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A lot of bottle in a sixties off-licence - June Jenkins

Blog | By June Jenkins | Jun 03, 2022

Crate-lifting wasn’t for softies

Off-licenses in the 1960s were run quite differently than they are today, remembers June Jenkins

It was 1960 and we were managers of an off-licence in West Ewell, Surrey, with living accommodation above the shop and a small garden.

Licensing laws were strict. Application to the local magistrate was made annually and, when permission to sell alcohol was granted, trading hours were stringent: in our case, 10am to 2pm and 5pm to 9pm, six days a week. Sunday trading was not allowed.

Beer came in bottles, and bottles came in wooden crates. Six quarts to a crate or 12 pints to a crate – storage space was at a premium. Stacking them up required strength. Crates and bottles carried a deposit.

Beer cans were supplied with a special can-opener – ring pulls came later. At party time, we sold barrels of beer – another storage problem, along with the need to know how to tap the barrel!

Most of our customers were from the local estate, their purchases predictable. When there was a special occasion to celebrate, there would be a large mixed order for us to deliver.

Another service we provided was hiring out beer glasses. Sometimes these would be returned dirty – they were supposed to be washed, ready for the next occasion.

A few ex-colonials lived in our locality. These customers were considered quite special: their requirements were very different and their custom valued.

Château-bottled and vintage wines were not on our shelves; wine was not a popular drink in the 1960s. Still, it was possible for us to obtain rare and expensive wines and elusive bottles of Johnnie Walker Black Label whisky or a Haig Dimple from the bonded warehouse.

Christmas 1962 was the worst winter for years; it was also our busiest time. Stock was sitting all over the property. Crates of beer and lemonade sat under four inches of snow in the garden.

All the doors had to be open to allow easy access.

No central heating. No calculators – instead we added up columns of figures.

The sounds of clattering bottles and the ringing of the cash register were relentless.