Beveridge Grocers


Thank you to George Field, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, for sending me his recollections of his grandfather's mobile grocery van, and later, his self-service grocery van in Edinburgh.

George wrote:

Open All Hours

"How many readers remember the BBC comedy series 'Open All Hours' from the seventies, starring the wonderful talents of Ronnie Barker as Arkwright, the miserly shopkeeper in his corner grocery shop? "


"My grandfather was an ‘Arkwright’ (without the Scrooge mentality) back in the fifties and sixties, owning a small grocery shop in Gilmerton, near Edinburgh.  His name was Cecil Beveridge and the shop was in Main Street.

It was a narrow-fronted establishment, with display windows on either side of the front door.  Emblazoned across one window in gold paint was the legend “Licensed Grocer” and on the other “Purveyor of Fine Foods”.

Smells of Yesteryear

"On entry, your senses were assailed with those wondrous smells of yesteryear - freshly ground coffee, cheeses, kerosene;  and the smell of sawdust on the floor."

 The Counter

"Grandpa would be behind the long wooden counter, in his white dustcoat.  My Grandmother always made sure he went out every morning with a clean coat on.

At one end of the counter sat the bacon slicer used for slicing not only bacon but all sorts of fresh meats, nothing pre-cut in those days. At the other end was the butter box. This was a three sided affair behind which Grandpa would cut and pat your butter on a marble slab into the required size.

 Marble played a big part in those days, being the ideal material for preparing cheese, butter and meats in front of the customer, as it was long-lasting and easy to keep clean."

 The Office

"At the rear of the shop was a raised area, the office, which looked more like a cubby house.  This was where all the bookwork was done. Grandpa had a large ‘tick’ (credit) book. His customers would get their weekly groceries ‘on tick’ until payday and I never knew of a case of anyone not paying their account.

My Mother was the ‘office girl’, trying to keep track of the finances."

 I Helped in the Shop

"My time with Grandpa and the shop began in 1957, when Mother and I moved from London to Edinburgh, following my parents’ divorce, to stay with my grandparents. It was almost accepted that I would help out in the shop, in return for my pocket money.

Over the next four years, I learned so much from Grandpa.  They  were really happy times.  Very soon, I was able to ‘block’ butter to within a few grams of the customer’s order.  No big deal you might think, but it meant a lot to a 12 year old.

My mental arithmetic skills were honed to perfection, as there were no electronic cash registers back then and I had to add and subtract quickly when dealing with customers. Thanks to those days, my mental arithmetical skills are as sharp today as they were then."

 The Cellar

"A couple of doors up the road was our long, narrow above-ground cellar. This was where the block cheeses were kept, along with the hanging hams, before they went into the special cooker, to be cured for sale.  Scraping the external mould off the cheeses was a regular job for me each week.

Sacks of potatoes lined one wall and it became my lot to bag them into ‘forpit’ lots for sale.  What is a ‘forpit’?  I hear you ask. It was an old Scottish term for a measure of potatoes, which were sold in lots of one stone (14lbs), half a stone (7lbs) or a ‘forpit’ (3 and a half lbs). Forpit = a fourth part (of a stone).

I became so skilled in this, that I was able to fill the paper bag to the correct weight almost  every time. Sometimes, there were rotten potatoes in the sack and that was one of the more unpleasant discoveries.  In the winter, that cellar had to be one of the coldest places on earth."


"Then came Hogmanay, that famous Scottish celebration of the New Year.  Being a licensed grocer, beer played a huge part in the lead up to December 31st. Beer was mainly sold in ‘screwtop’ bottles, of a capacity of about a litre.

The cellar was transformed into a dipsomaniac’s delight, with rows of beer bottles stacked on bread boards. I think each bread board held about 8 dozen bottles of beer and they were stacked on top of each other 4 high. With at least 7 or 8 stacks down one wall, so you can see how many were sold.

The trouble was, they arrived in crates of 12 and I had to stack ‘em up.  Then, after Hogmanay, back came all the empties and I had to do it all again!  Yet, I do not recall a stack ever falling over and smashing."


"Another task I had to perform in the cellar was the regular cleaning of the salt deposit off the hanging sides of bacon. This was in preparation for Grandpa ‘boning’ the bacon, ready to slice and sell.  

‘Boning’ was an art and a wonder to watch.  Using an extremely sharp knife, Grandpa would slit all the rib bones from the carcass, in one piece.  Then he would separate the thick skin from the meat, again all in one piece.  After cutting the side into smaller parts, it was ready to slice and sell.  ‘Boning’ literally took years to learn properly.

Remember, there was no pre-packed bacon in those days. It was all freshly cut to order. I was taught and permitted to use the bacon slicer (carefully!), but boning was not the province of a young boy."

 Mobile Shops

"Grandpa was very innovative. We had several housing schemes in the Gilmerton/Liberton area that were not served with shops.

It was common practice for shopkeepers to go ‘mobile’.  A greengrocer would load up a small van and go around these housing areas on a regular basis. Butchers and fishmongers would do likewise and in the evenings a mobile fish and chip van would  do the rounds.

Now, a grocer’s shop is bit big to take on the road, but Grandpa designed a large van, capable of containing most of the items found in the shop.

Beveridge Mobile Grocer's Van at Gilmerton Road  - 1958 ©

 Self-Service Van

"The mobile van was great success and much appreciated by the people. Progress continued at the shop, with Grandpa deciding to go ‘self-service’.

Remember, this was in 1959 and a very bold move, but with minor changes to the shop, the self-serve plan went ahead.  This led Grandpa to consider a second van, also on the self-serve basis.

He had discussions with Ford and ended up with a  5 ton pantechnicon, designed by Grandpa and it was so revolutionary that Ford featured it in their national magazine.

Beveridge Self-Service Grocer's Van, Liberton - 1960 ©

I remember going to the coachbuilders with Grandpa, as he kept an eye on every step of construction.

 Inside the Self-Service Van

"The van had a single wide entrance just behind the front wheel with a gondola (shelves) down the middle.  You walked around and paid at the front as you exited.

Beveridge Self-Service Grocer's Van, Liberton - 1960 ©

Grandpa had even incorporated a double chest fridge/freezer across the rear wall (powered by large carbon dioxide blocks that were re-frozen each night in the shop freezer).

On the Road

"I well remember the first day it went on the road. I was so excited to serve on it, that I went straight from school to the area Grandpa was in and joined in the maiden trip.  Did I cop it when I got home!  The family did not know where I was and I had homework to do.

However,  I  was  forgiven and spent countless happy hours helping out on the road.  I came in handy when Grandpa popped off to visit a friend of his called Eddie Hanlon.

Mr Hanlon lived by himself in a row of old folks’ units and on weekends Grandpa would leave me outside in charge of the van whilst he went and had tea with Mr Hanlon.

Beveridge Self-Service Grocer's Van, Liberton - 1960 ©

I continued to serve customers who would walk from all over, knowing the van was going to be there an hour or more.  How I amused myself I do not recall, although I was an avid reader.

I well remember the nice lady a couple of houses from where we parked who would come and get some potatoes from me and, shortly afterwards would return with a bowl of the most delicious hot chips.  It’s funny how some things stick in the memory after all those years."

Family Business

"Twice a week we would go to the Edinburgh Market for fresh fruit and vegetables.  It meant rising at 4am and returning in time for breakfast, and then off to school. 

It was quite common for the van to be on the road until 10pm, as Grandpa had a lot of friends who like to chat. He was in the shop every day about 6am, re-stocking the vans and with only Sundays off, it was hard work for all.

It was a consummate family business, with my Mother, Grandmother, Uncle and myself all doing their bit. I recall only one paid employee, a man who took out the smaller mobile van, but I have no idea who he was."


Grandpa had some unusual ideas in promotion. I recall once, when a new cat food was released,  Grandpa filled the window with a huge pyramid of the product and then encouraged the shop cat to sleep in the window. With suitable wording, sales went well:

'If it made our cat content, it will do the same for yours.'

Another time, there was some new product (I don’t remember what) and Grandpa whitewashed the entire window, leaving a little peephole for customers to see the product. Memory fails me as to the outcome, but I do recall a lot of people peering through the hole!"


"Grandpa eventually sold the business and was asked to be manager of Grant’s grocery shop in Portobello. He remained there until failing health forced him to finally retire, after a long life in the grocery business."

George Field, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia:  February 8, 2008

Eric Gold

also known to many as Eric McKenzie

Thank you to Eric Gold, now living in East London who replied:

Delivery Vans

"The grocer van photos were fantastic.  Look at the products sold in the interior shot of the van, and look at the prices (ha ha ha ha).

I remember the vans well  but not the name of the owners then When we moved from Craigmillar to Moredun then Gilmerton the guy who had the vans was called Mr Tomilly He started off with a wee shop in Craigmillar near the Gaff (County Cinema) then bought a van and did a roaring business He was a great friend of my uncle Paddy.  I spent hours looking at the wears and tears

Mr Rattery in East Arthur Place had a van too, I remember one winter it crashed into the park like the coal lorry and we emptied it (ha ha ha ha)."

Coal Lorry accident at the foot of Arthur Street ©


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