The Nostalgia column with Margaret Watson: How our shopping habits have changed

Well staffed: This picture of Brough's Grocers in Daisy Hill shows just how many people used to work in food shops before self service was introduced. Dorothy Heaton is the one wearing the dark uniform in the centre. Other staff who handled food wore white, but because she worked in the office, she wore green.
Well staffed: This picture of Brough's Grocers in Daisy Hill shows just how many people used to work in food shops before self service was introduced. Dorothy Heaton is the one wearing the dark uniform in the centre. Other staff who handled food wore white, but because she worked in the office, she wore green.

Last week I wrote about all the food shops we once had in Dewsbury before supermarkets came into our lives and forced us to start serving ourselves.

Some readers have spoken to me since about how difficult the transition was, especially for older people who were now having to do their shopping in giant baskets on wheels.

Margaret Watson.

Margaret Watson.

It wasn’t as though self-service made it quicker because it didn’t simply did not – we now had to spend time queuing at the checkout.

I remember as a child shopping at the Co-op at the bottom of our street where the biscuits were displayed in big tins with glass fronts so you could see what you were buying.

You could choose which you wanted, sometimes just one variety, other times mixed, and then the assistant would weigh them and put them in paper bags – no plastic bags in those days.

It was fascinating to watch the assistant take hold of each corner of the paper bag and quickly swing it round a couple of times to secure the ends.

No Cellotape in those days.

Biscuits didn’t come in tightly packed boxes or cellophane packets, but this was something of a bonus because some biscuits got broken, which meant they could be sold at a reduced cost.

They say every cloud has a silver lining and an occasional bag of broken biscuits was the bonus we looked forward to because broken biscuits tasted just as good as the whole ones.

Fig biscuits were my favourites but mother only bought the plain arrowroot ones as she believed you got more to the pound.

Buying in bulk was never an option, and even if people could afford to buy in bulk they didn’t have the room to store it, or the fridges and freezers to keep it fresh, just the cellar-head with two shelves.

Most people bought little and often, especially families like ours with lots of kids to run backwards and forward to the corner shop to replenish supplies.

We always bought everything in ounces and tea by the quarter pound, usually Eastern Rose from the Co-op or Ringtons delivered to the door by horse and cart.

No tea bags in those days.

If ever we ran out of tea or hadn’t the money to buy any, we’d run round to Auntie Laura’s to borrow a “mashing” which she’d wrap in a piece of newspaper, and we always reciprocated when she ran out.

Mother always bought our cooked meats by the quarter – billed ham, corned beef, black-pudding and bacon – with the exception of potted beef which she bought in two ounces, just enough to cover a couple of teacakes for dad’s “snap” next day.

She was always convinced she could manage with the smaller amounts but by teatime she’d be sending me back for more of what she’d bought in the morning, and I’d complain if she’d bought half a pound in the first place, I wouldn’t have to run back to get more.

Whenever I used this as an argument she always replied: “You’re young enough” and that was the end of the argument.

Recalling this the other day, I realised that we always used the phrase “running errands” because that’s what we children did – we ran everywhere, we never walked.

It’s a pity youngsters today don’t run more errands, it would certainly help them run off the calories.

Some years ago I interviewed Dorothy Heaton (nee Sykes) who had worked at Brough’s grocery store in Daisy Hill, a picture of which I feature today.

Just look at the large number of staff this relatively small shop employed, and you realise just how times have changed.

Dorothy went to work there after leaving school in 1940 and became chief clerk in the office before joining the Women’s Land Army in 1943.

Dorothy, who got her job back after the war, told me that nothing was pre-packed in those days.

At the end of the week when orders had to be delivered to the homes of certain customers, the staff were at their busiest weighing everything.

They had customers all over Dewsbury, Mirfield, Ossett, Horbury, Wakefield, Lupset, Middlestown, Overton, Flockton and Whitley.

Male members of staff used to go out collecting orders at the beginning of the week and then later in the week went out delivering.

Dorothy remembered Daisy Hill as a once busy thoroughfare and could recall some of the shops, like Yoelson’s tailors, Mrs Mallinson’s dolls’ shop, Avery Scales and Brett’s furniture store.

She also remembers how the girls used to do fire-watching during the war from the second floor of Brough’s shop, and the men did the same at Ward’s furniture shop higher up.

○ Send your memories of past times in the Dewsbury area to me at tresham3@gmail.com