Exhibition of Lucy Gray’s Shopping Lists at the Museum of Brands in Notting Hill, London

Did you know that shopping lists have been around since Mesopotamian antiquity? Or that the Greeks and Romans wrote shopping lists on wooden tablets? Even the famous sculptor and painter Michelangelo wrote shopping lists – he drew every item on his list to help his servant as they were illiterate.

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

The Museum of Brands in Notting Hill, west London, is celebrating them with a new exhibition, Checklists: Shopping Lists, which opened on October 8 and will run until March 31. next year.

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

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

Since then, friends and family have donated lists from around the world – although collection was blocked during the Covid closures when supermarket cleanliness became excessive and Lucy was reluctant to collect the abandoned lists .

Lucy said, “I don’t know what made me choose that first list. The little note and doodle scribbled on the corner of the envelope the list was written on caught my eye – indeed, the doodle was an eye. It was not 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 going over that first list created a story in my mind. And the story wasn’t just about shopping. It was about someone’s life. And it was the beauty of it.”

The museum presents all of Lucy’s collection. “As the majority of them are from Stortford, it’s highly likely that there are people around here who might recognize theirs, although they might not want to admit to throwing it on the ground or leaving it in their trolley for someone else to get rid of – or drop out. A few people at work are already a little pissed off!” she says.

What makes shopping lists special is not so much the content as the way they are written – from the spelling and handwriting to the order in which they are written – what they are written on and personal notes sent to the client. 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 personal insight into trends, tastes, habits, celebrations, the continued popularity of old favourites, the mundane and the downright bizarre – for example, a list is for KY Jelly, tourniquet, “chlor prep”, green tube 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 might think of as emotional, 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 nosy!

“Through people’s shopping list collection, we can see popular favorites and brands that get mentioned over and over again, like Philadelphia, Weetabix and Dove. They can provide great insight into our shopping habits and everyone in says a lot about the person behind the list.”

Alongside the exhibit, the museum offers workshops and activities for children of all ages, including new interactive activities for preschoolers where they can make their own shopping list and find the items to fill their basket.

The Marks Museum in Notting Hill (60286900)
The Marks Museum in Notting Hill (60286900)

The Brands Museum, 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 changed since Victorian times – from the changing role of women to the impact of war and technology; from the disappearance of the domestic, to the evolution of food and toy choices, to 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’s the only one of its kind in the world, celebrating our past through our disposable heritage with exhibits full of memory and meaning.

The collection includes over half a million items focusing on areas that have transformed everyday life – entertainment, travel, leisure, music, fashion and children’s toys, as well as postcards, magazines, ephemera of war and royal memorabilia. More than 12,000 objects are exhibited.

The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Saturday and from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sundays and public holidays. Admission is £9 for adults, £7 for 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)

See www.museumofbrands.com.



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