You may remember a series produced by Channel 4 in 2001 when they followed a family called the Hymers. Michael, Lyn, their adult daughter Kirstie and her two sons time-travelled from Yorkshire in the 21st century to West Wickham during the Second World War and spent nine weeks experiencing the lifestyle changes. The semi-detached house bought for the series amazingly had belonged to my Mum’s great aunt Kay and her husband Reg. They met working at the Air Ministry during the war and Reg served as a Fire Warden in his spare time. Following the war and newly married they moved to the fresh leafy suburbs of West Wickham.
The 1940s house, full of authenticity
17 Braemar Gardens was a spacious, well-proportioned house with warm welcoming bay windows and the iconic sunray motif gates which embodied the idea of new beginnings and hope. Moreover, it afforded the luxury of a modern bathroom with all the fittings including an inside toilet!
A house that inspired a reality show on life during the Blitz
In 1999 the house appealed to the Channel 4 producers because it was so authentic. Although there was now some carpet and no Andersen Shelter in the garden, very little had been altered – still the original windows with the stained glass rose motif in the front door, no central heating retrofit which left the fireplaces intact.
As someone who clearly doesn’t recall a life without gadgets, I find it fascinating to look around each of the rooms and wonder whether I really need such a huge TV and could I wash up on a daily basis, sweep instead of grabbing the hoover. However, washing clothes with a washboard and mangle might prove challenging!
At first Lyn and her daughter struggled with the tasks of trying to feed, clean, clothe and keep everyone warm during times of such austerity. Nevertheless, they discovered as Peter Hitchen wrote in his Sunday Mail article at the time “They (the Hymers) had learned an important lesson, that pleasure is not necessarily the same as happiness, and that a harder life can often be a better one.”
The 1940s house recreated by the Imperial War Museum
The Imperial War Museum recreated the house after the series, and the exhibition was so popular it ran until 2011. Take a look at their videos as they walk you through the 1940s house and travel back in time from the comfort of your chair. If you know anyone battling with a school project on the period the following videos and recordings give a great insight into life at the time.