The hall and staircase of a typical 1940s house
Plan of the hall layout
As explained on the mid-20th Century housing estates page, the most up-to-date 1940s English suburban semi-detached houses were built in the 1930s. All had the same basic plan, although my family was fortunate in that ours was larger than most.
What seemed to strike our guests was the relatively large sizes of the hall and kitchen. This page is about the hall and staircase.
Naturally, once inside the house, the personal preferences of the occupants showed, although these were dictated by what was in the shops at the time of purchase and what were hand-me-downs.
At the time, our stained-glass hall window seemed to me, as a very young child, like a monster with huge eyes and large shoulders, and I had nightmares about him coming out of the front door towards me. So my father had the windows re-inserted upside down. Then the nightmares stopped.
There was a non-descript coloured curtain that could be drawn across the door and side windows at night.
The doors from the hall to the rooms opened towards the rooms and were varnished like the front door, but the panels were smaller. I think there were eight of them.
Typical hall furniture
What was bought in the late 1930s in the way of hall furnishings would have been typical in style in other houses furnished at that time because it was dictated by what was in the shops. Differences would have been relatively minor.
Our hall floor, like other hall floors, was covered in lino with a dark to medium brown marble pattern. My mother polished it regularly on her hands and knees till it shone.
There were four items of bought furniture, all in dark wood.
• A small table was tucked away inside the front door. It had a drawer with a shelf underneath. Later in the 1950s it was where the one and only telephone was located.
• A slightly larger square table stood by the door to the lounge (or 'the front room' as it was always called). It was a much more elegant affair, comprising a top and a shelf close to the floor. It had turned twisted wooden legs.
• Opposite this table was what was called the 'hall stand'. It was as tall as a man and had hooks for coats and hats, a small mirror and a small seat with a hinged lid over a container for gloves etc. There were slots at the sides for umbrellas. It came in several versions, and every house seemed to have one or another of them in its hall.
Typical hall and stair carpets
- The stair carpet was typical of the time and of previous decades, in that it was not fitted but was a long narrow length held down on each stair with decorative clips at the sides. Decorative rods, like the ones shown in the photo, were also in use. The wooded stairs, varnished as medium coloured shiny wood like the banisters, showed at either side of the stair carpet. Our 'stair carpet runner' had a non-descript pattern with a border along its edges.
- 'Slip mats' were also typical. These were small mats placed in the hall just outside every inside door. Ours were bottle green. I suspect that their purpose was to eliminate draughts from under the doors, as it was not usual to heat all the rooms. The mats were well-named, as they did tend to slip around, particularly on my mother's highly polished lino floor. People frequently almost lost their balance on them.
Additionally there was a door mat inside the front door for wiping our feet when we came in. Incidentally it was never deemed necessary to remove outdoor shoes when indoors.
Hand-me-downs and 'heirlooms'
Other items in our hall were not typical in that they were either hand-me-downs from older relatives; bought because they appealed to my mother, or - for the want of a better word - heirlooms. Not that the 'heirlooms' were particularly expensive. Their value was personal because of family associations.
- Our hall seat was made of two different types of beautifully grained and shining wood. It had been put together by my mother's father, from a broken, but once-expensive grand piano which had found its way to the family from someone better-off.
- Our large copper pan, by then shining brightly from my mother's repeated polishing, was originally a pan for making jam. It probably came from my mother's grandfather's family as its size suggested that it had been used for large scale preserving. It was propped under the wall-clock.
- Various vases and crochet mats, etc were on surfaces.
The hall walls were papered in a slightly textured, non-descript beige colour. It was the same throughout the house.
The 'drop' ceiling
Throughout the house, the walls were only papered to within about half a metre of the ceiling. The upper part was known as a 'drop ceiling'. Around the demarcation was a picture rail with a papered frieze below it. Pictures hung from the picture rails. (The drop ceiling and picture rail fashion persisted from the early 1900s, and probably before, until around the 1950s.
Ceilings were whitewashed.