Historic ledger reveals 1940s shopping habits

Alfred Berry’s roadside shop in Bodden Town contains a little piece of history that gives a keen insight into life in the town in the early 1940s. A hand-written 600‑page ledger holds records of the day-by-day business transactions of Bodden Towners seven decades ago.

The ledger lists intricate details of who in the town bought what and when.

For example, on 10 Dec. 1943, seamstress Norah Conolly bought one and half yards of cloth for 2 shillings and 3 pence and spent an extra sixpence on envelopes and threepence on black pepper and salt. That was a substantial amount when money was scarce for Cayman families in the 1940s.

The ledger, which contains the names and dates of shoppers, was found hidden among artefacts and other odds and ends in the Bodden Town store.

Berry acquired the ledger and shop after the former owner Thomas Logan Bodden died in 1969. The shop is still called ‘Mr. Logan’s’.

‘Mr. Logan’ or ‘Loogie’ as he was called by residents was one of Bodden Town’s first shopkeepers, and the first in the district to own a car.

One of Samuel and Elizabeth Bodden’s 11 children, he went to sea at age 18 and married Adena Connor in 1925. They had no children, but were considered as parents to many in the community. He was Vestryman, Justice of the Peace and a seaman.

The ledger’s handwritten entries, in elegant black script, were made by Adena and store clerk Christine Ebanks, and detail the shopping activity in Bodden Town from 1942 to 1944.

At first glance, the grey covered ledger looks like a dusty old book, not worthy of a second glance, but the pages inside are neatly filled with notations and dates alongside grocery lists.

It contains what is effectively a code, understood by the shopkeeper and the customer. For example:

  • fl 1/6 & beef 1/9
  • marg, 1/6 soap 6 paper 3-
  • salt -3 lard 6
  • 5 yds [email protected]/9,
  • coffee 1/9
  • meal 4‑1/2
  • vicks 2/-

In the left-hand corner of Netty Levy’s grocery list, the date noted is 20/12/42, what was purchased, for how much, whether payment was made on the day, and the outstanding balance, recorded in British money, pounds shillings and pence.

“I’m the only man in Bodden Town that has the ledger that contains a record of goods people bought from the shop,” said Berry.

“People were poor those days, and everybody had to credit from Mr. Logan until their little allotment came in from seamen working on the ships,” he said. “When the people got their money, they would pay and take out a line of credit same day, because the money was just enough to pay off the bill.”

He said that was part of the deal for joining the ship, that seamen would send money home to their families.

An 18th century wood carving of a Caymanian ancestor smoking his pipe, which Berry said he found while cutting grass. – Photos: Jewel Levy

Sometimes the money took up to three months to reach home. Notations were critical in helping Mr. Logan to keep track of what goods people had received over the months.

The ledger reports that the late Clifton Arthur Hunter, a prominent man in the district – shopped at the store every two days in 1943.

There is nothing extraordinary about his purchases, as they appear to be mainly food and staples such as flour, soap, lard, margarine, sugar and such. He bought the basic necessities, as did most people in the district.

According to the ledger, Hunter still owes Bodden 8 shillings and 1/2 pence. The late C Watler owes him £3, 8 shilling and 5 pence; Norah Conolly, £1, 8 pence; Netty Levy, £1; and the list goes on.

Mr. Logan opened the shop every day except Sundays and public holidays. He made sure the shelves were well stocked with items brought from Merren’s store in George Town. Behind the little wooden counter, his wife and Christine Ebanks sold the goods.

This reporter recalls being inside the store 55 years ago. A huge metal scale hung from the ceiling over the large jars of paradise plum and mint candies that sat on the countertop.

A screened-in wooden box next to the candy bottles contained cheese. A tube of baloney sausage, sold by the pound, hung from the ceiling, and the aroma of salted fish mixed with kerosene was strong.

Mr. Logan kept a container of kerosene out back. A hose running from the tank through the wall into the shop was always leaking into a pan after he filled a bottle of kerosene.

On shelves at the back of the shop were such items as tinned milk, cocoa, lard, nails, machetes, soap, toilet paper and other basics of the time.

Arranged on the shop floor were crates of produce of every type and whatever fruits and vegetables were in season – yams, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, mangoes, plums, cassava and so forth. Tools, nails and hardware joined the collection of items in stock.

To the right, a glass counter and shelves contained such items as cloth, combs, perfume, clips and ribbons, with some men’s accessories such as hats, ties and socks.

A few pieces of clothing for sale hung on a rack near the door.

Out front was a little porch where men gathered by day or night to exchange fishing tales or seaman’s stories.

On Saturday nights, Mr. Logan sold hand-churned ice cream to the crowd.

Money for sweets was scarce in those days, and getting to shop for sugar was surely a treat for the children. A penny bought a brown bag of paradise plum candy.

People shopped every other day for whatever was needed.

Judith Prendergast, who grew up on Cumber Avenue but now resides in the US, recalls her mother sending her to Mr. Logan’s shop to purchase cod liver oil, and she drinking it all before she got home.

Those days, mothers were strict on giving children medicine to cleanse the tummy – cod liver and castor oil, cerasee and senna were mostly used.

Mr. Logan’s Shop on Bodden Town Road houses Alfred Berry’s collection of vintage bottles, old documents, rare carvings and more.

Berry spoke of running the shop with Mr. Logan, and being happy when Mr. Logan gave him a suit for Christmas, and then crying with him when he got his call to the ship.

Neville McCoy, 79, recalls Mr. Logan’s first little shop being where Berry now stores his souvenirs and historical pieces. A second shop was added, years later.

“He sold out of the shop and residents patronised him, especially the people living around the Gun Square area,” McCoy said.

“He sold fishing hooks, lines and other dry goods. He would always give us a line of credit for a piece of barracuda fish. If he heard you caught a barracuda and didn’t give him a piece, he would not credit you any more hooks,” McCoy said with a laugh.

Mr. Logan was also the inspector of beef, and a choice cut of beef was his pay. When they slaughtered a cow, the saying was “Don’t touch a thing until Logan comes.”

“He was a jovial person, and the elderly would gather on the shop porch to discuss the happenings of the day, especially after he started selling ice cream,” McCoy said.

In the years following Mr. Logan’s death, the shop held a barber shop, a beauty salon and Berry’s butcher shop.

Passionate about local history, Berry started collecting pieces of Cayman’s past. He said he wants to turn the old shop he renamed ‘The Falls’ into a tourist attraction.

Inside the shop is also a collection of vintage bottles, old documents, rare carvings, coins, thatch works, a jar that held Mr. Logan’s salt beef, an ice- cream bucket, and even a rare 18th century wood carving of a Caymanian ancestor smoking his pipe, which Berry said he found while cutting grass.

There is an antique water bottle, which Berry said was owned by Emile Watler’s father who lived on Cumber Avenue. The Watler family went on to donate the Bodden Town Mission House to the National Trust.

Cow heads, horns and cow teeth saved and bleached from Berry’s slaughtering days hang on the outside shop walls.

There are politicians’ manifestos, paintings, picture frames made from tiles, Mr. Logan’s old bathtub, an old barber chair, a rocking chair, Caymanite rocks, shells and wood fragments, and much more.

Years ago, Berry was a barber employed by the government, and for 19 years he trimmed hair in the prison. He also worked for McAlpine for a number of years.

Nowadays, Berry sits patiently on a little stool in the shop’s doorway, waiting to share his collection and his knowledge of Cayman’s history of earlier days with friends, or whoever might pass his way.

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  1. Having grown up in Bodden Town in the 1960’s & ’70’s, this article brings back special memories. A time when communities were tightly-knit and persons were mutually caring. Cayman (the world) was more innocent and life was much less fast-paced. Yes, financial means were less but so were greed, enmity and the stresses of life which are common-place today. Despite the physical and financial hardships, which our elders of the day weathered and withstood with grace and tenacity, these were indeed the “good old days”. I thank God I was born and grew-up in that Cayman, instead of the Cayman of today!

    Ms. Levy has described even the smells of Uncle Logan’s shop that still linger in my nostrils! Thanks to Mr. Alfred Berry and Ms. Jewel Levy for the reminders!!