Lucy Gray’s shopping lists exhibition at the Museum of Brands in London’s Notting Hill

Did you know that shopping lists have been around since ancient Mesopotamian times? Or that the Greeks and Romans used to write shopping lists on wooden tablets? Even the famous sculptor and painter Michelangelo wrote shopping lists – he would draw each item on his list to aid his servant as they were illiterate.

Shopping lists are universal and almost everyone has written one at some point, whether on a piece of paper, a used envelope or as a note on their phone.

The Museum of Brands in Notting Hill, west London, celebrates them with a new display, called Aide-mémoire: Shopping Lists, which opened on October 8 and runs until March 31 next year.

Lucy Gray, outside Aldi in Bishop’s Stortford, has an exhibition of shopping lists at the Museum of Brands in London. Pic: Vikki Lince

The collection of over 200 discarded shopping lists has been compiled since 2016 by self-confessed “nosy parker” Lucy Gray, a mother of three who lives in Windhill, Bishop’s Stortford, and works as communications manager at Herts and Essex High School.

Since then, friends and family have donated lists from around the globe – although the collecting stalled during Covid lockdowns when supermarket cleanliness went into overdrive and Lucy was reluctant to collect any discarded lists.

Lucy said: “I’m not sure what made me pick up that first list. The little note and doodle scribbled on the corner of the envelope on which the list was written caught my eye – indeed, the doodle was an eye. It wasn’t written by the person who made the list but by the person who wrote the letter to the person who made the list, who then used the envelope for the list itself.

The list that sparked Lucy Gray's collection (60287812)The list that sparked Lucy Gray’s collection (60287812)

“It’s a convoluted train of thought, but picking up that first list created a story in my mind. And the story wasn’t just about shopping. It was about someone’s life. And that was the beauty of it.”

The museum is showing Lucy’s entire collection. “As the majority of them are from Stortford, it’s pretty likely there are people round here who might recognise their own, although they might not want to own up having lobbed it on the floor or left it in their trolley for someone else to clear away – or pick up. A couple of people at work are already a bit unnerved!” she said.

What makes the shopping lists special is not so much the content but how they are written – from the spelling and handwriting to the order they are written in – what they are written on and personal notes sent to the shopper. Reading them is an emotional insight into the person behind the list.

The display is an intimate look at consumer habits in the 21st century. Each list gives a personal insight to trends, tastes, habits, celebrations, the continuing popularity of old favourites, the mundane and the downright bizarre – for example, one list is for K-Y Jelly, tourniquet, “chlor prep”, green tubing and syringes.

Lucy Gray's shopping lists (60286766)Lucy Gray’s shopping lists (60286766)

Curator Amy Dobson said: “Shopping lists aren’t usually something you’d think of as emotive, but our new display is one that makes you stop and think. Each list tells its own unique story. Reading them feels private and special – and also a little bit nosy!

“Through the collection of people’s shopping lists we can see popular favourites and brands that are mentioned again and again, like Philadelphia, Weetabix and Dove. They can provide a great insight into our shopping habits and each one tells so much about the person behind the list.”

Alongside the exhibition the museum is hosting workshops and activities for children of all ages, including new interactive activities for pre-school children where they can make their own shopping list and find the items to fill their basket.

The Museum of Brands in Notting Hill (60286900)The Museum of Brands in Notting Hill (60286900)

The Museum of Brands, established in 1984, takes visitors on a nostalgic journey through 200 years of social change, consumer culture and lifestyle.

It offers a fascinating insight into how our lives and society have evolved since Victorian times – from the changing role of women to the impact of war and technology; from the passing of the domestic servant to the evolving choice of food and toys, as well as the revolution in shopping habits over the last 200 years.

Lucy Gray's shopping lists (60286796)Lucy Gray’s shopping lists (60286796)

Open daily, it is the only one of its kind in the world, celebrating our past through our throwaway heritage with displays full of memory and meaning.

The collection comprises over half a million items concentrating on those areas that have transformed daily life – entertainment, travel, leisure, music, fashion and children’s toys, plus postcards, magazines, wartime ephemera and royal souvenirs. Over 12,000 items are on display.

The museum is open from 10am to 6pm Mondays to Saturdays and 11am to 5pm on Sundays and bank holidays. Admission costs £9 for adults, £7 concessions, £5 for children. It is a short walk from Ladbroke Grove Tube station.

Lucy Ireland Gray's shopping lists (60285108)Lucy Ireland Gray’s shopping lists (60285108)Lucy Gray's shopping lists (60286751)Lucy Gray’s shopping lists (60286751)Lucy Gray's shopping lists (60286756)Lucy Gray’s shopping lists (60286756)Lucy Gray's shopping lists (60286758)Lucy Gray’s shopping lists (60286758)Lucy Gray's shopping lists (60286760)Lucy Gray’s shopping lists (60286760)Lucy Gray's shopping lists (60286768)Lucy Gray’s shopping lists (60286768)Lucy Gray's shopping lists (60286770)Lucy Gray’s shopping lists (60286770)Lucy Gray's shopping lists (60286774)Lucy Gray’s shopping lists (60286774)Lucy Gray's shopping lists (60286783)Lucy Gray’s shopping lists (60286783)Lucy Gray's shopping lists (60286785)Lucy Gray’s shopping lists (60286785)


Recommended For You