1930s Co-operative Store

Co-operative Store 97 London Road
Royal Pavilion and Museums Brighton and Hove

Trolley system for payments

When I was about 11, in 1933, my mother took me to the Co-op in London Road, to buy my first pair of long trousers. At that time jeans had not yet been adopted for daily wear, they were just overalls for work. I was fascinated by the overhead trolleys that carried money from the desk where the purchase was made, to the central cashier. Apparently the cost of cash registers and training for the many cashiers that would be needed was too high, or the shop-workers could not be trusted with the job, so the management decided that a single cashier in the middle of the store was better.

Money sailing through the air

The shop-worker had to place our money and the bill she had written out, in a small cylindrical wood pot and attach it to the trolley above her head. Then she pulled on a cord, which released a spring of some sort, that sent the trolley sailing along a wire, over to the cashier’s station. A few minutes later, back came the trolley and the shop-worker removed the pot and emptied the contents on to the desk, giving us the change and a copy of the bill. In those days a pair of boy’s pants cost one shilling, eleven pence and three farthings. Just like now, everything was not quite a whole number of monetary units, but there was no sales tax to calculate.

Comments about this page

  • Hi Robert, Purely out of interest, as you correctly say, there was no sales tax on items purchased in 1933. However, 1940 saw the advent of the ‘Purchase Tax’, levied on supposed luxury items. The definition of this was vague at the best of times and it was an almost impossible job for shopkeepers to understand what was taxable and what wasn’t. It also led to the taxing of conversions of side windows put into vans, even if the vans pre-dated the introduction of the tax. VAT replaced Purchase Tax in 1973, but your chosen example of boy’s pants is still exempt today, providing the waist size is under 28.5″, as it constitutes children’s clothing (zero rated). Regards.

    By Andy Grant (13/08/2013)
  • I seem to recall that the overhead ‘trolley’ system only operated in the basement of the London Road store. On the upper floors your cash and bill were placed into a cylindrical container and put into a tube which protruded from the counter (was it a compressed air system?). Presumably this also went to the same cashier’s location in the centre of the basement – your change being returned via the same system.

    By David Packham (14/08/2013)
  • Thanks for those memories, Robert. Although my own memories are much more recent, I do recall the overhead payment system. Wasn’t there a more high-speed version? I seem to remember a similar system in Hanningtons. Also, regarding the cost of clothes, although those prices seem cheap from today’s vantage point, they were expensive relative to wages. I remember my mum finding it hard to clothe us kids and that’s because garments were usually made in Britain. Now they’re made in some third-world sweatshop for pennies!

    By Janet Beal (14/08/2013)
  • I seem to remember a faster vacuum method being used, Janet. Is that what you remember? Maybe someone can supply details.

    By Alan Hobden (15/08/2013)
  • Yes, it seems to be generally agreed that there was a wire system in the basement (where the cash office was) and a pneumatic tube system was used in the other floors. Wire systems weren’t good at travelling between floors whereas tube systems had no problem. For full details of cash carriers see the Cash Railway Website at http://www.cashrailway.co.uk

    By Andrew Buxton (06/10/2013)

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