logo - Join me in the 1900s mid C20th
The webmaster, Pat Cryer, as a young child

'Customer waiting' bells
in small old shops

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Why shops needed alerts to customers waiting

Bell over the door of small shops in the mid 20th century, which would ring as the door opened, alerting whoever was serving to the arrival of a customer

Door bell over the door of small shops which would ring as the door opened, announcing the arrival of a customer. Photographed in Milton Keynes Museum.

While I was a young child in 1940s Britain, there were far more small shops than there are today. There were some chain stores, but many were owned or run as family businesses.

The individuals serving in the shops tended to have to manage the stock as well as serve. So they were kept busy, often out at the back of the shop. In order to know that they had a customer, they needed to be alerted in some way.

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Door bell alerts

One type of alert was to let a shopkeeper know that a customer had entered the shop. This was done with a bell above the shop door which was tripped to sound as the door opened.

These early bells were manual ones, not electric ones, and they made a characteristic 'ting' sound as the clapper hit the bell casing. The 'ting' couldn't always have been easy for the shopkeeper to hear from out at the back. Later bells were electric, rang for longer and were louder.

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Counter bell alerts

Bell on the counter of small shops in the mid 20th century, which a customer could press for service

Bell on the counter of small shops which a customer could press to bring someone out to serve. Photographed in The Black Country Museum.

Once inside the shop a customer could call the attention of the shopkeeper by ringing a bell screwed on to the shop counter. This bell, too, was manual. The knob at the top had to be pressed smartly down to drive the clanger against the bell casing. It was not an electric press button switch. It had the advantage over the door bell in that a customers could press it more than once if the shopkeeper did not seem to have heard the first time.

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Shop bells in the early 1900s

While I was still too young for school in the early 1940s, my mother had to take me with her when she went out shopping. She said that some shops and much of the shopping process had hardly changed since her early 1900s shopping experiences.

If you can add anything to this page or provide a photo, I would be pleased to hear from you.

Pat Cryer, webmaster

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This website Join me in the 1900s is a contribution to the social history of everyday life in 20th century Britain from the early 1900s to about 1960, seen through personal recollections and illustrations, with the emphasis on what it was like to live in those times.