We had a General Store and Post Office at the "tap o' the toon" and two householders sold aerated waters and sweets at the "fit o' the toon".
Bottles of aerated waters were sold in three sizes: large, medium and small. The large size cost 3d, the medium 2d, and the small size 1d. The medium size had a stopper which was held in position by a wire spring device. To open the bottle you held it in both hands and pressed on the spring with your two thumbs. The stopper was a fixture and lasted the lifetime of the bottle.
The small size had a bool (glass ball) in the neck of the bottle to seal it instead of an ordinary stopper and you had to press it down with a pencil before you could drink the contents. You also had to hold the bottle a certain way to prevent the "bool" from running back into the neck of the bottle halting the flow of the liquid. We would afterwards break the bottle to supplement our stock of "bools". A deposit was not charged on bottles at that time.
The Post Office and General Store was run by an elderly brother and sister although the brother did not take an active part in the running of the business.
The sister was a gentle old soul and was known to everyone as Bella. She would allow us to frank our own letters on special occasions and on those occasions we would give the date on the stamping equipment and extra turn for good measure, before franking the mail. We hear lots of complaints against the Post Office these days, due to the delays in delivering Mail. But at that time, I think that Newstead could make the proud claim that it had the only Post Office in Scotland where mail was delivered before it was officially posted.
Bella was always on good terms with all her customers and never indulged in idle gossip, but could always be relied upon to inform you of any deaths in the district and the "latest tragedy" would be related in all its grim details.
I remember her telling me about a man who had committed a murder in Earlston years previously, but whom Bella had known in her earlier days.
It appears he had escaped the death penalty and had been sentenced to life imprisonment. After serving a number of years of his sentence, he developed an incurable disease and as the doctors gave him just a few months to live, he was allowed his freedom to spend the remaining part of his days with his family, and, said Bella continuing the story, "hae never did another bit o' guid, pare sowl".
The shop was just a room of the dwelling and you entered by the house door. It was illuminated by a single wick oil lamp which had a tin shade and even on a bright summer day the inside always seemed to be in semi-darkness.
The pillar box was built into a small window set high on the gable end of the building and this window usually displayed three or four jars of sweets. Another window did not display any wares as it overlooked the rear premises.
Most of the postal side of the business was kept in a cardboard box under the counter and was brought out each time a demand was made on it either for stamps, postal orders or to pay the ten shillings old age pension for the elderly.
Those were the days before pre-packing and all cereals, flour, tea etc., had to be weighed out on an old-fashioned balance. Biscuits came loose in large tins and if you bought a penny worth of sweets, Bella would make a cone-shaped bag out of a triangular piece of newspaper to hold them.
Boot-blacking was sold in cakes at that time, similar in shape and size to a bar of toffee. The method of using it was as follows:- you removed the paper and placed the cake of blacking in a saucer, added a little water and brushed it onto the footwear, then you had to let it dry before polishing it. Rather a long process. You could also buy liquid blacking in long stone jars, but the method of application was the same.
Penny gingerbreads and fruit squares of rather doubtful age were always on display in a basket on the counter. Those were great favourites with us youngsters, also oatmeal and black puddings which were sold for one penny each.
We used to buy these puddings, make a fire of sticks at the Tweedside and roast them on the end of a pointed stick. A few potatoes "gumped" from a nearby field and roasted in the embers made a feast fit for a king.
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