The way we used to do our shopping ...
- Credit: Archant
THE supermarket giants continue their battle against one another for a bigger slice of the business while looking over their figurative shoulders at the ever-growing threat of quality discounters Aldi and Lidl who are steadily increasing their share of the market.
Here in the Great Yarmouth and Gorleston area, shoppers have a wide choice, although the supposedly up-market Waitrose has never ventured into the borough, its nearest stores trading in North Walsham and Norwich.
Younger generations accept as normal the supermarkets’ range and system, having been brought up with them, but there must be some older residents trundling their trolleys up and down the endless aisles as they seek their purchases who yearn for the long-gone era when it was all done one-to-one across a shop counter, the down-side being a heavy bag to lug home or entrusting delivery to a cycling errand boy for a sixpence tip, unless you were one of the few car owners.
Before supermarkets muscled their way in, there was a choice of family and national grocery and provision dealers hereabouts - Busseys in Gorleston High Street and Bells Road, Co-ops in various parts of the borough, Maypole, Pearks, Walter Halfnight, David Greig, International, Beckett & Pitcher, Clowes, Star Supplies, Bradshaws...
Only the Co-op has survived, as far as I am aware.
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A Mercury reader’s recent inquiry about a double-fronted shop in Gorleston, angled across the junction of Middleton Road and Pound Lane, caught my interest. K & G Stores became M & W Stores under new owners in the final decades of the last century, it was established. Today it is a convenience store named onestop.
I can recall it when it was Howards grocery shop in the 1940s because my mother bought her rations and other provisions there every week, always with me in tow. The proprietor (Charles?) was a rosy-cheeked avuncular man who, with his smart wife, bustled around, weighing and fetching this and that and piling them up on the counter.
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He tallied up the pencilled bills like lightning without any adding machine, and had the additional compulsory chore of snipping coupons from ration books or scribbling through them to invalidate them. Although the nearest competitor was a good step away (probably Busseys in Bells Road), Howards was always busy even though in those days the Middleton Road and Pound Lane area was comparatively sparsely populated.
As far as I can gather, in 1938 there were only two homes between Western Road and Gloucester Avenue on the landward side of Middleton Road which was otherwise fields; a decade later, there were 21 more or less on this same stretch, plus more along that side of Pound Lane, with dozens of houses concealed behind them, eventually stretching across farmland to the borough boundary.
That postwar growth comprised council houses, the fledgling huge Magdalen College Estate eventually back-filling over the 958 acres of land the borough had wisely bought from the university for £35,000 in 1932 in anticipation of a need for new housing to accommodate residents displaced from their homes by a major slum clearance programme in central Yarmouth.
The unforeseen war at the end of that decade resulted in widespread bomb damage, reducing many homes to rubble or rendering them beyond repair, and the immediate availability of the Magdalen College Estate land enabled a speedy start on erecting replacement homes.
We lived at the turning-circle end of West Avenue, a cul-de-sac off the busy A!2 Lowestoft Road to London and named after the builder and developer rather than its geographical position. Like nearby Russell and Stanley Avenues, also West developments, it had pink road surface and pavements.
Our house was only about 100 yards from Howards Stores...as the crow flies. But to reach it meant a walk up West Avenue, turning right along Lowestoft Road and right again, cutting across the forecourt of the Green Ace Garage to reach Middleton Road and head to the shop.
Occasionally, for a change of scenery, we did the circular tour, returning via Poplar Avenue to Lowestoft Road. The bag of groceries, even in that era of rationing, always seemed heavy whichever route we took. There was no errand boy.
Ignoring the tree-hidden Gorleston Super Holiday Camp (requisitioned during the war) with its Lowestoft Road entrance drive located roughly opposite the Green Ace, other commercial premises were few and far between in that general area in those days.
There was the Station Hotel public house, and a shop on the opposite corner of Elmgrove Road that regularly seemed to change roles. Then came Sid Page’s Beehive Garage and, just across the road bridge over the railway line at the station approach, a kiosk topped by a key occupied by a letting agency hoping to do business with arriving holidaymakers.
Just into Springfield and Victoria Roads were Plackett’s newspaper premises, Hannant’s (chemist), Richardson’s shoe repair hut, The House of Lovelace (women’s hairdressers Bertha and Kathleen Jode), and a garage.
On Lowestoft Road itself near the rail bridge bus stop stood Mr and Mrs Burt’s general shop (cigarettes, tobacco and assorted other goods) next to a branch of On the Square Library, lending books for a few pence a week that were general fiction unrelated to Freemasonry despite the name of the business.
I do not know how it survived because the public free library was farther along the road, but my mother was a regular borrower of its Mills & Boon romantic novels.
And that was about the sum of it seven decades ago, when Corporation buses from Yarmouth’s Theatre Plain went along Lowestoft Road, terminating at the Green Ace junction with Middleton Road.
Most of those commercial premises have survived, many put to new uses or under different ownership.
The closure of the Yarmouth-Lowestoft railway line in 1970, coupled with the building of the inner link road, resulted in major changes to roads and access in the neighbourhood, turning some once-busy parts into quiet backwaters, like part of the former A12 main road that is now more or less a double dead end.
Nowadays I could nearly get lost in what was once familiar territory.