December 8, 2023

The 70s 80s 90s Blog

Three Decades of History with TV historian Tony McMahon

Why a single black mother dreaded Christmas in 1977

2 min read
Why a single black mother dreaded Christmas in 1977

The lives of working class black families were a terra incognita for most white British three decades ago.  So it was unusual for the Christmas issue of a popular teen mag called Fab208 in 1977 to lead with a single parent family who were dreading the not very festive season.

“I don’t know how I’ve avoided committing suicide,” Mrs Jones told the magazine ahead of glossier pages on the Bay City Rollers, Starksy and Hutch and the Osmonds.  With her four sons and three daughters, they were crammed in to a cold flat in Wapping with a kitchen gutted by a cooker fire.

Sharon, aged 14, never invited friends from school back home nor went out with them.  “At school I hear them talking about the places they’ve been to and I feel like the odd one out.”

With so little room inside, Mrs Jones hung up the laundry on the terrace by the front door but clothes kept getting stolen.  Sharon had received a pair of jeans for her birthday, worn them once but after a single wash, they had been spirited away.

Yolanda, aged 17, noticed that the thieves went through the laundry looking for the best outfits and left the rest.  As an older teen, she was fed up of the lack of privacy having to share a bedroom with her two sisters.

“You can’t go anywhere in the house and be on your own.  It’s the small things like that which get on your nerves.”

Mrs Jones had fallen in to £200 of rent arrears though she said this was a protest against the GLC, their council landlord, failing to repair the badly charred kitchen.  But being behind on payments meant that the GLC was refusing to re-house the family until they came good on the debt.

With both sides at loggerheads, Mrs Jones pointed out she had never been on social security and worked to keep her family.  “I’m not a sponger.  I wouldn’t like the idea of someone else supporting my children.”

Fab 208 front cover
Fab 208 front cover
A black single mother in the late 1970s
A black single mother in the late 1970s

2 thoughts on “Why a single black mother dreaded Christmas in 1977

  1. Our house was a three bed terraced house in Norris green liverpool. There was 8 of us crammed in the bedrooms and our problem was similar. Nowhere to go for some peace and quite and the floorboards in the front room rotted away leaving a big hole in the middle and we weren’t able to put down any carpet.

    The council left us like that for nearly 2 years and I never brought anyone back to ours and me mum stopped paying the rent

    This was 1980 and the job was done in 1982 with the council turning up and taking away all the floorboards that where now also rotten and filling in the hole with what seemed like to me with tar.

    Took 4 days to set so we couldn’t go in the front room and it stunk. What I do remember is that it took them just a hour to do the job .

    1. Thanks for that insight into the times – bad housing was such a huge problem. I remember seeing so many boarded up homes in east London and estates only built in the 1960s falling into decay. Your comments about being crammed into the house as a big family is something that boxer Errol Christie echoed when I wrote his biography, ‘No Place To Hide’. He talked about sharing a bed with his brother and the whole family living on top of each other. The reason he took up boxing was to get the hell out.

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