Nobody else knew how the acid had been carried home in an open tin. No unfortunate child bumped into it in all the length of that careful walk home. It was not until nearly sixty years later, when trying to buy some acid, that it suddenly appeared such a bizarre event. Today, when car batteries are sealed, and lavatory basins are cleaned with proprietary cleaners, raw acid is simply not available over the counter to the general public, let alone to a child of twelve.

The main shops were at Muswell Hill Broadway. Harvey Hicks, the butcher, had a shop at the top of Colney Hatch Lane where private houses had been converted. These were the 'tower houses' included in the 1880 sale of The Elms estate. Single-storey shops had been built over the front gardens, but from the corner of Queen's Avenue one can still see the two square towers which used to stand beside a gravelled Colney Hatch Lame. Harvey Hicks was a typical butcher's shop of the period, with sawdust on the floor, wooden chopping blocks, and men with blue-red hands. They delivered to the Estate, arriving in a small covered van with cut meat ready for sale. Shoulders of Australian mutton cost two shillings and ninepence, which appears to be 14p, but represented one and a half hour's work for a skilled bricklayer. Translate that to modern wages and the price was clearly very much higher.

Sainsbury's stood at the top of the hill, on the site of The Elms', between Duke's Avenue and Muswell Hill itself, in the centre of all the winds. When one saw mythical pictures of gods blowing the winds and scattering ships in all directions, one thought of Sainsbury's. It was a traditional Sainsbury building, with tiled walls, wide counters with huge blocks of butter and enormous cheeses, sides of bacon and large blocks of processed meat, ready to be cut by an army of assistants in white aprons. A dozen grades of bacon lay in piles on the marble counter. Along the front were square tins of biscuits, while tinned foods stood in decorative piles at intervals, separating the different counters. Outside, surrounded by cases of eggs, was a young lad exposed to every wind. One could tell the temperature by the colour of the egg boy. As the weather became colder, he became more and more blue until, by January, he looked like the North Sea. People used to say that he was allowed into the refrigerator every two hours to warm up.


The Exchange, Muswell Hill, 1903-92

 

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