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Food shopping, early 20th century

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Grocers shops in the early 20th century

By the webmaster’s mother, 1906-2002 based on her experiences as a child in north London

When I was a child in the early 20th century, there were several grocers and general provisions stores within easy reach.

Customer care at the grocers

An old grocers shop

An old grocers shop*

Note a typical corner shop to catch trade from more than one road.

Grocers, like most shops tended to be family shops, where everyone was treated as though their custom mattered. Our grocer would greet my mother by name, saying something like, "Good evening, Mrs Cole." (Yes shops usually opened in the evenings.) "What would you like? Some collar bacon and not too salt?" Then he would hold up a piece of bacon and say, "How about some rashers off here?"

Cutting and weighing out bacon

There was quite an art to cutting the bacon as there were no bacon slicers. Small weights such as half an ounce or an ounce were on a piece of string and had to be manipulated with great skill. I heard my mother say about one shop, "I'm not going there. He's a bit too tricky on the scales for my liking".

The scales were the balance sort with a flat pan for the food. Before the food etc was put onto the pan, a piece of greasproof paper was laid onto it to keep it clean. This was sold with the food inside a paper bag.

Cutting and weighing out the cheese

The cheese came as a large hunk and had to be cut with a wire to whatever size one wanted.

Cutting and weighing out butter

The butter came in large blocks which stood on a marble slab with another slab in front with the word 'butter' engraved in gold coloured letters. Butter was not pre-packed into convenient weights for sale. It had to be cut to weight with butter pats made of wood and kept in a pail of water to stop them sticking.

There was an art to cutting the butter because it was never possible to cut off the precise weight that someone wanted. So the grocer had to take bits off or put bits on to make the scales balance. To add a bit, he would use the butter pats which had been standing in the water and smack a bit onto the main piece of butter. He might have to do this a number of times, and the smacking was important to make the piece of butter into a nice shape. I loved to watch my mother's face when Mr Brown gave her a taste of the butter on the end of the pat to see if it was too salt (a common practice in those days). Her lips would go and down and up and down, and I thought it must have been lovely to be able to do that.

Note from the webmaster

My mother wrote nothing about food rationing when she was a child, but after finding a ration-card for the period in my father's effects, I made it my business to find out - see rationing in WW1.

In the 1930s there was another provisions shop in the area. See the image of the adverts.

More about the shop photo

*Photo courtesy of Hal Whiteman who has provided the following information:

Bullocks General Provisions store on the corner of Silver Street and Haselbury Road at 145 Silver Street. The shop belonged to his great-grandparents, Alfred and Catherine Bullock. Sadly though it burned down in the late early 1900s.The family, who lived upstairs, had to flee the fire across the tin rooftop. The shop was rebuilt, but with no insurance, Hal's great-grandparents were no longer involved.

(The Bullock family came to London from Bristol in the 1870s, Alfred walking the whole way to save money. After the store burned down he returned to his original trade, which was French polisher. Hal's grandparents both attended Silver Street School in the early1900s.)



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



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