Mail Order

This winter, in the build-up to Christmas, there has been a lot of discussion about online shopping being the death of the High Street in Britain. This might well be true but what occurred to me was that there have always been other means of shopping besides physically visiting a shop.

The small town I lived in when I was a little girl (population around 2,000) was five miles away from our village had all the basics. There were two butchers, two newsagents, a greengrocer, a jeweller, two pharmacies, a couple of assorted draperies and gents outfitters, a hardware shop etc etc. For requirements beyond what our town could provide, we had to travel some distance. Swansea and Cardiff were at least an hour’s drive away and ‘big’ shopping trips were made a few times a year for Christmas shopping, new winter coats for the family, new shoes and so on. I remember thinking they were amazing with their department stores, book shops, large stores with lifts and escalators and toy shops. This was the only time we saw Boots, W H Smith, C and A and – most important of all (to us as children) – Woollies (F W Woolworth) which was heaven! It was also the perfect place to spend your little bit of pocket money as it had everything and it was all affordable.

Good old Woollies – RIP.
Howells Department store in Cardiff.
W H Smith, Newtown, Wales. One of the earliest branches and still in the style and layout of the original shops. It also houses a small museum telling the W H Smith story.


The rest of the time, my mum relied heavily on her mail order catalogue as did all the families in our village.

My mum’s catalogue was Marshall Ward followed later by Kays. I remember a neighbour favouring Freemans and my grandmother who lived with us liked J D Williams. Women used to swap catalogues to enjoy a wider choice of goods. From the catalogues we bought bedding, household goods, underwear, toys (via Father Christmas of course), adult and children’s clothing and many more things I can’t recall now. My mum would never buy shoes by mail order.

The pages we children used to pore over longingly!

In addition to the catalogues selling clothes and homeware, my dad used to get seeds and bulbs by mail order. Dobbie’s and Doby’s are two I remember. Newspapers and magazines also had goods for sale and on special offer.



Images obtained from the Internet. Anyone with objections to my use of a particular image can contact me and I will remove it.

13 thoughts on “Mail Order

    • That’s really interesting because my mum did loads of home sewing. Anything she could make herself she did, so she made all the dresses for me, my sister and herself as well as curtains etc. Yet she never had mail order fabrics. I never even heard of mail order catalogues which did fabrics. She would definitely have used them if she could have because the range available in our local shop was very limited. Thanks for contributing!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Oh, how well I remember poring through the Sears and Roebuck catalogue. Not certain we ever bought much from them, but we would get that giant catalog periodically. My folks owned newspapers in small towns so we always bought locally as much as we could because those merchants were advertisers.

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      • No, our catalogue didn’t do a Christmas wish supplement. We used to sit gazing longingly at expensive toys in the toy section of the main catalogue. Much as children do now in toy shops! There wasn’t much money to spare so the fancy things in the catalogue rarely appeared but we were always delighted with whatever Father Christmas brought. Thanks for commenting!

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  2. The only home shopping catalogue I remember was the green shield stamps one. Did you have that or anything similar? My mum used to collect stamps like crazy then go and buy something daft like a cushion that went over the top of a deckchair! I do remember she got an actual sunlounger one year – at least, I’m pretty sure that was on the green shield stamps – it had a few rows of white and a few rows of bright yellow plastic (probably soft vinyl) strips and when the sun got too hot you’d stick to it with the resulting pattern on your bum!

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    • Green Shield stamps were amazing! Were they late 60s/ early 70s? The ironing board I still use is one I got with them. It probably cost me a whole book of stamps, but it always felt like getting something free. I think, from what other people have told me, that the other mail order catalogues were more important to those living in remote areas.

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      • Yes, late 60s/early 70s is about right. You’re still using an ironing board from then? I wish I still had my mum’s one (they were really made to last, weren’t they!) Yes, I think the big catalogues were essential for people in remote areas. And curiously, I was looking online a few days ago at a Sears catalogue archive (as reference for some of my photos). We didn’t have Sears in the UK, but the fashions of course were very similar for the times in which it ran then.

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