SUPERMARKETS have taken over the retail sale of food in this country, and in those remote county areas, where small food outlets still remain, they are all branches or franchises of national or international chains. They are all set out like mini-supermarkets; i.e. shops where you select your goods from the shelves and take them in a trolley to the till. Yet this great change in shopping has happened in my lifetime.
When I first used to accompany my mother shopping we would go into a small grocer’s shop about three quarters of mile from my home. There we could see (but not touch) the groceries on the shelves, because they were on the other side of the counter. ‘Can I have a tin of beans please,’ Mummie would ask, perhaps pointing to a tin of Heinz baked beans (the only tinned beans available were baked beans, and Heinz had the baked bean market sown up). The shopkeeper – Mr Spalding or his wife in this case – would take down a tin and add them to the purchased goods behind the counter. My mother would not take them and put them in her shopping basket until she had counted out the change and paid for them.
This was in the village shop. In the city there were a number of larger shops, like the Co-op and the Maypole. There was even a Sainsbury’s, but they were all still just grocers’ shops. At Sainsbury’s the procedure was slightly different; you would still stand at the counter where the shop attendant would cut your bacon or cheese, but then he or she (normally the latter) handed you a chit; this you took to a separate desk where a cashier took your money and gave a receipt. You then took it back to the shop assistant who handed you your goods. It was a very hygienic system whereby the handling of money was kept well away from the handling of food. This made the purchase a rather long-winded affair; you can see why supermarkets caught on.
The first supermarket to arrive in Norwich was Downsway in St Stephens which opened in about 1968. This was closely followed by Keymarkets at the other end of the same street. Also in St Stevens, between these two, Sainsbury’s opened a supermarket; their previous grocer’s shop with the cashier had been in Gentleman’s Walk. Tesco opened up in Guildhall Hill and there were others whose names have vanished long ago; Fine Fare was one; David Greig and the International were others. These were all town centre shops; there were no out-of-town supermarkts for at least a decade. The first one in Norwich was Asda on the corner of Drayton Road and the Ring Road, where it remains today. Before then the site was a corn field! I remember it well.
These shops were all in Norwich; further out in the sticks the process of introducing supermarkets was much slower. There is still a little local resistance to the modern way of shopping; Sheringham for instance long resisted the introduction of Tesco, although it has now succumbed. You can still find a few independent butchers and bakers in the larger villages. Reepham is too small to support even a Tesco Express; its main retailer is a franchised branch of Spar. It retains an independent greengrocer in the town square, which doubly unusual; not only are independent food outlets rare, so too are greengrocers. There is a fine line between a community being too small for a national chain of shops to open a local branch, and being so small that it cannot support a shop at all.
The most recent development has been the arrival of the European discounters like Aldi and Lidl. The first of these no frills outlets I became aware of was the Danish firm Netto, which opened a shop in Dereham over twenty years ago, but the brand was never a great success. Netto is now no more in this country, having been bought out by rivals. From this rather shaky beginning the discount stores have dented the profits of all the big four (i.e. Tesco, Morrison, Sainsbury and Asda). They have spread to the larger market towns, and I went shopping in a branch of Lidl in Cromer only the other week.
THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE
SHOPPING 50 YEARS AGO
When I spent my fortnight’s holiday in Southwold every August for over 10 years, we had cottages in the heart of the town most years. This meant that nearly every day was spent partly on the beach and partly in the town, shopping. Not shopping for large or expensive purchases, just a penny here and sixpence there. Bearing in mind the age I was, tobacconists and off licences had limited appeal although I do recall one with a sheepish looking puppy pictured in the window and the phrase ‘You can’t beat a little Henessey’. Ladies hat shops had no appeal at all. Most shops had some attraction to me however. Secondhand bookshops were increasingly interesting to me as I grew older (and Southwold then had one). Mrs Miniver’s, the tea rooms in the High Street served lovely cream teas and Jenkins’ the stationer’s had coloured pencils and the like. Mr Quantrill’s fishmonger’s shop in Trinity Street had an open window full of such things as crabs, plaice and mackerel; these latter fish fascinated me because my mother would never buy them despite their attractive colourful sheen. She was of the opinion that they went off too soon. It is regrettable, because I now think the fish among the most delicious.
There was also in Southwold a shop selling amber, although this may have begun slightly later than 1960. The amber shop is about the only one of the shops I have mentioned that is still there, and in the same place. I was told you could also pick amber off the beach if you were lucky, but in spite of searching diligently I never found any. The Baltic is the place to find that fossilised resin. I found quite a lot of carnelians though, those rosy red translucent semi-precious gemstones. When the sun is low across the beach they glow.
There was a barber in East Street who sold handmade model yachts as a summer sideline, and a greengrocer with piles of fragrant tangerines and oranges, the odd one done up in tissue paper. The best shops were those that sold ice cream, either Lyons or Walls (they were the only two). I preferred Lyons, but I wasn’t fussy. There don’t seem to be many ice cream shops now and no shops selling model yachts.
In the 1950s there was a shop in the High Street of Southwold about half way down, and to the right as you enter the town. It sold a distinctive collection of goods. I cannot now remember the whole stock, or even a fraction of it, but I seem to recall a large range of what I would refer to as ‘soft hardware’ – twine and baskets, for example. The shop was kept by an elderly spinster, Miss Hurr by name. Hurr was a surname almost restricted to Southwold, but very common within the town. The local historian William A. Dutt, writing in his 1901 book Highways and Byways in East Anglia said of Southwold: ” …I ramble down to the beach, and watch the little ‘longshore boats, in which the fishermen – most of them, it seems to me, Hurrs – are putting out into Sole Bay.” Miss Hurr’s shop had on the doorpost an enamel sign for Elliman’s Embrocation. Actually there were two; for some reason the sign was in duplicate.
I had never heard of Elliman’s Embrocation at the time. It was obviously for rubbing on horses, because a shiny looking brown horse featured largely on the advertisement. The sign was obviously Edwardian; and Elliman’s Embrocation was very much an Edwardian product. As the motor car took over from the horse the use of mixtures and potions for rubbing on the animals’ hides fell away. Nonetheless Elliman’s Embrocation is still available (£3.45 for 100 ml), though it is now used for human backache rather than horses. The mixture of turpentine and acetic acid was invented by a draper in Slough in 1845 and Elliman’s remained a family firm until 1961.
Certainly I never saw any Elliman’s Embrocation among the stock of soft hardware in Miss Hurr’s shop. Time had moved on I suppose, leaving only the enamel sign. Anyway as a youngster with no horse (or even a pony) and no backache either what need did I have for embrocation? I was more interested in the kites, buckets and spades which were among the more relevant articles of her stock-in-trade. I was going to say that Miss Hurr’s shop must have gone by 1960, but I see that it lingered on for another 8 or 9 years.
See my earlier posts on Stanley Aldrich, model yacht maker of Southwold and Jack O’ Lantern’s coffee shop (Aug 7, Nov 22 & Dec 16 2011). I hope to return to memories of Southwold in the middle years of last century in due course.
For those interested in traders in this part of Suffolk I have recently come across a website on the history of businesses in Southwold. Click here to visit Southwold & Son, over a century of Southwold shops. This link will take you to the Hurr’s shop.
JOSEPH MASON firstname.lastname@example.org
THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIIAN LIFE
Times change, and the shops change with the times. The times that I recall when Norwich shopping was a big part of my life were the 1960s and 70s. It is strange how what were then quite ordinary shops would now be regarded with a degree of horror; Pearson and Co, for example, at the top end of Bedford Street. It called itself a cutlery shop, and that meant knives. The shop window was full of nothing but knives. Carving knives and table knives, but also of sheath knives, huntsman’s knives and cleavers. Today virtually the whole stock would be liable to be destroyed under the police amnesty for dangerous weapons, although such a common item as knives cannot be made illegal, they are rather less visible to the public. But in those days nobody turned a hair and no-one thought it unacceptable to buy a boys sheath knife for his birthday; I had one myself. Nobody was ever stabbed. Truly it is the people holding them, not the implements themselves that are dangerous.
Slightly further along at 37 London Street was another shop that would now be regarded as highly dubious. Millers & Co boasted that they were the oldest firm of CIGAR and TOBACCO dealers in the City. A figure of a Highlander in full highland dress stood guard over the shop doorway; he was about 4 feet tall. By the time the shop eventually closed (sometime in the 1970s) he had done so for about 150 years. He then disappeared for a number of years until a reporter in the Evening News tracked him down to America – apparently looking very different having been repainted in garish hues. I remember him well enough but I scarcely gave him a moment’s thought. I didn’t know he was such a venerable figure of the Norwich scene, nor that Millers itself dated back to 1812. There are very few tobacconists left, and they are now not allowed to display their stock. The jars of tobacco and the trays of briar pipes were not then thought to the bringers of disease as they are today. The shop had this quotation as its motto;
“What is pleasure but a pipe?” – Taken from Logan’s “Pedlar’s Pack of Ballads” of 1869.
Lamberts was a marvelous delicatessen of a type which scarcely now exists except perhaps in London. There certainly isn’t one any left in Norwich. Lamberts shop had been established in 1843. They sold coffee, ground or unground, all types of dried beans and salted or unsalted bacon. This you had sliced off the side of bacon with a bacon slicer, cut to the thickness you wanted. The prime speciality was leaf tea, including their own blend, B.O.P. (but definitely no tea bags). That was on the ground floor, but in the basement was their counter for all sorts of exotic goods like salami which could not be bought elsewhere.
Olives too were not the common items that they are today. Other even more exotic sweetmeats and savouries I never got round to trying. Upstairs on the first floor was the Mecca Restaurant where you could buy morning coffee, lunch or afternoon tea. Evening meals however were not catered for as the shop closed at 5.30 prompt. It was not only Lamberts that closed at half past five; everywhere closed then and the city became a desert. Lamberts shop I remember best on Hay Hill, although it had been in London Street and moved to Boston’s old premises on Orford Hill in 1974 before closing for good.
And we shouldn’t forget Woolies in Rampant Horse Street, now part of arch rival Marks and Spencer. Before it closed in 2009 Woolworths had become but a shadow of its former self. In its heyday it sold everything I wanted (or almost everything) and quite a lot more besides. There were dozens of counters, each with an assistant serving all four sides. There were Harris’s sausages and little televisions shaped like Sputniks (these were Russian of course); cheap Spanish wine, Airfix kits, and even Yugoslavian Tomos mopeds. If you needed Blakey’s for your shoes or batteries for your torch Woolworths was the place to go. If you had kids (unlike me at that time) Ladybird was the brand name of their range of children’s clothes. And if you fancied an ice cream or sausage and chips there was a huge restaurant on the mezzanine floor with a view of the busy shoppers below.
I could go on; there was Hovells on the corner of Bridewell Alley that has only recently closed, although it left its city centre location some years ago, and had moved upmarket from the plain goods it had originally sold. When I first used to go there it was a real old-fashioned shop selling brooms and wicker baskets. For more on this shop and other in Bridewell Alley see my blog on Norwich Shops (7).
Lings in White Lion Street was a hardware shop. It is now Moss Bros, or whatever their current name is. Lings was a favourite with my father who frequently had to call in for bolts or screws, and he knew all the staff who stood behind the counter and served you. They all wore brown warehouse coats. I am just old enough to remember my Great Uncle “Ozzie” Osborne’s shop selling rubber goods also in White Lion Street. The stock was mostly things like rubber boots and hosepipe, but other under-the-counter rubber items caused a certain amount of ribald laughter among my cousins.
Most of the shops I have recalled were local enterprises; only Woolworths was part of a national chain. Times change, as I have already intimated, and now there are many more shops that are part of a large national or international group. Franchises which did not exist in the 1950s too have flourished. One thing unites all the businesses I have mentioned – they have all gone. With the growth of internet shopping who knows what the future holds?