Based on recollections of Edgware, north London in the 1940s.
I can just remember the dairy in Edgware, when I was a young child in the
1940s. It was called the United Dairies or just the UD, and was a very clean
Just behind the shop was the large depot which housed
the horses that were used for the home deliveries. There was also an office
there where the odd pint of milk could be bought. The main impression that
the depot made on me was the permanently wet floor. I suppose that it was
frequently sluiced down with water to keep it clean.
Milk deliveries during
World War Two, horse drawn and
with a woman driver. In the effects
of Ena Cole..
Milkman's uniform. Note the black peaked hat, the white overall, the
leather shoulder bag for money and the protective apron.
The milk bottles, rather than milk churns, in this photo suggest the
mid-1900s, but handcarts was used for
milk deliveries in the early 1900s. Detail from
a photograph in Eastbourne Museum of Shops
In the early 1940s, the UD delivered milk from a horse-drawn
float. My mother would look out to see that no neighbours were watching and then
go out to the road to shovel up the horse's dung for the garden.
I must still have been very young when the horse-drawn deliveries were replaced
by motorised vehicles. Around the same time, the shop closed, presumably because
milk, butter and cheese were available from grocers. The
milk deliveries continued
Horse-drawn 1940s United Dairies (UD) milk float. Screenshot from an old film.
The milkman always wore a uniform, which I think may have been different
from one diary to another. Milkmen I saw always had a white peaked cap, a
white overall and a longish of apron to protect their trousers.
The milkman called for payment every week. He put the money into a large
leather shoulder bag which had separate pockets for the different
denominations of coins.
In winter his hands must have got very cold, as he needed his fingers
free for handling the money. Like other tradesmen in winter, he wore knitted
gloves which were open at the top parts of the fingers.
Milkman delivering milk, Detail of a screen shot from an old film.
Types of milk for sale
Our deliveries came from the Co-op because it sold sterilised milk, which
my mother favoured as safer, and because of the Co-op paid
dividend on purchases. I suppose,
too, that the sterilised milk lasted longer than the fresh. There were of
course no fridges.
Occasionally I was given fresh milk from the United Dairies at friends' houses,
and I suspect that the free school milk
came from there too. I loved it, especially the cream which rose to the
top, and could be seen as a deeper colour through the transparent glass bottles. It was known
to everyone as the
'top of milk', and sadly it is a thing of the past.
In spite of the inferior taste of sterilised milk, my mother insisted on having
it. She wouldn't be budged. Methods of treatment which retained
the true taste of the milk were years away.
All milk was sold in glass bottles. I only ever saw pint and half pint
bottles, although school milk came in 1/3 pint bottles.
Sterilised milk had a crimped metal top, whereas the UD fresh milk had a foil top.
In Edgware the names of the two dairies were embossed on their bottles, although in other areas
of the country names were 'painted' on the bottles in some way. Many were quite colourful.
Housewives washed their empty milk bottles carefully each day and put them out on their door steps for collection at the next delivery.
Milk bottles from a range of local dairies showing the different
ways in which the name of the dairy was marked on the bottles.
Either the milk inside this display was rancid or the inside of the glass was
painted. With a real bottle of milk, cream was readily visible
floating at the top of the milk. Photographed in West Somerset Rural Life Museum.
Computerised mock-up of a bottle for sterilised milk.
This website Join me in the 1900s is a contribution to the social history of everyday life in early to mid 20th century Britain, seen through personal recollections and illustrations, with the emphasis on what it was like to live in those times. It is © Pat Cryer.