How has dining and how we eat changed since the 1960s?



By Alice Welch

There have been obvious changes over the decades. At the time my father began designing cutlery, Britain was still recovering following the war. Rationing did not completely end until the mid-50s; sugar in 1953 and meat in 1954. Food was seasonal and there were no supermarkets, so shopping involved visiting individual, local shops, the butcher, greengrocer or baker, separately.

Rupert Welch

The idea of a ‘big shop’ didn’t exist as it does now as there was no frozen food or freezers to store it in. Canned and preserved food supplemented fresh produce (often home grown) and whole food (such as eggs, meat, dairy) and larder staples. Meals would have generally been cooked from scratch. Bought food was unheard of, the only takeaway, a rarity, would have been from the fish and chip shop.

Growing up in the 1960s I remember full fat milk, occasionally made into angel delight as a treat, parties that my parents threw with Blue Nun wine and, the height of sophistication, cheese and pineapple on sticks. We loved meat and cheese fondues - Dad even designed a popular fondue set.

At the dinner table Rupert and I had to watch our ‘P’s and Q’s’, which is shorthand for manners: no elbows on the table or talking with your mouth full, sitting quietly whilst the adults chatted, never shovelling up peas on an upturned fork, and we were certainly not to leave the table before being excused. If we made it through that minefield we might get to watch Top of the Pops.

I wonder how many families still sit down to eat together, dining has certainly become less formal over the decades. This may have gone unnoticed, but not just what and how we eat but what we eat it with and off has also changed, in scale. This ‘upsizing’ is perhaps more obvious in crockery than with cutlery, but if I lay the table using my original heirloom canteen of Alveston cutlery next to the plates we use today, it is dwarfed by comparison. I also own its larger, but no less pleasing descendent, RW2 - the table knife is 1.5cm bigger, and overall it is much more robust. Whilst proportionally bigger, it is still fabulous and lives up to its status as the modern classic that it was hailed as nearly 60 years ago. Fuller cutlery seems to suit a more casual style of eating a little better.

Welch family gathering

1970s children's cutlery vs 2020

Looking forward, it will be interesting eventually to reflect back on the changes that come out of our current situation. I expect that in these uncertain times most of us have relied on hearty, comforting meals and nutritious, family favourites. There certainly seems to be more people growing their own, so I wonder if they be putting the abundance of home grown food to good use by pickling and making homemade preserves & chutneys? One thing for certain is that we seem to have become more inventive cooks, much less wasteful and far more grateful for small pleasures. As we come out of this period of restriction I hope we can hold onto some of the positive changes it has forced us to make.

- Alice Welch


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