HOW OUR SHOP BEGAN (1930)

We were farmers growing potatoes on our farms. Dad sold hundred weights (cwts – a hundred and twelve pounds [lbs] in weight) or half cwts, as he delivered milk around the village with a pony trap, from a churn into a hand can, from door to door, in pints or half pints to villagers, on the doorstep into jugs.

There were three shops. No-one sold vegetables at all in Souldern. In 1930 there was a shortage of potatoes in Souldern, Dad sold all ours and had to buy. Then he bought new. Someone asked “Can you get bananas?” – we did.

All people couldn’t afford 112 or 56 lbs potatoes at 3/- (3 shillings =15 new pence) or 1/9d (one shilling and nine pence = 9 new pence): So mum had scales and bagged the potatoes in the front room – 7 lbs for 3d.

Holidays and weekends it was often my job to do the milk round. Dad could always find an excuse so that I should do his job. After potato and banana customers asked for other fruit and veg. So slowly we got into greengrocery, fruit and vegetables, the lot. You could go into the three other shops, one was the Post Office and groceries and the other two Bakers and Grocers. Sweets were mainly kept in tins on the top shelf, they would climb up get the tin down. A newspaper cone was put on the scales first, then sweets put carefully in with much pressing with shopkeepers’ finger pushing scales towards the required weight. The mean, stingy so and so’s.

One day three of us had a penny each, twice Miss Boddington sprinted up the steps at a snails’ gallop, keeping one eye on us, defying us to breath ’till she completed her task. As she was about to replace the lid for the second time “I suppose you would like ha’porth of these Jack” (We mostly spent in halfpennies)

“Oh no thank you Miss” said I. With a sniff and a shake of her head she replaced lid, up the steps with the tin, down she came, put the steps away

“What would you like?”

“A penny’s worth, please,” I said with a smile all so innocent. . . . . How much paper and how many times had she sold her fingers, how sweet was my revenge!!!!

As a child the poor selection and service made a deep impression on me and would be the beginning of the end of these stingy mean people.

I was the youngest of 4 boys, working on our farms with horse power, walking back and forth across fields. From 6 or 7 years old I had to walk miles, my feet nearly killed me and when I left school at 13 and a bit. . . . . Our farmhouse was 3 miles away at Chisnell Farm, I would take my heavy farm boots off because my feet hurt and swelled so during the day I wouldn’t be able to get them back on. So after pain and tears for years my father took me to the doctor. “This lad has sensitive feet, he must not wear heavy boots or wellingtons, off the farm he must go.” With that my father said to me take the pony and trap and sell fruit and veg. “I can do that” said I. We had moved up into the village of Souldern to live by this time and we had started the shop and milkround a year or more.

Towards Christmas and seven or eight of we chaps were singing carols for something to do one night. One lad beat time on this tin box thing. The shopkeepers were Londoners, a man and wife, Dave and Lil, who were only here a few years, 4 years I think (Furriners). Dave soon came out, “Clear off you village louts.” he yelled, “No more of that, GET” That really put the lads back up. Then five minutes later I moved back to the tin, everyone watching the shop door. The dispenser was fixed on the wall between the shop window and their sitting room window. Lil was stationed, unknowingly to us, behind the curtain, Dave was around the back of the house with his belt. Bang, bang, I clouted the Sharpes tin. Just at that moment Tim Coleman walked by, around from the back came Dave, belt buckle end swinging, Tim took one look over shoulder at Dave, Lil seeing Dave taking after Tim banged on the window so hard it broke the glass. Tim flew down the street, Dave thinking Tim had broke the window, printed after him, to our de light in vain, Dave was no match. Back he came “It wasn’t him it was young Callow” shouts Lil “I saw him.” “Who broke the window?” asked Dave. “I did” said Lil . “why” said Dave “I was trying to stop you, it was young Callow” “I got a toffee bar” said I chewing my tongue “here’s the wrapper off it.” said one of the lads with me. “You shouldn’t have done it Lil” said Dave. We lads moved off very pleased with ourselves.

We were very busy with the fruit and veg shop and the cony and trap. One customer said to us “could you get some 1/2d sweets?” (Sweets were still sold from tins). “Yers” we said. Away we went to Banbury. I was now driving a small 8 cwt Morris van and going to a dozen or more villages, twice a week. As a boy I heard a boy from Clifton village yodelling down in the meadows by the River Cherwell. I have always loved singing, soon I was yodelling back to him from Chisnell on the hill across the valley. We had lovely sessions. His name, a nickname was Toego, I was Callow. What fun we had. When I started around the villages I would yodel, “Hellooo its Callooooo.”

We put over 50 different 1/2d. boxes of sweets on a table of orange boxes, in what we called the bakehouse, now known as Jack Start cottage, where I started my shop. The kids went mad. Soon the news got to other villages. It was a sell out.

In those days food came with the seasons, in the good weather eggs were plentiful, and the same with fruit and veg, so the first crop of any season was a treat. We sold plums at 7–lb for 6 old pennies (5p today) and 12–lb sugar for two shillings and 2 old pennies (12p today). Everyone made their own jam and there’d be a rush to get the fruit boiling and the jam stacked in neat rows in the larder – for it had to last till the next lot of fruit was ready. Coxes sold at 2 old pennies for the 1–lb and Blenheims even cheaper at 1–lb for ½ an old penny.

The children running past Dave and Lil’s shop with ½d sweets annoyed them. Their sweets didn’t sell. Two or three mornings after the ½d sweet sensation Dave and Lil were waiting for dad with his milk float. “Your a farmer, you sell milk and greengrocery, now you are selling sweets” Dad said “Until we sold greengrocery no one sold any in the village, you now sell some as the other two shops do. This is all right for you to sell what you like but not for us” “Well” said Dave, “if you sell sweets we won’t have your milk and we shall tell our customers not to deal with you.” “Right”, said dad, “if you want a war you shall have one. We will sell groceries of all sorts and like the 1/2d sweets we will give the villagers what they want, not what you want them to have. They will have selection and variety.”

I finished the milk round, dad went to Grimbly and Hughs of Oxford and ordered a full range of groceries. . . . . Now we were in business with a difference. Now we would show them what villagers would do. They sold up at the Post Office in a few months and went back to London. In seven years Titcombes, Bakers and grocers sold up to the Co-op. About ten years after, Boddington’s grocers and bakers ceased to sell anything. The Boddington’s two spinsters and two bachelors all in their seventies, ceased to scratch for a living. One of the brothers was known as scratchit.

In 1946 a young girl living in the village went to work at the Co-op. Two years on June 5th 1948 I married that young lady, Mary. She came, bringing a good few customers, just around the corner, now Jack Start Cottage. Needless to say the Co-op closed a few years later. In 1972 we built a new shop with flat, on a plot of land adjoining the old Co-op, now the village garage service station. This land I bought when I first started in business 45 years before, one day to build my shop on, at the price of a fat pig – £30 – value.

One Saturday evening about 1933/4, Christmas, I was driving from Croughton to Hinton in the Hedges with my mobile shop when a big badger ran across the road in front of a car. The car’s bumper killed the badger instantly, just in front of me. Immediately I put on the brakes and jumped out. The badger, a large male, was dead. The badger (or brock) was a beauty. His fur was sleek and shone in the van lights. What a good find. I should be able to sell this to one of my customers on my round. With the help of my assistant we lay brock on the wing of the van. Four or five hours after, as we came home, we still had brock. Many customers would have bought him if we could have skinned him but we had a round to do, goods to deliver. I drove into Souldern around 10.30 p.m. Brock was warm, laying alongside the engine, when I pulled in outside our shop. Moffey lived in Halfpenny Cottage, 5 cottages down our street. What a lark – I will put brock on his cottage step. Well, dear reader, you know what fun we had the next day!!

Retailing from mobile shops, we had many amusing incidents. When I first started if I hadn’t an item I was asked for I would get it from another local shop or go to town to purchase it and deliver later in the day, or very often 9 or 10 p.m. I was 16 years old, got my first motor van and an elderly lady asked me for something I didn’t have in stock. I’ll drop it in this evening I told her maid, a village girl my age. That night at 9.30 p.m. I sprinted around to the back door – you dare not go to the front – it was the tradesman entrance for the grocer. Seeing light in the kitchen I opened the door and burst in with a knock and a “here you are Hilda, Miss McClure’s goods.” There was a scream and splashing of water “Don’t look, don’t look” screamed the old Miss springing up prancing around in her tin bath in front of the kitchen fire. Scared, I was more scared than she was. I just dropped whatever it was and ran out of the house, frightened out of my wits. She was still screaming as I jumped into my van. One day, calling on another customer who could never find anything – she would set all and everything down wherever she was when she finished, with big black saucepans on the table, washing in the chair, knitting on the cooker, when rationing was during the war she gave us her prayer book. It was on a Monday and in her handbag after Sunday Church I suppose “Take my rations out” she said – she was quite sure it was her ration book. But the best was when I called to delivery her box of groceries just after she had got her new false teeth. Very proud of these national health she was – they didn’t fit, she could hardly speak with them in but she popped them in when anyone came to the door and gave you a quick flash of a smile. Made her look years younger she said, then out they came and on the corner of the table they went, or any corner that was clear. Now her son brought home a lurcher half grown dog to add to the confusion. Nellie, hearing me walking up the garden path and seeing the large box of groceries opened the door wide, before she located her teeth. The dog rushed in the house, Nellie was a bit ruffled, she couldn’t find her teeth to give me a flashing smile “Hello Nellie” I said balancing the box of groceries on a bag of potatoes. Nellies husband had been sorting in the middle of the kitchen and left it, was it one or two weeks ago? “Whats up ma” “I’m flummaxed” said Nellie “why, whats the matter.” I asked “It’s my teeth, my new teeth – I can’t find um” “Perhaps the dogs had them” i said joking. He had. You never see such a mess this half grown dog trying to chew Nellies pride and joy, her lovely teeth, around the table went Nellie chasing the dog chewing and chomping her teeth. The dog paused at the open door and looked back at Nellie as she descended on him, arm outstretched. I couldn’t decide which mouth they suited the best.

One old age pensioner was given a large branch of tree that had been blown down during the March winds. He chopped and sawed it into smallish pieces so that he could get it home but one last piece was almost as big round as him, so he cut it in large lengths 2-man pieces. Come winter when I delivered his groceries he would be sat close to the fire, a great log half on the fire the other end he rested his foot on. It was very amusing to see him push with his foot. Two days she’s bin going he said, daren’t leave her, day or night – I keeps a shoving it on a bit further and here I sits.

Oft times the wives would cut the husbands ration of cigs, tobacco or sweets in the grocery order. “He smokes too much, or eats too many sweets” Many of these men worked on local farms, or if retired would be in the garden, or waiting along the road for my mobile. How many she got me this week they would ask – and buy the extras or even get the neighbour to buy for them. So in the end they had their little luxuries.

Practically everything was sold loose and had to be weighed up – dried fruit, all kinds of sugar, rice, tapioca, sago, lard, spice, butter, marge, ham – our own cured, boiled in the big boiler, cut off the bone to the customers requirements. One Oxo 1d, loose biscuits, our own dripping lard, scratchings, soap, shampoo, Persil, long bars of soap, primrose for washing 1 lb mostly 2 1/2 for the wash. 2 lb for 1 1/2d washing soda. No other was put in the copper to boil, only the blue bag as it was rinsed and put through the mangle. There were no large giant packets of soap powder, no liquid soap. 1d packet or 3d tin blacklead for the fire place fender and irons, 1d balls of whitening for the hearth surround and front doorstep. We didn’t sell much bacon at first because everybody almost had a pig to kill.

Jam was made by the housewife, dozens of pounds of gooseberry, plum, blackcurrant, and apple and blackberry always there was a 2lb jar on the table at meal times, very rare a 1lb jar, certainly not the present day 12 oz jar. Sugar came into the shop in 224 lb (2 cwts) bags. This we weighed off in 2 lbs or 4 lbs, in blue sugar bags retail price 2d a lb., currants, sultanas and raisins in 40 lb boxes. These were weighed in half and one lbs into blue bags, sold for 6d or 7d. Cheeses, the big cheddars, came 2 in a wooden crate 70 lb each (140). We slid them down into the cellar 6 or 8 at a time to be up-ended every 3 days, if not the top half of the cheese would be dry, the moisture would run into the bottom. This mature cheese about 18 months old would then be skinned and the wire cutter cut through the rind, the lovely smell of cheese would come. Syrup came in casks, bring your jamjar 8d/lb. If a customer bought a sealed tin it would cost 10 1/2d. People saved 2 1/2d on lb, same with vinegar, 3d pint from the cask, 4d if you bought a piint already bottled. So they brought jugs and had the loose vinegar. Dates came in wooden boxes held tight with strips of tin 70lbs in a sticky block. I prised them apart into small lumps weighed off into lbs, 3d/lb in the blue bags, these were strong and grease absorbent. Salt, pepper, biscuits, candypeel , spices, cloves – all weighed. Soda 200 to 300 lbs every week that we sold 7lbs for 6d. People bought lots of soda for cleaning, washing and families 18 lb every week for cooking, general use, any over was put in the store cupboard for jams, bottling, wines and possibly the hives of bees. Matches, another weekly must 6 – 12 boxes, with fires, coppers, candles, oil lamps and lanterns, not forgetting oil bicycle lamps. The village shop is and always will be to some their larger. Being farmers we were always opening our shop 6 a.m. same times as we milked the cows and fetched into the stable the shire horses to feed and groom ready for their working day. Customers, instead of borrowing from neighbours, soon became early customers at Callow’s – you could set your clock by them, milk for that breakfast cuppa tea 6 or just after sometimes, 6.10 a.m. packet of tea, 6.30 a.m. quarter cornbeef, half cheese, half onions for dads lunch basket. 6.40 – 6.50 the men workers, on bike or on foot for cigs and tobacco. Some later risers 7 ’ish 7.30 to eight children’s breakfast cereals, milk, jam, honey etc. 8 to 8.45 breathless children, cotton, thread, yards and yards of bloomer elastic and ribbons 8.45 – 9.30 a.m. children for school lunch. Sweets, fruit, biscuits etc. Children RC because ours was a Church of England missed the first half hour religious instruction, all children from the outlaying farms. Children from the outlaying farms, our one at Chisnell 3 miles from school, Keeper Westbury children in my school days added up to 8 farmers children 10 RC., 4 gamekeepers children, always 20 odd late comers, oft times we were sliding on village ponds. We did have 9 in and around Souldern, scrumping or chards whose owners forgot that some children were not safely in school. My lunch satchel would be filled with fruit to share with my school chums. The same late afternoon children in and out of the shop for the things mum forgot, 4 p.m. onward 5 p.m. wife dashing in “Bill’s home give me a quarter rasher and a couple of eggs – I forgot to get anything off the butchers van.” Then it was pints of milk for baby’s bottle or milk sops, many children had tea kettle sops. Toasted bread broken in pieces with tea poured over, with a sprinkling of sugar on top. Bread and lard, or toast with lard. Very often the lard had been used up the meal before and the children would dash to our shop for a pound of lard before tea could commence. Always in the winter time mother at dusk would to trim the lamp – no oil, quick one of you children to the shop for a gallon of paraffin oil. Sometimes dad or big brother had taken the last box of matches – with the lamp filled and no match to light it. Nowadays its the quick meal from the freezer. We have dozens of times at the weekend had mum standing in the shop perhaps with a teenage daughter trying to decide how big a chicken to have for lunch at 12.00 or 12.30. The chicken, frozen solid, to be taken home and got ready for cooking and eaten in less than an hour. The village shop had a lovely smell all of its own, things were cut as required, cheese, lard, cooked ham sliced off the bone, spices and pepper weighed out, loose sausages, biscuits from the tin – so many different smells – it was beautiful to come through the shop each smell seemed to meet you. Those early years when my wife had our annual weeks holiday the first thing we did was to walk through the shop on our return home – it always seemed to smell better than before.