Memories of a Grocers Shop

1930 – 1946

When I was 15 and after teaching a little boy for the first year after leaving school, I joined Adye and Sons, Grocers, off the Lower High Street in Malmesbury.

Mr. Farrant had just closed his grocery store in the upper High Street and sold the premises to Eric Cole who converted it to a garage (including petrol pumps along the front). This is now Hyams Autos.

As a consequence Mr. Adye took on the customers and goodwill and in anticipation was looking for more staff, and it was so different from today’s supermarkets! The building itself is so different now as Hamptons Estate Agents.

I cycled from Milbourne 6 times each day along with my sister Phyl and Monica Law (nee Matthews), who also worked in the town. We had three quarters of an hour for lunch and for tea. This was because we started every day at 8:30. On Mon. to Wed. we finished at 7 p.m., on Fridays at 8 p.m., and on Saturdays at 9 p.m. Thursdays were half day closing so we finished at 1 p.m.

I had to weigh up the sugar into 1 lb. and 2 lb. dark blue bags made of “sugar paper”. I cut up and wrapped the lard, margarine and butter into 1/2lb. and 1lb. slabs and rashered the bacon on the Bacon Machine (As a great favour, the bread for my Wedding reception, in 1941, was cut on this machine! Huntley and Palmers gave me a wedding cake. Finding icing sugar in wartime was like finding gold dust, tho’ I did get enough for my cousin Majorie Smith, nee Hislop, Addie Sisum’s sister, to ice the cake for me).

All the dried fruit came in wooden boxes and two employees had to put it into a long hessian bag and clean the fruit by shaking it backwards and forwards. The candied peel came in separate flavours and we would eat the sugar from the inside of the Citron! This was also weighed up into 1 and 2 pound blue bags. The tea was mixed to the customers requirements and then packed in special paper like a parcel. It was kept in big tins on the shelf and the green tea was in a smaller one.

The biscuits came in 7 pound tins or in half tins. Full tins were cube shaped so the half tins, 3’/2 pounds, were cut down to half size! Broken biscuits also came in tins and were cheaper and welcomed by mums on tight budgets. We were allowed to help ourselves to the broken ones, until we got sick of them! I rarely eat a sweet biscuit even now!

The tins were displayed in a stand along the front of the counter and the tin lids there placed by lids with glass inserts. The biscuits were weighed up in a bag to whatever weight the customer requested. Coffee beans were roasted on the premises, in “the coffee house”, which was in one of the many outside buildings, now Adyes Court. Frank Wood, who mostly worked outside in the various out buildings, then on both sides of Ingram Street, was only to ready to do this job in the warm! We sold the roasted beans and the coffee ground, the smell was wonderful! tho’ my family did not always appreciate the smell of my overalls! When I started we wore green overalls but later these were changed to white. We always put on clean on Mondays and Fridays. The men wore short coats and aprons with a fringe along the bottom. We always had 4 chairs in the shop for the customers and some made very good use of them, whilst they waited for their lifts.

Once a month I went on my bicycle to Lea, Charlton and Brokenborough to collect customer’s orders at their houses and the money for their previous month’s goods. Mr. Sid Adye and Mr. Pocock went further afield in their cars. All the orders were then packed up for delivery, originally by horse and cart, later by van.

At Christmas we worked late, sometimes to 10 or 11 o’clock. Then Mr. Adye would give me a lift home because I didn’t like to push my bike up the spooky Blicks Hill on my own.

We had a special room upstairs where the crackers, tins of biscuits, sweets and other Christmas stock was displayed for the few weeks before Christmas. It was my job to attend to the customers up there. Some of those from the big houses had lots, some for themselves (expensive) and boxes for their staff parties and presents for children. What people bought in those days! Hams, whole Stilton’s (one gentleman sent a Stilton to Scotland each year, but always had a taster first!) boxes of chocolates, half or whole tins of biscuits, nuts, oranges, boxes of crystallised fruit (a great favourite), dates, and figs.

By Christmas Eve we were all so fed up with food we didn’t enjoy it very much. Afterwards all the shelves had to be cleared ready for stocktaking on Dec. 31st. Everything had to be counted and I do mean everything. We did what we could before the 31st. but on that day it was full tilt. Everyone had to help and sometimes it was midnight before we finished.

During the war my husband, Trevor, was in the RAF and away a lot, so it was good that I could still work. As all the men from the shop were away, Mr. Adye and I would deliver all the orders after the shop was shut.

The biggest change the war brought to the retail trades was rationing. To us this meant ration books with their coupons and anyone coming home from the services brought their sheets of coupons. Coupons were exchange for the specified item and amount. The essential things were rationed sugar, butter, tea, bacon, cheese. The coupons, each the size of a stamp, were cut from the books, and each week sorted and sent to the food office. Rationing went on for some time after the end of the war and the end of my career in the grocery trade.

Betty Richards

All images and written works by David Forward are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License