Greengrocers in the early 20th century
By the webmaster’s mother, 1906-2002 based on her experiences as a child in north London
A typical early greengrocer shop
I remember Mr Rice mostly on a hot summer's day, when he would tuck a large cabbage leaf into the back of his cap to protect his neck from the hot sun, and the horse would have straw caps on his ears to keep off the flies. Mr Rice would put the tailboard of the cart down flat and place his scales on it to weigh out whatever his customers wanted.
People ate a lot of fruit and vegetables because they were sold in season and were cheap and filling.
When my mother brought gooseberries for pies, we children had the job of topping and tailing them with small scissors. It was a horrible job. Stoning the cherries was fun though because there were often two stalks together and we would dangle them over our ears as earrings.
We children regularly spent some of our pocket money at the greengrocers, mainly on locus beans. They were often full of insects eggs but we weren't put off. I really liked them.
The till in our greengrocers was a large block of wood with several hollows dug out for the different coins. The shape of the hollows made it easy to pick up coins quickly to give as change.
Fixed to the block was a strip of metal (not shown in the photo). If a customer offered a half crown it was quickly scraped against the metal to see if it was genuine and not home made in lead!
whose family owned a greengrocers
Staffing a greengrocers
Mr Rice and his wife worked a flourishing business in Silver Street, and he brought his wares out with his horse and cart, leaving his wife and daughter to mind the shop.
The person who helped in the shop was not Thomas and Amelia's daughter, but a young girl who was employed by them to help with the family and in the shop. However, Amelia probably treated her like a daughter which is why customers thought that she was.
Janice Mitchell (formerly Janice Rice), Thomas and Amelia's granddaughter
The 1911 census shows that my mother's memory was absolutely right: Thomas Rice, a greengrocer, age 32, lived at 81 Silver Street, presumably above his greengrocer's shop. He was born in Alresford, and lived with his wife Amelia Rice, 30, born New Cross, with their sons Thomas Richard, 3, and Arthur George, 1, both born in Whitechapel. Amelia assisted in the business.