Thursday 1 October 2009

The Corner Shop in the late 1950s

You will have to forgive me if this makes little sense as I am having an on-the-sofa day, full of another cold. Don't worry, I have tissues, knitting and the biggest pile of books you ever did see (and yes, I AM old enough to remember the Wooden Tops and dear old Spotty Dog . . .) Now, if you EVER return from that link to a wonderful 1950s tv site, I have been casting my memory back nearly 50 years, to the days of the Corner Shop on our road in Sholing, Southampton.

Actually, there was more than one corner shop. There was Haston's at the top of our road, and they had a dark brown pony which lived in a dark shed (rather than a "stable") in the back garden behind the shop. I should think it never saw grass, and soon after I remember it, they had it pts anyway because it had Navicular. This shop soon changed into a sort of mini-market, with lots of suspiciously highly-coloured jam tarts, Arctic Rolls, Fish Fingers, packets of cornflakes and rice crispies, and rows of sliced loaves in waxed paper. Cold meats, cheese and butter were displayed behind a glass-fronted cabinet if I remember rightly and magazines and little cookery booklets on a revolving stand just inside the door. I still have the little bread making booklet I bought there in the early 1970s and use it regularly as it has my favourite recipes. There was also Checkleys, down past the pub, but we didn't go in there very often.

Then there was the shop we used down the road a few hundred yards (mum shopped daily) and which was opposite my best friend's house. I damned if I can remember the name of it either, so I shall have to phone her tonight (I blame this cold . . .) At the front of the shop there was a little automatic dispensing machine where you could buy 10 fags (as we always called them) - probably Player's No. 10. They'd have been a cheap brand, not like the aloof gold packaging of Benson and Hedges. One shop at the top of Bunny's Hill would even sell them in 5s - a memory of teenage years, that . . . I think there was a machine which dispensed Bubblegum and/or? Gobstoppers. Probably a penny a time. You would suck the Gobstopper for ages and then take it out of your mouth to see which layer colour you had got to. The bubblegum was another lurid pink beastie and I was always hopeless at blowing bubbles with it.

There was also a chocolate vending machine. I think it was 5 boys chocolate and my memory says is was tuppence a bar (in old money of course).

Outside the shop would also be various fruit and vegetables for sale. These would all be locally sourced, for on the Parkgate and Fareham side of Southampton there was mile after mile of Market Gardens, and huge areas put down to strawberry growing. There would always be postcards in local shop windows come June when they wanted strawberry pickers, and they laid transport on to take local housewives there and back. On wet days the veg would be stacked to the right hand side of the shop, beneath the big glass window which had shelves across it with various sweets in jars.

At the back of the shop was a counter and in front of the counter was a triple row of glass-topped tins, which sold loose biscuits - bourbons, custard creams, digestives, and crackers. We nearly always went for the broken biscuits, because they were cheaper (never thinking they may have got broken on the factory floor!) Against the back wall was another counter, where the bacon cutter lived - a fearsome looking beast which was worked with a handle, and slivers of bacon or ham would fall off it onto a piece of greaseproof paper. Cheese was sold loose and cut with a cheesewire across an enamelled block with a gutter down the centre for the wire. Without a fridge, the cheese (always Cheddar, which I hated, as it was strong) always sweated on the larder shelf, and grew a hard outer shell.

This front counter was the business end of the shop as far as children were concerned as it had an array of sweets to tempt you to part with your sixpences. Jamboree Bags were thruppence, and good value as you got a selection of sweets inside and always a toffee on a stick. There were chocolate bars including the Fry's one which had different flavour cremes in each section, Fry's peppermint creme bars, Caramac bars, mars bars, Cadbury's chocolate with or without fruit and nuts. There were sherbert fountains, with a length of liquorice which you sucked the sherbert through. Sometimes you sucked too hard and the sherbert hit the tonsils a bit smartly and set off a paroxym of coughing and your friends got spattered with damp sherbert. There were Fizzer bars in garish colours including a really pretty greeny-blue one (or is my memory playing me up?) There were Lovehearts, Refreshers, Spangles, and do I remember an Old English square with a dimple cough sweet sort of Spangle too?, Fruit Gums and Fruit Pastilles, Parma Violets, Fruit Polos, Coconut Mushrooms, Rainbow Drops, Flying Saucers, 4-a-penny sweets (used to be a farthing each until "they" got rid of the pretty little be-robined farthing) such as Blackjacks and Fruit Salads, luridly pink Shrimps, and jellied sweets.

In glass jars around the shelves you could buy a quarter or even two ounces of sweets - usually boiled - glace fruits, Fox's glacier mints, mint humbugs, mint imperials, murray mints (the too good to hurry mints!), the sugared almonds beloved of old Mrs Presland, opposite, rhubarb and custard, blackberries and raspberries, toffees, toffee crunch, pineapple chunks, rosy apples, kola cubes (my favourites) and a selection of fierce sweets for the old people (those the age I am now!) such as Fisherman's Friend, Zubes (beloved of my mother), Coltstoot Rock, Clove Balls, Aniseed Balls (yuckety-yuck!) and extra strong mints. Even a mint polo was too strong for me. Me, who went on to tuck into Vindaloo curries with relish!

For those with deeper pockets than mine were the likes of the Walnut Whip (yuk!) or a quarter of a pound of Quality Street, which were 2 shillings and sixpence a quarter to the boiled sweeties at just sixpence a quarter.

When we were in funds, we would buy Cremola foam to drink - not sure how far into the 1960s that was but it was luscious! The poor child's alternative was a teaspoon of Andrews Liver Salts in a glass of squash . . .

Crisps - only one flavour, and that was plain with a little deep blue twisted wrapper with salt in it. Or Potato Puffs. I REALLY miss Potato Puffs. They were amazing . . .

Thankyou for indulging me as I step back to 1958 and the early 60s. For just a little while, I was really THERE you know . . .

The photographs by the way, come from Creative Commons Search and were all from Beamish Museum, up int' North . . . They pre-date the 1950s, but give a general idea. There weren't none of that old glass and gold lettering in OUR corner shop . . .


  1. I enjoyed your trip down memory lane. Funny thing, I'm writing a post at this very moment for next weeks blog about my own trip down memory lane! Must be something in the air? Nice to see I'm not the only one wandering down this lane :)

  2. I was there, too. Well, HERE, I mean. I love trying to remember the glass case in the local candy store. I can see it now, and remember even the smell of it.
    Beautiful stuff!
    I answered your Zetti question on Wings of the Morning. Hope you are very well soon. Did you get your flu shot?

  3. You have sent me back to my home village, not a million miles from yours.....Did you have liquorice strings with free rings threaded onto them? Once a week I would buy one of these and the metal ring, shining with its glass or plastic jewel, would be another precious addition to my cardboard "jewel box". I didn`t really like liquorice so I expect Mum ate that when I had gone to bed!

    I too remember the acres of strawberry fields of southern Hampshire. The early days of Pick Your Own and the bliss of eating as many as you could while you picked....

  4. So many memories that are just like mine but I can remember sweets still on ration except Imperial mints ...not sure why???? The thing I find interesting is how little things changed from our child hood and back to our parents. My mum wrote an accout of shopping when she was young and many of her memories in the 1920's, were similar to your discriptions of your corner shop in the late 50's. I think it was the birth of the Supermarket that changed everything dramatically and then in the last decade ....www.

  5. Good morning and I am glad that this nostalgic post (I was wallowing in it yesterday) has evoked happy memories in you all.

    Angie - I think you've hit the nail on the head there with no change for a long time, then suddenly complete and utter change (for the worse now - who could predict that Supermarkets would have so much power?).

    DW - Of course, you lived right by those same Market Gardens. I can remember going out to Stubbington, and there were stalls all along the side of the road selling fruit and veg, fresh and as locally grown and untravelled as it comes! Pick Your Own - when we were in Dorset there were lots of PYO farms but when we moved here nothing, so I HAD to grow my own soft fruit from the day we arrived.

    Nancy - whilst your American candies were probably a good bit different to ours (Hershie bars never cut the mustard over here!) happy memories all the same. Off to your blog now.

    Elizabeth - it is probably the arrival of autumn, of change, and the gloomy news which has provoked these strolls down Memory Lane. I look forward to your post too.

  6. Hullo BB,
    See the self administered ' for medicinal purposes only' you mentioned in your comment never did the trick. Shame! Still, perseverance is a wonderful thing.

    I recognised some of the photos as I stopped with my brother at the Beamish museum earlier in the year when we had our 'boys time' few days away holiday to the airfields of Lincolnshire.

    Actually he thought we were going to a beer museum and I never let on that Beamish wasn't about the brewery of the same name.

    Ref TV of the 50's

    Rag, Tag and Bobtail and Tales of the Riverbank for me although I was only a baby in the 50's.

    The mention of the old money always make me think of a rhyme I learned as a kid.

    'Mary had a big steel cow
    She milked it with a spanner
    The milk came out in shilling tins
    And little uns for a tanner'

    Better soon.


  7. I read this soon after you posted and enjoyed, but was feeling "offish" and didn't comment. When I was growing up in Vermont--a few years ahead of you--there were still many "mom and pop" stores with a variety of goods. The supermarkets, such as they were in the 1950's, were a drive away to the nearest bigger town. My grandfather preferred an old time market which had rented "freeze lockers" in the back. After butchering in the fall, he took in meat to be packaged and stored in the freezer bins to which he had a key.
    By the mid 60's the chain markets dominated the scene, but there was always the village store for emergencies, or in our case, for custom cut meats. The US has seen a resurgence of small specialty shops which are fun, but pricey and too often there is a conscious effort at reproducing "Ye Ole Country Store."

  8. What a trip down memory lane.....I loved Cremola foam and there was also Cremola pudding which was a bit like semolina but with a taste of its own and I just loved that....such a shame that they get rid of so many wonderful different foods. Some retailers have bought back some of the old fashioned sweets but they are just not the same.