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1937: ‘Everybody’s Thrift Shop’ Opened by Edinburgh Settlement

“One of the earliest charity shops in the UK was set up by the Edinburgh Settlement in 1937, when ‘Everybody’s Thrift Shop’ was opened at 79a Nicholson Street, Edinburgh. Red Cross charity shops became widespread in Britain during the Second World War, whilst Oxfam established it’s first charity shop in 1947. When the Settlement’s shop first opened in 1937, people queued for an hour beforehand in anticipation and police were on hand to ensure that stall-holders were not overwhelmed.” – Report from ‘The Scotsman’, 27 April 1937.

A new venture on behalf of Edinburgh University Settlement was launched at 79a Nicholson Street, Edinburgh, yesterday, when “Everybody’s Thrift Shop” was opened for the sale of all sorts and conditions of things in aid of the Settlement Appeal fund. More than an hour before the hour of opening – eleven o’clock – women had gathered outside in order to be the first to pick the bargains, When eleven struck they were admitted, a score or so at a time. Most of them rushed to the clothing stall, feverishly turning over the goods despite the repeated assurances of Miss Grace Drysdale, warden of the Settlement, that there was no need to hurry.

Thrift Shop Advert Edinburgh Settlement

The opportunity to buy really good, if second-hand, clothing for themselves and their families was more than welcome at a time when the good man is too often out of work and illness intervenes. One woman went off triumphant with a handsome suit once worn, it was whispered, by a Professor. Sad indeed she was that funds would not run to the extra pair of trousers that went with it.

Another secured a real bargain: ten shirts for half-a-crown. curtains and bits of carpet were highly popular, but one never knew what the demand might be. “I want a tricycle for ma wee grandson!” said a beaming granny. whether or not her search was successful, there were several bicycles to be had, not to mention a saddle, a doll’s house, rocking horse, wireless sets, and some sort of organ.

All kinds of white elephants and curios have been handed in for sale, and some of these were attracting the dealers – fine pieces of cloisonné, a silver dish valued at £20. Lady Susan Gilmour, who paid a brief to the shop, bought some crystal, and some of the stallholders were busy up to the moment of opening polishing their finer treasures. Evening shawls hung on the walls with all manner of pictures of which the owners had tired. In an upper room there was rather more of a “job lot,” old stockings and shoes, books, furniture, and odd bits and pieces.

A policeman kept a kindly eye on the proceedings to prevent the stallholders being swamped with custom. Women laden with bulky and ungainly parcels were encouraged to depart and make room for the others waiting to come in. The “Thrift Shop” will remain open as long as there is anything to sell.

This is part of the voluntary collaboration with Ragged University to digitize the Edinburgh Settlements archive so that it can be accessed as a part of the public domain.

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