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Food shopping, mid 20th century


Payantake grocery shops from pre- to post-WW2


Payantake was one of the grocery chain stores in mid-20th century Britain that has since disappeared. This page starts with the spelling of its name which is so easily understood. Then it explains why the shop was so innovative: It appears to have been one of the first self-service grocers, possibly the first; and its biscuits sales were widely recognised as premium. The page explains why. Finally there is a question: What was the Payantake token used for?


By the webmaster based on her firsthand recollections and additional research with contributions from others who lived at the time

The Payantake name and spelling

There really wasn't a D in Payantake's name. It wasn't Pay-AND-take. So the custom of spelling badly to attract attention - like sox for socks - was established by the mid-20th Century.

Biscuit sales and Payantake's claim for extra care

At that time, biscuits were not pre-packaged, but scooped out to customers' requirements from large tins and weighed. So these tins were opened often and there was plenty of opportunity for the biscuits to be open to the air and lose their crispness. (My mother always put her main biscuit purchase into a large tin with a smaller supply into a smaller tin which she refilled when empty. She said that this way the main bulk of the biscuits was not so frequently exposed to the air.)

After weighing out, the biscuits were put into paper bags which then went into customers' baskets. Possibly some women brought their own tins, but I don't remember this.

Payantake was special. It had the reputation for taking more care to keep the air away from the biscuits, so keeping them fresh. Also, the large tins had transparent lids, as shown in the following image, so that customers could see what they would be buying and check that the biscuits were unbroken. Broken biscuits were sold at a discount.

Display case for biscuits from the 1940s.

Photographed in Fagans Museum of Welsh Life

Display case for biscuits. Although the case is the genuine 1940s-style that I remember in Payantake, there was certainly not the wide variety of biscuits shown in the photo!

My mother always went to Payantake for biscuits. I have been unable to check whether they were rationed or just scarce. If the former, my memories would have come from as early as wartime. If the latter, they would be from the post-war years.

Counter-service or self-service?

In the 1940s, the Payantake in Edgware was an ordinary counter service shop. After that I seldom if ever had cause to go into it. Apparently some shops in the chain were self-service quite early, as described in the following contribution.

Payantake - an early self-service shop

I remember the Payantakes in Palmers Green at 360 Green Lanes, London N13 in about 1938-9. It was so modern and different from other grocery stores. The goods were displayed on three sides of the shop, grouped by products; biscuits were first on the left, then a group of baking items and at each group there was a gap in the display and at least one assistant behind the counter. My mother used to put her shopping basket on the stainless steel rails and order her biscuits which were weighed out into paper bags, paid for and put into her basket. She slid the basket to the next section and continued round the shop. This arrangement was only a short step to self-service and a check-out to pay for everything at the end, but I am not aware that Payantake ventured this far.

Tony Newman

I was born in 1944 and lived in Edgware until 1958. I share all these memories of Payantake, and towards the end of my time in Edgware I distinctly remember the shop having wire baskets to be collected on entering, and the checkout till at the exit, replacing the counter service. This was a completely novel experience, long before the rise of the big supermarkets and the demise of that traditional look in Sainsbury's, half-way up Station Road.

Roger Bowen

The history of Payantake

I always enjoy a puzzle so I decided to delve a little deeper into the Payantake story.

  1. In 1958 there seems to have been a Payantake store still trading at 103 Mill Hill Broadway, London NW7.

  2. The original Company Registration would have been wound up by 1969 because a new Company Registration was made for Payantake Stores Ltd, with Registration Number 00964292 on 20 October 1969. The address began 'Somerfield House' and was at Bristol BS14 0TJ. The final meeting of this company for winding up was 5 March 1997 and the final accounts had been deposited on 29 April 1995.

  3. There were Payantake Stores in Dublin in the 1940s, but this looks like a separate chain in Eire.

  4. Going back to much earlier in the 1930s, links can be traced to the International Stores Group, which included Pricerite, Ridgways, George J Mason, S.J. Kilby & Sons, W.B. Moss and John Quality. International Stores were taken over by the British American Tobacco (B A T) in 1972 and in turn taken over by the Dee Corporation which ran Gateway and Somerfield stores. Hence the connection with point 2 above.

From these random notes, the story looks quite complicated but I think it would be true to say the immediate pre-WW2 Payantake Stores were an experiment by International Stores to try out features that are apparent in the recollections already published here.

Tony Newman

The Payantake token

Payantake token

This token was sent to me by Shona Bonella, whose family speculate that it may have come from the coin collection of a late uncle in the 1940s or 50s. Otherwise they know nothing about it except that it is about 2.3 cm in diameter and that both sides are identical. It clearly relates to Payantake and is made of some sort of metal. There is a large letter B in the centre and the text round the edge reads 'PAYANTAKE STORES LTD'

Do you have any information or suggestions about how it might have been used? I have searched the internet to no avail.

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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