Britain, 1947

Hope Amid Hardship

June 2024 9781911723219 400pp, 12 b&w illus
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For the British people, 1947 was a momentous year. For three long months, they endured the worst winter in living memory, with drastic fuel shortages and power cuts, and continuing food rationing post–World War Two. Heavy snow gave way to widespread flooding in the spring, and by the summer, the economic crisis had deepened, forcing renewed cutbacks; the Chancellor of the Exchequer even imposed a savage tax increase on tobacco, the chief solace for much of the nation.

But against this backdrop, a programme of ambitious and far-reaching reforms was being rolled out, from town and country planning to the institution of the National Health Service. Amid the misery of freezing homes, meagre food supplies and threadbare clothing, the British were on the brink of a new era of social transformation—the beginnings of the ‘Welfare State’. 

Drawing upon an extensive range of local newspapers, contemporary articles, films and the archives of the Mass Observation Project, Britain, 1947 reveals how ordinary people in town halls, hospitals, schools and dance halls, on the terraces of the local football club, at the pub and in homes across Britain, navigated, survived and found hope in the turbulent world of the 1940s.


‘Affectionate but never sentimental, and based on personal memory as well as meticulous research, David Kirby’s Britain, 1947 is a wonderfully balanced and illuminating portrait of a resilient society still deeply conservative in its assumptions and way of life, even as the forces of change—sometimes welcome, sometimes not—were starting to gather.’ — David Kynaston, historian and author of Austerity Britain, 1945-1951

‘A fascinating, enjoyable exploration of everyday lives in post-war Britain, from the negative experiences of poor housing to the benefits of the NHS, full employment and seaside holidays, and much more. Vividly memorable for the author, and me, who were children at the time.’ — Pat Thane, Visiting Professor in History, Birkbeck, University of London, and author of Divided Kingdom: A History of Britain, 1900 to the Present

Britain, 1947 recovers the complex everyday experience of the struggle to build a “new Jerusalem”. The country and lives we encounter are often far removed from our own but, thanks to David Kirby’s skilful re-telling, we see something of ourselves in the hopes and fears of people living on the eve of profound change.’ — Chris Renwick, Professor of Modern History, University of York, and author of Bread for All: The Origins of the Welfare State


David Kirby formerly taught Modern History at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University of London. He has had a lifelong interest in the 1940s, of which this book is the outcome. Besides writing, he struggles to maintain a garden against the depredations of slugs and snails.

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