London: The Shops Of My Youth

Shopping in London in the 1950s was very different to the experience today. Most districts had shopping streets, or markets. Each shop would usually sell one specific item, such as meat in a butchers, or toys in a toy shop. There were no shopping malls, and the biggest department stores were considered to be too expensive for most working-class people.

Here is a selection of photos that show what shopping was like in my childhood.

This could easily have been me, gazing longingly at the toys on display.

Outside of pubs, some shops were licensed to sell alcohol to be consumed off the premises only. They were known as ‘Off-Licences’.

Fruit and Vegetables.
Usually referred to as ‘Greengrocers’, shops just like this one could be found in any London district.

Pie and Mash.
Meat pies served with mashed potatoes, and Eels sold stewed, or jellied.
This was a staple food of working-class people in many districts, and you could either eat inside, or take the food home.

In my childhood, TV sets had tiny screens, and were notoriously unreliable in operation.
Yet they were so expensive, it was not unusual for just one house in a street to own one, and everyone else pop in to watch it.

With the boom in pop music just starting, record shops like this one were springing up all over.
They also sold the equipment to play the records on.

Department Store.
Outside of the more exclusive big stores in the West End, local department stores served other areas.
This was Jones and Higgins in Peckham, the nearest department store to where we lived.

41 thoughts on “London: The Shops Of My Youth

  1. I wonder if that display in front of the green grocers shop was set up for a special occasion? It looks to be an awful lot of work for a daily display! Can you imagine someone selecting one piece of fruit, and a whole piece of the display collapsing in a heap?

    I spect the first 8 years of my life in Peckham, in Chadwick Road, and attended Bellenden Road school. Miss MacSweeny was the head mistress, if I remember correctly.

    My father worked in Jones and Higgins, and I remember that in their double frontage, there were two windows with mirrors on either side, so that when you stood between them you seemed to extend into eternity.

    There was also a model shop somewhere near the station, and I remember it having a Triang Southern Electric advert in the window. This greatly appealed to me, as our house at the top of Chadwick Road overlooked the depot that (I think) maintained such units. I also remember individual Pullman cars, with names such as Gladys and Ethel, if memory serves me well.

    I never tried eating eels, jellied or otherwise, but well remember Manzies Eel,& Pie shop in Woolwich. My mother would hurry my sister and I past it, but quite why I am not sure! I do remember being out with my father one day,,and passing a fish monger so shop in Rye Lane which had a couple of trays of live eels outside. I thought they must be hungry, so picked up a handful of sawdust, and dropped it into the eels. The owner was none too happy, and dad didn’t hang around!

    Anyway, thanks for binging back some (mostly) happy memories.


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi, James.
      The shops always had a display like that, but nobody took anything from it. The owners displayed all their best stuff in that way, then served you from boxes or trays inside the shop as a rule.
      Happy to take you back down memory lane. My Mum lived the last years of her life in Nunhead, and Rye Lane changed almost beyond recognition between 1995 and 2010.
      Best wishes, Pete.


  2. My mother’s family used to buy fish and chips and winkles. I have never seen a winkle but apparently you got them out with a winkle picker. Interesting post, Pete. I love seeing the pictures and learning more about life in London.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Winkles are tiny sea snails. They look a bit like a small worm, and you need something like a darning needle to get them out of their shell. Winkles and cockles are still popular, and usually sold from stalls on the street.

      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This is wonderful, Pete… except for the stewed eels. Really?? Did you eat them when you were little? I, too, was the child at the window in the toy store. And the record store is pretty fancy selling Hi-Fi’s. Our black and white TVs were really small. We had rabbit ear antennas to help the reception. Tin foil on the antenna helped. Thank you for the memories.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Sometimes I wish I would own a time machine Pete. This all looks so amazing, and it’s such a great nostalgia trip. I especially like the toy store.
    Honestly what scares me lately is that so many shops are disappearing. Everyone just seems to order things online, which means that simple things like toystores are simply disappearing. It’s such as a shame as there was nothing better as a kid then to enter a toystore to look longingly at some of the cool toys on offer. It’s a shame that so many kids might not ever have that experience again 😒

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Eels? I know what they look like, having seen them in a lot of English movies but can’t imagine eating one, especially stewed or pickled… Of course I have been a vegetarian for most of the last 47 years but even before that, no, no, no! πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The most popular way is to eat them cold, in an aspic jelly. I don’t actually like them myself, but the older members of my family loved to eat them all the time! πŸ™‚
      Best wishes, Pete.


    1. I am doing a similar post about historical pubs tomorrow, Cindy. Glad you enjoyed the Covent Garden area, it is hugely popular with Londoners and tourists alike. πŸ™‚
      Best wishes, Pete. x

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I never used to eat any, but they were very popular. (And still are!)
      Mind you, I once had barbecued eel in Beijing, and it was delicious. πŸ™‚
      You had mushy peas up north, and they still make me gag!
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Mum always used to take me to Kelly’s pie & mash shop on Saturdays in Bethnal Green, and she always took her own knives and forks! I remember they used to have the eels swimming about in the front window.

    Liked by 1 person

All comments welcome

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.