IN PEACE AND WAR
The Co-operative – Employees – Hours & conditions – Sawdust – Grocery shop layout & fittings – Scales & weights – Dial weighing scales – Commodities – Breaking bulk & packaging – The provision counter - Ham, cooked meat - Butter - Cheese – The ham slicing machine – Eggs – Potatoes – The bakery counter, bread – ‘Cutting’ bread – Transport & delivery – Cakes & buns – Biscuits – Preserves – ‘Ginger’ – Tomatoes & the tomato baskets – The cash desk – Message boys – Window dressing – The dividend – The Balfron line – Other shops in Linthouse – Shops signs - Pavement lights – The pavement edge rubbish container – The pawnshop – Advertising – Govan fire brigade – Summoning them – Dyson clocks – Masking tea – Iron cutlery – Shoe repairs – Clappers – House vermin
SHOPS AND SHOPPING - THE ‘COPARATIVE’
Formed in 1844 and with solid credentials Rochdale Co-operative Society is invariably acknowledged as being the first Co-operative organisation to be formed in Britain, perhaps even in the world. However the Govan Victualling Society (GVS) was formed in 1777 and lasted until 1909, but no documentary proof can be found to verify it, so the lack of any records has rendered its claim to be among the first as unproven. But there’s another claim that the first Co-op type of organisation was set up by a group of weavers at Fenwick in Ayrshire in 1774. Two videotapes in my archive, one of the SCWS and the other the CWS have more information about this subject, in particular about the weavers.
In the 1930s, in south west Glasgow the largest retail society was the Kinning Park Co-operative Society Limited, with a head office at 12 Coburg Street, Laurieston. It was set up in 1869 and eventually, with the demise of the GVS, spread to cover all of greater Govan. Unfortunately it didn't adopt the GVS name when that society ceased to operate. At that time proof of its origin might have still existed and could have been preserved.
During the second half of the 19th century, when new societies were being formed in towns and cities around Britain, other retailers regarded the Co-op (the Coparaitive of the heading as it was known locally) with hostility, and a number of private companies were set up around the West of Scotland in opposition; Lipton's in 1871, Massey's 1872, Templeton's c1875, Cochranes in 1881, and the most fiercely competitive and dominant of all, Galbraith's in 1884. As the independent traders were being established, they began using their purchasing power against their wholesale suppliers by refusing to place orders with any that supplied the Co-ops. When they became aware that this was about to happen the Societies formed their own wholesale buying organisation, the Scottish Co-operative Wholesale Society Limited (SCWS) in 1868. An early endeavour by this unit was to purchase a large area of land at Shieldhall to the west of Govan and set up factories to produce a vast range of items to be sold in their stores. See the aerial photo of part of the complex of factories below.
In most instances where Co-op retail premises were established it was as a group of the three of the busiest shops, grocery, butcher and dairy, as was the case in Linthouse where my family lived from 1937 to 1945. In busier, more central shopping areas such as at Govan Cross, there were also hardware, furniture, foot-wear and drapery shops. The latter kept a stock of millinery (hats) in a separate in-store department and all kinds of other clothing and items like curtain material, bedding, and many other domestic soft furnishings. In some districts of the city, though not in Govan as far as is known, there was another separate organisation, UCBS (United Co-operative Baking Society Ltd.) with shops know as ‘pantry shops’, which sold at a reduced price only their own bakery goods. But these items may have been rejects for discounted sale from the bakery in McNeil Street, Gorbals. The only such shop I knew of was near Gorbals Cross not far from the bakery.
Before the arrival of self-service, retail shops were labour intensive with even medium size stores having many assistants, each attending to individual customers as presently happens only in small local stores that are usually owned by individuals from the Indian sub continent. At that time most of them outside the city centre, including the Co-ops, were in ground floor tenement buildings on main roads and, occasionally, in side streets in densely populated urban areas in which customers waited to be served. With the exception of large departmental stores near the city centre, virtually all shops were restricted in the range of commodities they stocked, with the greatest variety found in grocery and provisions stores. I worked in grocery departments of the Pollokshaws Co-op Society from 1945 to 1949, then after doing eighteen months National Service in the army, I was back with the PCS from 1950 to 1959 after it had merged with the Kinning Park Society to form the Glasgow South Society. The last employment I had was nine year at the by then CWS Wines & Spirits Warehouse in Clydebank from 1974 from which I retired in 1983.
Items such as milk, butcher meat, confectionery, liquor, toiletries and patent medicines, newspapers, books and magazines etc. were restricted to specialist shops, probably by regulation but may have been as much by custom and convenience of the shop operators. Today everything except expensive items like cigarettes and, in some instances liquor, is laid out for sale to be picked up and taken to the till to be paid for. Up to the 1950s almost everything was retained behind counters away from casual handling by customers, and had to be requested. Today almost all these commodities are available in any convenience store from hypermarket to the local Pakistani corner shop. One item in the above list did not feature in Scotland – the sale of alcohol wasn’t allowed by Co-op managements until around 1960.
In the ‘30s anyone looking for a bar of chocolate, for example, went to the local newsagent or cafe, or one of the confectionery shops of Birrell, Methven, or R. S. M'Coll. Of that trio only the last name survives. Fish was only available from a fishmonger or those selling round the streets from horse-drawn carts. The main cuts of butcher meat had to be purchased from the butcher’s shop other than ham, bacon, and cooked meats that were also available from the grocery store’s provisions counter. Andrew Hailstones, a fishmonger who had a number of shops around the city, one of which was in Govan, was a distant relative of my father’s family. Intending purchasers of clothing did so at the drapers, ladies hats the milliners, bedding or curtains at soft furnishing stores, and men attended the gent’s outfiting department and so on.
Coming from a household inclined towards socialism and left wing politics, as soon as she was married my mother joined the KPCS Limited as a customer, and up to the 1960s she regularly attended the weekly woman’s guild meetings. She had a standing order with the Society for a copy of the SCOTTISH CO-OPERATOR fortnightly tabloid newspaper. Kinning Park society had begun production of this paper under its own name in 1891. But it was realised that greater sales could be achieved, so in 1893 ownership was passed to the SCWS which enabled it to be distributed with much wider coverage of news to all the other Societies in Scotland. As a former worker in the tailoring factory in Shieldhall my mother, and her mother before her and her sister, were keen members of the Co-op and whenever possible they bought everything from the local K.P. shops.
Staff hierarchy was headed by the shop manager, next was the under-manager, termed the second-hand, a position I held briefly in the 1950s when employed by the descendant of the Pollokshaws Society, the Glasgow South Society, followed by the cash desk staff and senior and junior counter hands. Lowest-of-the-low was the message-boys, whose main job was to deliver by request grocery orders to customer’s homes. They also did the most menial tasks, like sweeping floors and tidying up and cleaning the cheeses before they were put up on the provisions department’s marble slab to be cut up for sale. They assisted deliverymen and stacked bulk goods away into storage until it was required. Also, the general washing and cleaning, including the large street-front windows which were done frequently, daily in a shop with a fussy manager, with a bucket of water and a window brush with a small head on the end of a long pole. Water tended to trickle down the pole, soaking sleeves, arms and clothing of the user below waist level. In an attempt to avoid this, a four-inch rubber disc with a hole in the centre was supposed to be placed in the middle of the pole to shed the water. An alternative that was only partially successful was a small piece of rag or a length of twine knotted in the same position with a tail end hanging down.
All employees bought their own protective garments. Manager and second hand wore white linen coats with a breast and side pockets, while male provision counter workers had white breast-to-knee aprons. This apron was held up by a loop of cotton tape from the top corners which passed over the head to lie round the neck, and at the waist, tapes on either side were tied at the back. The items were collected weekly by the Co-op laundry which had to be paid for by the owner. Women wore a plain, coloured cotton overall that was taken home to be washed. The Linthouse Co-op grocery manager, Mr. Kilpatrick, is recalled as a popular mild mannered individual, and the bakery counter was overseen by a girl called Alice, a pre-teens favourite of mine.
HOURS AND CONDITIONS
Most shops opened at 8am and closed at 5.30pm Monday to Thursday, and 6 or 6.30pm on Fridays. All closed for lunch from 1 to 2.30pm, and during this time shopping areas were almost deserted. There was no late night shopping, no such thing as picking up a loaf or pint of milk at the still open newsagents, ice-cream or chip shop. Saturday closing was 4.30pm, and Tuesdays had that long discontinued weekday phenomenon, a half-holiday. Where industry in general had a 48-hour working week, the retail industry operated a 44 hour 5½ day week. To benefit shop workers, a by-law was in force by which all shops must close for a half-day during the six-day week, and this had to be the same day for all stores within the city with few exceptions. All except cafes, newsagents, barbers and chippies closed at 1pm on that day.
Districts outside the city boundary invariably had Wednesday or Thursday half-days, so people who lived within the outskirts of the city could shop on Tuesday afternoons simply by travelling to the nearest locality over the boundary. However, Govan was unfortunate in this respect in that somewhat distant Renfrew and Paisley were the nearest. Sometimes a tea time meal ended up as bread and jam when the wife remembered too late that it was Tuesday. My father, a union activist, was a shop steward with the Amalgamated Engineering Union (AEU). When I started work in 1945 he was rather put out when he found that the shop worker’s union, Union of Shop Distributive and Allied Workers (USDAW), had negotiated a forty-four hour working week, when his union’s workers were still on the forty-eight hour week.
A feature then of grocery/butcher/dairy shops, which applied to all food stores in general up to the 1960s, was that floors were treated with a sprinkling of sawdust. They were swept daily at closing time then a fresh covering was laid ready for the next working day. Fish shops with wooden or tiled floors and pubs also used sawdust, which was essential for mopping up the frequent drips and spills in the latter and, with no in-store refrigeration, melting ice in the former. Most merchandise was sold straight from bulk, and that and the poor quality of packaging of the time meant that liquid spillages were frequent, but the absorbent properties of sawdust usually took care of them. While my own experiences of working in a Co-op grocery store date from 1945 to 1959, from which these reminiscences are taken, all descriptions in this chapter are what would be found in shops in the 1930s.
Spreading sawdust on shop and pub floors probably originated at a time when local authorities were trying to improve the standard of hygiene in food shops with local bylaws and national legislation. In the days before marble counter tops and stainless steel and Formica (an early form of plastic) in working class areas, as closing time approached food shops would require much effort to tidy up, in which the laborious cleaning operation with soap and water with a scrubbing brush or mop were often skimped. As time passed and vigilance on health matters increased, it was recognised that sawdust itself wasn't exactly clean. The dust it generated in the spreading and sweeping up, the treading of many feet, to say nothing of scavenging dogs looking for scraps, and the almost mandatory shop’s cat to keep down mice and other vermin, was unhygienic. But sawdust was still being used on shop floors when I left the retail trade.
Suppliers of sawdust, who in another guise were probably rag and bone collectors, obtained it from one of the many local sawmills. Buying it by the bag-full, they went round the shops with their horse & cart selling it for something like sixpence a bag (as with coal, bag means sack). Pound for pound (weight) a hundred weight of sawdust would be about four times as bulky as coal, so the rag men’s pony-drawn light carts were ideal for this job.
A vivid recollection from that period is seeing a rickety contraption hauled by a broken down old nag rolling along the cobblestones through Linthouse towards Govan. It was probably coming from Clyde Sawmill at Hardgate Road, and had bulging sacks stacked up to a height that would have been impossible with coal, so that I wondered what they contained. The impression gained was that it was a load of feathers. In shops a biscuit tin, used to carry the sawdust when sprinkling it on the floor, was replenished from the sack, a fresh covering of which was spread by hand from the tin. Some managers showed awareness of the amount of dust this caused by insisting that the sawdust be dampened before being spread. Depending on the amount of business they did, Co-op grocery premises were usually large double shops, as was the Linthouse branch.
GROCERY SHOP LAYOUT AND FITTINGS
Retail premises were always divided into front and rear sections, the front being the place where the stock was displayed and sales transactions took place. The rear portion, invariably referred to as 'the back shop', was the stock storage area and where other activities took place relating to the trade, with a corner set aside among the piles of boxes and packages for staff tea breaks with no provision for convenience or comfort. The division between front and back shop was nearly always a solid wall of brick with an opening, or in larger premises two or more openings. Sometimes there was a door or, in hairdressers, cafes and other similar what could be called dry-goods premises, a beaded curtain.
In grocery front shops a wooden counter was fixed round in front of the three interior walls, with narrow breaks for access behind at the two corners. In the customer area of the one I was familiar with in Linthouse, near the long back counter there was a couple of ceiling supporting pillars. To one side, the counter and rear worktop of the provision section was of marble and the wall had white tiles, and assistants stood behind most of the counter space ready to attend to customer's requests.
Behind the provisions sections, solidly constructed wooden shelving covered rear and the side-walls up to frieze height, the upper shelves of which were stacked with packets of the lighter items. Heaver bottles and tins of merchandise were placed lower down, while soap and other domestic cleaning and disinfectant items with powerful smells were stored under the main section of counter. As the very high ceilings of the ground floors of the old tenements enabled the shelving to be built up quite high, a set of wooden ladders on small wheels, or a step ladder, was necessary.
For strengthening, the shelving had vertical supports of the same material which made the structures appear like a solid stack of boxes open at the front. Like all the rest of the interior other than the whitewashed frieze and ceiling, the woodwork and any exposed sections of walls were painted dark brown. Rear wall shelving from counter height down projected out a foot more than that above, providing a convenient platform to climb up on to reach high, but not the uppermost shelves. The deep shelf at the lower level was particularly suitable for keeping close to hand high turnover bulky items like packets of porridge oats and breakfast cereals.
SCALES AND WEIGHTS
Each item requested was fetched, usually one-at-a-time, with many items having to be weighed from bulk stock. Bulk commodities were placed conveniently to hand in sacks or crates sitting on the floor behind or in front of the counter, to be weighed out on brass beam-balance scales (below), two of which stood transversely, one at each end of the long rear counter. Two types of scales were in use at this time. The beam balance consisted of a round post about three feet high mounted for stability on a heavy black cast iron platform, with a cross-beam which passed through a gape near the top of the post and was balanced at the centre. From each end of the beam a shallow flat-bottomed pan was suspended by three strands of chain, which in repose hung about an inch up from the base-plate, the balancing of which using the brass weights lined up alongside determined the correct weight.
|Beam balance scales|
|2lb brass weight|
All these features were a combination of polished brass and blackened ornamental cast iron. One pan held the brass weight or weights corresponding to the amount of the item requested, while the other was for the item itself. 3lbs. of porridge oats might be asked for, or 2lb. of sugar, a pound (1lb) of currants, ½lb of butter, or ¼lb of tea. As it tended to loose its flavour if left exposed, tea was one of the earliest pre-packed provision items, which could nevertheless still be bought loose straight from the 56lb tea-chest in odd amounts. Tea chests are sometimes seen in tv dramas set before WWII.
Lined up alongside the balance scales there was a set of distinctively shaped brass weights. They stood on a low narrow wooden platform in shallow turned, graduated indentations, and ranged from one ounce, 2ozs., 1/4lb through ½lb to 1 and 2lbs, one of each, and in one of two forms. The most common design was round in section, rising from a bulbous base and tapering to another smaller swelling surmounted by a carrying loop having the weight value marked on top (above). Loops of the small weights were tiny, while those of the intermediate size accommodated one finger while the heavier ones had a broader loop conveniently shaped for two fingers. The other type of balance scales seen below has a pan with a spout for the commodity with four weights ¼, ½, ¾ & 1lb.
Weights of the other design seen in the balance scales sketch below were flat, like a thick disc tapering down slightly at the side with the upper face having the greater diameter. The top itself had a wide shallow recess, with the weight designation impressed therein. All weights had to be taken to Glasgow Corporation Weights and Measures Department annually for checking. In the bottom of each weight a deep hole had been drilled, into which molten lead was poured to make up the designated weight by the department. To prevent unscrupulous traders tampering with them a department seal which included date of check, serial number and crown mark, was stamped on the lead. I have found brass to be a comfortable metal to work with, a feeling engendered mainly by the memory of handling these weights. The photo above is of a 2lb weight of the tall type from this time.
An apocryphal story from the distant past about the chests of different grades of tea going the rounds of staff members at this time, was that on being told to sweep the floor, a new employee asked where to put the sweepings, and was told, dump them in the tea chest! But it is more than likely that this particular tea chest had been emptied of tea and was being used as a dustbin. It can be seen from this tale that where bulk commodities were broken down for sale in small amounts, many were open to adulteration, which thankfully modern packaging has virtual eliminated. Complaints about this in earlier times were difficult to deal with unless perpetrators were caught in the act, because with the items passing though a number of hands it was usually impossible to prove where the adulteration took place. Packaging used for dry goods items tended to be rather inefficient; virtually none was leak-proof, simply thin card boxes, often with no inner paper packet contained custard powder, corn flour or soap powder etc. Wherever a packet was put down it invariably left at least a trace of its contents behind. This could cause a problem when the weights and measures inspector called.
The scales for weighing at the provision counter were of the mechanical dial type. Like the other scales it was placed transversely across the counter, but it differed from the beam balance in that the commodity plate was of tin, an open flat square about ten inches to a side with a vertical raised edge at the back. This gave access round three sides of the plate for the convenient handling and weighing of this kind of produce, which on a sheet of grease-proof paper could be slid on and off from front or sides. With these scales, when an item is placed on the plate a needle pointed out the weight on a curved graduated scale on a dial in a large fan-shaped vertical extension. On later versions, the dial incorporated a graphic scale from which an instant price reading could be given for different items.
Berkel, Salter or Avery scales units for weighing at the provision counter were of the mechanical dial type. Like other scales it was placed transversely across the counter, but it differed from the beam balance in that the commodity pan was of tin, an open flat square of about ten inches with a vertical raised edge at the back. This gave access round three sides of the pan for the convenient handling and weighing of this kind of produce, which on a sheet of grease-proof paper could be slid on and off from front or sides. With the item placed on the pan a needle pointed out the weight on a curved graduated scale on dials on both sides of a large fan-shaped vertical extension. On later versions, the dial incorporated a graphic scale from which an instant price reading could be given for different commodities. The scales shown here has the dial set at 90º facing away from the user and differs slightly from the one described.
Cereals like porage oats, dried peas, split peas, butter beans, lentils, rice, and barley, butter, sugar, and many other items including dried fruit, raisins, currants, sultanas, dates, apricots etc., were all sold from bulk and had to be individually weighed out in whatever quantity was requested. Most cereals were dispensed from hundredweight (112lbs = 1cwt.) sacks, which I found as a grocery assistant a decade later just about as much as I could handle. Sugar, however, was delivered in 2cwt sacks, and trying to manhandle these with their dead weight and tendency to flop about when manoeuvring them was well beyond my ability. Another heavy bulk item was flour, plain and self raising, which came from the Co-op's own Regent Flour Mills (1902) at Kelvinhaugh, Partick, in white closely woven sacks in the odd quantity of 140lbs (10 stones).
BREAKING BULK AND PACKAGING
Sacks and crates of various bulk commodities were lined up sitting on the floor propped up in front of and behind the counter. When selling an item of 1lb. (pound) or ½lb., a tin scoop of a suitable size and unique shape (below) was used for dry commodities. These scoops of two or three different sizes resembled a length of tin tube, similar to an A1 tin can (roughly equal to today's 400g), cut in half along most of its length. The end of the tube was sealed off and the point formed a catchment with the open end having a rounded scooping edge. The largest scoops which were too big to grip, such as the one used for flour and porage oats, had a handle projecting from the centre of the strengthened rear.
All scoops had the covered-in catchment section on top at the rear. Scoops of the requested commodity were put into a thick brown paper bag of the required size and weighed on the scales. Then the mouth was closed up and folded over in one of two or three different ways to keep it shut. There being no convenient sealant like sellotape in those days, attempts at sealing the bags were often ineffective which, unless care was taken to keep them upright in the shopping basket, they could open and spill the contents.
Until the early 1950s the five most popular dried fruits, currents, raisins, sultanas, prunes and dates, arrived from the wholesale, each packed solidly in 56lb wooden crates which by the 1950s had been replaced with heavy duty cardboard cartons. At the packing plant, after being weighed the fruit had been compressed into solid blocks to fit into crates or cartons which were then sealed. When tipped out on a marble counter, lumps had to be prized off, and the clumps were rubbed together between the hands for the individual fruits to be separated out. This was easy if the fruit was fairly dry, but it could be a laborious task if it was moist and sticky.
Pre-packaging only began seriously after the war, but even then many items continued to arrive in bulk. A fresh development was something I became involved was as a pre-packer, during quiet periods’ staff members in busy stores were detailed to weigh and pack quantities of the items in greatest demand, to have them ready for immediate sale. The plain brown paper bags referred to above were the standard packaging for dry and the above dried fruit items. They were available in a number of sizes, which corresponded to the weight of the commodity being measured out, from small to big enough to hold a stone of potatoes. The extra-large brown bags that were available in the past at some supermarket checkouts for a time were of this style in material and shape.
THE PROVISION COUNTER, HAMS,
COOKED MEATS & BUTTER
All Ham, bacon and cooked meat, and butter and lard etc. were sold loose. It is curious that I’ve no memory of seeing margarine until during the war. Perhaps this was because my mother preferred butter so it did not appear in our house until food rationing began in 1940. This meant that mother commandeered all the butter ration of the family, while Dad and I had to make do with the margarine which then came, not in the tubs of today, but like butter, in ½lb blocks wrapped in grease-proof paper.
Provision counters located next to a window were slabs of marble and the window area itself had white tiled surfaces up to the full height. There were shelves of marble slabs at the open rear of the window space for display, supported on chromed pillars, with a gap left in the centre for access to the window area. A selection of hams and bacon was set up on these shelves, resting on smooth wooden boards with bat-type handles similar in shape to but much larger than the butter spades to be described below. There were triangular section strips fixed along the upper edges of the board making a channel to stop the hams rolling off. To identify the type and display the price, each ham had a white celluloid square with rounded corners detailing the type and price of the ham or cold meat written on it, fixed on a mini-skewer stuck on top. Below is an example of a display like this in the window of a small private grocery in Pollokshaws in 1910.
Marble slabs of working surfaces and the tiled surrounds of provision counters were apparently first introduced by Lipton’s in the early 1900s as being easily cleaned. Butter and lard, and probably margarine also, were weighed by scooping a portion off the 56lb. rectangular block of Scottish, Australian or New Zealand butter, or the 50kg round wooden barrel of Danish that became available after the war. Scooping was done with butter spades, three-quarter inch thick flat oblong paddles of dark hardwood about the size of table tennis bats with a bat type handle. They had chisel shaped forward edges, parallel sides, and a fine-grooved working surface about four inches across with the ribs of the grooves running lengthways.
The straight chisel edge of the spade was used to dig off from bulk a roughly estimated quantity, which was placed on a sheet of white greaseproof paper and put on scales, then added to and taken away from during weighing. It was then slapped up roughly into a mini brick-like shape with the spade, which left an imprint of the ribbed marking all over its surface, then wrapped up in the paper. A tall white pottery dish, with BUTTER marked prominently on it in large black letters, broad and deep and containing sufficient water to cover the working surface of the spade stood alongside. The spades were stored here between sales, but the compartment of the dish was narrow, barely wide enough to contain two or three spades, which had to be kept wet to prevent the butter sticking to them. It appears that the ribbing on the working surface helped to cut down wet lateral splatter. Everything in this department had to be kept scrupulously clean and the water changed daily, in warm weather perhaps two or three times.
Has anyone today under the age of 50, other than those who work with it, seen the cheese they buy in sealed plastic wrapping being cut to size into the blocks which are available in supermarket cold compartments or at the deli' counter? Would they know that the best way to divide up a large block is by using a length of thin wire? Cheeses used to arrive at the shop from the creamery in bulk in the form of large rounds with a parallel side and flat ends, sometimes singly, sometimes two cheeses in a divided, round faceted wooden wire-bound slatted crate. They came from Ireland and are seen below being unloaded from a ship at Glasgow docks. Note the docker (dock worker) in the top centre background who had arranged the slings for unloading part of the cargo. Whole cheeses were like a twenty inch thick length cut from a giant solid round rod, or tree trunk of that dimension in diameter. They were muslin covered individually with each weighing around 56lbs, and this is where the term cheese cloth, a type of muslin, originated. Another type of cheese, which came with the rounded side wrapped in a continuous strip of four inch wide bandaging, was the easiest to prepare for sale.
|1940s – there were two cheeses in each crate.|
The moulds the cheeses were made in is lined with the muslin, so that the cloth was embedded to a greater or lesser degree in its surface which had to be removed before the block could be cut up for sale. With some cheeses the cloth was strong and easy to peel off, but sometimes the fibre was thin and weak and separated easily when an attempt was made to peel it off. This unwrapping job, usually done by a shop’s message boy, was dreaded in case it was the weaker material, which might in the worst case require a lot of work with the entire surface having to be scraped using a boning knife. After the cloth was removed the whole surface was again scoured with the edge of the knife blade, leaving a dark, blotched and sometimes still mouldy looking crust. It was then ready to be divided up using the cheese wire, a length of piano wire with a 'T' handle at each end to divide it into portions.
Cutting a whole cheese was done by placing it on the marble slab counter lying on its round side, and with a knee braced against a flat end, hauling through the wire which had been wrapped round it to divide it in half. This was done again and again, reducing it down to wedges of saleable size. During cold weather, when butter was hard and difficult to work with the spades, it could be cut into portions for weighing with the cheese wire. Today, on the rare occasions when cheese comes in large oblong blocks to specialist shops that still sell it cut from bulk, older shopkeepers continue to divide it up into wedges, but the give-away is that the face of the end is flat and crustless.
Today’s cheese must be made by a somewhat different process. In the past most cheddar types had an internal appearance similar to a sponge but with fewer holes. This sometimes caused a problem when it was being cut, because when reduced to the average small half-pound wedge size the holes could cause it to break up into crumbs. The solid plastic wrapped bricks of today are neat and easy to use, but does it really taste the way it used to? Sometimes I imagine it looks and often tastes like plastic compared to the wholesome but perhaps less hygienic stuff of long ago.
Much more could be written by going into greater detail of the tools of the grocery trade of long ago, but as an example the cheese wire should be described. The single strand four-feet length of about 18 gauge piano wire had a Bowden cable type nipple on each end, and the handles were four-inch long round steel rods about ½" in diameter with rounded ends. In the centre of the length of each rod a hole was drilled big enough to hold the nipple. One side of the hole was cut through leaving a slot wide enough for the wire to pass through, allowing the nipple to fit into the hole. Some cheeses were denser than others, with tough crusts needing a lot of effort to haul the wire through, and the excellent 'T' grips at each end of the thin strand cut down wear and tear on fingers. The wire with handles attached usually hung from a hook or nail at the cheese cutting area of the provision counter. The wire could develop a kink and broke with use and had to be replaced. A description of the ham slicer is worth a page of its own, but it will be limited to three paragraphs and an image.
THE HAM SLICING MACHINE
Recalling the slicing machine produces mixed feelings. In the continuing post-war scarcity conditions of some food items during the second half of the 1940s, from the initial exultation at being let loose on such an efficient mechanism, and working with still strictly rationed and highly prized hams, I found it to be a fascinating piece of machinery. But there was the distasteful job of having to keep it clean and the not insignificant danger of sustaining a serious injury. While the blade was well guarded, the guards had to be removed for proper cleaning, and this was usually when accidents occurred (fingers intact but scars shown on request!)
The Berkel Co. manufactured machines for slicing ham and cold meat that were manually operated. They were larger and much more solidly constructed than those seen in the provisions and butcher’s shops of today with their electric powered blade and manual push-pull sloping 'V' beds. The old Berkel slicer was assembled from heavy cast red-painted metal parts. The item to be cut was held steady by being placed on a horizontal flat moveable stainless steel bed, and gripped between a toothed clamp and a platform with rows of low mini-spikes which moved along horizontally and automatically for each slice of a selected thickness.
The operator stood alongside, and worked it by turning a large heavy cast disc wheel mounted vertical and parallel with the counter. Turning the wheel by its pillar handle caused the bed containing the item being cut to surge back and forward, and the slices produced by the spinning blade were caught and laid on greaseproof paper then transferred to adjacent scales for weighing. Thickness of the slices was controlled by the dial selector at the side, the shiny part at lower left in the image below. The blade was sharpened by a pair of grinding discs set at the correct angles enclosed in a metal covered holder projecting above it. This job had to be done weekly after the blade had been cleaned of grease and fat. With the machine handle being turned briskly, when the lever above the stones (not seen) was gently moved over, the carriage was lowered over the turning-blade edge producing a small shower of sparks. With the passage of time an electric powered machine of the same design was acquired.
|Ham slicing machine 1940s.|
They arrived from the Co-op’s wholesale department in planked wooden crates, with two compartments and narrow vents in the sides. A loose lid was attached and held in position with a couple of loops of rope that served as hinges. The carrying handles were short lengths of heavier rope passed through the solidly built up wood of the crate ends and knotted inside at both ends. The box held fifteen dozen in each compartment in six layers, each holding 2½ dozen separated by a sheet of medium weight card. A thin card matrix held the eggs separated, which was removed to allow them to be lifted out.
When the matrix was lifted out the eggs tended to roll about which caused an occasional breakage, but a later development found them resting in dimpled papier-mâché trays having the matrix, which also helped to better spread the weight of the upper layers bearing down on the lower ones. If uncontaminated by breakages, the matrix was folded up neatly concertina-like for return along with the card/papier-mâché separators in the empty box to be re-used. The single layer deeper papier-mâché separators of today were introduced in the 1950s, and the boxes had a deposit that was returned when the empty box went back.
In the 1930s the eggs were transferred from the box to, and heaped up loose in, large drawers with a glass front and a thick layer of sawdust spread out on the bottom. In those days nearly all eggs were white, the reverse of the situation today. Brown eggs were unusual, and many people imagined they tasted better and asked for them. Purchases were lifted out by the handful by counter assistants and put into ordinary sometimes flimsy paper bags with no protective packing whatsoever.
Paper 'pokes', as these bags were called, were perfectly suitable for holding rolls, cakes and tea-bread and biscuits, which could be closed by holding the open end at the corners and whirling the bag round to form a twist in each corner, which if it wasn't overfilled kept the opening shut. But doing that in a moment of absentmindedness or inattention caused by gossiping, with half-a-dozen eggs could be catastrophic. A cartoon is recalled from a 1950s issue of THE GROCER trade magazine, depicting a shop girl, distracted by a titbit of scandal from a group of customers, in an instant of forgetfulness whirling a poke of eggs with the bottom opening up and sending the contents flying over them.
There were breakages and a few eggs were cracked but still otherwise whole. Today, nobody would accept an egg with a cracked shell. Until it was realised in a later age that they could be contaminated and a source of food poisoning, when salvageable they were eagerly snapped up at a reduced price. Fortunately when cooked properly bacteria were killed off, but some people liked to beat up a raw egg in a little milk and drink it down. My father did this occasionally and he used to urge me to try it, but I just couldn't face it. Anyone doing that with a chipped egg was taking a grave but then unperceived risk. Something never encountered now are rotten eggs. They were found occasionally so each box was checked by sniffing inside when it was opened. But some remained undetected and most people, after breaking one into the frying pan which ruined its contents, always broke them into a saucer first.
Potatoes were delivered in 1cwt jute or hessian sacks in the same way as coal. They were tipped into a bunker in the back shop which in large busy shops might hold up to a ton. Like the domestic coal bunker, the front of the potato bunker had a folding down section which allowed half the delivery load to be tipped in. Then the flap was lifted up and secured in position to hold the rest. The bunker base had steep slopes which guided the contents to the front where there was a small lifting door of portcullis design wide enough for a metal domestic type coal shovel to be used. Close by on the floor there was low, heavy iron beam balance scales with a weight-pan on one side and a selection of iron weights of quarter, half, and one stone (3½, 7 & 14lbs) lying about loose which were a tripping hazard for the unwary. The weights were square sectioned with a slight upwards taper, and were handled by means of rings loosely attached to fixed loops on top. On the other side of the beam, suspended by a hook from which it was easily dismounted and hanging at an angle with the mouth up, was a receptacle which in shape was like a giant shorter fatter version of the cereal scoop described above. It was large enough to hold up to a stone of potatoes, and had a barred opening on the bottom towards the rear through which any earth with the potatoes was supposed to riddle.
A small low sided woodenbox was placed on the floor below the pan to catch the earth that came through, which inevitably became the cat's toilet box. There being no system for washing potatoes prior to being put on sale then, in wet weather a bag might contain a significant proportion of earth that was included in the weight of the bag which the trader was expected to treat as loss. While they were aware that it wasn't good customer relations to sell earth with their potatoes, the loss had to be made up somehow. Also, if the spuds lay in the bunker for any length of time, unless they came from a region of very clayey soil, the earth could dry out eventually and passed easily through the grill of the weighing pan. Various dodges were used to minimise this loss, one of which was to measure out the correct weight then, in the privacy of the back shop, riddle the earth out before tipping the potatoes into the customer’s basket. A weights and measures inspector would have had to be on permanent duty to prevent this.
THE BAKERY COUNTER - BREAD
All bread was delivered to shops un-sliced and unwrapped on breadboards containing batches of two dozen of what were then known as ‘plain’ loaves stuck together which had to be eased apart. Deliveries were made by the United Co-operative Baking Society Ltd. (UCBS) from their bakery in McNeil Street Huchiesontown adjacent to Gorbals. When it arrived it was so fresh that it was usually still steaming, having been baked overnight they were loaded on to the van straight from the ovens. This is the bread I long to taste now, the like of which is never encountered today, even from shops with in-store bakeries, although I would have to be prepared to be disappointed because of age related failing sense of taste.
Bread has to stand for a time to cool off and firm up before it can be put through the slicing and wrapping machine. Today it is sometimes difficult to find a Scots plain loaf, or indeed any bread, warm and soft, too soft really to be easily sliced with the sharpest bread knife. It had a brittle black top crust that ‘sparked’ crumbs when cut with the knife, then spread with butter which melts and runs through it, and home made jam. A poignant story heard in 1990 about a home for the elderly that, with the aid of interested community volunteers, arranged to provide a meal of favourite food the residents remembered from the past. They all asked for the Scots delicacy - a piece and jam! Their reaction to the granted request isn't recorded, but my feeling is they were expecting the bread of nostalgia, of the above description. One hopes they weren't too disappointed.
When separating individual batch-baked plain loaves the division was sometimes ragged, and hungry urchins sent to buy bread could be seen peeling off strips to pop in their mouth on the way home. This was something I indulged in a small way when the opportunity occurred, but some mothers must have been peeved at getting little more than half a loaf brought home by their now less than hungry offspring. A well remembered stern admonition from my Mother was 'don't eat new bread, it's not good for you, it'll give you a sore tummy', used to puzzle me. Considered now, perhaps it was simply a ruse to discourage me from sampling when sent out to buy it.
Hygiene was absent here too among the less fussy, for the unwrapped loaves were simple popped in as they were bought among the other purchases, perhaps to stand or lie on top of loose potatoes in the bottom of the shopping basket. Of the three main white-bread types of that era, only plain loaves wrapped and sliced are still available today. The other, the peculiarly shaped lopsided French loaf I haven't seen or heard of for decades, although specialist bakers might have it.
Some people considered bread from the previous day made the best toast, and occasionally were on the lookout for a bargain of this sort. The poorest families, of course, bought discounted cutting bread whenever they could get it. There were others who didn't like new bread and asked for a cutting loaf that would be firm enough to slice more easily with the bread knife. Also, if the shop had cakes and tea-bread left from the previous day, none of which were pre-packed, they too were sold as ’yesterdays’ at a reduced price.
Bakery products left over from the previous day lying unwrapped became firm. Bread in particular dried up and such loaves were known as 'cutting' bread. They were liable to be rejected by purchasers and were normally sold off at a reduced price at the end of the day. Shopkeepers anxious to avoid loss in any form sometimes tried to palm off old bread, so perceptive customers always tested loaves for softness by squeezing the ends. Anyone buying more than two loaves had to be especially vigilant, because a favourite ploy was to include a cutting loaf with the fresh ones.
TRANSPORT AND DELIVERY
The boards on which bread was transported were quarter-inch-thick plywood roughly 5’ X 20” with a bracing frame of 2” X 1” timber round the edge and metal ‘L’ shaped brackets screwed on at the corners. Bakery delivery vans had metal racking that allowed the low-sided breadboards to be carried separated, with their loads free from any weight resting on top. The racking was set up for rows of boards stacked laterally with one longitudinal section at a side. Loaded from the rear, they were slid forward until each rack was full. The racking was necessary because a board of soft new bread would have been squashed flat with the weight of more than a couple of loaded boards resting on top.
A full board with twenty-four loaves was heavy and unwieldy and probably weighed around 30/40 pounds, and the method used to load and unload the delivery vans was that the driver and his mate carried them singly and individually on their head. To do this day after day without ending up having a flat topped cranium, as well as risk getting a skelf (sliver of wood) from the underside of the board, they wore an ordinary flat cap with a special padding insert. This cap made them look rather deformed, as if they had heads shaped like the Frankenstein monster. Even then, some found the weight on their neck muscles a bit much, and used one forearm as support on the underside of the board while steadying it with the other hand by gripping an edge.
Pulling a board out from the racking at shoulder height or above and placing it on your head was tricky enough, as I found out at a later date when assisting a driver. But just think about lifting a full board from waist level, from the lowest van rack; to do that to lift it up to head height, arms with the strength of a wrestler were required. After the boards nearest the rear of the van were removed, to save jumping up inside and pulling the others to the rear, drivers had a cleek on a pole to catch on to the edge of the next board and slide it towards them.
Few shops had back doors for taking deliveries, and this meant that while a good deal of experience was required to be able to balance the board when standing still, it took a lot of practice to stride confidently through a crowded shop safely carrying a full board. Shops had similar racking, usually in the back-shop, for storing the boards. When empty the boards were stacked on end for returning leaning against a wall in a corner, from where the bread-man gathered an armful of five or six at a time and walked out through the shop, trailing them with the lower ends scraping (scliffing in local parlance) along the ground.
CAKES AND BUNS
The range of cakes on sale then was smaller than what is available today, but there was another cheaper kind of delicacy on sale at that time called tea-bread which came in a number of forms. Some of them are still to be had, perhaps under a different collective name, such as pancakes, crumpets, potato scones and doughnuts. In addition there were others never seen today so far as is known; cream scones, soda scones, sultana scones, treacle scones, wheaten scones, Paris buns, Chelsea buns, London buns, spiced buns, custard buns and cream and plain cookies. Recalled in particular are iced fingers with a jam filling, made in batches of six from which the quantity requested could be broken off. And that list is by no means complete. One is doughnuts!
Made in the McNeil Street Bakery with a variety of cakes and a selection of miniature loaves of different types, all of the above, plus other delicacies long forgotten, were laid out for sale direct off the breadboards on which they were delivered. On delivery, in shops with a high turnover, the boards of cakes and tea-bread were set out uncovered lying side by side across the counter. Until sales made more room, this took up so much space at the bakery counter that not much was left free for customers’ purchases.
Shop staff in busy cramped establishments sometimes had to improvise a rack for displays of these items. This was done by stacking the boards up in layers as much as two or three high separated with larger soup or beans tins placed in each corner, to which access was tight. Among a variety of small cakes, one, a fruitcake, was nicknamed the fly’s graveyard. They may be still available today from small traditional bakers, but a story about them comes to mind, which isn't for the squeamish. There was a court case during the 'thirties concerning a small nearby baker, fortunately not one Mum patronised, the proprietor of which was prosecuted by the public health authorities for using dried fruit infested with beetles in his cakes. The popularity of fruitcakes took a long time to recover from that incident in our locality, and for years afterwards, before eating people carefully opened them up to examine the contents.
They were produced in the UCBS bakery in John Knox Street, Clydebank. As a member of the Co-op woman’s guild, on one occasion Mum went with them on an organised visit to be shown round the factory. Being either of pre-school age or off school during the summer holidays, I was taken along. A recollection of that event is of standing next to a long conveyer tray, part of the biscuit making machinery, of dark coloured biscuits, probably bourbon creams, which were moving along between production and packing, when a member of the bakery staff picked one and handed it to me. Because I wasn't fond of them it was accepted with marked lack of gratitude. I wanted to ask, but was inhibited from doing so by the situation, where the chocolate digestives or jam sandwiches were made. The photo below is of a half size tin produced by an independent baker.
UCBS biscuits delivery vans were of an archaic design of Albion manufacture, probably one stage on from the open cab type. They were tall vehicles, the body having a flat right-angle-edged roof with a high thin double-barred rail fixed round the edge. Biscuits were bulk-packed in two sizes of metal tins with loose lids. The larger tin was roughly nine inches square by ten deep and the smaller (above) half that depth. The contents were packed stacked on their sides in these tins with plenty of tissue and corrugated paper packing to keep them firm and prevent breakages. After filling at the factory, the tins were covered with the over-fitting lid and sealed all round with gummed coloured paper strip carrying the UCBS logo. Many of the varieties available then are still around today among a vastly expanded range, all of which are now pre-packaged. The Co-op of today is radically different in that it has no bakeries of its own.
Biscuit were displayed in their tins on a wheeled rack that stood in front of the counter with them angled forward for easy access by the assistants, and purchases were weighed out on scales. An effort to protect the contents from dust was evident in that there were long narrow hinged windows on each level of the rack, to cover the lidless tins. They had to be held up without a prop for access which was sometimes a tricky operation when holding the lid up with an elbow while trying to lift out the biscuits. Tins were returnable, and post-war a deposit of 1/- was charged to the shop for each one. The empties from pervious deliveries were carried back to the factory on the van roof round which the rail was high enough for them to be stacked in two layers. This rail gave the vehicles an odd appearance as they returned to Clydebank at the end of a delivery run. It made them appear to be top heavy, and unless every scrap of tissue packing was removed from each tin, a confetti-like slipstream of it was blown off the vehicle and deposited along the road.
The bakery closed down in the 1960s and was converted to a wines & spirits warehouse. From 1974 to 1983 I worked there as a fork truck driver in what had been the garage part of the building in Langholm Street.
Jam was sold in clear glass jars confined to the two sizes mentioned in the story in my first book AGC of the pond-fishing expeditions, 1lb. and 2lb, of the same shape as the most common type in use today. However, there were no such convenient guaranteed-to-seal aluminium screw caps then. Some brands had the simple round white gummed-edge paper and elastic band closures, a method used by home jam makers, while others had a stout card pop-on lid. The jars of that era had a thicker lip suitable for these elastic or card closures, and could be returned to shops to have the halfpenny deposit returned. Not long before this time jam containers were stone jars, and some of these were still around in the 1930s. They continued to be used by jam making housewives who had probably held on to them for many years. Even post-war, probably a generation after they were last used by jam factories, stone jars were returned for the refund by women who had unearthed them from a cupboard where they had lain until the time came for their disposal, or by children recovering them from a midden in the hope of getting the ha’penny deposit. These stone jars were of a similar material to the containers available in a later age for home-made meat roll.
Most bottled drinks today have the ubiquitous aluminium re-usable screw-on cap. But in earlier years all alcoholic drink and cordial bottles were corked, which could involve much use of the corkscrew. But soft drinks and beer, in fact all carbonated drinks, were sold in bottles sealed with what appeared to be stone screw stoppers. This type of closure, the origin of the local slang term ‘screw-tops’, was applied to bottled beer which was sealed with these stoppers. Never having found out if the material was stone or a manufactured composition, I can't be sure of how they were produced, but it certainly looked and felt like stone with a pleasantly smooth surface.
Tops of bottles in which lemonade and beer were sold had a deep thick lip to withstand the force of the stopper being screwed into the neck. Under a thick solid cap with its milled edge to give a good grip for unscrewing, the slightly tapered tongue of the stopper had a coarse threaded screw that fitted into threads in the neck of the bottle. Under the stopper-head there was a heavy-duty red rubber seal, like a thick washer, which did its job effectively., but these washers were desirable items for boys to use to make projectile launchers. On finding an empty returnable bottle, to benefit from it by getting the halfpenny deposit refund depended on it having a stopper complete with seal. Acquiring one of these small thick rubber bands usually meant having to forego the ha'penny. In other words, if there was no stopper complete with rubber seal, there would be no refund.
Lemonade too used to be bottled in stone containers having the same kind of stopper as the above described bottles. Even in the thirties ginger beer could still be bought in these dumpy stone bottles. Then it was called stone ginger, presumably this was the origin of the local word ‘ginger’ which came to be applied to soft drinks in general. Some years ago modern plastic imitations of these bottles filled with ginger beer with a very realistic appearance have been on sale. Pottery hot water bottles for warming the bed (seen below on the left of the stove top) that may be still available today have a similar larger kind of stopper and seal.
Soda siphons today are heavy-duty plastic containers operated by a CO2 pressure cylinder. The old type was a tall wide bottle of clear thick glass with fluted sides. It had a narrow neck surmounted by a chromed metal tap with spout and operating lever, and an internal glass tube for drawing up the contents. Siphons were available where soft drinks were sold. We used to imagine that if they could have been refilled with water they would have been ideal for children’s scooshing games. But availability of the siphon for this was carried well beyond the reach of our finances and of course we didn't know the bottle had to be factory pressurised. Deposit on the bottle was greater than the cost of the contents, with a total of something like 1/10 (one-shilling-and-ten-pence, equal to 8p) for a full one, with a shilling (1/-) of that constituting the returnable deposit.
TOMATOES AND THE TOMATO BASKETS
Locally grown tomatoes from the Clyde Valley were delivered to shops in returnable baskets. Only Scotch and English produce was available at this time. In post war years, when Dutch, Guernsey and Spanish imports began to arrive, the Scotch varieties, which were dearer but had a better flavour, were the choice of the vast majority of people. They could be identified from what was considered inferior tasting English that were used mainly for frying and the later cheaper foreigners by the smell of mint from the stem. Though fairly flimsy the tomato baskets were handy for many jobs like carrying shopping, in home and garden. A proportion of those passing through the shops were retained or sold to customers at the deposit price of thru’pence each.
The baskets were made from two inch broad by thirty-second-of-an-inch thick pliable strips of wood, plaited, overlapped and shaped into roughly an eighteen inch x eight inch x six inch deep tray, with a single thin tin-strip pivoting handle fixed over the centre. When it was empty, the handle could be turned down 180 degrees to lie across the bottom, allowing the baskets to be stacked. When bent across the grain the strips of wood usually cracked, but most of the fibres remained firmly knitted. The lip of the basket itself was stiffened all round with folded-over-and-stapled additional lengths of strip, which made handy, very light and surprisingly strong carrying containers.
Tomatoes then were only seasonally available and were picked at the yellow stage by the growers before they turned red. It was a common sight to see the mid window ledges of house with a few yellow ones laid out to ripen in the sun. In the early 1990s a tv drama entitled Dr. Finlay set in the late 1940s and rebroadcast in 2014 was shown with the period sets accurately laid out. In a few scenes yellow tomatoes were observed sitting on a window ledge!
THE CASH DESK
Another feature of Co-op shops was that in all grocery stores cash payments for any transactions were taken to a central cash desk. In most other shops large or small, cash was handled and change given out by the assistant serving. In these shops, at cash receipt points there was a specially laid out drawer below the counter, with a flat, thick wooden block having eight hemispherical depressions occupying the whole area in which the cash drawings were placed. Coins of individual denominations were put in the depressions, 2/6 (the half-crown), 2/- (florin), 1/-, 6d, 3d (the old tiny silver one which was smaller than the present 5p), 1d, ½d, and ¼d, the farthing that was soon to be withdrawn from circulation. My mother used to say that as a young girl, on the rare occasions she was given a hap’enny to spend it came with the admonition ‘don’t spend it all in the one shop!’ The smooth, polished by use, sides of the cash drawer block depressions made it easy to rapidly scoop out the coins when giving change.
Located just inside between the two double-doors leading into the shop off the street, the Linthouse Co-op grocery shop's cash desk was an enclosed space big enough to accommodate two or three women who were known as cash girls. Despite their title they were usually older women who were good with figures and regarded as competent and trustworthy. They worked perched on stools, with large ledgers and accounts books laid out on the broad sloping wooden surface which was the lid of a desk. A couple of cash drawers of the type described above were located here, and these women handled all cash receipts. My late wife worked in the cash desk of the Pollokshaws Co-op Society’s busy drapery store in Shawbridge Street from the late 1940s until we married in 1957.
The cash desk compartment had an elevated floor and external chest high walls of sectioned wood panelling topped with glass round the three sides to above head height, in one section of which on one side there was a door with an internal snib (bolt). Of the windows along the front, two had a small semi-circular opening at the bottom at chest level with a wooden ledge extending on both sides of the partition, through which cash and share book was passed through in direct transactions when accounts were being settled. The Co-op was one of a very few retail businesses which allowed credit, but the system was limited in that any debt should, in theory, be covered by the amount recorded in the share book of any customer taking advantage of the ‘credit’ offer.
In smaller shops payments for purchases required the remittance to be taken to the cash desk by the serving assistant, who then returned with the change. But busier shops, the Linthouse store was one, had a novel system designed to save time. It was a pulley and wire catenary arrangement rigged horizontally, which radiated out well above head height from the cash desk to four points spaced out round the counters, on each wire of which a small metal carriage ran back and forth on rollers. Assistants were allocated positions at the counter to work at, and there were convenient shared despatch points to the cash desk, each with a stout box or stool on the floor to use as a step to enable them to reach it.
A metal cup with lugs containing the cash and check/receipt showing the total value of the purchases was fixed into the underside of the carriage, which hung from the wire and ran on the rollers. The carriage, propelled by an elastic catapult operated by pulling a cord with a wooden knob on the end, was propelled swiftly along the cable to its farther end over the cash desk. Here it was trapped and held ready for the return journey with the change, and this was the reason for the elevated floor within the desk compartment. While the wires had to be well above head height in the open part of the shop, it provided a large stable platform that allowed the girls in the cash desk to be within easy reach of the mechanism. Because it resembled vaguely a form of railway, it fascinated me, and I longed for a chance to operate it. But by the time I came to work in a shop like this it was a relatively modern one that never had it, and the system had by then passed out of general use.
Part of the Co-ops shopping system was that any customer could have their purchases, always referred to as ‘messages’, delivered free. When I started on this bottom rung in November 1945 at the age of fifteen there was a situation that used to amaze me. In addition to those people who bought large quantities and lived far enough away to justify taking advantage of the delivery service, there were one or two who lived alone and nearby and bought relatively little. In one case it was a woman who lived in a house above the shop. I was one of four message boys employed in the very busy shop of the long gone Pollokshaws Society in Cowglen Terrace, Househillwood, and the lady in question caused deep resentment among us.
But age and experience has shown that she may have had an infirmity, perhaps a heart condition, which justified her use of the service. Shopping for one person, after ordering half-a-dozen items which she could almost have put in a pocket, she then went upstairs to sit and wait for one of us to arrive with them, although she may have been simply attracted by the novelty. Rationing and wartime shortages that remained in effect during my apprenticeship had caused a take-it-or-leave-it attitude to develop among the service industry employees towards customers.
A barrow or bike was the usual way an order too heavy to carry was delivered. The bike had a heavy black painted frame with a large comfortable saddle and upright type handlebars. A compartment constructed of the same material was fixed to the frame over the small front wheel, which had a large cane basked to carry the groceries. A black metal plate fixed below the crossbar in the frame carried the business owner's name and address in white lettering. The bike in the photo above was the nearest I could find on the internet to the ones recalled. All it needed to be correct was a large wicker basket in the compartment over a much smaller front wheel, a plate with the proper title described above, and a black saddle.
Shop’s barrows were of two sizes. The smaller one had small solid all metal wheels, and a stout wooden frame similar to a four-step ladder with shaped hand grips. A metal blade projecting out at right-angles (or thereabouts) across the width in front of the single axle so it could rest safely in the ‘up’ position on the ground. This type was ideal for handling heavy items such as full sacks or crates being deliver from the wholesale supplier or being moved about within the shop. The other barrow was a larger version having large cart-type metal shod spoked wheels on a sprung axle, with legs near the handle end to allow it to stand with the stretcher-like load bed horizontal three feet above the ground.
Before the arrival of supermarkets an aspect of shop life taken very seriously was window dressing. Today it is a comparatively rare well paid professional occupation, with only windows of big city centre stores dressed in the way those of most conventional shops of this earlier age used to be treated, although then it was done in a much less elaborate way. In the thirties virtually all shop-window spaces down to the smallest and meanest were used as display and advertising mediums. In a large shop with a few windows, if there was an assistant who showed an aptitude for creating attractive displays, they were highly regarded by managers and were encouraged to do the work. It is unlikely there were college courses for the practice as early as this. That came later. Otherwise it was considered to be so important that the manager himself or the second-hand (under manager) did it.
Unless you possessed some artistic talent and could employ it to set out pleasing displays of a selection of commodities from stock, and prepare cards with prices and slogans, it could be a very disheartening business. To try to encourage enthusiasm managers of Co-op grocery department’s organised competitions among branches, but it was a case of if you had no pseudo-architectural ability, forget it, for it wasn't something that could be easily learned. As an artistic philistine the work never appealed to me because there seemed to be something demeaning in heaping up tins of soup and beans, like a child playing with toy building bricks.
Tinned food was regarded by some people as something to avoid where possible. My Dad was one. The range of these items was much less than it is today, and something encountered occasionally may have been the reason. On rare occasions a tin of food was found to be 'swollen', indicating that the contents had gone off and had to be discarded, and some customers were observed checking the ends of tins they bought to make sure they were depressed slightly. An explanantion for this has been ancountered in recent times in investigative science programmes on TV, that the cause was contamination by the dreaded botulism! Although he did so Dad was always wary and scornful of eating anything from a tin.
Products manufactured by the Co-op were generally comparable in price and of above the average quality of those of private traders, but the main attraction of the Co-op for its customers was the dividend. To qualify for it you had to become a member of a society. It was a simple matter of filling in an application form and paying a shilling for the initial deposit to open an account. To earn as much ‘divi' as possible customers were encouraged to buy everything from the Society's stores. Each member was allocated a share number, and each time you bought anything from any of the shops you gave your number, which was duly recorded with the amount on paper by a system I think was known as Climax Checks. It was recorded in a tall narrow book in triplicate with carbon paper placed between the leaves. The pink tissue-like sheets of these were perforated into small numbered oblongs about the size of cigarette cards, and were referred to as cheques although I recall seeing it spelled as checks. These checks were laid out two abreast and twenty high in the ‘book’ and the carbon paper produced three copies of each number recorded. The top copy was removed and given to the customers to allow them to keep a check on the accuracy of the final quarterly total of purchases as calculated by the society’s accountants. The other two copies were retained by the society for their records.
Societies had a department called The Counting House in which women workers were employed for the task. Share numbers were of course unique. Even after the passage of so many decades I still remember not only my share number from when I joined the Pollokshaws Society in the late 1940s (4735), but also my mother's (4653) and my grandmother's (173). The latter two were of the Kinning Park Society. At first Mary Chamber's low number seemed to indicate that she had joined very early in the life of the Kinning Park Society. But it must have been a re-issue because the society was formed during the 1870s more than twenty years before she arrived in Govan. Despite having been an employee from 1945, I didn’t become member until the late 1940s, when I was allocated the above number. However a merger took place between the Kinning Park and Pollokshaws Societies in 1950 which then became the Glasgow South Society. This caused duplication of share numbers and as the junior partner all 'Shaws Society members had 8 added as a prefix, and mine became 84735.
Dividend was the profit divided among members after deduction of all expenses incurred in the running of the Society. It was calculated on a percentage of the total value of all purchases by each member, and was declared and distributed quarterly, a time known as ‘the end of the quarter’. In the 1930s my father's wage was around £3 a week which, as an engineer fitter would have been slightly above the national average for a semi-skilled manual worker. In buying everything from the Co-op, if during the quarter around £1 a week was spent on all the family's needs, and if the dividend was 2/6 (12½p) in the £1, my mother earned 13 X 2/6 = £1.12/6, (£1.62½p expressed in today’s money but not the value!), this was equivalent to almost a half a week's wage earned by Dad, which needless to say made a difference to the family budget. Leaving the dividend for a year or more allowed it to accumulate, and she used to talk about the things she was able to buy for the home, which without the dividend could never have been afforded.
That dividend figure of 2/6 in the £ (over 12½ percent) applied to the Kinning Park Society in the ‘30s, and was considered very to be good among urban societies for the time. But one or two rural societies, Balfron and Skinflats in Stirlingshire were two, declared dividends of up to 6/- in the £ (30 percent) regularly. Of course the declared figure varied according to how efficiently the affairs of the society had been run within the relevant trading period, and country societies had much lower operating costs that were reflected in the higher dividend.
A very effective credit system for expensive items existed. If a customer (of good standing, which covered the majority of members) wanted to buy furniture costing around £20 or more on credit, they could apply for a Mutuality. A form was filled in and, on approval, a payment book was issued which on payment of the first instalment allowed the items to be ordered and delivered. The loan was interest free, and the customer made payments weekly until the full amount was repaid.
THE BALFRON LINE
A system of internal trading operated that allowed employees of societies paying a relatively low dividend, to apply to make special purchases through one paying a higher dividend using a document called ‘a line’. The facility was referred to as, for example, a Balfron Line. These were very much sought after by employees of other societies but were not always accessible. The point of contact to acquire one was, if you knew someone who worked for the SCWS or the society concerned who was willing to oblige. People were heard boasting they had bought a particularly expensive item, like a fur coat or a bedroom or dining room suite, or a piano, with a line. Everybody knew it had cost about two-thirds what others who could not get access to a line. The reason why the document was hard to obtain was that SCWS employees had to be careful who they allowed to use it, because if the borrower defaulted on the payments then the line holder was held responsible. Of course the safest way was for the cash to be handed over by the purchaser before the order was placed.
OTHER SHOPS IN LINTHOUSE
An interesting point to dwell on caused by the spread of supermarkets, is the seemingly high proportion of shops in a given area in relation to population numbers in the 1930s compared with those around today. In Linthouse, for example, there was an almost unbroken line of them in the half-mile on the south side of Govan Road between Drive Road and Moss Road. In addition, almost every street with tenements had at least one shop, with the total for the district likely to have been around sixty. The Co-op's main competitor, Galbraith’s Stores, had two shops 300 yards apart in the 400 yard length of Skipness Drive alone. Another was Alexander Cochrane, whose shop at the corner of Holmfauldhead Drive has already been mentioned (in AGC) in the story of the fire alarm device to summon the fire brigade fixed to the wall outside their shop.
Today, with the swathe of demolition cut through the area for the Clyde tunnel approach roads in the 1960s, and other factors, there are not many more than twenty shops operating within that same area serving an estimated population of around two-thirds of what it was the 1930s. This trend is present everywhere. To quote another example, in Pollokshaws the current shops number less than ten serving slightly fewer people than before re-development began, when there was probably around fifty. There used to be newsagents in many streets and at frequent intervals along main roads, with the best locations being near tram and bus stops.
A common feature with traders was that main street shops had eye-catching signs connected with their business displayed outside the premises and in the windows. A stranger seeking a store selling a particular item or service, could look along a row of shops to see among the variety of signs and objects displayed if there was one likely to provide it. An example of this, and about the only one encountered today, is the barber’s red-and-white pole, but even these are rare now. Locksmiths and ironmongers had a giant representation of a key suspended from a bracket, while the cobblers had a large model of a boot. Opticians had a large pair of spectacles projecting out from above the door. Hanging outside chemist shops and suspended over the doorway there was a large apothecaries pestle and mortar from a bygone age, and in the windows there were tall elegant clear glass carboys filled with (supposedly medicinal) coloured water.
The mortar and pestle are ancient items of equipment still used at that time by apothecaries and dispensing chemists. Mortar are stone bowls of various sizes, commonly about the size of a dinning table sugar bowl, in which medicinal mineral and vegetable ingredients prescribed by physicians were ground up with the pestle in the preparation of pills and medicines. In those days dispensing chemists still made up some of their own pills and powders. The pestle is the club shaped grinding tool also of stone which was used in the bowl. As a shop sign they were displayed greatly enlarged. See the print of Govan Road west of Helen Street above, with on the extreme right the pestle in the form of two truncated cones stuck point to point with the handle of the mortar projecting from the top. While writing this, in one of the many cooking programs currently on show, one of the cooks was seen using these tools to grind up an ingredient into a powder that wasn’t otherwise available.
The display pestle, probably made from lightweight material, wood, wire mesh and plaster, was about three feet tall and was painted gold, like a cup with a narrowing waist with the top half a mirror image of the bottom. The real utensil represented most likely had compartments of different sizes in either end. A carboy was a tall bottle around three feet high with a bulbous bottom that narrowed into a high thin neck in which there was a spiked glass stopper.
The Bluebird Cafe in Govan Road east of Cressy Street had a reputation for delicious ice cream that was as good as Noteriana's in Golspie Street described in AGC. With the shop facing south, on good days it received plenty of sunshine but gave the impression of having been wrapped up against cold. Light coloured heavy sun-blinds with decorative looped fringes and side-flaps were pulled out-and-down over the windows with chocolates on display to keep the interior cool. Screens of the same material covered the lower sections of the windows which wrapped around to drape even the narrow windows on either side of the entrance, all of which had the bluebird logo. Below is the west corner of Cressy Street with Auld’s fish shop prominent. Sun blinds are seen in other street scenes like the fish shop below.
Fry’s Five Boys chocolate, with its five cartoon illustration on the wrapper of a child passing through five stages, from sweet-less and howling blue murder to happy pacification while consuming a bar, was thought to be my favourite. In fact, almost anything like that was desirable, but I often ended up with Five Boys. The reason might have been that while the flat bar looked substantial, it was thin and contained only about and ounce of chocolate and was inexpensive at a ha'penny or a penny for a bar. West of Cressy Street, of five or six shops between it and the allotment gardens (plots) in Holmfauld Road, one was Auld’s fish shop (avove). Another was a barber I attended occasionally, and there was a newsagent where I went to buy keps, known then as caps, for a later toy pistol acquisition.
On the other side of the road here, a branch of Ross's Dairies occupied the Drive Road/Govan Road corner in which there was a bakery with a window in the cut-away corner that allowed passers-by to watch the woman baker at work making the scones and rolls. Nearby was the sweetie shop in which the Chinese luncheon was bought for me on that memorable occasion before we move from Howat Street to Skipness Drive. Along here too was Meiklejohn's provision shop which was renowned for their tasty boiled ham.
Farther along there was a hardware store full of fascinating clutter and interesting smells, which sold among many things, paraffin drawn from a tap in a big storage tank in the rear, the reek of which almost overwhelmed all the other odours. There were sweeping brushes and shovels, carpet beaters and brushes (example below), dusters, pulley and clothes ropes and cloths pegs, and all kinds of cleaning and polishing materials. There were also large baskets for carrying clothes on wash day, washboards, mops and metal buckets, Sunlight washing soap and Persil, Rinso and Oxydol washing powders, and firelighters and bunches of sticks etc. etc. etc.
The next street to the west was Clachan Drive seen on the left off Govan Road here where during occasional wartime shortages I was sent to the Drumboy Farm Dairy to buy milk. It was scooped up from one of a pair of enormous shallow china bowls with a tin cup measure and poured into the jug or wide necked bottle we carried with us, because it was a case of no container, no milk. A vexing problem sometimes arose here because my mother normally bought milk from the Co-op dairy. But during the early part of the war, when the ice cream jug was unavailable she was occasionally affected by scarcity which obliged us to go round other dairies. If no other receptacle was available, when a jug would have been ideal to avoid embarrassment, I had to present the woman with a Co-op bottle to put it in, hoping she would oblige and overlook the fact that we seldom patronised her shop. By the late 1930s milk cans had been replaced with wide necked glass bottles, except in country districts where the cans were still used when buying milk from a farm. The two trams in the photo are of different vintages. The one on the left dates from the late 1910s, and the other one has open vestibules from 1900. When the photo is enlarged the curving staircase at the near end can be seen.
The Govan Road frontage between Clachan Drive and Holmfauldhead Drive had around a dozen shops. Those that come to mind are as follows: a few doors along to the west there was the green glass and chrome decor of the Maypole Dairy that specialised in farm produce, eggs, butter, milk and ham and bacon. Nearby also was Peacocks Bakery in black or navy blue and chrome, which was in direct competition with the Co-op and the branch of City Bakeries in the next block. In addition to the three Co-op shops here there was a sub post office run by the Brotherstons, a couple who lived up our close in the single apartment house two-up-in-the-middle.
The post office frontage had two slot machines set flush at shoulder height installed in the blocked-off window, from which postage stamps could be obtained when the office was closed. They were heavy embossed metal castings with two tiny opening just two inches square, each having an inch deep and solid, distinctively shaped weighty flaps with a pendulous lip. Set side-by-side, the two machines delivered second and first class stamps for a penny (1d) and tuppence-ha'penny (2½d). Then the three Co-op shops already described, dairy, grocery and butchers were next and a newsagents, and Cochrane’s grocery store was on the corner of Holmfauldhead Drive below. We lived on the other side of the block in the centre here from 1936 to 1945.
The two 1910 views above were taken looking towards each other with Clachan Drive seen again on the right of the tram. The pillar in the left foreground had a Transport Department telephone, & A. Cochrane’s shop on the corner of Holmfauldhead Drive has one of the department’s clocks just visible above it. There was a chip shop in the drive with a doubtful reputation run by a stout individual known as Greasy Tam. I remember sampling his chips, fritters and fish suppers and enjoying them. Usually this would be when feeling ravenous after a hard evening’s play, and having successfully talked my Mother or the mum of another member of the group of pals, into providing a penny for a bag of chips between us. We tried going round each mum in turn until we were full up, a ploy in which we were occasionally successful. Cooking oil was a long time in the future and chip shops then used the lard and cooking fat now regarded with horror by most people on health grounds.
The City Bakeries on the right here was in the centre of the frontage of the next block to the west, between Holmfauldhead Drive and Burghead Drive. The Linthouse Café was at 1203 Govan Road below was owned by the Innocenti family, a son of which, Sergio, was in my class at St Constantine’s Primary and is one of the faces seen in the 1937 school class photo 60 & 61 in AGC. It was the nearest café to us, and selling ice cream of remarkably high standard it was the one we patronised most. Nearby was Freddie Bailey’s chemist shop. Freddie was well known to us because he lived near an aunt and uncle in Shieldhall. Also here were the premises used by the wartime air raid precautions (ARP) service to be described in chapter 5. The dark opening on the left of the café is a close entrance with afternoon sunlight reflecting off the tiles.
The Black Cat Café (below) at 1223 Govan Road was in the last tenement block. It was fortunate to escape destruction in being just outwith the devastation caused by the land mine of 13th of March 1941 described in chapter 5. In a curious juxtaposition the premises next door were occupied by undertaker Dougald Vernal of Renfrew. Funeral undertakers have to provide a 24hr service, and another uncle had this job for a time here when he lived in the house above before he married a sister of my Dad.
In Skipness Drive, Galbraith’s Stores premises opposite number 12 occupied the Kennedar Drive corner, and their other shop was at the corner of the drive and Drive Road. In Kennedar Drive there was the single shop, Dick’s newsagents, the Mr. Dick who threatened to tell my Dad if I didn’t stop trying to buy Will’s Woodbine cigarettes. Two premises next to Galbraith’s in Skipness Drive were Annie Bennie’s well patronised sweetie shop, and another dairy. Hutton Drive was unique in this area so far as is known, in having only a single shop, Harrison’s newsagent, confections and hardware at number nine on the east side of the street. It was another establishment where I sometimes spent my daily ha’penny.
It would be a relatively simple matter, but probably boring for anyone unfamiliar with the district, to list all the other shops in the area at that time by noting them down from a directory. The above random selection is confined to the most interesting and the best remembered.
|Both of Sammy Dow's pub at the gusset in Pollokshaws Road, Shawlands Cross April 2014|
Many shops in tenement blocks in urban and suburban districts built before electricity became available had cellars that extended part way out from the tenement under the pavement. Gas was available but there was the ever-present risk of a leak which posed the danger to the building above of an explosion. An incident like that anywhere would have been catastrophic, and this may have been the reason why these cellars had no lighting installed, although by 1950 electricity was being put in. The lack of lights below ground level was partly overcome by the use of what was known as pavement lights, windows set in the pavement itself flush with the surface and against the front of the building, which gave a certain amount of illumination during daylight hours. The window frames were of cast iron moulded in the form of a grid which held many small thick oblong pieces of opaque glass that allowed light to enter but could not be seen through.
A book on the history of glass making explained that the 'lozenges’ of glass were designed to reflect daylight by prismatic effect into the interior of the cellar. Small shops with a cellar usually had two of these pavement lights, while larger premises had them in multiple spaced well out because of the requirements of support for the building frontage. Pubs in older tenements today may still have them but they are usually used as an access hatch for the delivery for kegs of beer. Examples of these lights can still be seen where the surface has remained undisturbed by re-development, and one such pub with lights, and a hatch still in regular use, is in Pollokshaws Road at the gusset at Shawlands Cross. Walking over them in wet weather they had to be treated with caution, because the glass-and-metal surfaces could be slippy.
THE PAVEMENT EDGE RUBBISH CONTAINER
Another urban roadside feature of that time were the cast-iron rubbish receptacles placed in pavement edges at intervals along main roads. They were fixed containers, the top of the lid of which was on the same level as the pavement surface, into which the road sweeper (scaffie from the original term scavenger) could dump his sweepings to await collection. They were about three feet square and of a depth by which the bottom of the container was just above the siuver (gutter) so that rainwater wouldn’t gather in it. I think that originally they were designed to hold a container, a removable tray. An oblong lid was set in the centre of the top which covered about half its area, having a fingers-slit by which it could be lifted, with the lid pivoting away from the road to give easier access for depositing the sweepings. Cast into the hatched metal of the lid was the legend GLASGOW CORPORATION CLEANSING DEPARTMENT. The photo below was scanned from MUNICIPAL GLASGOW 1915.
After that system passed out of use, road sweepings were left in exposed heaps at pavement edges which are prone to being blown around and redistributed by wind, vehicles and the feet of passers-by. Today the scaffie and the container have been partly replaced by the mechanical sweeper, but one seen recently was in the form of a giant vacuum cleaner. Another photo on that same page of the above book brought back another recollection an annual event. During the time when horses were the main motive power, on nights up to the 1960s, a team went round all main roads in turn in the city and cleaned them of debris, most of which was horse dung. A large fire service type hose was carried on a vertical drum mounted on a cart which plugged into fire hydrants. The photo shows it being done during daylight, but this was probably before the streets became too busy and the operation changed to night time. They were occasionally seen when driving buses on night service.
Seeing one of the very few pawnbrokers still in business recently in Alison Street north side between Westmoreland Street and Langside Road brought back a recollection of how they were regarded in the past. While they performed a necessary service for hard-up families and individuals by allowing them to raise money for food, some pawnbrokers brought the profession into disrepute by taking in the ill-gotten gains of house-breaking criminals. Women with large families regularly found the house keeping money running out during the week. With no DSS to fall back on and the meagre Parish Entitlement used up, and a reluctance to endure the shame of begging in the street or going round knocking on doors asking for money, the pawnbroker offered the last chance within the law of raising cash to buy essentials. Most people had items of some value that were needed only occasionally and could be done without and converted temporarily into cash, such as a man’s best suit, shoes and hat worn mainly when attending church on Sundays. Such items as engagement and wedding rings, a sideboard or wall clock or a bike in working order could also be pawned. Because the need for the pawn has declined, the numbers are only a fraction of what there were in former years, so the very distinctive three brass balls external sign may in time vanish for good.
If the pawnbroker accepted an item, he issued a ticket, with a promise to keep it for a certain length of time, known as pledging, paying out a sum usually amounting to a reasonable fraction of its actual value. Within that time the article could be redeemed for the original amount plus a percentage. If it remained in his possession beyond a time limit he was free to sell it for whatever he could get. I never knew anyone who used the pawnshop, but there were stories of spendthrift families who had no money left by the middle of the week, and depended on getting cash by pawning probably the same item during each week to see them through until allowance or pay day when the article could be redeemed. Until the 1940s the task of looking after the poor fell on the church authorities, who doled out small amounts of money to the destitute in the form of The ‘Parish Entitlement’. Post WWII the government set up the Department of Social Security.
Like many people over a certain age, other than in wartime conditions, it seems to me that life generally was more placid and tranquil seventy odd years ago. Ageing causing a reduction in the efficiency of the faculties with me today might simply have induced that impression. No doubt the increasingly frantic hubbub of modern society beating on the senses of older people has been having the same effect on the elderly through the ages, rendering them less able to cope.
One facet of life and a minor one among a multitude of others, advertising would surely overwhelm most people transported through time from the 1930s to the present. Today we are bombarded with it from all sides, much of it in a hyperactive style, hysterical almost and in forms unimaginable then. Indeed there are tv adverts which leave me baffled as to what is being advertised, and the jump/cut style used in many of them, and in some programmes but especially the adverts, television is epilepsy inducing and should be discouraged, although epileptics can avoid it simply by closing their eyes.
Back then it was mainly confined to billboard and print, and was conveyed in a style that would be regarded today as restrained and decorous, amateurish even, with weak colours and art nuveau/deco style pictorial sketching. Viewed from the past were that possible, today’s would be regarded as omnipresent, intrusive and pushy, offensive even, often accompanied by a raucous din that is a poor excuse for ‘music’ that numbs the senses. Some tv advert presenters have such piercing voices and frantic delivery that it is impossible to understand what is being said, although they are no doubt aimed at younger people who might.
There were nevertheless some effective styles in the nineteen-thirties. A billboard hoarding high up on the west-facing gable of the tenement overlooking the plots where the southern portals of the Clyde tunnels now are off Govan Road, Linthouse carried a message that took me years to decipher, to figure out what it was saying. That is obviously no reflection on the designer of the advert because it was aimed at drivers of motor vehicles. The poster had large red characters in the form of what looked like a reversed 3 followed by SSO, on a white background set within a blue bordered oval, close set like a word, the meaning of which I could not understand. Beneath the oval there was a slogan which said something like WORKS BEST. Today that that word would be instantly recognised by any juvenile in the proximity of a filling station, or away from it. That same design, only a little updated, is still used today by the ESSO Oil Company. This site is seen again below.
A very effective and frequently observed in summer form of advertising at the time being written about and one I've seen once or twice in recent years, is a light aeroplane flying with a banner streamed out behind it. The plane-trailed banner and skywriting are likely to be far less effective today when people seldom look up at aircraft, but in the thirties an aeroplane overhead drew every eye. Also, the sign will be less easily read because the minimum height restriction for aircraft is considerably higher than it was during the thirties. Another form never seen now is skywriting. It was done using the plane's engine exhaust, probably by the injection of water, which left a white trail of condensate like the high-flying jets of today. Of course it had to be done on calm clear days and have a simple message like the name of a company or a product; otherwise the first part of the writing would have been dissipated by air currents before the message was completed. What was impressive about this operation was that the portrayal was invariably well laid out with almost every letter and word to scale. To experience this try writing on a sheet of paper viewed at eye level.
Back at ground level, another extinct form of advertising is the sandwich board which was a permanent feature during weekdays in city and township centres. Large shops, known as emporiums or department stores, took on unemployed men on a casual basis, to walk around or simply stand in areas busy with people with boards displaying messages slung back and front. The two boards were linked together with shoulder straps with a space for the carrier’s head to project through making the man the meat in the sandwich. Sometimes they were an incongruous sight. So large were some boards only the head and boots of the carrier could be seen. It seemed that only the long-term unemployed took on the work, because they were invariably somewhat ragged, down at heel non-to-clean individuals presenting a sorry sight not really edifying for their employer when trudging along in the gutter. At least it gave them probably something like 6d - six pence per hour.
GOVAN FIRE BRIGADE
Another memory that dates from before starting school at the age of five is of walking with Granda in Govan Road at Elder Park opposite Abukir Street. That street and the adjacent Cressy (or Crécy in France after the English battle with the forces of that country in the year 1346) were joined at their innermost ends with the now non existent Trafalgar Street. Two of these streets appear to have been named after Nelson's naval battles in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. It was mid-morning on a Sunday and we were probably going to St. Anthony’s. There were few people around and little traffic when we became aware of the sound of the brisk ringing of a bell coming from the Govan direction. ‘Brisk’ because it wasn’t like the slow ring of a church bell and more like a hand bell.
Then in the distance, round the curve of the tenement canyon of Govan Road and into view passing Rathlin Street about half a mile away a fire engine appeared. We stood rooted to the pavement with our mouths open, staring in amazement at this rare manifestation of every wee boys dream, and his too, during the minute or so it took to reach us. It seemed to be travelling at an enormous speed probably about 30/40mph, the solid tired wheels giving the crew a very rough and noisy ride on the cobbled surface.
It was a completely open vehicle similar to, but of a vintage a generation older and smaller than the one that was on display in the Transport Museum in 2003. The only weather protection the cab had was a low two-part fold-down windscreen. The officer in charge was seated beside the driver and he was reckoned by youngsters to have the best job in the service, ringing the bell mounted in the centre above the windscreen suspended from the front bracket supporting the extending ladders. He continued to ring it by pulling the lanyard attached to the bottom of the clapper violently from side-to-side despite the empty road. The crew was seated on two benches placed back-to-back down the raised centre of the vehicle, and while there was a step allowing them to climb on board, there were no side handrails. Along the centre line and above the back of the benches and below the rack of ladders, there was a stout metal rail to which the crew had to keep a firm grip as the vehicle hurtled along. In this photo the engines are from two decades before my time but it shows some of the features described. Note the wheels with solid tyres and the engine starting handle low down at the front.
The reason for that visit by 'the butts' to Linthouse in 1936 is not known. The term butts, applied to fire engines at that time, came from early in the previous century before the water main grid had been laid and pumps of sufficient power developed, when water had to be carried to the scene of a fire. In the days before motorised transport, this was done by another brigade wagon drawn by a team of horses or competing contractors with similar vehicles who did this for a fee. The water was carried in immense low wooden barrels, or butts (tubs) with interior divisions to prevent the contents being slopped out by the motion of the cart, with the first to arrive or quantity used being paid for on an ascending scale. When walking through Govan I always pleaded with my adult companion for time to look through the windows of the fire station in Orkney Street, at the corner of Orkney Place, to study the vehicles. Then I wanted to hang around to see if they would be summoned to a fire, but to my everlasting regret that never happened and it was invariably a case of having to be hauled away protesting.
SENDING FOR THE FIRE BRIGADEYOU MAY
When telephones were far fewer and before the 999 emergency services began in 1937, no working class house I knew of had a telephone; for most members of the public, sending for the fire brigade was an adventure into the unknown. Other than the public phone in the post office, and certain other shops displaying an external sign with white letters on a blue background suspended from a projecting bracket stating:
Although they had been introduced before this time there is no recollection of having seen a public call box anywhere in Govan. But located in central areas of most districts of the city, there was one in Linthouse for instance, were the octagonal cast iron wall plaques, about 2’x2’ and six inches deep, fixed to buildings slightly above adult head-height. Painted fire engine red with a black border and sides, it had a model of a fireman’s crested helmet in black on top as part of the casting. In the centre of the front face there was a four inch square glass-covered opening, inside which was visible a lever with a black knob. Beneath the opening was the legend:
IN THE EVENT OF FIRE
1. BREAK GLASS
2. PULL KNOB
3. WAIT FOR FIRE BRIGADE
The Linthouse fire brigade plaque was fixed about six feet up on the wall of Andrew Cochrane's grocer’s shop in Govan Road at corner of Holmfauldhead Drive. The connection to Govan fire station was by telephone type wire but it wasn't a telephone line. Pulling the knob most likely operated a switch, which alerted the station by wire and a lamp and bell indicator in the station and the location of the call. This wall unit was in all probability used to summon them on the night the British Legion hall in Holmfauld Road was burned down, a brief account of which has been set down previously. One of these plaques is visible in a photograph in the book 'Old Glasgow' by Henry V. Morton, published in 1988, mounted on the wall of the long demolished old Charing Cross Post Office in Sauchiehall Street at the corner of Woodside Crescent. There's was also one on display in the Museum of Transport.
In Govan Road at Linthouse also at the corner of Holmfauldhead Drive, at one-storey level of three-storey tenement block which was demolished to make way for the Clyde tunnel, there was a large electrically controlled clock seen and described in a photo above that operated on the Dyson System. The system allowed a number of clocks connected to it by cable to be controlled by a master clock. There was another one (these are just two of many which were set up in prominent positions around the city) on the cut-away corner of the building opposite the Fairfield shipyard main entrance. At a set time each day an error in time on any of the clocks was corrected automatically by pulses sent down the wire. I recall passing one of them and thinking I was imagining it when the minute hand moved three minutes in a series of jerks. On reflection, although I never had confirmation if it, it is highly likely the system was provided for and maintained by the Corporation Tramways Department as an aid to time-keeping, because all the ones I knew of were located at their timing points. The Linthouse clock can be seen in the first photo in SHOP SIGNS
Most people had a china or pottery teapot that required to be warmed before making tea. When dry tea was put into the pot when cold and boiling water added, the bulk of a cold pot quickly drew off much of the heat. This meant that when left to stand while the tea masked (or is it masque?) for the required few minutes it might result in a weak lukewarm brew. This habit continues today with older folk continuing to warm the metal usually aluminium pot for little benefit. It was because pottery made pots were unsuitable for keeping warm on a naked flame or electric hotplate, because the higher temperature involved carried the risk of the pot cracking.
The tea making procedure was as follows, when the kettle boiled, a little was poured into the empty pot and slopped around then left to stand for a few moments for it to absorb some of the heat. This was poured away, the tea was added and the required amount of water poured in from the still boiling kettle, then the pot was set aside and covered with a tea cosy. The cosy was a thick knitted or padded jacket with holes on opposite sides for handle and spout, which was then placed to stand on a thick matching insulated pad. That system was efficient in that it could keep the tea hot for an extended time.
For everyday use most working class folk had iron cutlery, indeed in some houses it was all they possessed. With cutlery of ferrous metal, after being washed it had to be dried immediately, because if left for any length of time traces of rust appeared, which caused the dish towel to become discoloured to an oxide-red hue. Today’s implements of stainless steel can be left to drip-dry.
I still have my Dad’s cobbler’s last of cast iron (above) for mending boots and shoes, which he used mainly when repairing his working boots. Engineering workers tended to be severe on their footwear so that repairing them himself probably meant a fair saving. Most men and boys wore boots in winter, and to cater for customers who were unable to pay for professional work, cobblers sold the leather in small shaped pieces along with the nails, tacks, and seggs for what was known as known as hobnail boots. This treatment tended to make the soles sound rather like those of a clumsy version of tap-dancing shoes. I had an unusual pair of rubber soled boots which caused me to be banned from a slide on the ice of Elder Park pond. This type of footwear was suspected of causing feet to sweat, and only came into widespread use after 1945.
Modern glue and stitching has more or less done away with nails in footwear which generated a common complaint in the past, caused by a nail point projecting through the sole and jagging into the sole of the foot. Many people walking with a limp blamed it on a nail in their shoe having worked its way through. Seggs were a kind of nail casting with a broad head, curved like a crescent moon and rounded horns, with three or more abbreviated nail points on the underside depending on size. These were supposed to be hammered into toes and at the backs of heels, the places of greatest wear. My boots received this treatment, but it was an occasional cause of friction between Dad and me.
Heavy duty boots with soles well covered with round tacks were available for particularly rough work, but in an effort to make the leather last as long as possible, like most amateur cobblers my father applied them sparingly. The expression tackety boots derived from this treatment (the title hob-nailed boots appear to have originated in an earlier time). The leather used for repairing being comparatively expensive seemed to indicate that the seggs, being cheaper, more resistant to wear and easier to replace, should protected it. While the asphalt of street surfaces and the slate squares laid out on some pavements were unsuitable for children’s sliding games, tackety boots were ideal for sliding with on the smooth concrete of pavements and closes. After repairing my boots Dad used to warn 'don't let me catch you scliffin' on them'. Depending on the kind of treatment they got, sooner or later I had to go to him and show how many seggs and tacks were missing and, in consequence, how much the leather had worn. It was a time of apprehension.
After a piece of flank mutton bought for soup had served its purpose, when cleaned up the rib bones could be put to use as a percussion instrument in dancing games by girls. With two of the cleaned bones held between two adjacent fingers while the arm was held stationary, if the hand is then flicked back and forth in an oscillating motion the ‘clappers’ can be made to produce a sound similar to castanets.
Mice could reach plague proportions in old tenement buildings with crumbling masonry and where tenants were lax about cleanliness. They penetrated to the top floor and even into attics, so traps had to be set to catch them. Sometimes, during quiet periods and when lying in bed at night they could be heard scampering about in the lath-and-plaster of the ceiling and walls. Demolition of older property and modern food packaging have been effective in more or less eradicating this problem, making it hard for vermin to get access to anything worth eating, although it can still happen in the older buildings.
A memorable event happened in the Skipness Drive house. Mum was lifting the frying pan out of the pot press under the sink to make ham and eggs, when she dropped it with a gasp. It was a large old pan of cast iron, and it hit the floor with such a thud Mrs. McGoldrick, who lived in the house below us, came up to find out what had happened. What caused her to drop it was that in the fat from the last time of use were mice footprints and droppings, and signs of some of it having been eaten. She then bought another pan with a lid which lasted her for decades, and then I inherited it and it was used it until the non-stick era arrived.
There was another occasion when an empty milk bottle was lifted from the cupboard beneath the sink with a tiny mouse crouched on the bottom. Of course, despite my pleas to be allowed to keep it as a pet it went down the lavvy pan. How the mouse managed to get into the bottle is a mystery. When we moved to Pollok in the summer of 1945, it was to a three apartment four-in-the-block end house that was constructed only six years before and the area was still semi rural. Visits by mice inside the house at floor level, and outside by water rats from the nearby Brock Burn into the garden ran, initially for mice anyway, at a reduced level from those in the tenements.