Today's young child would not recognise the world of sixty-odd years ago. I don't think the word 'toddler' was used for a three and a half year old then. Going to the shops did not involve being strapped into a car seat, being driven to the supermarket and then dumped into the seat on a trolley where all sights and tempting touches are safely out of reach. For me in Ipswich in 1941 shopping trips were much more interesting.
To start with I would be helped with my sensible lace-up shoes. My coat would be buttoned up and my bonnet securely tied under my chin before I was sent to go to the toilet and asked "Have you got a clean hanky?" My Mother would take my hand as we walked down the road and round the corner to The Avenue which was an unmade road under an avenue of large elm trees. Then we crossed Park Road with proper curb drill, and into Christchurch Park. We walked down the main driveway and I was allowed to run on the grass but not to dawdle. Mother would point out red squirrels and interesting birds. We left the park just past the Christchurch Mansion under the large plane trees, having walked about a mile. Now I had to take Mother's hand again. There were no zebra crossings but neither was there much traffic.
Our first stop was at Colman's Corner to visit Swinton's the Butcher. Here there would be a queue, often trailing out the door. Once inside the shop the black and white tiled floor was covered in sawdust (to mop up drops of blood from the fresh meat, though I never queried it). I loved to scuff my shoes in the sawdust and make patterns whilst I waited. Mother would shake my hand and tell me that I was getting it in my shoes. My other joy was the sturdy metal bars in front of the counter put there for customers to rest their baskets. There were about five the length of the counter and I loved running my hands along them and feeling their smoothness. The shop smelt of sawdust rather than meat. I do remember the big wooden block where the butcher Mr Swinton Senior used to swing a large cleaver to cut very small pieces of meat. He was a big man, with a round jovial face and ready smile for all his customers. He would lean across the counter and say to my Mother "I've slipped a bit of kidney into the bag for your little girl, Mrs Jones." I didn't realise then how precious that was but I did enjoy it when it was fished out of the gravy and vegetables on to my lunch plate.
We had quite a walk along Great Colman Street, where there was nothing to look at, across Northgate Street into the alley way by the old oak house and round by the huge flint-knapped church of St Mary Le Tower. I knew that that was where I was christened even though I didn't know what it meant. My father had told me all about it and about flint-knapping. There was some flint knapping on the church wall as well which I could look at as we hurried along, the meat safely wrapped in white paper and then some newspaper at the bottom of Mother's basket.
The next shop was the dairy shop, Maypole, next to Mac Fisheries where sometimes we got some kippers. That was another shop with exciting smells and all the fish laid out on a marble slab with little bits of real parsley to decorate it. If you bought white fish the fishmonger gave you a few sprigs of parsley. Later we used to go across the road to Sainsbury's for our dairy produce.
I was enthralled by Sainsbury's but Mother said it was very expensive. It was a large, high hall with counters down each side selling different products, cheese, butter, meat etc. You had to queue at each counter but there was a bentwood chair for the customer, not children, to sit down on whilst they were being served by girls in white aprons and with white caps on their heads. When Mother paid for her purchases the girl put the money and the bill in a canister and put it into another container hanging from sort of tram wires which criss-crossed the shop. She would pull a lever and with a loud clanging the container would whiz across the shop to the end, where in a high room visible to the shop, girls in the accounts department would deal with it and send the change whizzing back. I thought it would be great fun to work there.
My parents grew most of their own vegetables but if Mother wanted to buy some extra we would walk to the market which was held in the Corn Exchange. This building still operated as a Corn Exchange on certain days. When you went in for the market you could see the dealers' high desks stacked up at the sides, with painted signs above then showing their firms' names and the commodity they dealt in such as oats or barley.
On market days all sorts of people came in and set up stalls on wooden trestles selling what they had grown. I don't think any of it went through Covent Garden. There would be fresh lettuces and bunches of beetroot nestling alongside precious black market farm eggs. Even as a small child I knew that eggs were rationed and shouldn't have been on sale. My Mother would have described herself as law abiding but she would happily buy one black market, expensive egg for my tea. It was just wrapped in newspaper and popped in her basket. By this time I was usually pretty tired and we had a long walk up hill home so I was allowed to sit on the shelves under the corn merchants' stands whilst my Mother finished her shopping.
Shopping wasn't always for food but I think we went out for food probably twice a week. With no refrigerators meat had to be bought as it was needed. Apart from that when you have to carry everything, and you have to walk home up hill with a young child it is easier to do it in small batches. I expect the other problem was with everything rationed, the shops only had small quantities.
On some occasions we went to buy clothes. My mother made most of mine so it was shoes and material that I remember. The shoe shop was in the Butter Market just up from Cowell's the printers which is where the Buttermarket Shopping Mall now stands. I always had Start-rite or Clarks shoes as I had 'difficult' feet. We would sit on hard chairs and the assistant brought a stool with a slope at the front. I had to put my socked feet on to the slope and she would sit decorously side saddle on the stool and measure my feet. There would then be a discussion as to how much room should be allowed for growth. Eventually shoes were brought out for my Mother to choose. They were usually brown lace-ups. I wanted red shoes. I had never seen red shoes or even a picture of red shoes but that was what I wanted. However I was not consulted and I was duly laced up into these heavy, stiff new shoes. Then came the fun bit. I was lifted up onto a small platform and told to push my feet through an opening in a large box-like structure. The assistant pressed a switch and I was told to look through a small viewing window at the top. There were my feet all greenish. I could see the outside of the shoes and all the bones in my feet. I was told to wiggle my toes and I could watch whilst my Mother and the shop keeper looked through two other viewing windows and discussed the peculiarities of my feet. I was fascinated. It was certainly worth putting up with brown lace-ups which I hoped would soon be too small so we could go again.
Going to buy material was fun as well because we had to go into the large department store called Footman & Pretty, known locally as Footman's. We went in through the door in Lloyds Avenue and passed under the stairs to the fabric department. My Mother always looked at many different materials before she chose a suitable print. She would explain the different types of material to me, and having carefully wiped my hands with a clean handkerchief allow me to feel some of the special materials and explain why they were unsuitable for us and what they could be used for. The number of coupons was always the biggest criterion in the selection. Materials with the utility mark took fewer coupons.
Sometimes we would go into the next department to buy a pretty handkerchief for my Grandmother. When we had finished all our purchases they had to be put on the account as my Father provided my Mother with an account at several shops so that she didn't have to carry too much money. People didn't have cheques and credit cards in those days. My Mother signed the bills and then they were put in a container which was put into a chute on the wall and when the shop assistant pulled a lever there was a whoosh and it disappeared up a pipe in the wall, to the accounts department which on this occasion we couldn't see. Eventually there would be a rattle and the receipted bill would return.
Having carefully put this away in her handbag my Mother would gracefully get off the high chair where she had been resting. The shop assistant would hand her a brown paper parcel carefully tied up with string and with a loop for carrying. The Floor Walker would stroll up and thank Mother for her custom and the doors would be opened for us to leave.
Shopping was an event which we obviously enjoyed because I can recall it in such detail. It wasn't the purchases but the ceremonies that went with it that gave it such impact. Perhaps a little of this would make retail therapy better today.
Clare Urry (nee Jones)