I recently watched an old Steptoe and Son Christmas special in which Albert says he would go down to Shepherds Bush Market on Christmas Eve and pick up a cheap turkey at the auction.
I remember my parents telling me that they would also go to the market on Christmas Eve when the butchers auctioned off the poultry. The butchers wanted to clear all their stock and few families had fridges so they waited until the last minute to buy their turkey or chicken.
Even in the mid 1950s many homes still did not have a fridge. Shepherds Bush didn’t have a supermarket and there was no such thing as freezer centres. But virtually every road had a corner shop, or one very close by. Along the Uxbridge Road there was almost every shop you needed ranging from butchers and greengrocers to bakers and newsagents.
This archives photo shows the local butchers S C Wyatt (with the canopy) I worked there occasionally on Saturdays in the mid 1960s
Trading laws were very strict and all shops were closed on Sundays. The only exception being newsagents who were allowed to open until midday, but with restrictions on what they could sell. In most areas shops also closed for a half day mid-week, which in Shepherds Bush was Thursdays.
Meat for the Sunday roast would normally be bought on Saturday. During the week people would buy on the day they intended to cook, or the day before. The butcher would cut meat to order, but things like chops, sausages and bacon were sold loose so you only bought what you needed.
Most local bakers baked their own bread and people tended to buy fresh loaves daily. For those on a budget stale bread could be bought cheaply the following day. It was only in the mid1950s that the ‘new’ factory produced pre-wrapped sliced bread became more popular. It stayed fresher longer and was much better for making sandwiches.
Although this is a very early postcard I remember buying bread from the bakers shop on the corner of Adelaide Grove
Greengrocers tended to stock a combination of home grown and imported fruit and vegetables. But certain crops such as peas, strawberries and cherries were usually only available when they were in season. When certain produce was unavailable the only option was to buy tinned vegetables such as peas and fruit such as pineapples and peaches.
As well as the local shops there were many traders who came round the streets. My brother remembers the horse drawn milk cart but my own memory is of the milk floats. In our road there was competition between the Co-op and United Dairies. Besides milk they also delivered orange juice, and later some milk companies started to deliver eggs, potatoes and even bread. Every Sunday the shellfish man came to the road in a van and fortnightly a lorry made deliveries of Corona fizzy drinks. By the late 1960s the last horse and cart tradesman in the area was a greengrocer. I think his name was Mr Little and he stabled his horse ‘Silver’ in the Askew Crescent area. Rag and bone men similar to Steptoe and Son were still seen in Shepherds Bush in the 1970s.
As I have been writing this I have realised just how ‘green’ we were in the days before plastic bottles, bags and containers. You usually walked to the local shops carrying your own bag; I think almost every home owned a least one ‘strong shopping bag’ sold by the old lady in Shepherds Bush Market.
Vegetables were weighed and poured straight into your bag. Fruit was sold loose and put into brown paper bags. Fish, meat, loaves of bread, etc. were wrapped in white paper. Even the sliced bread came in waxed paper rather than the plastic bags we have now. Tea was sold in paper packs as there were no tea bags. Milk, orange juice and fizzy drinks came in returnable glass bottles. Very little food was wasted as you only bought what you needed and leftovers were often used in other meals. Even the dripping was saved for the next roast or spread on toast for Sunday tea. Newspapers, scrap paper and wood was used to start the fire.
And finally old rags, furniture or junk was often taken away by the rag and bone men.
By Peter Trott
Hammersmith & Fulham Local Studies and Archives volunteer
Did you know Albert Osgood?