Only a few years ago most people had their milk delivered. And in the days before almost everyone had a refrigerator, the milk cart came round several times a day.
Some of the dairies, like that of J Hitchman and Sons, who had a branch at 27 Queen’s Road, were large organisations. Hitchman’s had three farms and delivered to Leyton, HIghams Park and parts of Chingford as well as Walthamstow. Their regular advertisements in the Walthamstow and Leyton Guardian offer deliveries of cream, butter, eggs and bread as well as milk.
From all the evidence, most Edwardian families needed a lot of milk – for cocoa and for tea as well as the milk puddings and custard that were so popular in the days before yoghurt.
In the early years of the twentieth century, Walthamstow was a good place to set up a dairy. There was a big population of people to buy the milk. And there was still a good supply of land on which to keep the cows to provide the milk.
J Hitchman and Sons had been started by John Hitchman when he bought Chestnuts Farm in 1867, and was to expand and continue until finally becoming part of the vast Unigate empire in the 1960s. Hitchman’s were still keeping cows in the Walthamstow area in the 1920s.
But Hitchman’s was only the largest of many local dairies. Another, in Hoe Street, kept pigs in a stye behind their premises – they were fed on the buttermilk, and the pork and bacon produced was locally famous. The dairy installed a coin operated dispensing machine so their customers could have milk at any time – you had to bring your own jug.
Arthur Spencer remembered the milkman coming round four times a day in Longfellow Road. It was the same man each time, working a fourteen hour day.
Not all milk was delivered – some of the many local shops were dairies, selling milk, cream, butter, cheese and eggs. One of these was at the end of Somerset Road – in 1901 the shop was run by Philip and Alice Lazell and Alice’s sister Rachel. The family also lived in the flat behind the shop, with their two small children.
Many milkmen were self employed – house advertisements of the 1890s often suggest that premises with side access and a shed would make an ideal base for a roundsman, who would need to provide and house his own cart. Some carts were horse drawn, but many were smaller, and pushed by the milkman himself.
The first milk women made their appearance in the first years of the twentieth century. This was a responsible job, but not one that needed specific skills or much training, and the coming of the First World War meant many women took over milk rounds.