“It is our hope that Her Majesty may live long and happily and that Her reign may be as glorious as that of her great predecessor Queen Elizabeth I. Let us hope we are witnessing the beginning of a new Elizabethan Age no less renowned than the first.”
Clement Attlee, Leader of the Labour Party, House of Commons, 11th February 1952
This evening, Wednesday September 9th 2015, at around 5.30 pm, Queen Elizabeth II, at 89 years of age, will pass another remarkable milestone in British history, overtaking her own great great grandmother, Queen Victoria, to become our longest-ever reigning monarch, having assumed the throne exactly 63 years, 7 months and two days ago, following the death of her father, King George VI, in early February 1952.
Elizabeth’s subsequent Coronation took place at Westminster Abbey on June 3rd 1953 and today seems a fitting opportunity to spend a little time examining probably one of the most unusual maps that we have ever handled, one which provides a first-hand “mind map” of British “life and taste” in June 1953, at the very dawn of this new Elizabethan Age.
Despite the optimistic, modernist message of the 1951 Festival of Britain, a war-weary people was still struggling with a pervasive sense of post-war greyness. The Conservatives under the elderly Winston Churchill had defeated Labour in the Elections of October 1951 and much of the government agenda in the ensuing period was dominated by foreign affairs, as rising Cold War tensions manifested themselves in renewed regional conflict in Korea. Churchill placed growing emphasis on Britain’s special relationship with America whilst at the same time struggling to cope with an increasingly troubled post-war legacy of Empire, most notably in Malaya and Kenya. On the Home Front the Conservatives maintained much of the status quo in terms of the existing National Health Service established by Labour in 1948; they sustained relatively good relations with the Trade Unions and perhaps, most surprisingly, held back on the wholesale unravelling of Attlee’s post-war nationalisation of Britain’s key heavy industries, restricting themselves to the denationalisation of the steel and iron industries and a partial denationalisation of road haulage.
The enduring scars of German wartime bombing were still visible in the ruined buildings that blotted the townscapes of many of Britain’s great industrial cities, whilst their citizens, eight years after the end of the war, still lived with the ongoing realities of daily rationing of staple foodstuffs such as eggs, sugar and sausages.
The occasion of the young Queen’s Coronation offered the nation a chance to take stock, to celebrate & rejoice in the new peace, and to collectively make a fresh start, embracing the future with a sense of renewed optimism and national rejuvenation. As Princess Margaret noted, The coronation was like a Phoenix-time…everything was being raised from the ashes…and nothing to stop anything getting better and better…
We recently acquired a remarkable Breakfast Tray upon whose surface is marked out a contemporary “mind-map” of early 1950’s Britain, a remarkable insight into how one inspired cartographer, Cyril Phillips, envisioned a country at work, sleep and leisure, but one that always started the working day with a hearty breakfast…
Set within an elaborate shield-like cartouche upper centre, surmounted by a royal crown and embellished with the crest of Elizabeth II, the title of the map reads as follows:
The one and only original Map of Breakfast Island indicating life & taste in Britain at the beginning of the 2nd Elizabethan Reign
The map itself, which measures approximately 48 x 30 cms is a special limited edition print, identified as “No. F17” and specially signed by the artist, Cyril Phillips, whose original ink signature appears in the bottom margin.
Despite extensive researches we have, as yet, been unable to trace the identity of Cyril Phillips or to uncover any notable personal facts about him. In time, I very much hope that surviving friends, family members or close relatives may perhaps come forward and contact us with more information about Cyril Phillips himself and about the origins and background to this unusual & captivating map.
The content of the map suggests Phillips was particularly familiar with British radio and television and the workings of the British Civil service and nationalized industries. A creditable artist, he may possibly have been a professional manager, a Government civil servant or perhaps even a trade union official. The use of the term “Jaywalking” in one location (a word not widely recognized or used in post-war Britain, nor even to this day) and one or two other Americanized colloquialisms included in the toponyms suggest that Phillips may also have spent time in the United States. Indeed it is possible the map and tray were in fact produced and distributed in the USA in 1953 by the recently immigrated Phillips. The unusual map design and that of the tray itself suggest that this may well be a very real possibility. Hopefully a clearer picture will emerge in due course.
And perhaps this article will encourage people to search for other examples of this remarkable tray still awaiting re-discovery in the nooks and crannies of dusty attics or in the darkest recesses of now fashionably retro 1950’s formica cupboards?!
The map itself has been carefully trimmed and superimposed upon the black tray surface, then lightly varnished and embellished with a double gold line border all round. The tray itself measure 55 x 38.5 x 4 cms and is of typical 1950’s design with a painted black & gold lacquer-effect finish, with attractive curved sides, gilt edges and curved inset hand holes at each end. A Scale is marked lower right but no numerical markings or references are offered, the scale being “strictly according to tastes”. A star-shaped compass spur appears in the lower right corner, with the 4 cardinal points identified.
Despite some knocks and dents to the tray edges, and some slight staining to the peripheries of the map, the whole piece has survived in a remarkably fine state of preservation.
In an era of nationwide rationing of everyday foodstuffs, it is hardly surprising that the map should have Breakfast Island as its title and as its central & predominant feature. Food in the early 1950’s was a British national obsession and preoccupation, brought on by continued post-war scarcity. The withdrawal of wartime rationing was introduced only very slowly by the post-war Labour Government, beginning first with flour in July 1948, then clothes in March 1949. In January 1950 milk rationing ended, whilst in May 1950 tinned & dried fruit, chocolate biscuits, treacle, jellies & mincemeat became fully available once more. Four months prior to the Coronation, in February 1953, sweets were taken off ration – to the great delight of the nation’s children and confectioners. Eggs and cream followed shortly afterwards in March and April 1953 respectively, whilst all sugar was taken off ration in September. It seems hard to believe that restrictions on butter, cheese, margarine and vegetable fats remained in place until May 1954 and those on meat and bacon until July 1954. The impact of long-term rationing on product diversity was disastrous, for example, the wartime rationing of cheese led to the creation of a standard cheese, nicknamed “Government Cheddar”, as bland & flavourless a long-life product as you could possibly find. Its longevity and universality almost sounded the death knell of British regional & artisan cheese making, which witnessed a decline from a pre-war total of over 3500 commercial dairies nationwide to only some 100 remaining outlets by the end of rationing in 1954.
One can easily imagine the Cyril Phillips of 1953 dreamily salivating as he delineated the plenteous landscape of Meat County with its Bacon Hills, Pork Pie Town, Rasher Point, Gammon Sands and Sausage Downs or of Egg County with its Fried Egg House, Boiled Egg Inn and Poached Egg Point.
Breakfast Island is a territory made up of several distinct regions, each differently coloured and named after many of those restricted dietary staples: Bread County, Fish County, Cereals County, Meat County, Sauces County, Milk County, Eggs County, Fruit County and Transport County (also called the “The After Breakfast” County!). At its very hub, connected by an extensive network of roads and highways, is Breakfast City. Each County has appropriately named towns and settlements and topographical features reflecting their origins & location, including many derived from popular commercial brands.
For example Cereal County has settlements and topographical features such as Scotts Town, Quaker Town, Weetabix Head, Kelloggs Castle, Cornflake Head, All Bran Bluffs and Rice Crispies Bay. Equally Sauces County has Worcester City, Perrin Inn (Lee & Perrins Sauce) and H.P. Town, whilst adjacent Mustard Island has as its principal settlement, Colemans Town.
Located in the Ocean of Labour, Breakfast (Island) clearly occupies an absolutely central part of the working day, a starting point and springboard into the peripheral regions beyond, principally to Wage Earners Land in the north-east of the map, which lies adjacent to Transport County where daily commuters & workers congregate around Rush Hour Circus before making the short passage by ferry across the very busy Rush Hour Straits.
Wage Earners Land is a land of national (& nationalized) industries, its coastline, like a dockyard, featuring individual quays annotated with titles such as Glass, Mining, Steel, Docks and Shipping, Coal Electricity & Gas, Agriculture, Meat (Production) and Fruit (Growing). It is described as “an increasing area: subject to severe attacks of inflation and deflation despite all Planning to the contrary”. Its hinterland settlements include Employers Federation Board; Government Direction Board; Wages Conciliation Board; TUC Council; Official Strikes Comtee; and Unofficial Strikes Comtee!
An alternative destination is the more remote Private Income Land, located in the north-west, beyond the calm waters and creative island archipelago of the Sea of Leisure and of Imagination.
It is described as “a diminishing area, subject to severe erosion and tidal encroachments. Plentiful ruins & fine relics”.
Amongst several notable features of Private Income Land are: Manor House, now a school; Duke of A’s Castle, Nat Trust Propty, Duke now rents a flat in it from Natl Trust; Lord B’s Castle, Div HQ Nationalised Industry; Gardener’s Cottage, now Lord B’s home; Stately Home “C”, Admission 1/6 Wednesdays (to pay Succn Duties); Home Farm, now open cast mining; Stately Home “D”, requisitioned during War, now a ruin; Royal Lodge Still occupied by Royal Family.
A feature of post-war British society was the demise in the wealth and status of the landed classes, not least through declining estate revenues, the imposition of increasingly onerous taxes and death duties on inherited wealth (raised from 50 to 65% in 1940 and twice more in 1946 & 1949) and the wartime requisitioning by the Government and Armed forces of many of the country’s great country houses and estates. The impact of this can be seen in the plethora of such properties and estates acquired by the National Trust in the early 1950’s from indebted and encumbered aristocratic families, as recounted so vividly in the diaries of the Trust’s representative, James Lees-Milne.
Conversely it also heralded the emergence of the “Stately Homes” business as a self-financing commercial enterprise: the opening up of country houses and estates to regular paying visitors. This was witnessed most notably in aristocratic hands at houses such as Longleat, Blenheim, and Chatsworth in the 1960’s and 1970’s and now ever more widely so through the modern-day National Trust. It is exemplified in its early stages here, at Stately Home “C”, which is described as being open to visitors on Wednesdays for 1/6 (“to pay the Succession Duties”).
Nor does Cyril Phillips neglect 1950’s rest and leisure time.
To the south of Breakfast Island is the great Continent of Sleep, its features including Beauty Sleep Downs, Snorers’ Bay, Sound Sleep Bay, Sleep Walkers’ Cliffs, Baby’s Feed Wake Up Hill, Gulf of Dreams, Bathroom Queue Point, Nightmare Lakes, Hangover Head and Stay-in-Bed Quicksands.
Nearby lies Dawn Island, between Night-Shift and Day-Shift Sounds and close to the smaller Cock-Crow Island. Here can be found the Alarm Clock Works, Rooks Parliament, Telephone Calls Exchange, All night Canteen, Lorry Drivers’ Club and “First Up First Served” Hill.
Further to the West, also in the waters north of the Continent of Sleep, lie the Lovers Islands, marking the progression of young love and the social rituals of 1950’s courtship and marriage. So we move West to East, from Attraction & Invitation Islands to “Showing Off” Island (with its features, Handsome Brute Hill and Rich Boys Corner!) across the Gossip Straits to Engagement and Honeymoon Islands, the latter with its principal settlement of Bliss Castle and cautionary Danger Point!
As we navigate the waters to the west of Breakfast Island, Phillips turns his focus to the principal leisure time activities of the British population after work & during evening times in the early 1950’s. Here we have Evening Island, Radio Island and Television Rock.
Early 1950’s evening leisure time offered an array of social activities, whether for personal health and self-improvement or simple enjoyment, all visible here on Evening Island: Repertory Theatre, Palace of Variety, Cinema City (the forerunner of the modern multiplex perhaps?), the ever-present Public House, the Dance Hall and, sign of the times, its more modern counterpart, the Night Club; the Technical School, the Lecture Hall, segregated YWCA & YMCA Hostels, Gymnasium, Public Baths & Swimming Pool, and the Greyhound Stadium. It seems remarkable to realize that 1950’s London could boast some 33 greyhound tracks, the largest of which, White City, might easily attract evening crowds of up to 70,000 people after work to both drink & bet (“off-course” gambling then being illegal). For the more affluent, the evening attractions of the Casino also beckoned. And for the more recreationally minded, there were also opportunities for Garden Promenades and Cliff Walks.
Nearby Radio Isle, includes amongst its features, the Concert Hall, Overseas Studio, Radio City, and the OB (Outside Broadcast) Unit. For many Britons, radio still played an enormously central role in early 1950’s evening entertainment, with wide ranging & popular broadcasts to suit all tastes spread across the BBC’s “Home” Service, Light Programme, more high-brow Third Programme and the ever popular General Overseas (World) Service, which had come to such prominence through its broadcasts during World War II.
It was of course the Coronation which so famously helped the popularize the medium of television – it is said that despite there being only 2 million TV sets in the country, some 20 million people watched the Coronation on television on June 3rd 1953 for at least half an hour – and for the first time the BBC utilized an extensive network of Outside Broadcast units, some 20 cameras covering the whole Coronation route, which included, controversially at the time, the interior of Westminster Abbey and the first ever filming of the actual coronation ceremony itself. The number of Television licences issued between 1950 and 1953 nearly tripled to over a 1.1 million whilst the rental of televisions for the great day itself, coinciding as it did with the end of rationing and easing of hire purchase restrictions a year later in 1954, undoubtedly helped to convert television into a true mass medium. Hence Phillips’ diminutive Television Rock, located to the North of Radio Isle. The second “i” of the word television has, I think, been humorously reshaped (as if a capital “T”) so as to take the form of the innumerable TV antennae now appearing all across the country.
Phillips then draws our attention to the adjacent Vesper Islands, denoting the fact that early 1950’s Britain was a country in which religious belief & Christianity still played a central role in daily life, rooted as it was in strong working class traditions and exemplified by regular Sunday & evening (Vespers) church attendance. Here can be found separate islets for Roman Catholics, C of E, and Nonconformists & Dissenters and Other Faiths.
Moving northward again, we encounter the creative island archipelago of the Sea of Leisure and of Imagination, though there are cautionary warnings about the relentless drive to push the boundaries of scientific progress and development. Science Isle for example has as its principal feature What’s Next Hill, whilst perhaps referencing increasing geopolitical Cold War tensions in East Look-Out Hill and Defence Point. Adjacent Atom Island heralds the arrival in earnest of the post-war Atomic age (Britain had recently conducted her first nuclear test on the uninhabited Monte Bello Islands, off Northern Australia, in October 1952) and has as its principal viewpoint the worryingly named Penny Bomb Mountain. As Churchill in fact noted at the time, Britain’s nuclear bomb was not a penny product but a project that had actually cost the British government some £100 million since the end of World War II. The other islands of the archipelago denote more prosaic pursuits and interests – Music & Composing, Design & Handicraft, Sports, Literature, Writing, Fiction & Poetry – and for some, the simpler indulgent attractions of Day Dream Isle and Gossips Isle. Long before the days of the National Lottery, others might be tempted by the chance of overnight riches with a weekly flutter on Pools Island.
One of the final features of Phillips’ vision of 1953 Britain is of a newly emergent and growing territory, displayed on the northern peripheries of the map. Here we find the coasts of State Income Land, “too big to be fully shown on this map”, but described as “an ever expanding terrain with increasing population despite political strife and disease”. Here is the emergent form of the British Welfare State, growing and developing from the proposals of William Beveridge and the post-war Labour Government reforms which culminated in the National Assistance and National Health Service Acts of 1948. Many of the salient features of that post-war Welfare State, initiated through universal state taxes & deductions on salaries, are also presented in insular form in the adjacent seas, in the so-called Pay Packet Deduction Islands: PAYE Isle, Nat. Insurance Isle, Welfare Isle and Superannuation Isle.
One wonders what Cyril Phillips might have made of the behemoth of the “Benefits Britain” so frequently analysed and critiqued by the politicians and media of 2015.
Phillips’ Breakfast Island evokes the essence of British “life and taste” at the dawning of that new Elizabethan Age in 1953. For the likes of myself, it is sadly one that I never had the chance to experience, and so can now only do so vicariously, through books, photographs and films or through the personal recollections and memories of those over the age of 65.
A different world, a curious anachronism describing a bygone era perhaps, yet it is reassuring to know that Cyril Phillips’ tray still has a practical everyday purpose & utility.
So, tomorrow 7.00 AM: tray and map in hand, it’s up and out for a much-anticipated visit to Early Morning Tea Island and then perhaps a slow onward progress to that comfortable sedentary settlement known as Breakfast-in-Bed Houses.
From there it’s probably the beginning of the slippery slope, as I try in vain to resist those siren voices who enticingly draw me ever onward to sated sleepy oblivion in that all-too-dangerous quagmire known as the Stay-in-Bed Quicksands…!