At Elliott’s Grocery Store, It’s Still 1973



When you enter Elliott’s Grocery Store on Fore Street in Saltash, Cornwall, it’s 1973. Literally. What you see on the shelves are precisely what its former owner, Frank Elliott, sold. Rather than adjust to the decimalisation of UK’s currency, Mr. Elliott decided to retire, but he wanted people to know what the old High Street grocery stores looked like and how they operated prior to the near-complete takeover of supermarkets people know today.

                                                               Elliott's Store Interior

Elliott folded shop during a time of economic and demographic transition in the UK, as supermarkets became desirable to those relocating to newly built suburbs, while thousands continued to shop on a near-daily basis at High Street stores like Elliotts that were close to their homes. Proprietors like Mr. Elliott knew their customers and often could predict their orders.

Elliott’s maintains the feeling of a High (or Fore) Street grocery, but instead of Mr. Elliott behind the counter, one will find passionate volunteers who take upon themselves the upkeep and opening of the store so that visitors can have a look around and are there to give visitors a history of the store and Elliott family. 

                                                  Mike and Jerry: Two Dedicated Volunteers  


The store’s back wall is almost entirely taken up with spirits, but instead of French and German wines, Scotch whiskeys and Plymouth gin, the selection is primarily sherry and port, much of it imported from Australia. Those who drank something other than beer, which takes up a portion of a smaller sidewall, often drank fortified, sweet wines. The UK had a long history of importing sherry and port because during its various conflicts with France, import taxes on wine were steep, while taxes on sherry and port, which initially came from Spain and Portugal, were not.
                                                          

                              A Wall of Sherry and Port

But in terms of drinking trends, Babycham had also become a popular party drink by the late 1950s, and Mr. Elliott displayed by these tiny bottles of sparkling perry a colourful brochure on how to serve it. He also sold Babycham glasses (which look like champagne glasses) for those in need of the appropriate paraphernalia. 


Several popular UK brands, from Horlicks, Oxo, Birds, Heinz, Colman’s, and Persil are featured at Elliotts,albeit in 1970s packaging. Other items, however, have disappeared, among them C&T Harris Breakfast Tongues, and Galantine Chicken, Ham & Tongue. 

                                                          Breakfast Tongues, Anyone?

The higglety-pigglety arrangement amused--and confused--me. Typhoo Tea boxes sit in among washing powder, while Libby’s canned pears crowd next to Price’s Lighting Tapers. However, as volunteers Mike and Jerry pointed out, _Mr Elliott_ knew where everything was--and that’s what mattered. He was the master of his inventory, knowing full-well where everything was housed. How much has changed, with supermarkets prioritizing shelving based on corporate product placement, and leveling junk food at a child’s eye-level, or giving over vast middle aisles to cheap processed food and convenience meals.

My time in Elliott’s Store brought to mind Joanna Cannon’s lovely novel The Trouble with Goats and Sheep. Set in both 1976 and 1967, the story revolves around two girls searching for God and Mrs. Creasy in among the boring mundanity of suburban life, from adults flirting over glasses filled with Babycham to children being placated with bowls of Angel Delight. It’s all there in Elliotts, but so, too, is that sense of Elliotts’ impending demise, as the supermarkets and suburbs increasingly edged out High Street groceries, irrespective of the brand names that they both sold. The blessing is that Mr. Elliott had the foresight to realise that someday, people would want to see what a grocery store used to look like, maybe for nostalgia, but also to learn first-hand how demographic and economic transitions affect one’s food choices.

Is it worth a visit to Saltash to see this amazing museum? Absolutely. The trouble is that I cannot find any active links giving prospective visitors information on times that the museum is open. Just across the River Tamar from Plymouth, Elliott’s Store is easy to reach, but whether one can go inside is unclear to me at this point. This is indeed a shame.

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