‘The house was freezing’: life during blackouts of 1970s Britain”

Posted: August 15th 2022


There are some nostalgically interesting tales here but there are also worrying parallels with what we face this upcoming winter. This story tells us:

With winter power cuts a possibility amid energy crisis, some Britons remember them as ‘very ordinary’

When Judy Young first saw the government’s response to concerns over power supplies could be potential blackouts this winter, her first thought was: “Thank God I haven’t got young children any more.”

On Tuesday, it was reported that under the government’s latest “reasonable worst case scenario” plan, Britain could experience several days of blackouts in January if the country is short of power.

Young, a retired headteacher and now portrait painter who lives in Herefordshire, said the blackouts of the 1970s were particularly challenging with her two very young children.

“It was difficult being in a blackout with young children who you can never take your eyes off even for a second, especially not if you’ve got candles all over the place,” she says.

“The house was freezing and it was dangerous with such small children to have any kind of oil heater which they could burn their fingers on.”

She says that during the electricity blackouts, the family had to quickly adjust to the fact that they might be left without power for hours, and so make the most of the time in which the electricity was on, including cooking when they were able to.

But despite the difficulties, she remembers the amusement the children felt at the time.

“I can still in my mind picture their small faces, smiling with excitement at the thought of having their meals as picnics in the sitting room, and having their baths in a tin bath in front of the fire,” Young says. “They loved it. After the power cut, they used to beg for it to happen again. They didn’t remember being so cold and miserable.”

Chris Lilly, a 69-year-old retired teacher, remembers experiencing a power cut while watching Live Like Pigs by John Arden at the Royal Court theatre as a drama student in 1973.

“At the beginning of the play, they told us that they were expecting a power cut, and they were happy to go ahead if we were too,” Lilly says. “Then they gave half a dozen of us on the front row torches, and the play progressed.

“Everything was going swimmingly, and then the lights cut out, and that’s when we had to turn on our torches,” Lilly recalls. “It was kind of like blitz spirit.”