Leisure time between the wars


10 November 2022
Motorized Charabanc of 1920s. Photo in the Book of Knowledge, 1924
After the terrible losses endured during World War I, the country was ready for a new way of life. Jayne Shrimpton takes a look at how our mid-20th-century ancestors might have spent their precious leisure time, focusing on road trips and cycling.

While poorer families led limited lives, for others opportunities to venture afield were expanding. Following World War I, personal motorcar ownership increased, although initially motoring in early open-topped cars was chiefly an elite sport. More convenient closed models became common from the late-1920s and reportedly in 1930 there were over one million private cars in Britain.  

Nonetheless, throughout the 1930s around 75% of cars were bought through hire purchase and most households did not own one until after World War II. Otherwise, besides train networks and local tram and bus routes, motorised open-topped coaches called charabancs were ubiquitous in the 1920s. Ideal for transporting large parties, as public conveyances or hired by families, clubs or workplaces for private excursions, charabanc outings characterised the decade, but disappeared after 1930 when the Road Traffic Act eliminated many small bus companies and introduced a new system of regulated countrywide bus services. 


If not motorists, many of our predecessors had a bicycle, for bicycle ownership and cycling peaked between the wars. Improved machine technology and modern factory production meant that by the 1920s mass-produced bicycles were affordable for almost all.

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Bicycles were used as transportation, for travelling to work and elsewhere, but cycling was also a favourite leisure activity. Local cycle clubs nationwide organised regular outings, while friends arranged small-group bicycle or tandem touring holidays. On weekends, teenagers and young adults rode miles from town, deep into the countryside on their bikes, sandwiches in pockets. Competitive cycle racing at tracks like Brooklands, Surrey also advanced during the 1930s, so perhaps earlier generations were cycling champions.  

Text extracted from an in-depth article on how our ancestors spent their leisure time, in the December 2022 issue of Family Tree.

About the author

Jayne Shrimpton is a professional dress historian, portrait specialist and ‘photo detective’. She is photograph consultant for TV series ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ and her latest books are Tracing Your Ancestors Through Family Photographs and Fashion in the 1940s (2014), Tracing Your Ancestors Through Family Photographs (2014) and Victorian Fashion (2016). Find her online