Today, blackout curtains are a popular choice amongst parents to help their little ones fall and stay asleep. Indeed, blackout curtains, with their thickly opaque fabric, do a wonderful job at shutting out all light, and are excellent choices for any room where complete light control is a must. During the Second World War, however, blackout curtains and blinds in Brighton became essential not for keeping light out of the home, but for keeping light in.
The Air Ministry had predicted that Brighton, London and other areas of Britain would face night air bombing attacks which would cause heavy civilian casualties as well as widespread destruction of buildings, homes and schools, so on 1 September, 1939, the UK government declared that the entire country had to take blackout measures to prevent enemy forces from being able to navigate and detect the location of cities and important buildings during these night raids.
These blackout measures required all windows and doors in Brighton to be covered with dark blackout curtains, tar, paint, or other materials to keep any light from escaping that might help enemy planes. The government provided the necessary materials, and women made and hung the blackout blinds and curtains, sealing the edges with paper to ensure that no light could make it through to the other side. Brightonians could also purchase blackout curtains made to ARP standards that came in a variety of colours other than the basic black or brown. Despite this, sufficient materials were scarce, and high-quality materials that could be converted into blackout curtains for luxury homes were even scarcer. When London’s Gaiety theatre closed in 1939, its rich, velvet curtains fetched a high price when they were auctioned off to be made into luxurious blackout curtains.
Brighton alone had thousands of homes in the 1930s in need of thousands of curtains, and policing the entire country to ensure everyone conformed to the new blackout regulations was a daunting task. In March 1937, as Hitler’s army became increasingly threatening and the outbreak of war seemed imminent, the Home Office announced the need for 300,000 citizens to volunteer to train and act as air raid precaution (ARP) wardens. Across Brighton, these citizen volunteers would check local neighbourhoods curtains for light leaks, properly installed blackout blinds, and ensure that all Brightonians followed the letter of the blackout regulations. By 1938, blackout “rehearsals” were becoming routine as practice for the oncoming war, and householders and ARP wardens alike were vigilant in ensuring that no light escaped through their blackout shutters.
The final checks were carried out through the air by RAF bombers. This proved the efficacy of the total blackout – even armed with up-to-date maps and flying over their home country, it was necessary for pilots to use landmarks to check their location on the map, and British pilots were confused and disoriented attempting to navigate over a darkened countryside. These checks showed the public how essential their efforts to use blackout shutters and blackout blinds to keep light out truly were in protecting their country, even if life during the blackout was a difficult time.
Read part two on the history of blackout blinds in Brighton during the Second World War here
And read part three of our history of blackout curtains in Brighton during the Second World War here