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Food shopping, early 20th century

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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

When I was a child on the Huxley Estate in Edmonton in the early 1900s, our local greengrocer was Mr Rice. He and his family lived above the shop as was common of shopkeepers at the time.

The greengrocer

A typical greengrocers of early 1900s London, small image

A  greengrocer's shop in the early1900s*

Tap/click for a larger image which shows the wealth of detail, eg. the flat part of the delivery cart for the scales; the price of potatoes - 12 pounds for a shilling; the baby prams; the toy prams, etc

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.

Greengrocers' goods

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.

Greengrocers' scales

The scales were the balance sort with weights on one side and a pan for the goods on the other. He tipped the goods straight into customers' their baskets.

Greengrocers' tills

Guest contribution

Old shop till: large block of wood with hollows dug out for different coins

Early shop till, as described below by Bert Felgate **

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!

Bert Felgate
whose family owned a greengrocers

Staffing a greengrocers

Horse-drawn greengrocers delivery cart, early 1900s London

Eustances greengrocers' horse-drawn delivery cart.

Tap/click for a larger image and note the gas lamp; the policeman's uniform and the blinkers on the horse's eyes to prevent distraction from other road-users.

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.

Guest contribution

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

A note on the census from the webmaster

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.


If you can add anything to this page or provide a photo, I would be pleased if you would contact me.


Page based on the recollections and notes of the webmaster's mother (1906-2002) with additional research and editorial work by the webmaster

Text and images are copyright

*Photograph is courtesy of Viv Nunn. It shows Eustances of 176 Tollington Park in Finsbury Park, about five miles from Edmonton
**Photographed by the webmaster in Bath Postal Museum
***Photograph is courtesy of Viv Nunn


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