Keeping Shop in West Allotment

We had huge stocks of tinned food in the back shop - enough to feed the area for two weeks following any invasion.

Annabel Graham with her Grandmother Martha Gray (nee Cowan) and younger brother William, outside the shop at Old Allotment. This photograph was taken before 1953. The shop was next to the Northumberland Arms, but across a little street.

Annabel Graham with her Grandmother Martha Gray (nee Cowan) and younger brother William, outside the shop at Old Allotment. This photograph was taken before 1953. The shop was next to the Northumberland Arms, but across a little street.

Before the war my Dad had a fruit and veg business in West Allotment  He had a succession of horses, one of which he broke in himself.  Consequently, I was never afraid of horses and when I was about eighteen months I would totter between the horse’s front legs. My Mam told the tale of when I did this to a strange horse.  At that time I didn’t have much hair, only a little tuft at the front.  One day I went missing and when she found me I had a small red patch where my hair had been.  The horse had quietly nibbled it off.

Not long after the start of the war my Dad gave up his business and sold his horse as he knew that he would soon be called up. He took a lease from the colliery on a small grocer’s shop about half a mile from where we lived.  He wanted to keep my Mam busy while he was away, and he thought it would be a nice little business for him to come back to.  He always said that he would never work for a boss.  He installed us; me, my Mam and my small brother, who was only two years old at the time.

The property was very old with deep stone windowsills.  The shop stood on the side of a main road to Newcastle.  Alongside the shop was our only living room with a small back end tacked on, with a cold water sink. Stairs led from the front door to two bedrooms.  Of course the living room had a large open fire but not an oven.  We had a gas cooker in the back shop.  This was a huge area behind the shop where the provisions were stored.  I remember huge wooden bins for flour and sugar etc.  Everything arrived in large sacks and had to be scooped up into paper bags.  All vegetables were sold loose, and potatoes were sold by a half or quarter of a stone.  Sugar was sold in one or two pound blue paper bags.

Behind the back shop was the wash house.  It also had an open fire and then the toilet.  We had a free standing galvanised gas boiler which heated the water for our baths.  These were taken in a long tin bath (in front of the fire in winter), which had to be emptied by hand into the sink in the yard.  In the corner of the yard was an old stable with hay loft and I believe that the building had once been a coaching inn.

During the last war, at the time of the invasion threat, we had huge stocks of tinned food in the back shop.  It was intended to be enough to feed the area for at least two weeks following any invasion.  Of course these emergency rations had to be closely guarded and checked regularly.  Just about all of our food was rationed.  Generally two or four ounces of most foods were allowed per person per week.  I remember my Mam’s list of foodstuffs still: bacon, butter, sugar, tea, margarine, lard, cheese, jam and eggs.

Eggs were not always available but if you had a doctor’s certificate you were guaranteed one egg per week. Children under 5 years did not get a tea ration as they received orange juice and cod liver oil from the Food Ministry. All tinned food was on a point system.  Points had letters; ‘A’s and ‘B’s for meat, fish, tinned fish, sweets etc.  Apart from growing vegetables, a lot of folk kept chickens and one neighbour two or three doors away kept a pig.  She eventually killed the pig herself and gutted and cleaned it.  All of it was used, even the blood which was poured into a large enamel dish and stirred with her hands to prevent coagulation.  Barley and spices were added, and the result was gorgeous black pudding.

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