Our parents told us what living in London was like 30 years ago
Pints were 40p and no-one wanted to live in Peckham
It’s never been more expensive to live in London: not only will our generation be the first to earn less than our parents, we’re also facing £44,000 more in rent than the Baby Boomers.
With skyrocketing student loans and years of crushing debt to come, it’s no surprise that we’re fantasising about the past – a time when drinks were cheaper, clubs were cheesier and no-one had to worry about running out of data.
We thought we’d ask some older folk what life in the capital was like back in the day. Here’s what they said.
Tim, lived in Ilford in 1984
I first lived in a bedsit in Ilford for about £100 a month in 1984. It was shared accomodation with strangers, where we shared a bathroom and kitchen and I had a single room with a sink. It was pretty lonesome, but I’d head into Covent Garden for nights out.
I’d just left university in Norwich and had my first job in Hackney Wick. I do remember that when we went for lunch around there, they had one or two pubs that had stripppers performing at lunchtime to get the people in!
On an average night we’d go into Covent Garden or Soho for pubs and it would cost us about £20 each for the whole night out. We didn’t eat out much, but when we did, it was normally an Indian and about £15 with beers.
I’d say the biggest difference between then and now is Uber. Transport was so much more difficult then. That and there being less independent old-fashioned pubs now, which I used to love.
Philip, lived in Kilburn in 1976
I didn’t pay anything because the landlord didn’t pay his mortgage and I never met him. It was a two bed with a broken shower and quite a nice kitchen. The flat was opposite a large park and just down the road from where Rita Ora now lives.
On an average night out we’d probably go to an Indian near Euston Station and spend no more than £5 on a meal each, or go to the cinema for £3 and then get some pints of bitter at 65p each. So on a decent night out, you would expect change from £12!
This was while working as a citizen advice bureau adviser for about £3,000 a year. The first flat I actually bought was for £25,000 in Harlsdon in 1984. The same flat is now worth £250,000. Of course now private renting has “gone fucking nuts”, so homes for first time buyers are bloody unaffordable.
Georgia, lived in Muswell Hill in 1985
I left uni in 1986. I had a job in a large American bank four days after graduating and I was on £8,000, which wasn’t a bad salary for a graduate. Because my family home was in London I didn’t have to worry about rent and I lived with my mum and dad at first. When I moved in I paid £32k for half of a two bedroom flat on the third floor of a converted house on Muswell Hill.
I used to go out after work with colleagues for a couple of drinks during the week and at weekends with our friends, usually to pubs in Covent Garden, Soho and Islington. We drank beer and sometimes spirits – rarely wine or shots. I think a pint would have been about £1, and a night out about £20. We didn’t get often cabs as they were really expensive.
We sometimes went to clubs but only because of the late licensing hours. Clubbing wasn’t really a thing then, that was more the ‘90s. The clubs in the ‘80s were big, glitzy and pretty naff, full of drunk businessmen in shiny suits. Cool people didn’t go. Places like the Wag started up in the late ‘80s and were much more the kind of thing, but we weren’t cool enough to go there!
London was always a the buzzing place where everyone wanted to be – I was one of the only one of our friends who actually came from London but nearly all of our uni friends made their way to London eventually. But it wasn’t as exciting or glamorous back then. There is so much more to choose from now – clubs, bars, restaurants, shops – although we didn’t think we were missing anything.
The one big thing I notice is how the city has changed residentially. When I was young the South Bank had County Hall, which was a big government building, and the theatres. That was it. The Docklands were actually docks and everything in between was a wasteland of warehouses and boatyards. Bermondsey was rough, the whole of the East London was filled with slums and poverty. Now it’s all shiny and built up.
Carrie and Andrew, lived in Islington in 1991
We got a £130k mortgage on a three-bed garden maisonette in a Victorian house newly converted to flats, owned and paid mortgage. It was a highly sought-after neighbourhood, just off Newington green, quite a Turkish area in places, good for fresh baklava – but not like Barnsbury at the time, which was very posh.
Mildmay Road led all the way to Hackney/Dalston, which at the time was a very poor area. Islington was (and still is?) edgy compared to nearby Fulham. Stoke Newington at the time was so cheap, but would now cost millions. Every minority/edgy/quirky person lived there, and there were lots of independent cinemas and interesting boutique shops.
I worked in Covent Garden, so with work for a night out we we’d go to Los Locos for Tequila slammers. We tended to go out to eat, not for clubbing – the standard would be Covent Garden, Cromwell road, Chiswick High Street.
Soho was nice when I worked there but still definitely seedy, with red lights. I didn’t have an Indian curry for the first time until a weekend trip to Bath – it wasn’t a big cuisine then. A pint cost £1.
The area kudos has changed though: Peckham back then was a hole – think Only Fools and Horses – but now it’s very up-and-coming. My nephew works for a Magic Circle law firm and lives in Peckham, but back then you wouldn’t even consider putting flats there.
Fiona, lived in Ealing in 1980
I used to pay £35 a week for a room on the bottom floor of terraced house. The flat had three very small bedrooms, a small bathroom, a galley kitchen and a sitting room with a garden.
The average night out would involve drinks at pub, because we couldn’t afford anything else. A pint of lager was 29p, Bitter was 26.5p in Chester but cost more in London – maybe 40p?
Jo, lived in Mile End in 1979
I lived in Mile End, in a block of council flats in Hamlets Way, five minutes from a tube station. The rent was very reasonable, especially when split between two or three people. Back then, the are wasn’t remotely trendy at all – it was all East Enders and local, indepent shops. There were no pub chains, and no-one really wanted to live there.
I was a teacher, so I wasn’t really going into London for nights out. It was way too expensive and not our scene. The clubs were all really expensive, and were all Stringfellows, casinos. We used to go to Brick Lane for curries and take wine, or to local parties of people we knew, and spend our weekends in the country.
I can’t remember my exact rent, but it was enough to live on without eating out regularly and enough to eventually work towards a mortgage. Back then, it wasn’t inconceivable for a young married couple on average salaries to buy a house. Graduating and leaving school meant that in a few years you would be ready to buy – we certainly didn’t worry about it.
Neil, lived in Notting Hill in 1987
The first flat I bought was a one-bed in Notting Hill Gate for £30k, but my rent nearby was £200 a month. A good night out was £30.
My first salary was £3,999 as a broker in Lloyd’s, and my first car was a Hilman Imp which I sold for £16.
Sara, lived in Clapham in 1978
I went to King’s in 1975 and lived in halls: it was a top floor front, a shared room where we slept toe-to-toe. We slept on a flat roof in the boiling summer of 1976. Then I lived in Wandsworth Common before it became madly fashionable and expensive.
In 1978 I moved to Clapham North, which was very exciting. It was the winter of discontent, rubbish was piled high in streets and I stayed up most of the night in 1979 during the general election, appalled by Thatcher. We drank cheap pints in the union, and entertained a lot at our flats and had good parties at least once a year. It was a bit grim but really convenient, although Clapham was nothing like it is now.
The biggest difference is obviously the impact of price inflation and, as far as uni is concerned, foreign students – we were all pretty much in the same boat financially (there were few notably wealthier students and I didn’t mix with them), whereas now I think there are really rich people at uni at one end and those who are struggling at the other end.
The gap between is worse than it has been for many years and that must be uncomfortable for some. I had four years of free tuition and grants which I did not have to repay, so I started without debt and rents were affordable. Honestly, I don’t recall anyone with a housing problem.