My great great Grandmother, Sarah Whittle and her husband Robert were originally from Skem, but took over the shop at 426 Ormskirk Road Tawd Bridge, probably in the late 1860s. Sarah and Robert’s daughter Mary Alice, (Polly) took over the running of the shop after them. Polly married John Watkinson and their daughter Alice also worked in the family shop. Alice married Tom Myers, and their eldest daughter Eva, (my mother) lived with her Grandma Watkinson and worked in the shop from the time that she left school aged 14. After Eva married, she and my Dad lived at Alice’s house (next door to the shop) and that was where I was born. So you see I had a strong attachment to that place, going down through the generations!
My mother, Eva, died in 2007. In the last few years before she died, she and I spent a lot of time writing down stories and memories of her life in Tawd bridge. I thought it was wonderful how she retained clear memories of her home and the shop and her work there.
The following is her description of that shop at Tawd Bridge when she was working there before World War 2.
They had a grocery shop which sold practically everything; drapery, hardware, pots and pans, buckets, chamber pots (which hung up on the ceiling.) They even had a paraffin tank in the same small area where they sold bacon and other perishables!
Near the paraffin were big scales and next to that was a big wooden box with potatoes, and you weighed these out on the scales. There was a barrel of vinegar and people brought their own jugs or containers to buy vinegar. Next to that barrel were wooden crates with little bottles of pop, and then a big wooden box with loaves of bread baked on the premisis. The bread was originally baked in the kitchen at the back of the shop. (The brick bakehouse at the back of the shop was added around the turn of the century as a purpose built bakehouse.) The bread was not sliced or wrapped, just served from the wooden box.
There was a metal bin for flour, which was loose and weighed out as needed. Next to the flour was a shelf with various different sizes of bags, to weigh out the flour and other loose goods into. Then there was a counter and in the space next to that was a shelf for drapery goods and haberdashery. Next to the drapery counter was the door and passage leading through to the kitchen.
On the other side of the door was mostly soap and cleaning things, and on the bottom shelf were rubbing stones and chalk. A lot of people whitened their hearth with chalk. The chalk was molded into the size of a plate and broken into quarters to use. Children thought they were lucky if they got a piece of chalk to mark their hopscotch beds.
Near the cleaning goods were tinned fruit and jars of jam, boxes of currants, sultanas, raisins and pruins. These dried fruits would also have to be weighed out. On the top shelf of this section were three containers of different kinds of tea.
There was a meat safe, the sides made of gauze to keep the flies out, but with no method of keeping the meat cool. The type of meat sold would be bacon, ham and cooked meat. Next to the meat safe was a trestle with a big thick wooden butcher’s block, and every Friday the wholesale butcher would come with various kinds of fresh meat. It had to be sliced up and sold on Friday. On Friday night Grandma would gather all the scraps of leftover meat and make them into a stew.
On the shelves above the meat were medicinal goods, such as Indian Brandy, syrup of figs, “Composition” (for stomach complaints) Aspros, Vaseline, Germolene, “Carter’s Little Liver Pills”, Beechams Pills, Sloan’s Linament, caster oil, olive oil and Phlamergen Wool (a pink wooly thing that was worn next to the skin for complaints such as bronchitis, rheumatism, lumbago,etc.)
Further along these shelves were big jars containing sweets and toffees, and in the lower shelves were bars of chocolate. Under that shelf was a box of apples. Poking out under that was a barrel containing washing soda, and a barrel of dried peas. Above these was a shelf of cigarettes. Turning around you would be facing the cash till and legers which were partitioined off from the main counter.
The counter had two sets of scales. They were beam balance scales, the smaller set were for weighing sweets. The scales were made of brass and had to be polished every Wednesday, (half closing day.)
On the counter were large blocks of best butter, lard and cheese, which had to be cut and weighed.
Along the passageway leading to the kitchen there were lots of shelves on the right with things such as pick shafts. (In this mining area the workers had to provide their own tools, even the wedges to tighten the pick head onto the shaft!)
There were sacks of sugar which had to be weighed out into blue bags, and the sugar scoop and the bags were stored there too. Then there was an old zinc corrugated dolly tub filled with oatmeal, which was also weighed out into the blue bags. Next there was a big metal can containing eggs, which were usually home produced. Eggs were not packaged in dozens, they could be bought one or two at a time.
That is the end of my mother’s description.
My observations – I am amazed at how much stuff was contained in that small space! I also have to wonder at the casual way that paraffin, washing soda, tools and hadrware were interspaced with food, particularly the perishables! Shops these days are so concerned about hygiene and food handling and sealed packaging, and yet in the not so distant past it was not even regarded as important! And yet our ancestors lived and thrived on it!