Tuck shop

A tuck shop is a small, food-selling retailer, found in schools and youth clubs. It is a term principally used in the UK, South Africa and Queensland, Victoria and New South Wales in Australia, and occasionally in other parts of the former British Empire. In New South Wales the term is interchangeable with the word canteen. When the tuck shop is in a school, it is frequently the only place (other than the school canteen) where monetary transactions can be made. As such, particularly in the UK, they often sell items of stationery too, although food is still their primary source of income and customers. In Australia at both youth clubs and schools the tuck shop is mainly staffed by volunteers from the community, this may include students, parents and in the case of clubs; members. The term is also used in Indian boarding schools.

The term "tuck", meaning food, is slang and probably originates from such phrases as "to tuck into a meal". It is also closely related to the Australian English word "tucker", also meaning food. A tuck shop typically sells confectionery finger-food, such as sweets, crisps, fizzy drinks and so on. In recent years, there have been moves to change to a wider variety of "healthier" foods. In Australia, where the tuck shop will typically be the only source of bought food at the school/club, the menu is more substantial and is more similar to the school dinners provided by the British government.

"Tucker" may originate with the lacework at the top of Nineteenth Century women's dresses, but the origin of its use in regard to food probably arises from the popular shops run in England by various members of the Tuck family between at least 1780 and 1850. The earliest reference found is to one Thomas Tuck whose famous "Tuck's Coffee House" in the university city of Norwich in Norfolk UK attracted many academics. There was a library for the use of customers and it was located on Gentleman’s Walk in the heart of the City. It is mentioned as a place of legal negotiation in public notices published in the Norfolk Chronicle on Feb 9th 1782 and April 12th & 19th 1783. In 1820 William Joseph Tuck was a confectioner at Duncan Place, Hackney, just outside London. Hackney and nearby London Fields were fashionable for picnic outings and holidays at the time. The London Directory of 1846 records his son Thomas James Tuck as baker at "The Bun House" in Duncan Place. Another store had also opened by 1842 in Church Street, now Mare Street, as shown in a painting in which TUCK is clearly displayed over the door. Thomas and his brother William Frederick Tuck arrived in Victoria,Australia aboard "Ayrshire" on 24th April 1852, and both opened similar stores, William as a confectioner in Melbourne and Thomas at the goldfields. "T J Tuck & Sons" is shown over the door of his store in the painting by Augustus Baker Peirce: "The Myers Creek Rush - near Sandhurst (Bendigo) Victoria" (located in the National Library of Australia).

Other uses of "tuck shop"

The tuck shop is for many Britons one of a number of especially vivid school memories, and as such it is no surprise that journalists, advertisers and retailers have used the name and image of a tuck shop many times to promote their products, or to promote a nostalgic sense of familiarity. For example:

  • Some companies have called sections of their website or shop the "tuck shop
  • Some shops have simply called themselves "The Tuck Shop". One interesting example of this is on Holywell Street in Oxford. On one end of the street, there is "The Tuck Shop", and further down the road there is " The Alternative Tuck Shop" (see photo)
  • The term "tuck shop" is used from time to time in media reports, as an easily-identifiable image understood by a large proportion of the British populace

Healthy tuck shops

As part of the UK government's recent promotion of healthy eating as part of healthy lifestyle, the role of tuck shops in schools has come under increasing scrutiny. As such, national, regional and local government has been strongly promoting the idea of "healthy" tuck shops. There has also been charity and voluntary sector involvement. To some, this means providing healthier types of the same goods (for example using brown bread instead of white, selling milk and fruit juice instead of fizzy drinks and rice cakes and crackers instead of crisps). This model has become very popular in many schools in the UK. Some groups have advocated going even further and creating a "fruit tuck shop". These have been less popular, primarily due to a perceived drop in revenue and the generally tight state of funding in the UK education system at present, although this may change in the future.


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