East Midlands Food

East Midlands Food

Open all hours…

In Newarke Houses Museum in Leicester there is a re-creation of a street scene from the 1940s, complete with pub and several shops – well worth a visit. The corner shop was one of the focal points of working class life in the past, a place for social contact and exchange of information as much as buying food and other goods – and a source of credit or ‘tick’ for poorer families to tide them over the week until pay day.

Shop scene at Newarke Houses Museum, Leicester

In the 1930s many people still worked a full day on a Saturday and wages were not paid until the evening, so corner shops would stay open late on Saturday and all day Sunday to make sure they got the weekend trade. As one shopkeeper in the Wharf Street area of Leicester said: ‘if we didn’t open on Sunday, we would never have taken anything’. That changed with stricter regulation of Sunday trading from the 1950s, but until then even half a day off a week was a luxury for small shopkeepers: ‘We used to open at about half past six in the morning till about eight o’clock at night… until nine o’clock or thereabouts on a Friday… [and] you were in and out of the shop all the time’.

In the days before fridges were in common use, Saturday night was also the time to bag a bargain from the local butcher who would sell off his remaining meat at knock-down prices to get rid of it; though one man also recalled putting sausages in a bath of water with some salt over the weekend to keep them ‘nice and fresh’. On Monday morning ‘you’d fetch them out, dry then off, and then they’d be coming in… for a pound of sausage… fourpence for the beef sausage and sixpence a pound for the pork sausage’.

At that time the main meal of the day – dinner – was at what we would now call lunchtime; and as a lot of women in the area went out to work in nearby factories, another shopkeeper remembered selling them scraped or peeled potatoes and boiled beetroot, and also soaked the dried peas for them ready to use. ’My husband’, she said, ‘would do anything for those customers – well, I DID it! But most of it was his idea’.

Corner shops also sold lots of sweets to adults as well as children. One made up halfpenny ‘lucky bags’ with four ounces of sweets – four times the amount that a halfpenny would normally buy; and along with toffee apples, gobstoppers, sherbet dips and sugar mice – or sugar pigs and Santa Clauses at Christmas - one local sweet shop also sold ‘this revolting stuff called liquorice root… Horrible, revolting, all stringy – we loved it’!

I recently visited the Museum of Lincolnshire Life in Lincoln where there are a number of shop scenes, as well as lots of other food-related displays and objects. More of that another day…

The above extracts are taken from my book Wharf Street Revisited (Leicester City Council, 1995), and are reproduced with permission of Leicester City Libraries.

 
 

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About this Sponsor

A research project that looked at various aspects of food in the East Midlands, linking them with museum displays and objects in the region, and making the results available to as many people as possible in different formats.

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