How did the British people spend their leisure time in the interwar period?

The falling prices in the Great Depression, the reduction in family sizes and the growth of the economy in the 1930s meant that there was more money available for upper and middle class families to purchase luxury goods and spend on leisure activities. Other than the domestic holidays I’ve mentioned, there were other leisure activities that increased in popularity during the 1930s.

Cinema and Films

Though the British film industry had emerged back in the 1890s with a strong reputation coming from the London based market, the American market dwarfed British efforts, producing over 80% of the world’s film in the 1920s. 

Despite a government mandated quota for British made films, they were unable to capture the attention of the largest markets. Hollywood films dominated the American, Canadian and Australian markets, whilst Bollywood dominated the Indian market. In the 1930s, there was a rise in British films, assisted by the inflow of Jewish actors, directors and producers who were fleeing Nazi Germany. This still made little difference. In the UK, cinemas were constructed on a huge scale, allowing for large audiences to view popular Hollywood films. Visiting the cinema became a much more common activity for Britons. 40% of Liverpudlians visited one of the major city’s 69 cinemas at least once a week, whilst 25% visited twice a week. 

The participation in and/or watching of Sports

Another activity that was increasing in popularity was the participation in sporting activities and watching sports games. Cricket became a symbol of the imperialist British Empire and football attracted the working class people living in the cities. Meanwhile, new sports, which consequently attracted more women than other sports did, were emerging, including cycling, golf, hockey and tennis. 

Visiting Pubs and Bars

There was another leisure activity that helped to create a greater sense of community in Britain. Upper-class, middle-class and working-class pubs portrayed drinking as a way of leisurely socialising, whilst spending spare cash. However, pubs were hit hard by the depression as people had less money to spend on leisure, and taxes were raised on beer.

The changing role and importance of religion

There was another change in society in the 1930s. The presence and importance of religion. By the 1930s, Church attendance had declined to half the level of 1901. Moreover, people were less concerned with sending their children to religious schools. The Church of England’s share in the population of primary school students dropped from 57% in 1918 to 39% in 1939, whilst the Methodist Church operated 738 schools in 1902, but only 28 in 1996.

The rise in literacy and reading

As the literacy rate continued to improve and leisure time increased after the First World War, reading became more popular. Adult fiction doubled in the 1920s, reaching 2800 new books annually by 1935. Meanwhile, the fiction section of libraries grew threefold as new fiction increased in demand, later helped by the increased accessibility of books due to the introduction of the cheap paperback in 1935.

Society and living standards in the 1930s largely depended on what social class you were part of. The lower working classes struggled to provide food for their families, while upper and middle class families experienced improvements to their quality of life. It seems that as a result of the Great Depression, the poor kept getting poorer while the rich got richer.