Echoes of the past: The introduction of self service shopping

The Automatic Cafe was completely coin operated with only one member of staff in the Summer
The Automatic Cafe was completely coin operated with only one member of staff in the Summer

I suppose we could call this an early form of self service, something we take for granted these days. But with the development of criminal activity these machines soon disappeared from our streets, having become easy targets for villains.

I remember the chewing gum machines outside Aubrey Baron’s wooden hut newsagents and tobacconist shop on Victoria Road and even the chocolate vending machine outside the old post office at Bailiff Bridge. No doubt many readers will remember seeing similar machines outside their local shops as well.

Self service in the Co-op stores in Brighouse and eventually all the Co-op branches arrived in the mid to late 1950s. Going into a shop and choosing things and simply placing them in a wire shopping basket seemed too easy. It was as I am sure some people will recall. That was until you arrived at the cash-out to pay and you had not realised just how much you had actually purchased.

There was always the hot drink machines such as the one up on the balcony at the old Brighouse Swimming baths. I often heard comments that all the drinks tasted the same whether it was tea, coffee or even soup let alone hot chocolate. But it was warm and wet and always welcome irrespective of the taste after an hour in the swimming bath.

But could you imagine the ultimate vending machine - a completely automated cafe?

No, not even in this age of the gadget and drive through take-away premises would you get a totally automated cafe. But Sunny Vale, known by many as Sunny Bunces had one. No staff, no overseers to make sure you were not trying to steal the money, everything was on trust.

In this week’s featured photograph you can see the somewhat flimsy building clearly marked Automatic Cafe, the whole cafe was coin operated.

The only member of the Sunny Vale staff who was ever seen in the cafe during the summer was the man who refilled the drink machines and at the same time would take the money away.

For those children visiting Sunny Vale in the far off 1930s and 40s seeing such a place for the first time the youngsters must have been amazed.

What an innovative idea for those days, I was once told that there were only two of these in the country at that time – one in London and the other at Sunny Vale. Just how that second one came to be at Sunny Vale I cannot say but it just goes to remind us how advanced the Bunce family’s imaginative ideas keep the crowds coming through the gates were.