In the days before supermarkets, housekeeping had a pleasant leisurely and personal flavour. The Sunday joint was delivered by the butcher, who usually had time for a chat, at the back door – he used the tradesman’s entrance, of course.
The Chinese market gardener went from house to house, carrying his vegetables and fruit in two baskets suspended from a yoke over his shoulders.
The “Rabbito” cried “Rabeet” up and down the street, his rabbits strung in rows in his little horse-drawn cart. When he sold one he skinned it on the spot.
At the beginning of the century housewives – and not only those who were poor – made most of their own preserves. Delicatessens, then known as ham and beef shops, were few.
Sometimes on Sundays, to save firewood and the bother of cooking, the joint was sent, in a dish, to a nearby baker, who put it in his oven to be collected later nicely cooked for threepence (2.5c) .
And what about the grocer’s shops. Any housewife shopping here would be treated like a lady. On arrival she would probably be met at the door and conducted to one of those mini-seated, maxi-legged Australian bent chairs, there to preside while the white-aproned assistant would scurry about in answer to her every whim. A junior employee would very likely have been allotted to entertain her child, probably with the help of a paper cone of boiled lollies. Tins of biscuits might be brought forth for her to examine, or even sample, before the assistant weighed out her order.
Packaging was almost unknown. The grocer and his men had to weigh and wrap all the regular items in which they traded. Even butter came in fifty-six pound boxes and had to be cut into one-pound and half-pound portions, which were patted into cubes or oblongs, then wrapped in greaseproof paper and stored in the ice-chest.
Chemist shops, which today sell everything from pantyhose to cameras, were much more austere in the 1900s. The chemist usually displayed in their windows, as curious symbols of their craft, two tall, bulbous bottles, one filled with red liquid, the other with green. The shelves of the shop displayed an impressive array of jars, labeled with the names of the medical drugs and the chemicals listed in the British Pharmacopoeia; thus common salt bore the enigmatic label Sod.Chlor.
The chemist was a dispenser of medicines then, not a mere distributor of ready-made pills, cosmetics and fancy goods as, for the most part, he is today.