Shopping in Elm Grove in the 1930s
There was no need to go to the town for general shopping. There were shops on every street corner supplying everything one might need. There were at least four butchers close at hand and four greengrocers that I can remember and probably more in the areas off Elm Grove that were not so familiar to me.
Harry Barton’s greengrocers
My mother shopped regularly at Harry Barton’s greengrocers at the corner of Baxter Street. Harry Barton was a large jovial man with a limp. He always teased me and no doubt all the other children by asking ‘Who put the pepper in the cat’s milk’? At the age of 5 or 6 I was never sure what he was talking about. In those days apples came in round bushel baskets, cucumbers were carefully packed individually in blue tissue paper, cauliflowers and carrots had all their leaves and potatoes still had soil on them. This made the shop floor very dusty and every so often had to be sprayed with water from a watering can to lay the dust. Everything was seasonal. White Heart cherries and Victoria plums from Kent, Worthing tomatoes and a great deal of produce labelled ‘Local’. It was a tradition to make a wish when the family ate the first of the new season’s produce, whether it was fruit or vegetable. The aroma of oranges at Christmas time has gone for ever.
Several sweet shops
In ‘the Grove’ there were several sweet shops. Lotties at the top of Bonchurch Road was a favourite. It had been Lotties when my mother was a child, but although it had changed ownership was still fondly known by its old name. Lucas’s at the top of Brading Road had a ‘Black Cat’ machine. A halfpenny in the slot delivered a coloured disc. A blue disc was worth your halfpenny, but red, yellow or green entitled the shopper to a pennyworth, three halfpence or tuppence worth of sweets. Lucas’s sold unusual things – locust beans, liquorice wood and sweet and sour sticks. At the Misses Bisney’s sweet shop down the Grove, small toys, model soldiers and farm animals were on display in flat cases at the front of the counter and ‘Prince of Wales’ surprise packets were also on sale.
Many other types of shops
There were also fresh fish and fish & chip shops, hardware, drapery, ladies fashions, barbers and hairdressing salons. A cobbler who repaired shoes on his home premises and two shoe repairing shops. Mr McKeon ran a Christmas ‘diddler’ club. This was a savings club which presumably also brought customers to his shoe repairing business. There were three large public houses in the Grove. The Admiral Napier at the bottom was very modern, the Wellington Arms was further up, and at the Junction stood what was always known as The Red House, although more properly I think it was The Racehorse. There were also numerous small bars which gradually went out of use.
Four coal merchants
There were four coal merchants that I can recall, all within two or three streets of my home. Shelley’s was in Bentham Road, the proprietor also being the landlord of a number of the terraced houses in the area, including my grandmother’s. I frequently paid her rent for her, going through the coal store shed to a tiny window where orders were taken and rents received. Coal fires of course meant chimney sweeps. Mr Bonwick operated from his home in Lynton Street, but my mother always ordered Mr Wood from Cobden Road. On chimney sweeping days my sister and I went out into the tiny back garden to watch for the brush to come out of the chimney. This achieved two objects. It got us out of the way and made sure that the chimney was properly swept.