Days when individual shops all delivered

AN endangered species? No, even worse: the home delivery man has become extinct over the decades since the nation’s shopping habits changed, largely dictated by the supermarkets.

In the Great Yarmouth and Gorleston area Tesco and Iceland vans take orders to customers homes, milkmen do pre-dawn deliveries but only to a minority whereas once everyone had milk on their doorsteps daily, and paper boys are still active although in fewer numbers.

But many of us can recall when the baker, greengrocer – and even Jimmy Bush, pushing his wet-fish cart – were regular callers at our homes, “the grocer’s man” paid a weekly visit to collect housewives’ orders, and lads like me rode trade bikes as errand boys for small shopkeepers.

From her home in Somerset, Jennifer Bailey, daughter of the late Joe Harrison who as Peggotty penned this column for many years when it appeared nightly in the Eastern Evening News, recollects those years when the shop came to the customer and not the other way round.

“We didn’t have fridges or freezers in the late 1940s and 1950s so Mum had to buy fresh food several times a week, but instead of Mum having to go to the shops, the shops delivered to our home. Not so different from the supermarkets on-line delivery now except that instead of one shop selling everything, individual shops – the butcher, the baker, the greengrocer, the grocer – all delivered.

“When we lived in Burgh Road at Gorleston, one of my favourites was Mr Halls, a smallholder who came round on his grey tractor with vegetables and possibly fruit. Later on he had a small pick-up van.

“Charlie the milkman from Collett’s Dairy was another favourite and he delivered our milk every morning for years and was so regular that Mum once said to him, ‘When you’re late, I know it’s not you!’

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“Bussey’s grocer’s shop was in Gorleston High Street. Sometimes we’d go there ourselves, but they also delivered. Mr Sandall, a tall, thin man wearing a light brown coat – at least, that’s how I remember him – used to come to Burgh Road every Monday and sit in the kitchen, writing down the order as Mum told him what she wanted.

“She would complain to us that he always seemed to turn up at lunchtime which was inconvenient. I must have taken this on board, as apparently, when quite small, I told Mr Sandall, ‘Mummy says you’re a darn nuisance!’ He would return two days later with the groceries in a cardboard box in the basket on the front of his bike.

“I can’t remember him coming to Lynn Grove after we moved. At some point it changed and our groceries came from Beckett and Pitcher’s, who, I think, took over Bussey’s shop. Mr Pitcher’s son, Keith, was a good friend of my brother. Mum had a little red notebook and wrote our order in it; it was collected and the order delivered a few days later.”

My mother had similar visits, but from the representative of the Bussey’s branch on the corner of Bells Road and Springfield Road in Gorleston. The man always seemed to wear a raincoat and cycle clips, and his small brown leather case containing his order book and samples was strapped to the carrier on the back of his upright bicycle.

Another caller was the Man from the Pru long before that advertising slogan was coined. He too cycled, wore clips to protect his trouser turn-ups from the greasy chain, and collected small premiums. “Home service insurance”, they used to call it, a long-gone practice.

As for bakers delivering to the Harrison home, Jennifer remembers: “We had Matthes bread for some years and at one time J T Berry’s.” My mother also had Matthes bread, delivered by horse-drawn cart.

Some regular deliverymen held little interest for Jennifer: “The postman came with three deliveries a day then, one early in the morning, another about midday and again around four o’clock. In those days you could send a letter in the morning and get a reply the same day.”

Three home postal deliveries a day! Unbelievable in 2011.

Like the Harrisons, most homes had a paper boy deliver the newspapers, but I cannot remember the Corona man calling at my childhood home in Gorleston although he was out and about in his lorry, leaving the fizzy favourites in bottles with the stoppers wired in so they could not be lost (and the penny deposit forfeited). But the Harrisons were regular customers of the Corona man, and on one memorable visit Jennifer’s elder brother Keith (also known as Jack) was carrying two bottles “of the lurid fizzy drink” in the house when his cuff caught on the door handle and “the two bottles hit each other and exploded. Dangerous stuff, Corona!”

Their dustmen called every week, but Jennifer did not have a rapport with them or the coalmen who noisily emptied their sacks into the coal-house.

Jennifer continues: “There were also occasional callers, like the Kleeneze man and canvassers. One day Mum answered a knock at the door to find a woman chanting, as if all one word, ‘Would-you-like-a-sample-of--New-Blue-Daz?’”

Regular correspondent Danny Daniels, the octogenarian Yarmouthian long resident in Canada, also writes on this home-delivery theme: “One other thing that gets overlooked, in the sense of buying your simple needs in those days, were the milk carts, the bread vans and the greengrocers’ carts that came around the streets on a regular basis. They were really the essence of what today we begin to re-extol as ‘buying local’.

“And don’t forget the coal carts. If there were power out-ages, I don’t recall any: the lights only failed to go on when you didn’t have a penny (gas) or a shilling (electricity) to put in the meter but at least you could always keep warm by the stove.”