Remembrance of Things Past

Mostly about growing up the 1950s in Ilford, Essex.

[42] Aspirin, Negatives, Saucepans and Hammers


[42] Aspirin, Negatives, Saucepans and Hammers

I have covered most of our local shops at Beehive Lane, shops that were generally seen at every little group of shops. For Butchers, Bakers, Greengrocers and Newsagents, see: [24] ‘Hallowed be Thy Name’. For Grocers: [28] ‘Clever People and Grocers, they Weigh Everything’, and for The Post Office: [37] Car Tax, Family Allowance and Dog Licences.

I want to cover two others that will complete the main set of local shops, Chemists and Hardware Shops.



Most of the other shops were local shops but then, as now, Chemists were virtually synonymous with Boots the Chemist. Primarily they were the place to get prescriptions made up or to buy non-prescription medicines.

Prescriptions then were handwritten by doctors, who were notoriously bad at writing legibly – so that part of the art of the pharmacist was in deciphering the meaning. (And, of course, mistakes did occur.) These local shops were the only places supplying prescriptions – not a great surprise, as there were no supermarkets.

(Prescriptions were free until 1952 when the charge was one shilling [5p] per prescription, not per item. In 1956 it became one shilling per item and rates have increased steadily since then – with a period of free prescriptions from 1965 to 1968. The system of exemptions is complex and now pretty out-of-date.)

The range of non-prescribed medicines available then in Chemists was probably much smaller than nowadays. Unlike today, most of them were not publicly displayed. If you wanted anything, you asked the pharmacist confidentially. It was a place where the queue was a little more discreet than other shops. (You might have been able to buy contraceptives from Chemists. They would have been well hidden behind the counter.)


Aspirin was much more widely used for pain relief, before its side effects became so infamous. It may have been the only generally available analgesic tablet. As for many tablets, you could buy aspirin in bottles of a hundred, which made them much cheaper. They were not individually sealed in foil as they are today. Like so many things, they have been changed today by health and safety concerns. I don’t think you could buy a hundred tablets now.

The chemist shop also sold many things that could be loosely described as chemicals – make-up, perfumes, toothpaste, soap, shampoo and conditioner. [Just kidding! There was no such thing as conditioner!]

I have to admit to uncertainty in my memories. I think you could buy cleaning products – Ajax and Vim – from Chemists, and also possibly toilet rolls. Please don’t take my lists as definitive.


See [41] Flash, Bang, Wallop! This blog about photography described the processes of developing and printing pictures. Back in the fifties, photography was a function of your local Chemist. I think they may have done developing locally, and printing at their headquarters. Typically, it took a week to have prints produced. The Chemist shop was also the only place to buy both cameras and films, with other accessories such as flash bulbs.

Hardware Shops

Hardware shops sold all the non-food items in daily use including pots and pans and all kitchen utensils – not that there were many kitchen utensils. None of these would have been made of plastic. They were metal, wood and ceramic, and we did have pyrex – ovenproof glass. The range of kitchen equipment was limited. We had saucepans, bowls and dishes, kitchen knives, potato peelers, colanders, mincers. I will leave full the list for a later blog about cooking methods but you will not be surprised that we managed without woks, parmesan cheese graters, pineapple corers and spaghetti measures.


There were also tools – hammers, screwdrivers (and screws) and a few others – not the vast choice now found at DIY centres. Again this is a subject to be considered in more detail later. As you would expect by now, tools were simple; choice was limited; and they were made of metal and wood only.


You can think of hardware shops as the source of all things made of metal, so they also provided locks and copied keys.

Shopping Hours

Before I look at other shops it’s worth remembering when they opened. Almost all shops opened from 9:00 to 5:30 and for a large number of them this included a break in the middle when they were closed for lunch (generally from 1:00 to 2:30). There was half day closing on Saturdays and one other day, usually Wednesday. (Each town had its day for half day closing, usually Tuesday or Wednesday, agreed jointly by the local Chamber of Commerce.)

Opening on Sundays was controlled and very limited. For example, greengrocers could open on Sunday morning to sell vegetables as they were considered perishable, but they could not sell tinned or frozen peas.

Shops did not open on Bank Holidays.

Other Shops

I can remember some others from Beehive Lane that would not have been found in all little shopping parades. There was a Book Shop, a Ladies Hairdresser and I think an Estate Agent. (This was before the days of Unisex Barbers. The men’s Barber was at the other end of Beehive Lane.)

In general, there were shops in larger areas such as Gant’s Hill and Ilford town centre (accessible by bus), which included the other main non-food shops – Furniture Shops, Shoe Shops, Clothing Shops, Pet Shops, Banks and Building Societies, Gas and Electricity Showrooms, and Department Stores.

In a vague attempt to be logical, I will split blog posts and leave until later Department Stores (including F W Woolworth) and also all clothes shops to a later post.

So, for completeness I will list here some more I can remember: Fishmongers (selling fish), Florists (which just sold flowers), Cobblers (repairing shoes) and Off Licences (alcohol – more details coming later). There were no out-of-town shopping malls, no supermarkets and no convenience stores, no Garden Centres, no DIY centres, no betting shops and no shops selling computers or mobile phones.

You will have noticed that very little could be bought from more than one type of shop.

Author: Alan

Retired, currently living in Cheltenham.

6 thoughts on “[42] Aspirin, Negatives, Saucepans and Hammers

  1. Our first supermarket was Dyson’s, near the 147 bus stop on Cranbrook Road, opposite West’s. Circa 1960?


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