Learning to Weigh Tobacco & Snuff

We never had the door closed all winter.
And gales used to blow down University Road,
freeze me to death.

We never had any heat in the shop
because we sold tobacco,
and it was always said in those days
that it dried the tobacco out.

We had a little oil stove in one corner.
Right by what was, next door was the dining room
and it stood there with the door open.
and that was only when it was desperate,
desperately cold.

The snuff and the loose tobaccos were stored downstairs.
At the end of the shop there was a wooden lid
that we lifted up and there was a flight of stairs,
and that was into the cellar,
and the loose tobaccos and the snuff was stored
on the side as you went down the cellar,
so that was always kept cool down there.

That was why we sold a lot of that sort of thing,
because the way it was stored.
And we had no heat in the shop,
so tobacco and cigarettes were always fresh
really, nothing dried out, we never had any old stock.

And we polished pipes,
we cleared, we dressed the window every Thursday,
and the pipes and the things that were in the display
they were all fetched out and I had to sit
after we’d shut the shop, and polish every pipe,
and they were always done with shoe polish
brown shoe polish, every pipe that’d been in the window,
so we never had any faded pipes.
And lighters were polished,
and everything was.

The man used to come once a month
from, well it just depended on the display,
but I don’t know who employed him,
but I suppose it was from the tobacconist’s federation
or something like that,
and he used to come and dress the window.

Well that was displays of Players perhaps one month,
big cartons and that,
and they were always done on glass,
little pieces of glass, cut out glass.
And then the other window we had books in,
and fountain pens, and things like that.
And it was lovely when the platinum pens came in
because I could make such a lovely display of them,

Sealed packets of tobacco.
But certain amount of different tobaccos you sold loose,
and they’d tell you which they wanted,
and it was a lovely smell to open a freshly opened tin of Bruno,
eleven pence an ounce,
I don’t know what it is now.

And then of course there was the snuff.
I’d no idea about snuff,
and it was in, I should think they were two pound tins,
and it was loose. This particular snuff,
this SP that we used to sell;
we sold various snuffs but a lot of it was packed,
but then we sold quite a lot that wasn’t packed.
And this SP,

we used to have a policeman come in,
well he was my first customer,
and he asked for these quarters of snuff
because he took them for the police at the police station,
and he always demanded to have it weighed up
while he was there.

So of course, he said quarters of snuff you see,
I went on measuring quarter pounds of snuff,
and he stopped me on the third pack,
and I remember it was the third quarter,
and he said, “I think you’re wrong.”
So my boss came in at that particular time,
so she said, “What are you doing?”
I said, “I’m measuring up the snuff for Mr Sheppard”,
So she said, “No, not quarter of pounds,
quarter of ounces.”

Image: Alf Van Beem

Source: Oral history interview with  xx  from Leicestershire, talking of her experience working in a tobacco shop in London Road, Leicester in 1935


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