Before fridges every day was shopping day

Corner shop: this newsagent and tobacconist was in Orange Steet, Halifax''Below: Rag and bone man - the horse and cart was a common sight in towns and cities.
Corner shop: this newsagent and tobacconist was in Orange Steet, Halifax''Below: Rag and bone man - the horse and cart was a common sight in towns and cities.
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IN the 1940s and ‘50s, when few people had fridges, shopping for food meant a regular walk to the shops. Fridges – big fridges! –were a luxury seen only in American films.

The world of little Britain was awash with heavy shopping bags, worn-out shoes and children earning half an old penny running back for the forgotten item.

Rag and bone man: the horse and cart was a common sight in towns and cities. Below: Corner shop: this newsagent and tobacconist was in Orange Steet, Halifax

Rag and bone man: the horse and cart was a common sight in towns and cities. Below: Corner shop: this newsagent and tobacconist was in Orange Steet, Halifax

Mind, countless goods were delivered and collected on horse and cart, from rags and bones to pop and milk, coal, veges and the rest. The horses drove themselves and were a joy to watch, stopping to drop off, then on to the next stop or street, backing up on command if more milk, say, was needed.

We loved it if we were in when the Betterware man appeared with his suitcase. If we weren’t and we saw him we flew home on Superman’s wings.

Long before Dr Who’s flying machine the Betterware man’s case was magical. First, personal hygiene stuff, say, poured out, then washing and cleaning goods, then polishing stuff, brushes and mops, first aid items, sewing, you name it – the porch would be full of stuff. What a hard job it must have been lugging that shop in a suitcase around all day!

I used to help our milkman onward on many a Sunday morning. Most milkmen had a horse and cart but the Co-op had an electric one and by going with him I got a ride. And when he called in for his breakfast and asked me what I wanted I got pie and peas.

It was not super fast and you could walk it with the stick from the cart or sit on it and ride. All was thrown away when petrol came off rationing. I often wonder where we would be now if things like that float had been developed.

Many old towns had mini shopping centres and everywhere had corner shops. People tended to fetch or have delivered their big weekly order on Fridays.

With no fridges or superstores life seemed a perpetual shopping day. At least once a week mother or our Nancy would go around the other shops and later on it was me and our Pat.

We were a very insular nation; there was less variety of vegetables and they were only available in season.

You would await eagerly a new season’s veg, then get fed up with that and wait for the next one. New potatoes had a very short season; chats – small fried potatoes – were a fish-shop treat at that time.

Saturday was a day to look forward to. We walked into town, running the last bit because the butcher gave you a sweet, two if you were lucky!

The market was full of treats – greater variety and lower prices. One place made its own ice cream full of frozen lumps of cream. And every adult seemed to be walking round sliding tripe down their throats.

In the Lower Market – closed in the 70s – was a huge weighing scale by the door. This was like a fairground ride to us. And you could swap your comics at one of the many stalls.

We moved up Mixenden in 1956. Soon huge shopping vans were pulling up as the shops came to you, groceries, fruit and veg, fish, bread and buns.

Despite this, a new way was growing; gradually people preferred to go to the supermarket. Mainly it was the Asians who kept the off-licence-cum-paper shop-cum grocery alive.

The corner shop remained in vastly reduced numbers. Now local post offices are under attack and the internet is marching forward. . .

Waste not, want not, and we didn’t!

In these days when we’re told off for wasting things it’s hard to imagine that at one time it was virtually encouraged at one time for economic or health reasons.

By the 1970s you would get a curt: “It’s cheaper to make another” if you dared to question things.

Our street had one slop bin in its centre, under a gas light. It is hard to imagine now that there was a communal slop bin for the street. Strangely we used it as a focal point for street games but I never saw it spilled. At one time the council had a piggery – how’s that for green?

People came round collecting rags and other unwanted things but you only got a balloon or, at most, an unwanted (by parents) goldfish.

Mother worked part time in the mill and later as a cleaner and then as a home help. Usually the older children of the street looked after the younger ones, together or separately, depending on circumstances. Normally one mother at least was available on the street should anything untoward occur.

Nancy, my older sister by five years, picked up the mantle from our Ern, my older brother. During the holidays we went on little picnic walks to the parks and places.

Our nan would decide that the pictures seemed a good idea, even though we had no money. We, along with our Pat, three years younger than I, would go on a search for pop bottles, rags etc from bins, neighbours and home. People seemed to collect empty bottles and usually gave them to us gladly.

When you bought pop you paid a deposit of one, two or three old pennies which you got back when you returned the bottle. Nan knew which shops took which bottles and we would take them back.

Our Pat had a big doll’s pram and we would pile rags and things on to it and walk to Halifax from Ovenden. At Winding Road, where the bus station is now, there was a famous second-hand shop called Copley’s and just below this shop they weighed your goods and gave you money. We called it Copley’s as well but it was actually Briar and Albon.

We then had to walk back to Ovenden with the pram, then back to town to the pictures. Any money left was spent on ice cream and the like – which meant another walk home!

* Anthony Buckless lives at Sunny Bank Road, Mixenden, Halifax.