Early 20th century

I have just started to collate the High Street entries from 20th century street directories starting in the 1920s so that we can follow the histories of individual premises. It’s going to take a lo———ong time! So in the meantime here are some reminiscences from Ernest Bristowe’s book, Poole was my Oyster, talking about shops and the High Street in the early decades of the 20thcentury:

Saunders Stores with delivery cart

‘Many shops would deliver goods, either by errand boys with large baskets on the handlebars of their bicycles, by hand-barrow, or by horse-drawn cart. Grocers from the High Street would send a man once a week to take orders which were delivered on an allotted day, but mother and I often went to the   shop instead and waited while the order was made up. Items like flour, tea, sugar and dried peas were stored in drawers behind the counter, from which they were extracted with scoops to be weighed on brass scales. Biscuits were kept loose in square tins, and there were always broken biscuits for sale. One side of the shop sold butter and margarine which was cut from large blocks and patted into pounds or half pounds with two wooden patters, the grocer taking a small bit off, or putting a bit on to get the correct weight. Cheese was cut into wedges with a steel wire. Ham, roast pork and cold beef were cut on a slicer while we waited, or we might get some Shippam’s potted meat or bloater paste to eat with bread and butter as an alternative to jam.’

Butcher's display

‘Some butchers killed their own meat and most of the animal was for sale, including bladders of lard, black puddings made from pig’s blood, chitterlings, tripe, pig’s trotters and cheeks as well as the usual prime cuts. My mother always favoured silverside which we bought from the High Street shop of Mr Bailey, a fat, genial butcher. He wore a blue and white striped apron and a straw boater which kept the dripping blood from his head. A sharpening steel was tied to his waist. The shop floor was covered with sawdust, spread by the errand boy when he arrived in the morning, and meat carcases hung on steel hooks around the shop.

At Christmas time, he and his fellow butchers excelled themselves by covering the whole of their shop fronts with turkeys, geese chickens, hares and rabbits. They hung from the eaves to the pavement, leaving just enough room to get into the shop. The birds hung head downward, plucked but not disembowelled of beheaded, and needed preparation by the purchaser.’

‘The high class confectionery shops in the High Street like Keenes sold Cadbury’s and Fry’s chocolate, Macintosh’s and Everton toffee and expensive boxes of chocolates, but there was also a great demand for home-made sweets which came from the small corner shops and itinerant vendors with their barrows.’

‘Cobblers abounded in the town. All the boot and shoe shops repaired footwear and would fit rubber soles and heels, Blakey’s Tips or hobnails to reinforce working boots.  By 1914, shoes were replacing boots. Plastic was unheard of, but canvas-sided boots and plimsolls came into fashion, and mass produced footwear came to the town with company shops like Lilley and Skinner, Frisby’s and Bata. These were in competition with local shops like J A Hawkes, which had been in business for a couple of generations.’

Luigi Zollo ice cream seller

‘There were also intinerant traders like the Italian ice cream men with their highly painted barrows, topped with shades, who sold penny cones and two penny wafers in the summer and roast chestnuts in the winter. Costermongers’ barrows stood at strategic points in the High Street, selling fruit, vegetables and fish. On Saturday mornings we would be awakened by a man calling ‘Young spring waters cre-e-esses’, or by the muffin man with his bell and a basket on his head.’ ‘Tom Hockey was a well liked, vociferous costermonger whose barrow was always placed outside the Wesleyan Church, while his voice could be heard from Topp’s Corner to the Post Office. In the summer he used to shout ‘Fresh mackerel’, (but it sounded like ‘macro’) ‘Fish-o. Three for a shilling’, until the policeman told him to keep his voice down, at which he was inclined to argue, making more noise than ever.’

‘The streets were lit by gas lamps in which a pilot light burnt all day. At dusk, the lamp lighter came by on his bicycle, armed with a long stick with a bent wire on the end. With this he skilfully hooked a large ring at the base of the lamp to light it while still riding. In case of difficulty he carried a ladder strapped to the bicycle. At daylight next day he returned to put the light out.’

Near the railway crossing

‘The [railway] crossing was a source of constant frustration for nearly one hundred years. The gates in the High Street were operated from a signal box, and those at the station by hand. As the speed of motor cars increased, it needed considerable skill to operate the gates, as the railway man, Andy Hodge, had to decide when to let a car through, allowing time to walk from his cabin, lift the bolts and pull the gates across.’

‘The High Street from the Wesleyan Chapel to the Round House, was laid with wooden blocks set in tar. These were about the size of a brick and about half an inch thick and they lasted well until work had to be done to gas and water mains, when it became difficult to replace them. Eventually they were taken up and the road covered with tarmacadam.’

Jenny – with thanks to Ernest Bristowe


About Poole High Street Project

Contact: Jenny Oliver - j.oliver48@btinternet.com
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3 Responses to Early 20th century

  1. Apparently my grandmother sold Luigi Zollo an ice cream barrow and it could be the one in the picture above.

  2. Hi Jenny, my grandmother, Louisa wasn’t in the ice cream business. I only know little snippets about her because she died when my dad was 10 in approx 1935. Apparently she had two shops, one in Lagland Street and one in Skinner Street and I think she used to sell all sorts of things. My dad remembers going up to London with her and his aunt on the train and being hidden under the seat so they didn’t have to pay for him. Very naughty but quite funny. He said it used to get hot under the seat because of the heating and they’d hide him with their long skirts.

    He also remembers the attic of one of Louisa’s shops. He used to play with the toys up there which were stock for the shop.

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