Inside the Cornwall shop which has stayed frozen in time for 50 years after closing in 1971 because its owner wouldn’t accept decimalisation

  • Frank Elliot chose to close his shop in Saltash, Cornwall in 1971 rather than to accept incoming decimalisation
  • The general store weighed goods in pounds and ounces which were paid using pounds, shillings and pence
  • Frank, who was in his late 70s, closed the store which had been established by his father in 1902
  • Now the shop, which is filled with 50-year-old packaging, is a popular museum in the busy tourist town  

Step into Elliott’s shop and it’s as if the clock stopped 50 years ago when Frank Elliott shut the doors of his grocery for the last time.

Stubbornly refusing to embrace UK decimalisation, he chose to close the business in 1971 rather than give up on pounds, shillings and pence, let alone swap pounds and ounces for metric weights.

In this authentic time capsule on Lower Fore Street, Saltash, Cornwall, just a stone’s throw from the busy Tamar Bridge, a packet of eight Lyons trifle sponges will forever cost one shilling and eleven-pence ha’penny, there’s still threepence off a box of Pears transparent soap, Stork margarine is on special offer for 1/6d (15p) and Guinness will always be ‘good for you’.

Frank Elliot closed his shop in Saltash, Cornwall in 1971 because he did not want to have to deal with the new decimal currency and instead lived out the rest of his life in the upstairs flat

Elliot, who was in his late 70s, did not want to change over to the new system, so decided to shut the store which had been opened by his father in 1902

Instead, Elliot began eating and drinking his way through all of the stock, before washing and returning the empty bottles and cans to the shelves

Among the items on offer when the store closed was Bronco Medicated toilet tissue – the world’s first perforated roll

Partly as a loophole to escape paying the newly-introduced business rates, bachelor Frank – by then in his late 70s – decided that the family grocery business should become a museum. He imagined it as a place where future generations would learn what shopping used to look like before sell-by dates and ubiquitous plastic packaging and more mature folk could hark back to the glory days when customers didn’t push trolleys around supermarkets and they paid with ‘real money’.

After much wrangling with the authorities over his plans, Frank finally got his wish on his death in 1995 by leaving the building – the shop and two floors of accommodation above it – and its incredible jumble of a lifetime’s hoarding to the Tamar Protection Society conservation charity.

The shop is now a major tourist destination and can also be used by schools seeking a place to teach pupils about social history. The Tamar Protection Society also welcome other organised groups to visit the time capsule shop.  

Like a real life Cornwall version of Arkwright’s store in TV’s Open All Hours, shoppers could buy everything they could want or need on a daily basis at Elliott’s, established in 1902 and left to Frank by his father 50 years later.

Despite being in Cornwall, with its fishing industry, tins of Princes’ Pink Salmon must have been popular in Saltash 

Also on offer were trifle sponges from Lyons Bakery, jelly, and a suspiciously metric-looking tin of biscuits 

Harry Elliot, pictured outside the store he established in 1902, passed the shop to his son Frank who worked there until his retirement in 1971

Frank Elliot, pictured centre with his twin brother Harry, right and sister Laura Sophia, shortly before the outbreak of the First World War. Both brothers survived the conflict because their eyesight was too poor to serve on the front line. Due to his poor eyesight, Frank was enlisted as a truck driver

The Tamar Protection Society are now responsible for the shop which is a fascinating museum providing a living social history of 

Frank Elliot, pictured behind the counter of the store before it closed in 1971, wanted to turn it into a museum 

The heavenly aroma of freshly ground coffee lured people in as they passed on their way to Saltash railway station or the ferry that carried pedestrians and vehicles across the river to St Budeaux and Plymouth. Frank was fussy about getting the right blend and even mixed his own loose teas.

Regular customers would sit on the chair beside the long polished wood counter, hand their list over to Frank and he’d weigh out their butter, cheese or flour on his classic Avery scales, or slice them a quarter of roast ham or boiled tongue and wrap it in greaseproof paper. 

He’d pick the other items off the display shelves or dig them out from the store room at the back, tot up the prices by hand in his ledger with a pencil, and stash your cash in a spring-loaded wooden till. If you couldn’t carry all your provisions home yourself he’d arrange a home delivery on the shop bicycle.

Frank was a vocal man and willing listeners would also be treated to his strong opinions about the mess he thought the councils were making of running the town, the district or the county.

After turning the closed sign on the shop door, Frank carried on living upstairs for another 24 years, no doubt gazing grumpily at the Tamar Bridge traffic trundling across what used to be his beautiful back garden. 

Gradually he ate and drank his way through the food and alcohol and made use of the household products. But he washed out all the tins and bottles and carefully resealed vacant cardboard packaging ready for display in his dream museum. Nothing was thrown away.

Customers who were unable to carry their purchases home were told a delivery could be made on the shop’s bicycle

The shop offered a wide range of household goods, food, sweets, tobacco and alcohol in a time before the arrival of the first supermarkets

Tea, soap and washing powder sat beside each other on one of the packed shelves inside the store 

Frank polished off a mountain of Princes’ and John West tinned pink salmon, but wasn’t so keen on some of the sweet stuff. There’s still a stack of Robertsons jams (still featuring the highly offensive stickers on the back) – raspberry, blackcurrant, pineapple, red or golden plum – as well as an untouched jar of Gales honey.

He clearly enjoyed a tipple or two, though. Just one bottle of red remains untouched in the floor-to-ceiling wine rack, but the myriad bottles lining the upper shelves have all been drained, along with the cider flagons. Popular choices of the day included Cherry B and Babycham, fortified wines like Sanatogen and fruity Whiteways and an assortment of sherries, including Harveys Bristol Cream and Sandemans.

Pint bottles of Mackeson and Guinness stouts went down a treat, along with the miniatures (that’s a double measure, one and three quarter ounces or 50ml) of Haig and Black and White Scotch whisky and Martell cognac.

Frank kept meticulous records on anyone who had made a purchase on credit so he could keep track of their accounts

He offered a small range of whisky as well as miniature bottles of cognac for the more discerning drinker 

For those that appreciate killing all known germs dead, customers seeking Domestos were offered 1p off a bottle – from a time before regulations required the use of safety caps on items such as bleach

Customers would call into Frank’s shop and he would retrieve the items from behind the counter unlike a modern store where the shopper walks between the aisles and fills their own basket 

Some of the brands, logos and packaging have hardly changed at all, while others have long disappeared. Cast your eyes around the shelves and you’ll find Bird’s custard powder, Rowntree’s jelly, Angel Delight, tins of Ambrosia rice pudding, tubes of Signal toothpaste, bottles of Domestos bleach and cartons of Daz, Ariel and Persil washing powder. 

There was ready to eat Jiffi-jelli in glass pots, little tubs of Vencat Madras curry powder, and malty Horlicks and Bournvita hot drinks.

A few rolls of toilet paper remain intact – Bronco medicated or plain for the thrifty minded or the more luxurious Andrex, ‘soft, strong and very long’. And there’s still enough Lifebuoy, Palmolive and Imperial Leather soap to last another lifetime.

Reusing glass bottles was common practice in Frank’s day; customers returned their empty beer and fizzy pop bottles in exchange for getting back the deposit money. 

Neighbourhood children soon took advantage of Frank’s habit of storing the Corona empties in crates in the back alleyway and would nip round and help themselves before walking in the front door to claim the pennies that would buy them a full bottle or a few boiled sweets, weighed out from one of the big glass jars behind the counter.

Mike Couch, vice chairman of the Tamar Protection Society, says the charity’s small team of volunteers and trustees are working hard to fulfil Frank’s vision as the inheritors of his entire estate. 

As well as the shop contents, they continue to piece together, catalogue and display evidence of the fascinating experiences and keepsakes of Frank, his identical twin brother Harry and their younger sister Laura Sophia, none of whom married or had children.

If you’d like to peek inside Elliott’s Shop it’s open to schools and other organised groups by arrangement and will have more set days and times over the summer season 2022. See the Tamar Protection Society Facebook page.

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