Shops and shopkeepers

Local shops provided most of the necessities that could not be produced by the household itself. Grocery shops often offered a delivery service and many of those interviewed indicated that a high proportion of their groceries were delivered to their home. Andersons in Doagh supplied much of the surrounding district with groceries.

Annie Hill recalls that a Mr Barkley from Burnside would call at her home and collect the order for groceries from Andersons which would then be delivered on a Friday. Robert McConnell remembered the groceries from Andersons being delivered on a ‘horse and four-wheeler’ driven by a man called Gailey. Derek Lorimer recalls that a grocery van called once a week, while bread servers came on a Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and a butcher called on a Wednesday and on a Friday evening. Greta Milliken also had her groceries delivered: ‘All the grocery shopping was done from the grocer in Ballycarry. He came round for your order and then delivered it probably the next day. You got everything from him.’ Kathleen McKenna remembers the excitement of the breadman calling to her childhood home in Whitehead: ‘It was lovely to see all the big, big trays being pulled out … it was like an Aladdin’s cave.’

Gerry McCann’s grocery shop is the oldest business in Toome, having been founded by his father James in 1917. Gerry has been involved with the business from his childhood. When he was younger he went out in the shop’s grocery van, making deliveries in a 10-12-mile radius of Toome. He also recalls people calling at their shop in Toome in a pony and trap for their weekly shopping. In the days before pre-packed food, items such as tea were weighed out, while cheese was cut with a knife by the shopkeeper to whatever size was wanted, Goods purchased could have been wrapped up in paper for the customer to take home. In the shop Gerry remembers that they ‘had to have a wee bit of tick’ to allow people to pay for their groceries as they could afford them. He pointed out that it was frequently the case that groceries were paid for with eggs. Leslie Bell remembers his mother would have five or six cases of eggs waiting for the grocer with the result that instead of his mother handing over money to the grocer, it was often the other way round.

Edmund McLarnon’s father had been the manager of Duneane creamery at Moneynick near Toome. At one stage his parents were giving serious consideration to emigrating to New Zealand. However, having been persuaded to stay, they decided to start up their own grocery business. A shed was built and Edmund’s father bought a Ford lorry so that he could make deliveries. This had a large wooden container on it with four drawers which were packed with ‘the basics of the day’, such as tea, sugar, butter, lard, bacon, flour and wheatmeal. He also carried bags of animal feed on the back of the lorry – mostly dairy meal in 10-stone bags and Correndo (the trade name for flaked maize) as well pig meal. There was also a retail shop which was attached to their home. The feed bill would have been squared up by the farmers after the harvest when their potatoes and oats had been sold.

As the largest of the three settlements, Whitehead had the biggest range of shops. There were several grocers in Whitehead. Trevor Monteith’s maternal grandparents, the Flemings, owned the main grocery business in the town. Another grocery business was run by Dan Gillen in Chester Avenue which was visited by Kathleen McKenna.

Kathleen McKenna remembers shopping in Whitehead:

When I used to go and do the grocery shopping Mummy gave me a list and I went to Dan Gillen and you brought a certain amount home. But then on a Saturday you went down and you left your order in and the young boy came up on a bicycle and delivered it to you. I can remember Dan Gillen weighing out tea and sugar and the different smells in the shop … Dan Gillen had everything in the shop.

John Wilson also remembered the ‘great grocery shops’ in Whitehead, where the service was excellent, and two butchers and a fish shop. From 1962 to 1978 the Post Office in Whitehead was run by Edward Crampton. Previously he had been in charge of the Post Office in Ballygally. His son Victor points out that the Post Office in Whitehead included a sorting office for three postmen: ‘My father used to receive the mail at 5 o’clock in the morning and then the postmen would come in at 6 o’clock’. The Post Office also sold cards, stationary and toys.

In 1950, the Lamont family moved from near Portglenone to Ballycarry when James’ father , Robert, purchased a general store in the centre of the village. Prior to this Robert Lamont had owned a small shop which had been started by James’ grandfather. The shop in Ballycarry sold a range of hardware goods, drapery and groceries. The business also included a mobile shop. In his interview James talked fondly of the care with which his father ran his business and the pride he took in making sure his customers were satisfied. He also enjoyed a very good relationship with his staff. Drawing attention to the reconstructed shops in the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum, James comments, ‘I can identify with those completely because my Dad’s shop was exactly the same.’

James Lamont recalls his father’s shop:

Everything was fresh. Dad would have gone on a Thursday to Belfast and he would have bought his bacon – that was fresh into the shop. … Once there was there anything going wrong with that bacon it was out. But the turnover seemed to be that fast that it didn’t happen in any large measure, even in the summer months.

The shop’s customer catchment area would have extended as far as Whitehead. James also remembers his mother buying meet from Sammy Haveron, the butcher in Whitehead, who would have made deliveries to Ballycarry. For the Lamonts the main reason for travelling to Whitehead would have been to visit the chemist or dentist. Growing up just a couple of miles from Whitehead, James’ impression of the town was that it was ‘a lovely clean place to live in’. He also remembers the Silver Strand which sold ice-cream.

Through the countryside there were small shops, though the range of goods that they sold varied considerably and in some cases could be quite limited. Matt Quinn remembers a small shop around a mile and a half away from his home at the Three Islands that sold sweets and minerals. Owen Gribbin recalled that near his childhood home lived Mary Ann McKeever who had a shop in a room in her house. There you could have bought 10 ‘merry maids’ (chocolate-covered caramels) for a penny.
South Antrim Living Memories Project wishes to acknowledge the assistance of: