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Costs of running a home
late 1930s - early 1940s, England

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In July 1938 my parents married and set up home at 9 Brook Avenue, Edgware, Middlesex on the northern edge of London's suburbia. Somewhat surprisingly some of their documents from that time have survived, and provide tantalising insights insides into the prices of household items at the time. They are also a resource for calculating rates of inflation between then and now.

This page is about the costs of running the home. Another page documents the costs of setting it up. Some of the documents are dated 1938, ie the year before the onset of the Second World War, and others are from 1940 when the war was already changing everything. It is impossible to know how much these later documents reflect the shortages of resources and man-power due to the war or how ways of doing things were simply still pre-war.

All the documents are in the old £-s-d currency. There are conversions to today's currency on the internet, but money has devalued so much that only the pounds are really significant today. The number of shillings indicate the fraction of a pound, where there were 20 shillings to a pound.

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The cost of painting the outside of the house

Note that all the documents show the phone numbers of the suppliers with the old-style first three letters of the area as the area code.

Painting the house was an extremely major job. There were no replacement windows with plastic frames and no plastic gutters which would not need painting.

1940 bill for painting the outside of a house in north London, thumbnail

Bill for painting the outside of the house.

Click to enlarge.

Window frames were made of wood which needed an undercoat and two top coats of paint against the weather, and the putty that held the glass inside the frame normally had to be renewed and painted because it cracked after a few years. Incidentally the paint built up with every repainting job, and doors and windows tended to stick, sometimes so badly that they would not open.

Gutters and drainpipes were made of iron which went rusty. My recollections are that the painting was much more for protection than for cosmetic purposes because there was no way of completely smoothing the rough and corroded surfaces before repainting.

So there was a lot of preparation work to be done, even before the painting, and there was a lot to paint. Even then, the bill for painting our house in May 1940 was only £16.11.6. Surprisingly my father did not choose a local contractor, but one near his work in Golders Green. Even more surprisingly, the contractor was prepared to travel from Finchley to Edgware to carry out the work.

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The cost of the plumber

1939 receipt for a plumber in north London for making a new joint for sink waste, thumbnail

Receipt for a plumber for making a new joint for sink waste. Click to enlarge.

Plumbers are usually emergency call outs, and their charges reflect this.

In September 1939, an Edgware plumber charged 5 shillings for coming out to the house to 'make a new joint for sink waste'.

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The cost of interior decorating

1938 receipt for redecorating a room in a Victorian terrace house, thumbnail

Receipt for interior decorating. Click to enlarge.

There is a receipt for internal decoration in the house in Edmonton where my father lived before he was married. In 1938 the costs were as follows:

Drawing room and living room:

strip walls (of old wallpaper), wash and whitewash ceiling and drops and paper walls £2.10.0.

Sundries 19/9.

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Heating: coal

Various bills and delivery notes for coal have survived, but they are scrappy and undated. Their only significance is to verify that coal was essentially the only form of heating - although I do remember gas fires that were only ever lit on very rare occasions.

In particular the kitchen boiler which heated the water and made the kitchen so very cosy, was fed on a form of coke.

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