It is interesting to take a look at what life was like in 1914, in the months before war broke out, to try and work out if people had any idea of what was coming before the year’s end.
By 1914 the industrial revolution had already contributed to a rapid increase in the country’s population, which had almost doubled in little over 50 years. Manual workers were in high demand, particularly here in the north of England with its thriving labour intensive industries such as textiles and mining. People had moved here from all parts of the country; from rural areas in the south where agriculture provided at best seasonal, poorly paid work and from Ireland which had been devastated by the ‘potato famine’. Families grew in number.
Whilst unemployment was low (4.2%), strikes by workers were frequent in the mills, mines and on the railways. Civil war was threatening in Ireland and pressure from the suffragette movement built to a peak in 1914, as women strove for their rights to be recognised
Good health was certainly not enjoyed by all with life expectancy low, at 49yrs for men and 53yrs for women. Many children were undernourished and infant mortality was a grim reality for many families. Diet was poor and smoking commonplace. Holidays were just dreams for most people, with a day trip to Blackpool being about as far as most Lancashire folk travelled in their lifetime.
To try and bring about health improvement, the government had introduced free medical treatment in 1912 and this was followed by free school meals for children in 1914.
A look at food and other prices in 1914 (in ‘old’ pounds, shillings and pence) shows:
Loaf of bread – 1d
Pint of milk – 2d
Dozen eggs – 1/-
Clothing – a winter coat could be bought for 10/-
Postage stamp – 1d
Trams and trains were by far the main means of transport for the majority, with a penny ticket, for example, getting you around most parts of Rossendale. Horse drawn vehicles were plentiful, but cars were slowly increasing in number, although they were generally owned by the wealthy. Car braking systems were primitive and blamed, at least in part, for the high number of road deaths which, surprisingly, were higher in 1914 than in 2014!
The cinema and theatre were popular, with Charlie Chaplin film reels being the most watched and live productions of family shows such as Beauty and the Beast and Cinderella being presented at the Grand Theatre in Rawtenstall’s Queens Square.
Football was the most followed sport and what a year 1914 was for both of our local teams with Blackburn Rovers winning the Division 1 title and Burnley the FA Cup. The fact that the victorious Burnley team went on a tour of Germany soon after their cup triumph perhaps indicates that the looming war was not readily anticipated, even as late as the summer of 1914.