Leigh in Lancashire seemed a big place in my tender years. The usual shopping places for my family were Leigh Market (outside of course) in between the seemingly grand buildings of the Town Hall and the Parish Church and Allsops fruit and vegetable shop on the other side of the 'main' road. (In my mind's eye I can see the shop's 'lady in charge' in her green overall and gloves to protect hands from the soil on the potatoes even now!). On rainy days, if queuing up to be served at a stall, one had to try and shelter under the overhanging canvass or, on the newer stalls, metal roofs. Having rain drips down the back of one's neck is not very nice. If a stall was backing on to the Church's railings, they were lucky because the canvass could go over the back of the railings creating a better shelter and more storage room. Many of the stallholders were there for years and years. Plants were on a couple of stalls before the popularity of garden centres, groceries before supermarkets sprouted up and many stalls were piled high - pyramid shaped - with fruit and veg. lovely colours and shiny apples at the front all sitting in their tissue cups. Allsop's fruit and veg.was also displayed outside on the pavement and seemed to be bustling most times. Whatever you bought, one had to bear in mind that it would all have to be carried home as we didn't have cars to pile the shopping in then. I was once sent to Waterworths to get, amongst other items, 2lb of cooking apples. I took them home and, after my mother's inspection, ordered to take them straight back and say 'My Mum says she would like these changed because they're bruised'. Oh the embarrassment it caused me, apart from the considerable walk, though I had to do it - and they were changed with a haughty sniff!
I also remember being bought a pair of black patent shoes from one stall and I still love black shiny shoes! For certain items of clothing, Blackshaws on Leigh Road was the answer. What a dark and dull shop that was - and I never liked the navy blue knickers from there (or from anywhere else really!).
Woolworths was always lovely to walk round, especially the sweets section and one could buy 3d's worth of broken biscuits after swimming at Silk Street swimming baths.
For buying bread daily, it was meant going to the Duva Bakery which was on Leigh Road at the top of Irvine Street (I LOVED going there because I could see all the huge machinery, ovens and the smell of freshly baked bread was heavenly. There's no way casual callers would be allowed to buy in that manner today - far too unhygienic to say nothing of the safety aspect. When the bakery closed, it was to the small Co-op on Hope Street (?) where bacon was still freshly sliced to your choice of thickness, 'best' butter was cut off the huge slab and sugar weighed and put in the blue bags - and I still remember the kindly gentleman who was Manager for years. On Oxford Street we were lucky enough to have Rigby's Dairy which had beautiful horses in the stables. We took our stale bread for the horses whilst buying our pints of milk. These pints of milk were extra to the ones delivered by the Co-op - where we left milk cheques in a bottle for the milkman. Blue for pasturised and brown for sterilised.
Waters shop on Hope Street (seemingly) sold everything. Mr Waters was the kindest and most patient gentleman - we were never turned away when we knocked at the back gate to buy something out of hours.
I am glad that modern shopping in most of England is how it has developed today. I can remember queuing in small grocers' and butchers' shops in the 1940s with my mother and grandmother as we waited to get the weekly 'rations' - the food available on a coupons system - and the customer had to be registered at the shop before any purchase could be made. You were served by shopkeepers who were mean and powerful and kept any scarce items 'under the counter' for their friends, favourites or any people of local influence. My memory is of shops with no friendliness, no desire to have satisfied customers and even when rationing ended in the early 1950s these attitudes didn't really change. When plentiful food and new consumer goods became widely available in the 1960s these mean little shops were largely swept away. The ones that survived were largely the ones that deserved to survive. There are some aspects of life in the 1950s that I miss but shopping isn't one of them. Shops and banks kept highly inconvenient hours and consumer protection was pathetically inadequate. Only newsagents (usually these were friendly places early in the morning) were open at six am and a few butchers opened very early (although they were usually closed all day on Monday), but most shops kept to a regulated 9 am to one pm, closed for the lunch hour and reopened at 2pm until 5-30pm. Once a week there was a statutory 'early closing' day when all the shops in a town shut at one pm for the day. In theory this was to ensure shop workers got an afternoon off but if all the other shops were shut they couldn't ever get to shops themselves unless they could travel by bike, bus or train to another town that had a different early closing day. The real revolutions in English shopping were the growth of supermarkets and the fact that these refused to remain closed when people needed to use them, coupled with the arrival of Asian retailers from Uganda in 1971/2 which brought a return of the small shop but with convenient evening and Sunday and Bank Holiday opening hours. England is very lucky that shopping streets still exist as organic entities that people can walk around and soak up the atmosphere of a town or city. In the USA one can drive to endless look-alike shopping parades that cannot be reached on foot and however good the stores the 'feel' is of being in an entirely soulless and sterile environment. Yet even that beats being in a queue for a dented can of peas and mock apologies for not having any or enough of whatever else it was we were trying to buy.