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Food shopping, early 20th century

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Sweet shops (confectioners) in the early 20th century

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

Early 1900s sweet shops and shopkeepers

Tap/click the photograph for an enlargement of the jars, showing their labels.

The corner sweet shop was near Silver Street School and sold triangular bags of broken wafer biscuits with a marsh­mallow fish on top.

Reconstruction of inside an early 1900s sweet shop

Reconstruction of a Victorian / Edwardian sweet shop*

Tap/click for an enlargement of the jars. Being a reconstruction, some may come from the later than the early 1900s and items that one might expect seem to be missing, for example scales to weigh out the sweets.

There was also another corner sweet shop which always had a large tray of home-made toffee on the counter. The shopkeeper would break it up with a small hammer and what looked like a pair of scissors.

The sweets

Sweet shops sold all kinds of children's sweets - bull's eyes, pear drops, humbugs, liquorice sticks, etc - many of which can be seen by clicking the above photo for an enlargement.

Early 1900s-style confectioners' scales for weighing out sweets

Early 1900s-style confectioners' scales for weighing out sweets**

The sweet shop also sold tiger nuts. We children particularly liked the tiger nuts because they were so sweet, but they often had insects and grit in them. Surprisingly we never minded the insects at the time, but the grit could give teeth a nasty jar.

Note from the webmaster

Tiger nuts

Liquorice sticks

Liquorice sticks, photographed in the Apothecary Hall of the National Botanical Garden of Wales

In the 1950s my father suddenly announced that he hadn't seen tiger nuts for ages and as he had liked them so much as a boy, he was going to try to track some down. When he did he came back and told us all how horrible they were and how he couldn't imagine how he had ever liked them.

The commercially produced sweets came in large, well labelled jars and were weighed out to customer's requirements. We children normally bought an ounce at a time and occasionally, if we could afford it, 2 ounces. We never bought chocolate. It wasn't around much if at all.

Note from the webmaster

When I was young in the 1940s and 50s, sweet shops had hardly changed, apart of course from rationing.


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

*Photographed by the webmaster in Milestones Museum in Basingstoke
**Photographed by the webmaster in Cambridge and County Folk Museum


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