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The joys of the Seven Dials shops

Mouth-watering cake display

At the nearby Seven Dials crossroads in the late 1940s, there was a cake shop with a marvellous display of mouth-watering cakes and pastries on display. I remember that one day my sister Ann and I were peering through the window, looking longingly at the display.  We must have touched the hearts of the staff, because lo and behold a shop assistant came out and handed us each a cream bun. We repeated that trick quite often after that, but were never again rewarded with another free cake.

A feast for the olfactory senses

There were, of course, no supermarkets in those far-off days.  Mum would give me a shopping list and I’d walk to the local shop. Do you remember the dark mahogany counters and polished brass scales and weights?  Shops in those days were much less clinical than the supermarkets and hypermarkets of today.  Entering a grocer’s shop was a feast for the olfactory senses with the rich aromas of tea, coffee, bacon, cheeses to titillate the nostrils and delight the senses. Even after all these years certain aromas have the capacity to transport me back in time. 

Everything for the busy housewife

There were wooden crates of wrinkled, black prunes, sultanas and raisins; sides of bacon and plump cured hams hanging from hooks in the ceiling; big, round cheeses still in their skins and others cut ready for serving.  Rows of small, wooden drawers behind the counter contained aromatic nutmeg, spices and other sweet-smelling commodities. The counters and shelves were stacked with tins of various shapes and sizes.  On the lower shelves, well away from the foodstuffs were the goods so necessary to the busy housewives of the time, such as Rinso washing powder, household soap, Robin starch, and Cherry Blossom boot polish.

Broken biscuits were cheaper

One of the items of the shopping list was a bag of broken biscuits (because they were cheaper).  I can also remember the big hessian bags of dog biscuits at the back of the shop; I actually developed a taste for them, especially the black ones. Of course there was Boots Chemist, with the big glass jeroboams of green and red liquid in the front windows. It may have been just coloured water, but I must have been impressed by the display as that aspect has remained in my memory.


Seven Dials in the 1950s
Photo by Bob Herrick

Comments about this page

  • Hi John, I wonder if you remember the WWII bomb damage at the Seven Dials? It was just behind the houses on the right, and to the right of the flats on the corner of Bath Street which can be seen top right. I wondered what year the bomb damage was made good, was it still there in the late 1940s? I suspect it was still there even up to the 1950s.

    By Peter Groves (16/02/2011)
  • I can relate to John’s comments about grocery shopping in the 1960s. Whilst still at school I worked during the holidays for International Stores at their shop in Shoreham by Sea, and it was exactly as John describes- both the smells and the sights. I remember learning how to slice the big wheels of Cheddar cheese, and how to de-bone sides of both smoked and green bacon and then serving in the shop in a highly starched white coat. Ah! memories, where would we be without them. Thanks John

    By Martin White (18/02/2011)
  • Wow, an electric pram for the milkman and a trolleybus on the 42. Those take me back.

    By Len Liechti (04/03/2011)

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