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Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Corner shop life in Chaddesden Derby in the 1950s

Back in 2003 I used to contribute to the Derby Evening Telegraph Bygones section and enjoyed recalling my youthful times in the world of Derby's then prevalent butcher's shops (1970s and 1980s) and of my scouting years and other such nostalgia. Today's post comes not from me but from a piece that I kept from one of their Bygones sections in 2003 written by the late June Pearson of Fenny Bentley in Derbyshire.

June Pearson in the 1950s

I never knew June directly but we had a connection in that she worked in a small corner shop on the top of Cardigan Street in Chaddesden Derby. As a child I would often pop into its enticing environs with my granny Hampson to shop for a few items and June's eloquent and detailed writings struck a chord with me. Today I spoke to Jane Goddard of the Derby Evening Telegraph and was then able to get in touch with June's surviving husband Ken who gave me permission to use June's most excellent material.

Mr Fred Hanson and wife Ida (my granny) and my dad and mam.

My mother Marjorie Ethel Lowe.

What interested me the most was the detail of the things that were sold in the shop in the 1950s and her practices in working at the shop. All quite different from today's shopping experiences. Over to June...

“I worked at Mrs Jenning's corner shop as a shop assistant in 1957 and remember Philip Lowe's Grandmother as a customer as well as two of her daughters (Marjorie and Barbara) who came into the shop on errands for their mam. I also got to know many other people who were customers at the shop. My own mother traded at the shop and was well looked after during the war.

Part interior of a typical corner shop in the UK circa 1950.

Mr and Mrs Jenning's shop and house were built around 1935 before the vast Chaddesden housing estate was completed. It stood on the brow of the steep part of Cardigan Street, between Hillcrest Road and Cowsley Road. Previously they had had a greengrocery round and a Fish and Chip shop in the Cowsley Road area. In my humble opinion the Fish and Chip shop sold the best fish and chips in Derby. Mrs Jennings sister, Effie Wilkes and her husband owned this shop. Harry Wilkes also played in goal for Derby County in the 1930s.

In 1951 Mr Jennings died aged only 49 but Mrs Jennings carried on running the business with the help of her sister Ivy who lived in Repton. In addition to Ivy, Madge Johnson, who lived on Hillcrest Road, worked at the shop four mornings a week. Mrs King from Cardigan Street and Mrs Kitchen cleaned the shop every evening after it had closed.

Another girl I remember was Poppy Martin who was there before me and I gather was quite a favourite with everyone. My own working hours were 8.30am to 6pm Monday to Saturday with half day closing on Tuesdays at 1pm.

Monday and Tuesday mornings were spent re-stocking the shelves and cleaning. This was done with a smear of Mansion Polish and plenty of what they used to call 'elbow grease'. Most of the shelves in the shop were made of polished wood and there was also a rather nice glass fronted cabinet in which were kept numerous ointments and patent medicines.

Another corner shop in the 1950s

A double row of small wooden drawers running along the back wall of the shop contained nutmegs, drums of pepper, bundles of elastic, darning wool, safety pins, sewing needles, cards of buttons, boxes of Top Mill snuff and numerous other objects essential to living at the time. Many women would be adept at knitting and sewing and made their own clothes from popular patterns.

Wednesdays were spent making up orders for delivery on Thursdays and Fridays. Mrs Jennings delivered the orders in her car which was a Wolseley 15/60. I also remember her having a Jowett 10 and, occasionally, she would give me a lift home from school when she collected her son Geoff. It was a rare treat in those days. And she was a woman driver – a much derided species in those days, but she was always safe and followed the rules of driving to the letter.

On Friday afternoon Mrs Jennings would bank the week's takings in Derby. She was always in a tearing hurry to reach the bank before 3.30pm and I often remember (with amusement now) her going off to Derby in her slippers!

British currency circa 1950s.
During the week there would be a steady flow of travelling salesmen coming into the shop. Each of them would be hoping for an order, of course. We had regular ones who supplied us with sides of bacon, ham, butter, lard, sugar and cheese. Cheshire's of Derby and the Ceylon Tea Company were our main suppliers and at least six companies supplied biscuits. Some biscuits were sold in packets and some sold loose in half pounds and pounds. A half pound of biscuits would contain mostly plain plus one chocolate and one wafer biscuit, whereas a pound would include three chocolate and three wafers.

When a new product was being launched we would be given free samples. Soap, toothpaste and shampoo were always welcome and, when Knorr soups were introduced we were given soup from a flask to sample! Very nice it was too! We also sold a lot of Campbell's and Heinz tinned soup - the rich tomato and the chicken soups were the most popular as well as oxtail - even in the summer!


Vinegar was sold from a barrel which was kept in a yard at the side of the shop along with soap powders, bottles of Chlorus, crates of pop and cleaning aids.

Goodalls of Derby supplied us with pork sausages and pies. Johnstone's greengrocery wholesalers supplied us with potatoes, carrots and onions. Nothing got wasted as we always sold out.

Christmas was always a busy time and the customers would spend money saved through the year in a Jennings' Christmas Club account. Ivy would decorate the shop top shelf with Cadbury's picture box chocolates, large tins of pears, peaches and apricots, tins of salmon and Nestle's cream. We would take orders for pork pies, ham, Christmas puddings, selection boxes and trifles. On Christmas Day Mrs Jennings would open the shop at tea time – for an hour – to sell ice cream. Back then (1950s) fridges and freezers were still a luxury in most homes.

Mrs Jennings had a daughter called Cynthia who was a school teacher. Her son Geoff's great love was motorbikes and most things that were noisy. On Bonfire night he always had lots of fireworks and loved everyone to enjoy them with him. He also had a very long sledge on which, when it snowed, as it frequently did in those days, Geoff loved giving the local kids a death-defying ride down the steep Cardigan Street to Kerry Street at the bottom. Sometimes a few of us would fall off on the way but nobody seemed to mind. It was all great innocent fun. We really had a good time and frequently went home with hot aches and chilblains. Cardigan Street was always known locally as Jenning's Hill!

In the 1950s having a telephone at home was quite a luxury and Mrs Jennings would often be called upon to phone for the doctor or to pass messages on to the nearby neighbours. My brother John, who was in the Royal Engineers serving in Germany in the 1950s, used to ring through to the shop to let us know he was coming home on leave. I then had to tell his girlfriend Gill to let her know.

In 1962 I left Jennings and settled into another area and didn't visit the shop for a long time but I was called upon to manage the shop one more time when Richard, Mrs Jennings' step-son got married. When Mrs Jennings (now Crocker) decided to retire in the late 1960s she offered the shop to my husband Ken and myself. Although it was a tempting offer we declined as we were happily settled in another area.

The years in Cardigan Street were very happy and neighbours would always give a helping hand when needed. Our immediate neighbours were Mrs Blanche and Mrs Fenner who were both very supportive to my mother during the war when my dad was serving in North Africa. I had four elder brothers who must have been quite a handful with my dad being absent from home. I have heard lots of tales of the things they got up to during the war but I am sure it was all harmless fun.

I haven't visited Cardigan Street for many years and, no doubt, I would see many changes now. Who knows – I may visit those old haunts once again one day.

June Pearson (née Redfern)

Article originally published by Derby Evening Telegraph Bygones 29th July 2003. Re-published and edited with their kind permission and the permission of Ken Pearson.

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