Remembrance of Things Past

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


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[58] A Picture tells a Thousand Words

This time we have a few pictures that I have found recently in my wanderings round the Internet. I can’t guarantee where these photographs came from or their precise dates, but they are approximately from the fifties or sixties and remind me of my early days. Some will show more details of you click on the picture; some are quite low resolution.

  • In fairly random order, I will start with shoe shops.

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This is what they looked like, with every size of every style in a box somewhere. New shoes always came in shoe-boxes. Service was personal with assistants measuring carefully for fit, especially for growing children.

  • The next picture, believe or not, shows X-ray machines.

These were often available in shoe shops, used particularly for children to make sure there was enough room for growth. You can see how the child could look in at the middle, with both parents viewing at the sides. You could see the bones in your feet just as for X-rays used today in hospitals. Now, of course, Health and Safety considerations would not allow such a machine.

XRayShoes

  • Next, continuing in a random, order we have a building:

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It’s a Telephone Exchange, containing all the equipment to connect calls to just a few thousand lines. It was bulky mechanical equipment, operated slowly and was subject to errors. The building would have had space for some telephone operators and other GPO workers. Now a small computer can replace dozens of exchanges. See [35] Telephones

  • The next picture is a garage – not a service station or a petrol station.

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You bought petrol for your car at the same place where you took your car for repairs and servicing. It was not self-service and the man who served you could also check your oil levels; repair or replace punctured tyres; adjust or clean spark plugs etc.

You needed garage services much more then as cars were less reliable. This is a low quality picture so I can’t see the price. It might have been about 5p per litre!

  • Now for memories best forgotten – school dinners.

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It was not the high point of the day. The food was plain and simple, dished out together. We queued for it and there was no choice. I have seen it said that the choice was: take it or leave it, but this was not true. You had to take it and you were expected to eat it.

  • Another, much nicer, memory of food, The Curry Emporium.

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This Indian Restaurant opened at Gants Hill in the early sixties, our first introduction to any form of non-English cuisine. I remember occasionally going with a group from Ilford County High School for lunch when we were in the Sixth Form, just after it opened. You could get a Prawn Pilau for 6s 8d. (That’s 33p) The Curry Emporium gave me my first experiences of curries, pilaus, biryanis and chapattis. It was all excellent food. I still enjoy Indian cooking.

  • While we are with food, here is a fairly typical family eating at home:

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(I didn’t have to say ‘at home’ because that was where people ate their meals.) The picture may be American because that looks like a coffee pot in the background on the oven. Very typical of the era is the fact that everyone ate together at the same time, sitting round a table. It was the easiest way to do it and they had no television to tempt them away. It was, of course all prepared by the mother of the family, the housewife.

  • Perhaps a few years later, here is a television:

TV+Radio

This looks like an entertainment centre. Underneath the television is a reel-to-reel tape recorder and by its side is a radio and record player. At the time this was very modern. All of this now could be part of your smart phone!

  • Inside a Department Store:

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The goods are tucked away under the counter, much of it in boxes. The assistants would get things out and help you choose. See [52] Are You Being Served?

  • Still in shops, a cash register:

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It looks post-decimal, but I think it may be American and older. See [45] How did we Manage Without … ?

  • Now for a car, possibly a bit older than the fifties:

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Cars did have running boards at the side like this. It looks British from the number plate and may have been from an early driving instruction booklet. Note the amber indicators, which used to flip out at the side and the explanations of hand signals. When I learned to drive hand signals were still in the Highway Code. [When I went to the USA in the seventies I had a lot of difficulty explaining ‘indicators.’ I think they call them ‘turn signals.’]

  • Bedtime drinks.

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I think in the forties cocoa used to be the main bedtime drink, made with warm milk. We had Ovaltine and Horlicks, both of which had their appearances at our household. Shown here is a Horlicks mixer. Hot milk was poured into it, over a measured quantity of a dried powder mix. Using the plunger mixed them together into a smooth drink, also introducing bubbles of air to make it a frothy drink.

  • A Dymo Labeler

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I won’t go into how these work but oldies like me can reminisce. It produced strips of plastic marked with embossed letters. The process was slow and fiddly. (The modern equivalent does the same thing without the mechanical processes. It looks more like a keyboard.)

  • Finally, bus tickets.

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In the sixties a machine something like this produced bus tickets by printing the details on to a roll of paper, something like a modern supermarket receipt, but much more primitive.

  • These are the real bus tickets that I remember fondly.

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These are what we had earlier. For 1d or 2d or 4d you were given a pre-printed ticket, made in different colours. The conductor (or conductress) would clip a hole in the ticket to show that it had been issued. That’s why conductors were known as ‘clippies.’ (Yes, I know, youngsters are asking: What’s a bus conductor? Maybe other blogs will explain some of these pictures a bit more.)

Some of these pictures are American but there were many similarities between the two countries. I have had a comment on Facebook saying how much my blogs remind someone of growing up in Illinois.

 


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[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.

Boots

Chemists

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.)

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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.

Photography

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.

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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.

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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.


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[28] ‘Clever People and Grocers, they Weigh Everything’

In my deliberately random ordering, this post takes up the ‘story’ where [24] ‘Hallowed be Thy Name’ left off. We are continuing to look at the basic small shops, to be found everywhere, including my little local shopping area of Beehive Lane. There’s a heavy hint in the title:  – today it’s all about the Grocers shop! More shops will come later.

I should have emphasized in the earlier post about shops that nothing was self-service. You queued at the counter and asked for what you wanted, which may have been (or may not have been) visible behind the shop assistant. Sometimes you asked without knowing whether they had what you wanted. If there was a choice, then you might choose before you had a chance to see it.

This will be more relevant when we come to other shops. So far we have considered, the butchers bakers and greengrocers, where most goods would have been on display. At the combined newsagent, stationers, tobacconist and confectioners, only a selection would be visible. At the grocers, a selection would be visible (behind the counter) for you to choose.

This post is in danger of looking like a list of foods, but as you read it, notice the simplicity of the items; the lack of choice; and what it missed out. Imagine going round your supermarket and only seeing these things. I will come back later to consider some significant omissions.

[I know there will be mistakes and omissions.  Some self-service was creeping into our shops in the fifties, but not where I lived. Please read the spirit of what I say, not the detail]

Co-op-grocers-staff

Dry Goods

Grocers were general food shops, but excluded those perishable goods that we have already met. They did not sell meat, bread, or fresh fruit and vegetables. We certainly did not have ‘sell by’ or ‘best before’ dates, but these were foods that had to be sold when they were fresh. (OK, I missed out the Fishmonger earlier, the fish equivalent of the butcher, only fresh fish. Grocers did not sell fresh fish either.)

To start with, think of dry goods, and things that a supermarket will call basic ingredients, the sort of thing that can come in paper bags or cardboard boxes – sugar, flour, salt, dried fruit (raisins, currants, sultanas), desiccated coconut, rice and pasta (probably just spaghetti or macaroni). Add some old basic ingredients you may never have heard of – cornflour, arrowroot.

We also had herbs and spices, a much smaller selection than nowadays – and herbs were dried herbs only. Some special treats like dried figs and dates would only appear at Christmas.

I want to say tea and coffee but forget coffee! There was tea – we had Typhoo – there may have been other brands. I suspect that you may have been able to buy roasted coffee beans, but I’m not sure. (We did not drink coffee in England. That was what Americans did.)

The nearest approximations to instant coffee were the original Nescafe, then just an unimpressive powder; and bottled Camp Coffee – a thick brown substance described by Wikipedia as 4% caffeine free coffee essence and 26% chicory essence (the rest mostly sugar). Neither of these tasted anything like what we now call coffee.

(After the difficulties of supply during the war, my mother used to buy an extra packet of tea each week out of her housekeeping allowance to save up for emergencies. We had a sideboard full of tea.)

Other dried things in packets – well you could get dried soup mixes, gravy powder (Oxo and Bisto, no choice of varieties for each,) mustard powder. Breakfast cereals – you had corn flakes, Shredded Wheat, Weetabix, maybe two or three others.

Biscuits

Many basic types of biscuits have survived the test of time. Biscuits then would have been seen as a luxury item, but you could buy: plain tea and Nice biscuits; bourbon and custard creams; ginger nuts; plain and chocolate digestives; shortbread, fig rolls and garibaldi. That was about it.

You could buy biscuits wrapped in packets, much as now, but you could also buy them loose.

Plain Ryvita was the only crispbread. There were Jacobs crackers and (table) water biscuits.

Dairy Products

My memories of dairy products are unclear. Milk was delivery daily to our doorstep and the milkman would deliver some dairy products if we ordered them in advance – eggs and cream. But I think that dairy products in general were also available at the grocers. In what follows, we assume that all dairy products came from grocers, so our lists continues.

Milk, in pint bottle only, was just milk. (Jersey milk was extra high fat.) Cream was single cream or double cream. Eggs, stamped with a lion symbol, came in four sizes – small, standard, medium and large. (Maybe standard was larger than medium. The names do not help!) Butter was lightly salted or unsalted (maybe two different brands) and margarine was Stork margarine. You could also buy lard. There was no crème fraiche or fromage frais, no pouring cream or whipping cream, no squirty cream, no spreadable butter, no low calorie versions no cream substitutes, and no yoghurts of any type.

Cheese was Cheddar, or a few other similar types, perhaps with mild and strong varieties. (The only foreign cheeses were Edam and Gouda.) It was cut to order from a large slab and weighed.

[I cannot be precise about either Kraft cheese slices or Dairylea triangles in a circular box. They might have been around that early. There were certainly no other pre-packed cheeses available in the fifties.]

Meat Products

You could buy ham at the grocer, which would be sliced for you and weighed. I think they had those lethal looking slicing machines. It was not available pre-packed.

You could also buy bacon – back or streaky, smoked or unsmoked, with or without rind – probably unpacked in the early days.

[If you were wondering about food hygiene certification, we didn’t have it. Assistants must have washed their hands occasionally but they did not wear those thin polythene gloves. Food was touched constantly. Most of us survived without getting food poisoning.]

The biggest difference in foods available to us now is that prepared and preserved foods were very limited, but there were some, sold at the grocers.

Preserved Foods in Jars

We had some of the basic foods now available in bottles and jars: – jam and marmalade; tomato sauce and HP sauce; Marmite and Bovril; lemon curd, peanut butter, honey, treacle (and syrup in tins). I am not sure about olive oil, but any other vegetable oils were unlikely.

Those tiny bottles of fish paste were much as today – salmon and shrimp, sardine and tomato etc.

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Tinned Foods

There were tinned foods, but tins were different – opened by a complex two-handed device, which slowly cut round the top. Heinz was the main brand, (possibly the only one,) already producing many more things in tins than were implied by its advertising slogan: ’57 varieties.’ The main products in tins that I was aware of were vegetables (baked beans and peas), fruit (mandarin segments and pineapple chunks) and soups. To our family, baked beans were an everyday item, tinned fruit went into an occasional fruit salad on Sundays, and we never made used of the others.

Heinz-cans

Fray Bentos corned beef came in a tin that was difficult to open. It used a key that gradually tore and unwrapped a strip all round the tin. Tins of sardines came in another design of tin, with their own, difficult mechanism to open, somewhat similar to the corned beef device. (Opening tins was a more dangerous process then, with the risk of cuts from the sharp metal edges.)

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Frozen Foods

When we were young, (before about 1955,) our household did not even have a refrigerator. Mum used to say that there was no space in the kitchen. The early versions just had a small compartment for ice and frozen food. At first, the only frozen foods available were ice-cream and frozen peas. (Fish fingers were next.) We did not often have either. (You will notice a general trend with new things being relatively expensive, treated as luxuries.)

Cleaning products

There were very few cleaning products at all – soap (I remember Wright’s Coal tar); maybe half a dozen washing powders; washing up liquid; scouring powders (Ajax and Vim); Brillo pads and furniture polish. There was nothing else that we ever used at home. You could get these products at grocers, so they had the overall feel of (very) primitive supermarkets – not just food.

There was some duplication in where you could buy things. Perhaps cleaning materials came from the grocers or the hardware shop. You might get chocolate from a grocer or a newsagent. You could buy a tin of peas at the grocers or at greengrocers; perhaps bacon at the butchers or grocers. But most products came from just one type of shop. You would certainly never see fresh meat, unsliced bread or vegetables in the grocer.

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[I cannot check pictures like this one found on the web, for historical relevance. Many of them show products of the 70s or 80s. This one gives a feel for the sorts of things sold in Grocers – dry goods, cereals, bottled goods and soap powder. There are certainly products included here that I remember coming in as ‘new’ products, so we didn’t have them in the fifties.]

Convenience Foods

I have listed a lot of things we could buy in grocers but don’t be misled into thinking that the Grocer’s shop sold hundreds of different foods, like a modern supermarket. If you take away perishable goods from a supermarket today, you will have thousands of lines of food, (perhaps tens of thousands,) but most of them were not available to us. (Don’t forget what I said about choice in [23] Variety is the Spice of Life.)

There were just a few foods that could be described as convenience foods, but our family did not use them. So I can’t be precise about the full range or whether they were there as early as the fifties. The only things I can think of that were not simple ingredients were: tinned and packet soups: gravy powder (and Oxo cubes) and custard powder; and tinned meat pies.

The first real convenience foods I can remember were Vesta Beef Curries, which came in the early sixties.

Exotic and new foods

When it comes to fruit, vegetables and groceries, you have to remember that we have many basic ingredients that either did not exist or were exotic by British standards. Very few foreign foods were cheap enough to be shipped here. (The idea of flying in perishable goods was too expensive to consider.)

Long before the EU, we had a special relationship with Commonwealth countries (formerly the British Empire). So we had sugar from the Caribbean, and Canterbury lamb from New Zealand.

Supermarkets

So far you may be thinking that our modern supermarket combines the old grocer with the butcher, the baker, and the newsagent, stationer, confectioner and tobacconist. Think on! We have not seen them all yet, but it also includes the hardware shop, the chemist, pet shops (for pet food), and off licences (for alcohol).

It may also include: dry cleaners, men and women’s clothes shops, shoe shops, and of course a café and petrol station! (Plus things we didn’t have then, like CDs and electronic games.)

We survived then without pot noodles, pre-packed and cleaned vegetables, yoghurts, smoothies, kiwi fruits, breakfast cereal bars, fresh soups, mixed vegetables, casserole and pasta sauces, flavoured crisps, fresh herbs, frozen Yorkshire puddings, pizza bases, Viennetta, pre-packed sandwiches and lots more.

We have lived through the transition of shops into modern supermarkets. One of the early examples was MacFisheries. Originally, they sold fish only but they suffered in the late fifties from the introduction of Birds Eye frozen fish fingers [US: fish sticks]. They widened the scope of their sales, selling fish and groceries, and were probably one of the first real supermarkets. Mac Fisheries eventually became Unilever, one of Britain’s largest and most successful firms, but their supermarkets faded away.

More successful were Sainsburys. There was quite a large Sainsbury’s at Gant’s Hill, a little bit further away than Beehive Lane, serving just groceries in those days. As you went into the shop there were counters to the left and right, each with three or four assistants behind them. If you wanted cheese, you queued up and the assistant cut your selected cheese to order and weighed it. If you then wanted ham, you went to the back of the ham queue. You could work your way round each of the assistants like this! Sainsburys did change with the times, becoming one our biggest supermarket chains now.

Zorba the Greek

Clever People and Grocers, they Weigh Everything’ comes from the film, ‘Zorba the Greek.’

It was probably true that grocers weighed everything not too many years before the fifties. I am sure that my grandmother bought things like flour, tea and raisins by having them weighed. Even the milk would have come from a churn. So, we were becoming more advanced by the fifties! Grocers weighed some things, but most of their produce was at least already weighed and boxed!

I knew that this would be the biggest post so far but it would be silly to split the poor grocer in two. I still have some more shops to consider …

 


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[24] ‘Hallowed be Thy Name’

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.

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Local Map

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.

Butchers

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.

Bakers

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.

SplitTin

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:

Cottage_loaf_2

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.

Newsagent

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.]

Jar-of-sweets-3

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 …