Based on recollections of Edgware, north London in the 1940s.
There were several grocers in Edgware when I was a child there in the
1940s. All were branches of chain stores,
which is notable because chain stores had not yet come in for other types of
shops. Some such shops may have had more than one branch, but not enough to be
called chain stores. With the exception of Sainsburys and the Co-op, however, all the
chain store grocers that I knew have since disappeared.
Wooden butter pats. Model in the Museum of Nottingham Life
showing how grocers used them to pat butter into the required size and
shape for sale.(The wooden pats were dipped into water between uses to
My mother used Sainsburys most of all because she felt that the food
was fresh, and she was registered there for our food
rations. The place certainly looked clean.
The walls were tiled throughout; the floor was tiled with mosaics; the counters were white marble; and the assistants all wore white.
Click for a larger
Bacon slicer. Photographed in the Museum of Nottingham Life.
Butter was freshly patted out for each customer from
a large block according to the amount they wanted.
Grocer's cheese wire for cutting cheese. Photographed
in Fagans Museum of Welsh Life.
Cheese was similarly cut
to size or weight with a cheese wire; and bacon slicers were on the counter
to cut to order whatever thickness of bacon a customer wanted.
There were no branded items during mainstream
rationing. Everything had Ministry of Food and
National marked on them, eg, butter was labelled National Butter
and sugar was labelled National Sugar, etc. Tea was loose in a big tea
chest, one type, no choice, and was weighed out into a paper bag for each customer.
Sugar was similarly weighed out. Cheese was in a large round lump and was cut
with a wire. As far as I am aware, only Cheddar was available.
Different counters served different foods and each counter had its own
queue. Queuing was a way of life that was accepted, even though grumbled
about. Customers paid at a single till at the far end of the shop, which
meant that the assistants handling food never handled money - which was
reasonable as so little was pre-wrapped.
Enlargement of a Co-op sales chit for the purposes of
calculating dividend, found in the effects of my father. LCS stood for London Co-operative Society, a division of the national Co-op.
The Co-op was variously named CWS which stood for the Co-operative
Wholesale Society and LCS which was the London branch and stood for the London Co-operative Society.
My mother went to the Co-op for non-perishable items because it
gave a small percentage back in the form of 'dividend'. Customers
were 'members' of the Co-op with their own unique 'share' numbers - ours
was 102154. At every sale we were given
carbon copy slips to prove purchase so that we could check that our dividend
had been correctly calculated. However the chits were so tiny that many must have
In the 1950s there always seemed to be a local Co-op near where you lived, so you didn't have to go to the main shopping area of your nearest town.
A Co-op was always near enough to 'send the kids' with a list for bits and pieces. I used to get
threepence or sixpence (old money) for my
trouble from a neighbour to buy some sweets. That of course was after they
came off ration in 1953. The brass
chain pulley money systems were
in use in
all the ubiquitous Co-op shops around us in the Birmingham area.
Half-yearly dividend statement, front. Click
for a larger image
Half-yearly dividend statement, back. Click
for a larger image.
My recollection of the Edgware Co-op is of a somewhat dark and dreary shop. So it was not
surprising that my mother preferred Sainsburys.
In nearby Burnt Oak there was a Co-op department store. Co-op goods were
extremely wide-ranging, as the chit for coal sales testifies.
On the right are images of my father's Co-op dividend statements for the
half year ending 4th March 1939.
My mother always went to Payantake for biscuits. So I suppose that
these must have been off-ration at times.
She felt that Payantake
took more care to keep the air away from the biscuits. At that time, biscuits
were not pre-packaged, but weighed out from large tins to customers' requirements.
So there was plenty of opportunity for the biscuits to be open to the are
and lose their crispness.
(My mother always put her main purchase of biscuits into a large tin with a
smaller supply into a smaller tin which she refilled. She said that this way
the main bulk of the biscuits was not so frequently exposed to the air.)
Incidentally there really wasn't a D in the name. So the custom of
spelling badly to attract attention - like sox for socks - was established
as early as the 1940s.
in Fagans Museum of Welsh Life.
Display case for biscuits. Although the case is the
genuine 1940s-style that I remember, I don't remember the variety shown
in the photo. Biscuits were weighed out from these large tins for every
customer, so the lids were repeatedly taken off. No wonder the biscuits
lost their crispness!
The Home and Colonial
If you have an old photo which would illustrate
the way of life described on this page, I would very much appreciate a copy.
Pat Cryer, webmaster
The other grocer in Edgware was Home and Colonial, but as it was
at the other end of Edgware my mother never went there. In 1940s war-time
Britain, women had to carry their shopping. Although the baker and the
milkman would deliver, I never knew of groceries being delivered where I
Incidentally name Home and Colonial reflects the fact that England still
had an empire with colonies in the 1940s.
Although there were no family owned grocers in Edgware, they did still
exist elsewhere, and one is shown in the photo below. It lasted until the
This photo of a family grocer’s shop in 1945 is courtesy of Viv Nunn. The shop belonged to her grandfather and was there until the early 1960s. She reports that the paper bags were printed with something like “Pyle’s products please prudent people”.
The photo is of general interest for several reasons:
Computer enhanced detail of the Jubilee placard in
the above photo.
It can be dated to 1945 because the placard in the window declares
the shop's diamond jubilee (60 years) and computer enhancement of
the photo gives the dates as 1885 - 1945.
The placard points out that all the goods displayed are off-ration and on
sale to everyone. This shows that the shop was trying get more trade by
showing prospective customers that they did not have to stay with their
registered grocer for anything other than rationed goods.
One wonders what the off-ration goods in the window are. They seem to be
mainly tinned foods and bottled sauces.
The shop had a Christmas club and was currently having a sale.
The white coats are typical of what I remember seeing grocery staff
wearing in the 1940s. Those staff of course, in wartime, were women not men.
This website Join me in the 1900s is © Pat Cryer.