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Florence Cole as a child

Grocers shops in
early 20th century London

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This page is based on childhood recollections of shops in Edmonton, north London in Edwardian times.

Bullocks General Provision store, Silver Street, Edmonton, early 1900s

Bullocks General Provisions store on the corner of Silver Street and Haselbury Road, 145 Silver Street. Photo courtesy of Hal Whiteman who has provided the following information:

The shop belonged to his great-grandparents, Alfred and Catherine Bullock. Sadly though it burned down in the late early 1900s.The family, who lived upstairs, had to flee the fire across the tin rooftop. The shop was rebuilt, but with no insurance, Hal's great-grandparents were no longer involved.

(The Bullock family came to London from Bristol in the 1870s, Alfred walking the whole way to save money. After the store burned down he returned to his original trade, which was French polisher. Hal's grandparents both attended Silver Street School in the early1900s.)

Where my family lived on the Huxley Estate in Edmonton [now Enfield], provisions came from a grocer's shop in Silver Street called Brown's. There were though other grocers and general provisions stores in the area.

Browns was a family shop, where everyone was treated as though their custom mattered. The grocer would greet my mother by name, saying something like, "Good evening, Mrs Cole. What would you like? Some collar bacon and not too salt?" Then he would hold up a piece of bacon and say, "How about some rashers off here?"; There was quite an art to cutting the bacon. Small weights such as half an ounce or an ounce were on a piece of string and had to be manipulated with great skill. I heard my mother say about one shop, "I'm not going there. He's a bit too tricky on the scales for my liking".

The cheese came as a large hunk and had to be cut with a wire to whatever size one wanted.

The butter came in large blocks which stood on a marble slab with another slab in front with the word 'butter' engraved in gold coloured letters. Butter was not pre-packed into convenient weights for sale. It had to be cut to weight with butter pats made of wood and kept in a pail of water to stop them sticking.

Old wooden butter-pats, as used by grocers in the early 1900s, with a mock-up of a lump of butter patted into shape

Old wooden butter-pats with a mock-up of a lump of butter patted into shape. Photographed at the Museum of Nottingham Life.

There was an art to cutting the butter because it was never possible to cut off the precise weight that someone wanted. So the grocer had to take bits off or put bits on to make the scales balance. To add a bit, he would use the butter pats which had been standing in the water and smack a bit onto the main piece of butter. He might have to do this a number of times, and the smacking was important to make the piece of butter into a nice shape. I loved to watch my mother's face when Mr Brown gave her a taste of the butter on the end of the pat to see if it was too salt (a common practice in those days). Her lips would go and down and up and down, and I thought it must have been lovely to be able to do that.

My mother wrote nothing about food rationing when she was a child, but after finding a ration-card for the period in my father's effects, I made it my business to find out - see rationing in WW1.

In the 1930s there was another provisions shop in the area. See the advert.

Pat Cryer, webmaster
and daughter of the author


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