In the ‘50s the Post Office Stores was one of at least three shops in the village – patronised by villagers and customers from all the outlying districts. In those days, before the advent of supermarkets, and before everyone had a car, the village shops provided for everyone’s needs.
The Post Office was the first port of call for most people. Every P.O. transaction was carried out, with the exception of car licences, in a small corner of the shop. Busiest P.O. days were Tuesdays and Thursdays for Pensions and Family Allowance. Mrs Sparrow provided a chair in the front of the shop for the O.A.P.s to rest their legs, and naturally have a chat with all and sundry! Christmas was an exceptionally busy time and huge areas of private space were taken up with P.O. bags of parcels and letters, awaiting collection in mid-afternoon by the regular Postman.
Apart from the Post Office side taking up a lot of room, every item of stationery you could think of was stocked on the back shelves – pens, pencils, paper and envelopes, drawing pins, staples, calendars, note books etc. not to mention all the forms relevant to P.O. transactions such as Savings Bank, driving licence and Certificates. Reposing amongst all this was the till! While I worked there it was dramatically changed from a wooden drawer to a proper till with key. Only draw back was every sale was entered in a slot manually by pen then at the end of the day the circular paper disc was removed for calculating the day’s takings. No press button adding up in those days!
One transaction of the P.O. sometimes caused problems – that was the telegram service. These were taken over the telephone from Head Office and handwritten on the relevant Ordinary or Greetings telegrams. The headache sometimes was finding someone to deliver them as the farthest away was beyond Morton Bagot. Usually I had to get my bike out and cycle myself. The biggest thrill we had was when Mr Waring was knighted. I was permanently on the telephone all that day taking down telegrams from all over the world for Sir and Lady Waring. Yes, quite a day. Meant several trips to Heath Lodge with batches of greetings telegrams.
The little shop was always busy as Mrs Sparrow stocked so many and varied items. There was a large glass cabinet full of toiletries and medicines, everything from Carters Little Liver Pills, to Cat and Dog powders, sachets of dried shampoo to Ponds Vanishing Cream. The alcove behind the counter was filled with all sorts – the dozen or so wooden drawers held buttons, cottons, hooks and eyes, ribbons, tapes, pins and needles and everything related. “If you can’t see what you want – please ask”, was the motto, and sure enough it was stocked. If not it could always be ordered for you. Mrs Sparrow pandered to all her customers’ likes and preferences. For instance instead of stocking just Heinz beans, she stocked HP and Crosse & Blackwell too. It was the same with biscuits. A large area was given over to biscuits and in those days there was a rep. for every brand of biscuit – Frears, Symbol, Huntley & Palmers to name just a few. There was even a tin of “broken biscuits” which pleased the less well off.
Even the cheese was vetted to make sure it pleased certain customers. Those days it was delivered in a huge round that had to be cut with cheese wires – bit tricky at times. Alongside the cheese was the bacon – kept in an old fashioned cool room outside in the stores. The monster of a bacon slicer sat on one end of the main counter. Bacon came in “sides” or “hams” and had to be boned on the dining room table!! That was a tricky job – I hated it when Mrs Sparrow was away – but worse was taking the bacon slicer to pieces to clean it each week!!
I’ve only mentioned a couple of grocery items so far, but I assure you there was everything you needed in that shop. Until sugar arrived in bags it had to be weighed into little blue bags this was kept dry in the dining room along with all the varieties of plain and self-raising flour, plus all the cereals of the time. Butter, margarine and lard were stored in the kitchen.
There was so much stock in the shop that not an inch of space was allotted to private use – even the main bedroom had huge boxes of toilet rolls and sanitary wear stacked in a corner.
Cannot go on without mentioning the sacks in the front shop – these contained corn, meal, and grit for the customers who kept hens – quite a few in those days. Unfortunately the sacks took up a lot of room as well as the drums of dog meal and dog biscuits – often a subject of criticism as it left room for only three or four people at most at a time in the shop. Good job the paraffin was stored in a tank in the outside store, along with kindling and firelighters. This was a messy, smelly job but after the garage closed the P.O. was the only place to buy paraffin.
Now to a tastier subject. Sweets and chocolate!! Central shelves were given over to a large assortment of sweets in jars – humbugs, toffees, fruit drops, acid drops and many many more. These were all weighed out in ¼lb bags. As well as bottled sweets these was a large selection of chocolate bars and boxes of chocolates, mainly Cadburys’ and Fry’s. The highlight of the children’s days was calling in after school with their precious pennies to spend on a huge selection of 1d and 2d items (old money). How hard it was for them to make up their minds!!
I nearly forgot to mention daily newspapers and magazines. Mrs Sparrow had to get up at 5am every day except Sunday to take in the papers and mark them up. We had two deliverers – me for the main street, and Miss Ethel Steedman cycled to the top of Ullenhall Lane and then around Oldberrow. Ethel was a great friend of Mrs Sparrow and stayed at weekends. Only her bedroom was free of goods!!
Now we come to Christmas – imagine on top of all I’ve mentioned a huge stack of toys and presents were ordered and displayed in a sort of rotation system so customers could see the different toys, books and games stocked. Christmas cards were mostly loose in those days displayed in a huge box on the counter.
Despite the clutter, everyone enjoyed coming into the shop and most people enjoyed a chat. It was one of the happiest times of my life the years I worked there.