this year and Suzanne Lenglen beat Dorothea Chambers for the Wimbledon Ladies' Singles Title.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this trip back in time. Let's hope this new era is a good one for us all.

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