Thursday, 23 February 2017

Who laments the passing of the old milk machine?

It is as much a piece of history as the Penny Farthing bike or the old fashioned tram.  

I am trying to remember when I would have used one.  I suppose it would have been after the pub in those years when I was a student and living in a bed sit in Withington.

There used to be a milk machine by the Scala Cinema which in turn was beside the White Lion. And I guess it would have been that bit of forward thinking about milk for breakfast which would have got me using it.

But then without a fridge and with most shops having closed by nine in the evening buying your emergency milk from a machine made sense.

Of course getting the cartoon open was another matter.

All of which  got me thinking about the age of the vending machine which I assumed came along in the 19th century.

And there I was wrong, there is a reference to one in the first century when Hero of Alexandria came up with a machine to dispense holy water.*

The first modern one was introduced onto a London street in the early 1880s and sold post cards.  For me the first I really remember were the Five Boys Chocolate bars usually on railway stations and which could be guaranteed to deliver slightly dry flaking chocolate which had gone white at the edges. There were also the polo mint machines and the chewing gum ones.

Along with the cigarette machines they were just one of those bits of street furniture you took for granted.  I don’t really remember when they began to disappear to be replaced by the giant all glass fronted multipurpose dispenser.

As for the milk vending machine I rather think they began to vanish in the 1970s, possibly in the wake of the supermarket revolution along with cheap fridges.  For who would want to stand at what was often a shabby and knocked about machine, fumbling for the sixpence only to discover the coin had got stuck, the machine refused to accept it or worst still there were no cartoons left?

This one was on on Shude Hill and was photographed in the March of 1960 which may have been at the height of their popularity.

I suppose they fitted into that new high tech way of life that was the late 1950s and 60s, and I have to say that thinking back to the period it does look ultra modern and there was something novel about getting your milk this way instead of from a milkman.

Not of course that the milkman visits many houses anymore and I hear today that one more newspaper is about to turn itself over to an electronic version.

As someone who grew up in the 50s thinking that milk delivered to the door step along with a daily newspaper was the hall mark of civilized life this all seems a little sad.

And if  I don’t stop I am in danger of sounding like my uncle who still could not bring himself to accept the fall of Constantinople.

Pictures; vending machine on Shude Hill taken by L Kaye, March 1960, courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council, m59879, m59878, m5987,

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