People's History of the NHS


NHS Glasses

This is a guest gallery by Katy Canales, the Acting Curator of the V&A Museum of Childhood, sharing some of the lovely objects from the Museum's collections. Katy writes that ...

One of the provisions offered by the new Service was free eye examinations and spectacles for children and adults. For many families at this time, spectacles would have been considered a big expense and only affordable through schemes like National Health Insurance. The public demand went way beyond the government’s initial expectations, costing in the first year alone almost five times more than predicted. This figure did not decline the next year, instead it nearly doubled, with patients waiting up to 18-months before they would receive their spectacles.

Under the guidance of the Ministry of Health (MoH), NHS glasses were mass-produced, regulated and robust. The scheme’s focus was firmly on function not on fashion. In 1948, the NHS offered a range of thirty-three33 frames, available in three materials: nickel, gold-filled and cellulose acetate (a type of plastic). It would be another thirty-five years until a completely new design (the 924 ladies frame) was introduced in June 1983.

For children the options were almost as limited, but from the 1970s they had the choice of coloured acetate frames in the following hues: ice blue, crystal, flesh, light brown mottle, dark brown mottle and black. One point of difference in the design of the children’s spectacles was that the arms curved inwards and the feet were made to circle around the child’s ears, in a bid to keep the spectacles from sliding off during play. These design features may have prevented the glasses from falling off, but could also make them pinch painfully.

2 thoughts on “Template for making child’s spectacles, c. 1960-85

  1. Oh was born in 1950 and parents noticed I couldn’t read and I was eight!!! Mum thought I was a bit ‘thick’ lol – even after two degrees she still thought that!! When I was struggling she met the teacher in the street, Alice Kane, will always mind her- well you do remember your first teacher, don’t you? Discussing me my Mum said ‘well she’s not that slow because she is awful good at cheating at cards”!Turned out I couldn’t see the blackboard, so off to the Opticians and Yes was given a pair of blue specs. The free wee round ones weren’t trendy yet so Mum paid 12/6, I think, for them. 1958ish. So caught up in class and a happy ending…. Broke them a few months later and my Dad, he could fix anything, used acetone to melt them together, O how bonnie I looked with glasses askew… God Bless the NHS Let’s keep it for us, run by us, and safe.

    1. aw what a story. I liked wearing the blue plastic ones at first but soon got fed up with them.

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