Steely Seamstress

Sewing for life

Sewing The Seventies: 1974


Before I forget, I have had a few queries about this challenge on instagram. The hashtag to use is #SewingTheSeventies2018.

Today marks 1974, a very turbulent year – the Three-Day Week, two general elections, a state of emergency in Northern Ireland and numerous Provisional Irish Republican Army bombings on mainland Britain.

The Three-Day week was introduced by the Conservative Government of Edward Heath as a measure to conserve electricity during another period of industrial action. The coal miners were already on “work-to rule” and threatening all-out strike action. The measures involved cutting electricity to only three days a week to conserve coal and other fuel stocks. There was also an ongoing oil shortage caused by an embargo by members of the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) targeting nations supporting Israel during the recent Yom Kippur War.

Three Day Week

Three Day Week

The minutes of the cabinet meeting on 3rd December 1973 [1] bring home the seriousness of the situation:

“If demand for all sources of fuel remains at its present level – a very serious situation would arise in early February. There would be widespread electricity disconnections and some oil consumers would be without supplies for a period……This paper considers measures to reduce demand for all types of fuel so as to postpone the date at which this situation would arise and so as to minimise the damage to industrial production and the distribution of essential goods, to reduce hardship to individual firms and companies and to avoid gross inequities, but yet to bring home to the public the seriousness of the position and the need for all measures of conservation.”

The measures also “prohibited the use of electricity for display lighting and flood lighting and for the heating of commercial and other similar premises” There was also “an anti-hoarding Order.”

The good news is that heating in the home will not been restricted: “Orders to limit the use of domestic heating, seem to be unenforceable, even if we took the undesirable step of taking powers of forceable entry into people’s homes. But the importance of savings on the domestic front makes it essential that there should be further appeals for voluntary co-operation in the home

Even parliament were not excused from the restrictions:

“THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL said that in the interests of electricity saving, and in order to ease the travelling problems of Members and of Parliamentary staff, it was desirable to consider proposing some temporary changes in Parliamentary hours.”

At a cabinet meeting on 24th January 1974, with the industrial action entering its 4th week, the cabinet discussed the possibilities of relaxing the electricity restriction and returning to a five-day week. It was strongly argued that the restriction could not be endured much longer and “many companies, large and small, would soon be in difficulties, and this could have wide repercussions throughout the economy.”

However the government didn’t want to appear they were relenting to pressure from the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM).

“Relaxation now, would be seen as a sign of weakness on the part of the Government: the miners would be encouraged in their resolve, since a relaxation would be taken as firm evidence that the economy could not stand a three-day week and that the Government, rather than impose even harsher measures, would quickly settle with them. Public opinion would almost certainly see relaxation in face of the risk of a strike as an act of great imprudence.”

No decision was made by the Cabinet at that meeting and on 7 February, Heath called an election for 28 February. [2]

On 10 February, the miners went on strike and the three-day week continued. The general election resulted in a hung parliament. Labour formed a minority government and brought and end to the strike and the three-day week in March.

Private Eye Cover Feb 1974

Private Eye Cover Feb 1974

Meanwhile, the newly formed Northern Ireland Assembly with a power-sharing executive made up of unionists and nationalists was dissolved. The government re-established direct rule over Northern Ireland  after declaring a state of emergency.

The Irish Republican Army (IRA) continued its campaign of violence with extensive bombings on the British Mainland. In June, a bomb exploded at the Houses of Parliament in London.

In October, the Provisional IRA (a sub-group of the IRA) planted bombs in pubs in Guildford frequented by British Army Personnel, killing 5 people. In the following month, 21 people were killed and many others injured in the Birmingham pub bombings. 

A second general election was called in October and resulted in a narrow victory for Harold Wilson, giving Labour a majority of three seats.

I’m not been very adventurous with my clothing choice today and have just gone for my Burda dress and purple shirt, just like Saturday’s (1972) outfit.

I did try today to make a pack lunch improvement. I bought some ryvita and took the remains of the Avocado chilled soup and the cottage cheese to use as dips. I do seem to remember that ryvita was a definitely beloved of dieters in the seventies, which might explain why it really wasn’t a filling lunch.


Packed Lunch

This evening, we are experiencing a power cut. We’re eating our dinner by candlelight [3]. But we’re all cheered up by the Eurovision Song Contest which is held in Brighton this year. It was won by the Swedish group ABBA with their song “Waterloo”.

Abba Eurovision

Abba performing Waterloo at the Eurovision Song Contest

[1] Cabinet meeting 3rd December 1973

[2] Cabinet meeting 5th February 1974

[3] A collection of photos from 1974 with employees working by candlelight and queuing for bread



Author: steelyseamstress

Sewing a new wardrobe

18 thoughts on “Sewing The Seventies: 1974

  1. Ah yes, I remember it well. We actually heard the explosion from the pub bombings. Everyone at school the next day was in shock, and for a LONG time afterwards, the whole atmosphere of the city was dampened and tense. Many Irish lived [and live] in Birmingham, and were suddenly in real risk of being attacked or ostracised. Shops got security guards, no one dared put a bag down in a shop for even a second, and we were all drilled on sensible precautions in case of the need to evacuate a building etc. I was telling my students about this just a week or two back, as we are now being instructed to teach THEM the ‘run, hide, tell’ drill. Scary times.

  2. On the other hand, as a youngster, the power cuts were a bit annoying [no telly on those days] but lots of entertainment from all the candles, oil lamps etc we had to light in order to play board games.

  3. When I have the ryvita and cottage cheese, I wind up eating a ton of each of them, since they are not really filling. Good high protein though–

    Most of the dire political things passed me by except for in the news, since I lived in the US and was young. We did have the whole gas-rationing thing though, where only cars with odd numbered license plates could buy it on certain days, and evens on the next–

    • Oh yes, ate a ton of this cardboard-like treat again today. It really has no substance to it, quite amazing! Interesting to hear what was going on in the US at the time – think the oil embargo affected many countries.

      • I have to say the ryvita grew on me, with cottage cheese, and at times with hummus. I tried some other similar kind recently and found it to be much worse. Huh. I guess tastes do vary!

      • Yes, there are a variety of flavours now, but I can safely say after this packet is finished, ryvita will not be venturing into my shopping basket again!

      • ahaha! I used to hate them too, but somehow they suit me now. Maybe it is because my family had matzoh crackers around all the time for diets in the 60s and 70s, not even for religous purposes, and they seem much worse to me–

      • Those crackers look just as unsubstantial as ryvita! They look rather like “water biscuits” or ship’s biscuits which didn’t go off on board ships. So boring that even bacteria don’t like them!

      • They do. I do like the rougher ryvita kind myself. In the 60s and 70s my mother and grandmother were dieting maniacs, trying to slim, and my grandmother especially would eat them all the time. They break so very easily, and my Jewish friends hate them, since they are used in Passover ceremonies and eaten with horseradish and some sweet stuff are not very yummy.

      • Perhaps I should try the “more exciting” types of ryvita, perhaps I’m being too tough on it.

      • Mzaybe put more fun material on top of it–

  4. The depths of Winter must have been an awful time to have such limited access to power. No wonder the government didn’t try to ban people from heating their own homes! It reminded me a bit of the late nineties when there was an explosion in a gas plant that resulted in reduced supply for ages. Everyone was supposed to be taking cold showers and not using their heaters unless they were exempted, but I doubt many people actually did it. We were lucky as my parents had installed solar hot water and a wood fired heater, so it literally didn’t affect us at all.

    I’m glad to hear the soup works better as a dip! What was going on with that whole cold soup trend in the sixties and seventies? So strange.

  5. What memories you’ve stirred up this week, not all of them pleasant unfortunately but time has mellowed most of them. I was a civil servant with the Passport Office back then and remember writing passports by candlelight.

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