‘Away for the messages’

Good news…

We have started a new reminiscence project about shopping and retail. Funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, the project focuses on memories about, and the changing nature and use of retail space in, Edinburgh and beyond. For the next eighteenth months, Russell and Heather will be gathering memories, experiences, photographs and objects related to different shops and retail outlets.

Based in the ground floor at Ocean Terminal, the longer-term plan is to re-create an old-fashioned shop – complete with counters and shelves, and scales for weighing shopping. If anyone has an old till they are not using, we would love to borrow it. This space will welcome visitors of all ages to pop in, and reminisce and interact with the displays. Russell hopes that children will be encouraged to use the scales to work out how much potatoes weigh – or learn how to flip a paper poke containing sweeties!

Currently the space is open and displaying some of the material that we already had in our photo archive and collections. Maybe you recognise some of these images? Maybe you worked as a delivery boy like this lad below from 1960? Or maybe you got deliveries from the butcher this way?

Boy delivering watering cans, 1960.

Do you remember going to get your messages from a provisions shop like this one on Marchmont Road? The photo is from 1925, and the shop assistant is very formal in his attire, with his buttoned-up tan coat (probably made of heavy duty cotton) and collar and tie. The customer looks as if he might be purchasing some Melrose’s tea – as there appears to be plenty of promotional advertising for this beverage.

Provision merchant, Marchmont Road, 1925.

This photo of Meyer’s shop and bar, on Iona Street, from 1923 shows the family shop stocked a ‘high class’ food stuff, certainly one that might appeal to younger customers: Cadbury’s and Fry’s chocolate. Judging by the large jars in the window they likely sold other confectionary as well – boilings, rock, bonbons, licorice etc – which could be purchased by weight. Perhaps they also had the option of choosing a certain number of sweets for a ha-penny or penny, which was very popular with children when they wanted to spend their pocket money? Penny Dainties, Fruit Salad, LuckyPotatoes, Flying Saucers, Toffee Doddles, Rhubard Rock, Raspberry Ripples…what was your favourite? Again the shop owners/assistants are wearing aprons and shirt and ties.

Russell has been collecting new images and memories from visitors and through social media, so our shop-related collection is growing.

Grocer at shop window, c. 1975.

Some of our followers on social media identified this shop as being located at 23 Cadzow Place and the proprietor as A. Berger. It was a ‘Wholesale and Retail Fruit Merchants and Confectioners’ and the shop advertised itself as being ‘The Jaffa King’. This grocer’s shop appears to stock a wide range of fresh fruit and veg – Golden Delicious, Granny Smiths, and potatoes are priced in the window, and he is holding a cawliflower – as well as plenty tinned goods. In the window you can spot several varieties of Heinz goods, a tin of haggis, as well as cans of Lilt (The Totally Tropical Taste), Fanta, CocaCola and Cariba (Pineapple and Grapefruit?).

JA Nisbet, Glass and China shop, 1970.

This photo shows Herbert Nisbet and his daughter June, in 1970, outside their shop JA Nisbet, Glass & China merchants at 75a George Street.  You can see a sign in the window advising about them moving to Rose Street. Russell’s interview with June about Nisbet’s, will be included in one of our future podcasts.

A ‘self-service’ St. Cuthbert’s Association Store on Nicolson Street, (undated).

No project about shopping would be complete without memories about the co-op. Whether you remember St Cuthbert’s in Edinburgh, The Provident in Leith, or ELCO in East Lothian, the co-operative movement has had a huge impact on retail trends. The co-op was able to supply food and services from the cradle to the grave. Clothes – especially school uniforms – furniture, electrical goods, linens, butcher, baker – maybe even candlestick maker – fruit, veg, dairy, right through to funeral services, the co-op was the go-to for many families. The divi that was added to the member’s book with every purchase was a convenient way of saving a few extra pennies or pounds. Who remembers their mum’s divi number? Many of our visitors are able to recite this number straight off with little promting.

The picture of the St Cuthbert’s on Nicolson Street, shows the shift from being served by the shop assistant from behind the counter to self service, where the customer would take their purchases straight from the shelves and pay for it all at the check-out. The staff are still all dressed in quite formal white uniform coats. From this picture it looks as if the till operators were female and the men were in more of a supervisory role, which might well have been the case in the late ’50s and early ’60s. Self-service shops were introduced by St Cuthbert’s around 1958 and, of course, are very recognisable to today’s shoppers.

Russell has already interviewed a number of visitors to the unit and has put together the first of ‘Away for the Messages’ podcasts. It can be listened to using this link https://thelivingmemoryassociation.libsyn.com/away-for-the-messages-episode-1

If you have any memories, photos or other material about shops and shopping that you would like to share pop in to any of our units at OT or email us: comhist@googlemail.com