THIS COSTESSEY MILK FLOAT from the 1960s is quite modern compared to the means of carrying milk in CAISTOR in the 1940s. My sister can remember milk being delivered by the farmer from a horse drawn cart. The milk was still warm from the cow and was not served in bottles; you brought your own jug from the kitchen and he ladled it in from his churn. This was during the Second World War and it maybe that this was a throw back to an earlier age, brought about by the shortage of petrol. As a post-war baby I cannot remember anything as antique as that.

Still it is amazing how much the milk business has changed in one lifetime. In towns at least by the 1930s the dairy had already moved on from the days when a cow was kept behind the shop. The milk was supplied fresh from the animal. In the countryside I should think the methods of supply had not changed that much from the middle-ages. Perhaps an ox cart was used instead of a horse then. It was a very green way of doing things. There was nothing wasted, and all the resources were completely sustainable. Even when the jug gave way to the milk bottled after the war they were returned for reuse. Now some of the plastic bottles may be returned for reprocessing, but the energy used is mostly from finite resources. And think of all the diesel fuel used in the bulk transport of milk in road tankers to the depot.

That wartime milk was certainly unpasteurised and that alone would give the authorities apoplexy today. Think of all the germs! I can remember drinking unpasteurised Jersey milk, and very delicious it was too. I believe is certain circumstances yo may still but unpasteurised milk but the health restrictions must be severe. What we drink today is very bland by comparison, if free of bugs. Nowadays all milk is homogenised too. This means the cream no longer rises to the top of the bottle as it always used to do, and so you do not have shake it before taking the bottle top off. If you forgot and didn’t you got a serving of cream at first, which was OK for your cornflakes but rather rich for your tea. Everybody who came to the bottle after you got the equivalent of skimmed milk, so you were always supposed to shake it. If the birds had got to the bottles first and had pecked through the foil tops however (and this often happened) you couldn’t shake the bottle. And think of their dirty beaks taking a first drink of your morning milk!

The milkman in Southwold in the early 1960s used to travel round town with a pedestrian controlled electric vehicle. This had slightly more impact on the environment than a horse-drawn cart, but not much. The current used to help him pull the float was pretty minimal. The greatest advantage of using electric delivery vehicles was the ease with which you could incorporate a small fridge for butter, cheese and eggs. The milkman, like the postman, always came very early in the morning, normally before I was awake. (I am talking of my childhood; much later in life I was a postman and hard at work by five in the morning!) You had to leave a note of some kind out to let the milkman know how much and what kind of milk you wanted. We could have skimmed, whole milk, Jersey, or homogenised; I think cream was an option but we never had it fresh – only tinned cream with tinned fruit for Sunday afternoon tea, very occasionally.

All the milk came in from the milkman – I do not think the local grocer even stocked milk;  he didn’t have a fridge and he only used his little freezer for selling ice cream in the summer months. During the late 1950s vending machines sprang up on street corners selling cartons of refrigerated milk; plain or flavoured strawberry or banana. UHT longlife milk was unheard of and neither the grocer nor the milkman stocked yogurt; the customers had no idea what it was  and nor had the dairyman. The first yogurts came to London in the early 1960s. It was spelt yoghourt and was unflavoured, unsweetened and so very sour – nothing like yogurt today. It was eaten by the trendy young in the capital. Now the milkman himself is a threatened species. Dairies have closed all over the country, leaving virtually only the Co-op.

The price charged by the milkman cannot compare with the supermarket and this has driven most people to buy their milk in two litre bottle and keep it for days in the fridge. With the milkman we had a pint or two fresh every day. Now  we all have fridges even the milkman does not do his round every day. The young do not use the milkman at all, and soon enough even the Co-op Dairy will perish. The farmers complain bitterly at the squeeze the big supermarkets put on them to keep the price of milk so low, but somehow they stay in business. The trend is towards bigger and bigger farms; herds of cows now live all  their lives indoors. They will never experience the fresh air or eat fresh grass, but will live out their days under cover with their feed brought to them.




One response

  1. I remember ‘top of the milk’ 1970s in North Devon. I used to hate my daily chore carrying the basket to collect our 3 bottles of green top from the farm. The farm dogs could be waiting for me anywhere, and those collies were rough 🙂

    Some farmer is marketing unpasteurised again – it’s on the net somewhere…and I thought milkmen were holding their ground with the potatoes/loo paper/cans of coke AND milk type rounds??

    I enjoy your local history, thank you


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