Memories of shopping in Kenton when I was a little girl – Part 1

By Linda Gilley


We moved to Kenton, a North West London suburb, between Harrow and Wembley, in August 1951. I was almost five years old. This was still a time of rationing, not long after the war. My brother Peter was two years old.

My mother shopped several times a week with a hand basket. It was a ten to fifteen-minute walk to the shops. By the end of the fifties everyone had a basket on wheels, which they left outside the shops while they went inside to buy goods. There would be a whole sea of baskets to negotiate to get into Sainsbury’s on a Saturday morning. But in the early fifties, goodness knows how my mum managed to carry heavy bags of flour, sugar, tea, meat, fish, butter, and vegetables in her hand basket! And we had no car until the end of the decade.

Kenton had shops on both sides of the main road, and this account shows that most things we needed could be bought in that parade of shops.

At the top of the road was George Raymond – this was an independent draper, selling curtain material, antimacassars, bedding and cushions, buttons, and trims. Next door was an old-fashioned chemist, with the three coloured bottles in the window. As well as being a pharmacy, it sold soaps, perfumes, hairbrushes, and sponge bags. (On the other side of the road we had a very small Boots). WH Smiths was next door with much the same goods as now – newspapers and comics, stationery, books, and jigsaws. And then the first of two Sainsbury’s – the butchers: sawdust on the floor, meat on display in the window. My mother might buy a small piece of Argentinian beef for Sunday lunch. Further down the road was another family butcher, more expensive. In Sainsbury’s we had to queue up at separate counters for meat, bacon – with the bacon slicer, and eggs. Eggs were always white then: brown eggs were rarely seen and more expensive. In the second shop there were counters for cooked meats, cheese, butter, and tinned goods. The butter was pre-weighed and packed if you wanted New Zealand butter, but for those with more exotic tastes, like Dutch butter, for example, it was great to watch the ladies get out the wooden paddles to cut and pat the butter into shape. All the lady staff wore white muslin hairnets and white overalls. The butchers were usually men and they wore little white trilby hats and aprons. Imagine the time it took to go from counter to counter to get everything you wanted. And at the beginning of the fifties we still had rationing, so the book had to be produced and marked up, often with coloured pencils. For a small child, this exercise always seemed to take for ever.

The next shop was one of two greengrocers in the road with several people serving, weighing goods in huge brass weighing scales and shooting the veg straight into your basket or string bags. I associate string bags with the fifties, funny how they are now back in fashion. The ABC baker’s shop served square bread and not very exciting cakes but next door to that was the first self-service grocery store to open in the parade – Pay-n’-Take. Every week my mother picked up a wire basket and put in a 1/4lb of P G Tips (loose tea) and a 2lb bag of sugar. We used a lot of sugar then as my brother took five spoonsful in each cup of tea. He didn’t eat much. He appeared to live on cups of tea and bread and butter. We collected the picture cards in the P G Tips packets about stars and the planets. On the opposite side of the road was a Home and Colonial grocer which was too old fashioned for my mum. We almost never went there.

On the corner of the road was the Midland Bank where mum went once a month to cash a cheque for the house keeping. It had a high wooden counter and we had to be very quiet, as if we were in church. There were several other banks along the street – the Westminster, National Provincial and Barclays, plus the Post Office. We also had an Electricity Board Show room where you could pay your bill or buy outright, or later in the decade, on hire purchase, cookers, fridges, heaters, and lights. Woolworths was at the end of the row where we bought light bulbs, which were always tested by the shop assistant to make sure they worked before we paid for them, and plants, (no garden centres in those days), as well as almost anything else you could think of – reels of cotton, elastic, make-up, cheap jewellery, scarves and sweets. We also bought sweets at Maynard’s, a sweet shop and tobacconists. We would ask for a 1/4lb of toffees or jellies, which the lady would weigh out from a big jar into a tiny set of scales. And we often looked in the windows of the toy shop for model cars and bicycles. 

Part 2 next week …….

© Copyright  Linda Gilley - THACS Writers Online 2020