Memories from a visit to the Blists Hill outdoor museum plus feelings of identity standing in a Cumbrian field have awakened even more intense memories that I am sure have a lot to do with my past 6 months family history research. Rolling all of these things together takes me back to when we had no supermarkets in England, no plastic bags polluting the planet, a different shop for different foods, and a conversation in every shop with neighbours in our village community. So how did it work?
Ten bob, or ten shillings from the mid 1950s equals 50p as a direct conversion in today’s UK currency. But using a Purchasing Power Calculator it would actually be worth £11.80 in value today
I walked out of the front door at 2 Bankfield Rd, Haverigg, Cumbria with a ten bob note in one pocket, a shopping list in the other, a rolled up leather shopping bag under my arm, and a quart metal container in my hand. I knew what it said on the list, but I was thinking more about what sweets I could get for a tanner, 6d (or 5p value to you in today’s money). Wine gums, acid drops, sherbet dips, liquorice tablets. Hmm, not a school day so the effect of the liquorice wouldn’t be so disastrous!
First stop was Floyds towards the top of the village for paraffin for our lamps. I needed to get that first then come back down the street for the rest of the shopping closer to home. Old man Floyd filled my can from the pump and took my ten bob note in payment. He held it up to the light inspecting it like it was maybe from a Christmas cracker or Monopoly money. Thankfully it passed inspection and I was given my change which I slipped into my pocket and set off back down Main Street to the civilised end of the village!
I walked slowly past the sweet shop on the corner of Atkinson Street, Milligans, but didn’t stop as I didn’t know yet how much change I’d have left from my dwindling ten bob.
A few yards further on I slipped into Singletons, the vegetable shop. “Is Chris in?” I asked Mrs S, “no you’re too late son, he’s gone out up Three Cornered Woods I think”. Damn, I wanted to go up there myself today and had missed out. Ten minutes later I had leeks, onions, carrots and a large swede making a mess inside my shopping bag as the soil from the carrots and leeks decided life was better at the bottom of my bag.
I now walked past the butchers and the fish & chip shop before crossing over to enter the best shop in the village, Fox’s.The smell inside Fox’s is something that stays with you for life. Imagine this; fresh ground coffee beans, smoked hams and bacon. This was an old fashioned grocers or dry goods store as the Americans would call it. Sacks of dried peas, split peas, lentils, white beans; sacks of coffee, tins of teas; hams hanging on hooks and bacon lean and streaky on the counter. And a marvellous slicing machine, hand cranked, sharp as a razor which gave me the 6 slices of bacon required, cut number 5, whatever that meant! I also bought a pound (lb) of dried peas and a pound of lentils for overnight soaking ready for the soup pot tomorrow. Now I could go back to Milligans for my liquorice tablets and still have plenty of change left from that dear old ten bob note!
Why this day came back to me so late in life I have absolutely no idea. It is a day that was repeated so many times, sometimes different shops, often different items to buy. But some things were constant, like paraffin at Floyds and dry goods at Fox’s. There were no supermarkets in those days and nothing was self service; you waited in line then told the shopkeeper what you wanted. Everyone knew everyone else, they asked you about your mum, your school, how things were in the garden or allotment, there was conversation in every shop. Real people, real conversation, real community. What happened to it?