The news this week was gloomy: austerity at 1930s levels, food poverty and accusations that the working class could no longer cook. A trip to Borough Market didn’t lift my spirits as I found out that a lamb’s kidney cost £6. When did this reversal of fortune occur; a staple of the working class now only found on the menus of top end restaurants and in the shopping bags of the well off.
Culinary differences between the different social classes have existed for a long time. During the 2nd World War the government equalized the food supply through subsidies on items consumed by the poor and the working class. Cheap cuts of meat such as offal, breast of lamb, ox tail and cheek were available at the local butchers shop.
Earlier in the week I had come across this photograph of Hedley Vicars butchers on Powis Street in Woolwich. The year was 1951, Britain was beginning the recovery from war, some rationing had ended but it would continue for another three years on meat. Hedley Vicars were celebrating 100 years of service on the high street. In keeping with the optimism of postwar Britain the shop came up with a new slogan:
“In all ages Hedley Vicars are at your service”.
Shops such as a butcher, a greengrocer, a fishmonger and a bakery were standard on any high street and had been so for decades. No wonder Hedley Vicars thought they would continue to provide a service to the people of Woolwich for another century.
Then in the 1960s supermarkets appeared changing shopping habits. Mass food production techniques meant that the less well off no longer needed to depend on cheap cuts and they disappeared from the supermarket shelves. There was a corresponding decline of small independent shops. These vintage photographs of Powis Street show a vibrant high street with an extensive range of shops. There is no longer a butchers shop on Powis Street although fresh fruit and vegetables are readily available at the daily market.
Now the supermarkets are in trouble undercut by the German no frills chains and changing shopping habits. As we brace ourselves for a few more years of austerity what changes will we see next in our high streets, our eating habits and how will our culinary skills develop? Well who can say but one thing I would be willing to bet on is that the increase in pawn shops will continue.