Many of us have supermarket deliveries now (I don’t, but I might if my local Co-op did it, I try to spend my housekeeping money in the town where I live) but, whilst that’s quite a recent thing, doorstep deliveries were the norm before the days of supermarkets.
Milk was delivered daily, of course. Initially as I’ve said, the milkman came round with his horse and cart (and if a pile of dung was left outside your gate this was a bonus and you nipped out with bucket and shovel before your neighbour did), but electric milk floats gradually superseded the single horse-powered vehicle. We still have milk delivered twice a week, in returnable bottles, though I suspect the latter isn’t the norm now. Incidentally, Adnams brewery in Southwold kept its horse-drawn drays for many years for local deliveries, it’s within the last ten years I should think (yes, I could google it) that the heavy horses were finally pensioned off. Most people buy milk from the supermarket, I rarely do. We continue to buy from the milkman and the rest of our milk comes straight from the farm and Jonny’s Girls. Jonny is planning to extend into cheese production soon, as you’ll see if you follow the link and scroll down.
The baker’s van called round twice a week, I think. Good fresh loaves, though the cakes and biscuits were all packaged. In those days my mother never baked cakes and we rarely bought them either, but if we did they would have been not very interesting ones from there.
The fishmonger phoned from Beccles once a week and took our order – he’d reel (geddit?) off what was fresh in that day and deliver the order later. I don’t remember whether there was a fishmonger in Oulton Broad, surely there was? It seems odd now, to live in a fishing port and buy from several miles away, because the fish was certainly taken from Lowestoft to Beccles and brought back again to us, but it must have been a particularly good fishmonger. There were several smokehouses in Lowestoft for delicious kippers and bloaters. Kippers were always bought in pairs in those days, but I couldn’t eat a pair of kippers now, they’re very filling. Of course, the fishing industry has been almost wiped out now. In the 1970s there was a lot of concern about the Russian factory fishing fleet that trawled up pretty well everything, it was said then that they overfished the North Sea and so they did. Now, we still have doorstep deliveries of fish – Paul comes on a Monday with his refrigerated van and we buy from him – but the fish is nearly all landed in Grimsby I believe.
Meat was bought from Mr Marjoram in Oulton Broad. The shop is still there, I don’t know if it’s still family-owned but I expect so. Again, whilst we could of course go in and shop, my mother normally phoned through her order and it was delivered. Now, we’re well served for butchers, with three excellent ones in the town. I don’t buy meat from supermarkets, it’s expensive and/or not very good. That is, I might buy some chicken portions or something once in a while (only British meat – apart from things such as salami and Parma ham and so on, I never buy imported meat) but rarely and not as my first choice.
We bought our groceries from Waller’s in Oulton Broad. You would go in and ask for each item individually from the assistant behind the counter. Mr Waller or Mr Fenn were most likely to serve us. Alternatively, we could drop in a written order to be made up, or telephone and in either event the groceries would be delivered later. In the late ’60s the first supermarket opened in Oulton Broad. Privately owned and run by Mr Faulkner, it was very good and it was so much quicker to go round and pick up your own groceries that many people started to shop there. Later, Mr Faulkner sold that business and started up a health food shop next door. In addition to local shopping, my parents had an account with Fortnum and Mason for items they couldn’t buy in Lowestoft – ridiculously enough, Gold Blend instant coffee was first obtained from London – and we particularly enjoyed choosing the Christmas order. I remember the sweets best, Griottes en Cognac – Morello cherries in brandy encased in dark chocolate – and Amandines, which can’t be their full name and I’ve never been able to track them down again. They were a torpedo-shaped butterscotch rolled in flaked almonds and wrapped in silver paper and were delicious. If anyone can identify them and tell me where to buy them, I’d be immensely grateful. I’ve tried in Fortnum’s a few times over the years and they couldn’t help me. Some 20 years ago, my mother said to me, wistfully, that our order from Fortnum and Mason cost about £25, what did I think would be the equivalent now? I suggested, with inflation, at least £500. We both sighed. It would probably be double that now. I occasionally buy something there still for old time’s sake.
We rarely needed to buy vegetables as we grew everything, but we bought fruit and imported stuff. I don’t have clear memories of a greengrocer though, so it probably came from Waller’s. My parents were always on the look-out for something unusual and avocados, aubergines, okra, Chinese gooseberries (now called Kiwi fruit) and so on were sent for from London in the first instance. Later in the ’60s you could buy most of them locally of course.
The wine merchant was in Lowestoft. Peter Dominic’s – though the name changed a few times over the years that was it for most of the time. I suppose they delivered too, I don’t remember, though I do remember calling in with one of my parents regularly. Wine was on the table at every meal – every dinner anyway, maybe not lunch. It was usual to have a glass of sherry or gin and tonic or whatever – my father had a fondness for Pernod – and wine with the meal. If there were guests, port or liqueurs were passed round afterwards. It’s my lingering belief that a decanter of port should always be passed to the left, because of the superstition that if the port is passed the wrong way, a sailor dies at sea. Fortunately, it doesn’t count if the port is in the bottle. Now there are two wine merchants in Bungay, I also sometimes buy online in which case it’s delivered or I go to the supermarket.
My parents had accounts at all the shops of course, and so didn’t need to carry much money. It was all done on trust, “put it on the bill” and, although it turned up fully itemised it was paid without question and promptly. My father despised the practice of keeping traders waiting for their money – a young friend who worked for Peter Dominic said that it was surprising how many well-respected people didn’t pay their drinks bill for many months, but our attitude was that if you can’t afford it, you don’t buy it. And (with due respect and sympathy for those who can’t make their money stretch to basics, I’m not meaning them) that has always been my rather simplistic attitude to my household accounts.