Another blog that has nothing to do with religion, apart from a passing reference to the local synagogue. If you have been following, you will understand the title in a few minutes. If not, wait until the end. I am going to talk about – our local shops.
Before I talk about the individual shops, I want to give an outline of the groups of shops we walked to two or three times a week.
I need to say a little about the map above. The only significant change since we lived there is in the Port of London Authority (PLA) Recreation Ground. In our days, it was virtually a square area of green, reckoned to have a perimeter of one mile by those who ran round it for exercise. (Not me.) Now it has a school taking a chunk out of it. The rest of the map has not changed.
We lived in the Cathedral Estate, to the West of The Drive, where all the roads were Gardens, named after cities with cathedrals. (You can see Hereford, Lincoln and Chelmsford. There are many others. Houses in The Drive were bigger and posher than the cathedral estate.) You can see St Andrews Road on the other side, home of St Andrews Church, our local church.
For our nearest shops, we crossed the Drive, which didn’t have too much traffic, and took St George’s Road and Fairholme Road to Beehive Lane. I have marked the location of our local shops in red on the map.
Beehive Lane Shops
On the map above, courtesy of Google Maps, you can see Beehive Lane, or you can search any other map software for Beehive lane, Ilford. In the fifties, this road used to have two sets of shops, north and south of the Eastern Avenue (marked on the map as the A12, one of the first major dual carriageway roads to be built in Britain). We just went to the small section at the south end, from the old synagogue to Cranbrook Road. It still has shops but they are all different.
I would imagine that Beehive Lane is now quite busy. When we were seven or eight we would not only walk there, but we would cross freely to shops on both sides of the road.
Typical Small Groups of Shops
It was a typical selection of shops of that time, perhaps a dozen or so shops on each side of the road. I feel that I ought to list them all, to illustrate what typical rows of shops used to be like. I know that I will get some wrong but most of my list will be right! (The generalizations are mostly right!)
We had a greengrocers; a bakers (Hirtes?); a butchers; a chemist’s shop; a grocery; a hardware shop; and a combined newsagent, stationers, sweet shop, and tobacconist. These were typical of most small shopping parades and all would be visited fairly frequently.
There were others perhaps not always found in small parades. I remember a ladies’ hairdresser; a bookshop; and probably a fishmonger, an estate agent and a funeral parlour. There may have been a shoe shop. I am fairly sure that there were no clothes shops. For less common purchases, we went further afield, to Gant’s Hill (the roundabout just visible to the northeast on the map) or Ilford High Road (southeast and off the map).
[To the West lies Wanstead Park, Ilford Golf Course and a wide, dual carriageway section of the North Circular Road that wasn’t there when we were young.]
I will look the four main small food shop types next but I want to note two points. Firstly, there were no restaurants, cafes or coffee shops, or shops containing coffee shops. (No takeaway food shops!) Shopping was shopping, not stopping off for a coffee first. Secondly, if there was something you wanted there was very little chance of two different shops selling it. You expected to have to visit a few shops for your daily shopping.
There are some things about butchers I cannot remember clearly, so I will start with the definite bits.
Butchers sold uncooked meat – lots of different cuts of beef, mutton or pork, with a more limited selection of lamb and veal. It was all hunks of meat visible on slabs and the butcher would cut off a piece to order and weigh it for you, just wrapped in greaseproof paper. (Often he would use a large butcher’s knife and chop on a wooden block.)This would include offal – liver, heart, kidneys – and if you wanted minced meet, it could be minced through a mechanical mincer to order.
That was all the meat we usually bought. You could buy a whole chicken, not any part of a chicken. Perhaps there were other meats available on special order. I am sure that the butcher also sold fresh sausages, with not much choice beyond beef or pork. I am not sure about meat products such as bacon (which you could get from a grocer), or the more obscure meats such as game.
The butcher may have had some refrigerated storage but most meat would have come from the markets of London overnight. None of the meat was frozen and those who bought it did not have freezers.
Today’s lesson is about the history of breadmaking, which has been revolutionized by the Chorleywood process – named after the British Baking Industries Research Association, based at Chorleywood. This process, developed in 1961, enabled the use of lower quality wheat, thus allowing much more of our home-grown wheat to be used for bread. It has added Vitamin C and fat to the ingredients and uses intense, high-speed mixers.
Almost all British bread now uses this new process. Grumpy old men, like me, would say that bread made this way now does not taste as good as it used to. Superficially it looks the same! [US: Because the high quality of US wheat, this method has not spread to the US.]
Primarily what the old Bakers shop sold was loaves of crusty bread, not sliced. A freshly baked loaf would be handed over, wrapped in a piece of tissue paper, to be added to the shopping bag. It cost roughly 8p in modern money terms. There were a few different types of white loaf on offer.
Most popular was a large, split tin. That’s what we normally had.
It had a very uniform, square cross-section which made it ideal for cutting into slices.
There were just a few other loaves available, including a brown split tin or a small loaf (half the size). Two that always stayed out of our requirements were Hovis (wholemeal, but we didn’t know that,) and the wrapped, sliced loaf, both far too expensive for everyday use. Our treat was a very occasional cottage loaf:
You could also buy white or brown rolls, freshly baked, and a selection of cakes (including cream cakes), again freshly baked. (Bread, rolls and cakes were fresh because they were baked early that morning, and were baked locally. There was not time to deliver across significant distances. I know I have a retired professional baker as a reader of these blogs who may comment!)
Bread did not have a ‘sell by’ date. It was baked early and sold on the same day. If you wanted to make breadcrumbs, you might be able to buy a loaf from yesterday (half price). Otherwise, no baker would think of selling old bread.
We didn’t have to buy bread every day. It was delivered to our door, free, twice a week. With the exception of the wrapped, sliced loaf, which might keep for a few days, you could not buy bread elsewhere.
[I have to point out that Hot Cross Buns, associated in the Church with Easter, were only available on the morning of Good Friday, the Friday before Easter – all baked the night before.]
Fruit and Vegetables
You can have an idea of the greengrocers – fruit and vegetables – after seeing butchers and bakers. The greengrocer would have bought his fresh vegetables overnight in London – whatever was available. My main memory is of regularly asking for seven pounds of King Edwards and two pounds of greens.
‘King Edwards’ were potatoes. They may have been the only variety. We never asked for any other, except for the brief period each year when ‘new potatoes’ were available. Potatoes were covered in earth and had to be washed and peeled.
I have never discovered what ‘greens’ were, but that’s what we asked for – they were leafy and green. There was a period in spring when we asked for ‘spring greens.’ We also had onions, tomatoes and mushrooms. Sometimes there were peas, carrots, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, perhaps even parsnips, turnips, swede. We only had whatever was in season – in the salad season: lettuce, beetroot, cucumber, celery and radish. (Peas came in pods. I can’t claim to be an expert about green vegetables. I would never eat anything green until I was much older.)
All the vegetables were in open boxes and the shopkeeper picked them by hand and weighed them. They were of mixed quality and you could not pick the best ones. Nothing came in lots of varieties. If you wanted mushrooms you had – mushrooms.
Fruit was much the same. When in season – apples, oranges, pears, plums and melon may have had a couple of varieties. Also rhubarb, blackberries and gooseberries. Strawberries appeared as a luxury for a few days a year. We did not see exotic fruits like bananas or pineapple. Kiwi fruits, star fruits and many others did not exist.
Several tinned foods were available. At the greengrocers you could buy tins of garden peas, processed peas (what we now call mushy peas,) and baked beans. (Heinz beans have not changed – apart from becoming beanz!)
In the very early days of frozen foods, the first things you could buy were frozen peas, from the greengrocer. You would not have a freezer, just a small frozen compartment in the new refrigerator.
I can remember our local greengrocer explaining the laws about Sunday opening then. He could open on Sunday morning to sell food that would not keep. He could sell his fruit and vegetables but not tinned or frozen food.
They always called themselves something like Newsagents, Tobacconists and Confectioners. The word Stationers was there sometimes. I don’t know which came first or which provided most of their income.
They sold newspapers, the half a dozen main daily papers and perhaps a local paper – daily or weekly. [I will leave newspaper delivery to another post.] There were also some weekly and monthly publications, not many by modern standards. I won’t be specific in case I get them wrong – two or three women’s magazines; two or three children’s comics; a few well-known, popular magazines; a few hobbies like gardening. Many other specialist magazines were published but would only be held at the local newsagent if you ordered them in advance.
As Stationers, they were the place for envelopes and writing paper. (We wrote letters in those days.) You could also buy notebooks, pens and pencils etc., but not stamps. Stamps only came from Post Offices.
[OK, I missed out Post Office. Beehive Lane had a Post Office. Not now – wait for another blog!]
I could do a whole blog about sweets (US: candy) from the Good Old Days. (Perhaps I will.) Some you bought individually for a penny, a halfpenny or a farthing. (A farthing was a quarter of an old penny, very close to 0.1p now) Some came from big jars on the shelf – they would be ladled out with a scoop and weighed, sold in quarter of a pound portions.
[Sorry about units. A pound weight, 1 lb., divided into sixteen ounces, 16 oz., was a unit of weight, not to be confused with a pound sterling, £1. Sweets might have been 6d or 9d for 4 oz. That’s about 2½ to 3½ p for about 100 g.]
Jars were something like the picture but they were glass, not plastic.
There were several chocolate bars and tubes of sweets. Nearly all are still with us and have changed little – Cadbury’s milk, plain, or fruit and nut; Mars, KitKat, Marathon (now Snickers); Polo, Smarties (like US M&Ms), Opal Fruits (now Starburst) and Wrigley’s chewing gum.
Tobacco included cigarettes, cigars etc. and matches. I am sure I will mention tobacco again. It was smoked more widely and carried no health warnings – but we knew it was not good for you. I can’t give figures but it would have been taxed less and much cheaper.
Even then, they sold other cheap articles to catch the eye of the shopper – small toys and souvenirs. I can’t give a full description as my eyes rarely moved away from the sweets! I think these shops were the opportunists. They sold what they could and added new things, becoming the general stores immortalized by Ronnie Barker and David Jason in ‘Open All Hours,’ sometimes now combined with service stations for petrol.
Of course, with the obvious familiarity with our Beehive Lane shops, you will now appreciate why we sometimes got the opening lines of the Lord’s Prayer confused. It did not start, “Hello, Beehive Lane!” See post number three.
I had a feeling that there would be much to be said about shops. This post is already another record for length! I will leave the other shops to another post …