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16 October 2014
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The Corner Shop

There was a time when the corner shop would have loomed large in the life of a community...

History and Heritage

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Image of a corner shop

Now all but disappeared, there was a time when the corner shop would have loomed large in the life of a community. Christopher Wilson, from Limavady, remembers helping out occasionally at the back of the shop next door to his father's store in Enfield Street, Belfast.

tea chests

"In those days many items had to be packed on the premises. Sugar and tea was weighed into half or one pound paper bags from large bins for the sugar and plywood chests for the tea. I used a metal scoop to fill each bag which was on the flat plate of the scales, with a brass half or one pound weight on the other plate. When the bag was full at the correct weight it was sealed by a four stage system of pointing up two of the sides and folding over the other two. In time I became quite an expert at folding.

Cheese slabs were cut by a cheese cutter, which was a wooden slab and a length of fine but strong wire. The size of the cut blocks was estimated for the correct weight.

The work I really enjoyed was cutting or slicing the bacon and ham. The bacon and ham came in what were called sides, huge lumps in the shape of part of the pig, cured and covered in white muslin. The muslin was pulled back, the side laced on the bacon slicer plate tight up to the circular shinning cutting blade.

The thickness or thinness rasher guide was set and then the slicing began. The slicer wheel was spun furiously and the mechanism allowed the blade to cut through the bacon or ham until all was sliced. The slices were gathered in sets of half a pound, wrapped in grease paper and set on an enamel tray in the shop window.

In the late forties some butchers in Belfast still kept pigs in pens at the back of the shop. They slaughtered the pigs, skinned and cured the bacon on the premises. From time to time the inspectors visited their shops to check the quality of the carcasses. One butcher had a carcass which he knew was not the proper quality. When he saw the inspector coming along the street, he sent the message boy off with the carcass on a handcart with the instructions not to come back until the inspector had gone."

Did you run messages to the local corner shop for your mum or dad? What kinds of things did the shop sell? Who worked in it? Why not share your memories with others ......

Some of your responses

Patricia McCusker - Apr '07
Our family is searching for relatives who we believe had a grocery shop and pub in East Belfast around the 1900 - 1960's or sometime around that. The surname was Bannon and they came from Fermanagh.

Mrs Diane Gow - Feb '07
Further to Jim McLaughlin's article on the corner shop. I asked my parents about Belles corner shop, as my dad lived in Mersey Street as a boy. Apparently, the shop was always known as Belle Grimsleys,(some folks said "Grimsby's") although, that was not her surname, but her niece's. Belle's name was "Morning" . My parents think she may also have been known as Belle Ross.

Although I am in my 40's I remember the two sisters well. They used to live in the "Next Street" to me, when I was a child. In later years, Belle worked for a while in Desi Mculloughs newsagents on Connsbrook Avenue.

Corner shop at Lenaderg, Banbridge.
Corner shop at Lenaderg, Banbridge by Jackie Bird


Jim McLaughlin - Sep '06
Belles corner shop in Mersey street, (East Belfast) run by two sisters Belle and violet never knew their second name. violet had an uncontrollable twitch, her head never stopped twitching. But they kept the area going, had everything from butter to bandages most of which was on tick during the week. At the other end of our street (Meekon street)was Mrs Browns shop similar set up. Unfortunately for Mrs Brown every year 11th july the bonfire was at the side of her shop in a confined space (a row of terraced two up two downs) all her butter melted and her bacon ,corned beef etc was roasted. Anyone remember the knockers up? Mrs Patton in our street. Depending what time you started she came and woke you by knocking on the door, nothing polite , a resounding hammering on the door until you acknowledged then she moved on to the next. I suspect the first was enough for the whole street. The Co-op at Dee street not strictly a corner shop but it seems that way now we have supermarkets and nothing is personal anymore. (Get in quick, buy quick,get out quick) Corner shops were part of the community.

yamyam - July '06
Very nice, like the sweets!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Annette Long - July '06
Corner Shops, what can we say? They were truly a thing of our childhood. I used to love going down the local shop to purchase bulls eyes and liquorice and humbugs, all for only a few pence! Nowadays its big expensive bags and nothing like the old days, without classic boiled sweets, its all high sugar and fat. The sweets were in big glass jars, lining traditional wooden shelves behind the counter. I have to go and find the sweets in a big supermarket, I can't ask the kind people on the till. I always remember Mrs Millan, the woman who worked in my local. She would greet me everyday after school and occasionally dropped in an extra few sweets for my surprise!

There were allsorts for sale, I remember my father was always buying tobacco in there, oh memories; my mother hated him smoking! But still he'd go every week and buy more of the stuff. I remember once when I was assigned a sewing project when I was about 12, that I needed needles, for my Mother never let me touch them in fear of poking my fingers! How time has changed! I would love my grandchildren to ask me for a needle and thread, but computer games got the better again! Anyway, back to my sewing at 12. I went to purchase the needles and Mrs Millan took me around the back where she showed me a most beautiful selection of sewing accessories. Buttons, pins, needles, threads, wool, thimbles, and I remember being amazed at Mrs Millan's sewing machine! My mother still used her hands!!

I really wish children could experience life like we did all those years go, but sadly our shops today are not at all like the aged corner shops of Great Britain.

Thank you for reading my memories, I would positively love to read anyone else's!

Bruce Pritchard - April '06
Reba Mullan, when she remembers with nostalgia her mothers (Mrs Brown's) shop and the community spirit of the area begs the question what happened to Victor street and its encumbents?

Les Beck says,
I visited Bessbrook and Craigmore last year to see where I had lived during the second world war. In Bessbrook I travelled up the Boiler Hill from the old tram station and at the top of the hill, on the right, I was delighted to see the little sweet shop that I had bought sweets from over 60 years ago was still there. I spoke to the lady who owns the shop and explained who I was and to my utter astonishment she produced a photo of my father and one of my grandfather. It was a delight to see all the sweets in jars and it brought back happy childhood memories.

Kath Cooper asks,
Re Reba Mullan's memories - Was this the same Dobson's dairies which made ice-cream? It was in a block, the carton had an illustration of a lady in pink crinoline and bonnet.
Can anyone tell me more about this firm?

Jackie Bird of Banbridge sent us the photograph above of a corner shop at Lenaderg, Banbridge. He tells us that he's 78 years old and is enjoying both his digital camera and his computer. Why not send us a picture of your local corner shop?

Bruce Pritchard : I can remember with poignancy Reba's memory of Mrs Browns and also Geordie Brown, it was our contact with Granny Pritchard, for Mrs Brown had the only telephone in Victor street in the 50's and early 60's. I can almost taste the memories for they are that strong. Reba recalls with accuracy her Mothers shop.

Rab Duncan
I certainly do remember Mrs Browns shop in Victor Street. I lived in Shamrock St and there were many little shops tucked away in the Streets of the area. They all did a great service to the area where we lived and we have nice memories of that time. Rab Duncan, Pickering, Ontario, Canada.

Reba ( Brown ) Mullan. said: "Just came across this page... Anyone " out there " remember Mrs Brown's shop at 3 Victor Street, Belfast, a real wee community service shop , groceries and love for people all in one parcel- that was my mum. She had the shop from 1937 to early 1980's - all hours and always " on the go ". In the early days she baked for the shop too . I remember one " bad " winter, Milk trucks couldn't deliver to the shop - so my dad and us ( 4 sisters ) went to the diary ( Dobsons? ) and walked home carrying milk, a bread problem- she sent a taxi to Inglis' to get her bread - the customers had to be taken care of. Anyone in need or trouble knew where they'd find a cup of tea, a shoulder to cry on and then advice or help - in that order. To her there was no difference in race, creed, or what your job or " position " in life was, you were " someone " to her, and she was a very big " someone " in a lot of people's lives over the years."

Green Eyes says:
Corner shops are sadly a thing of the past. My late grandparents had one. You know the sort open 24 - 7, 365 days a year, everything from a needle to an anchor (well nearly) ... big jars of boiled sweets and packets of Parkdrive or Senior Service. There was always a particular sort of sweet shop smell..something like burnt toffee and tobacco all rolled into one.

It was great if you were allowed to serve a customer and weigh out an ounce or 2 of clove rock..get me! ounces..weighing out! It's all prepacked now but I can still remember the feel of the old brass weights and my grannie watching like a hawk to make sure you didn't give any extra! Now I do my shopping online and it's delivered to the door...changed times indeed. Does anyone else out there have any memories of corner shops?

Mag says: "Corner shops I remember are Annies in Convention Sreet my grannie used to send me for messages.I remember stopping to eat the liver sausage on a doorstep on the way back and trying to rewra the meat so she wouldn't know ha! ha!
Nelly Napiers on the Beersbridge Road she used to let me help in the shop and use the big cash register.She always wore a beret and came from the country somewhere. She sold everything fruit veg,needles. Bill's the milkbar on the Beersbridge Road. He had a jukebox. Sold ice cream and snack potato crisps from the little factory along the road. Great days great memories.


1950`s corner

old corner shop
Image of a corner shop

You can experience the feeling of stepping back in time, when sweets were in jars and a wooden interior not painted aluminium, was the order of the day, by visiting the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum at Cultra.

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