A flour lad at the Co-op, 1938
© Lewis Boam
In 1938 I went to work at the Co-op at the Brightside and Carbrook branch on Staniforth Road. In those days there were no electronic tills, no pre-packed goods and certainly no self service. Each item was requested by the customer and brought to them by the assistant from behind the counter. Most commodities came loose and had to be weighed and packed on the premises. Lard, butter, sugar, vinegar, treacle, dried fruit and many more came into this category. Bacon came as half a pig which had to be cut up and boned before being sliced on a huge hand-operated machine. All the bills had to be totalled up manually. Most shops had one or more cats to keep down the mice.
I was the flour lad, responsible for weighing and bagging the flour. The hours were long and my wage was the princely sum of eleven shillings and nine pence per week. Nobody wanted to sit next to me on the tram on the way home as I was covered in flour. On some occasions I would go out with a wheelbarrow delivering orders. At other times I would go out with the horse and dray and help the delivery man. After work we were required to attend evening classes for two nights a week at Salmon Pastures school until 9.00pm and for this we had to pay four shillings and six pence per term plus the cost of the text books!
The 1950s brought us self service stores which at the time were quite a novelty. Over the years all the Co-op branches went self service but many were closed as they were unable to compete with the huge supermarkets. The wheel has now turned full circle and the Co-op is once again expanding via late-night convenience stores.
Written by Lewis Boam, Pitsmoor resident and member of Firshill and Pitsmoor Local History Group, January 2006.