From Carts to Drones: The Evolution of Milk Delivery

The milk cart and delivery is an iconic part of childhood for many British people, never mind ‘yam yams’. Today, it’s a little more high tech, with delivery drones that have trundled out across other parts of the country such as Leeds set to come to Black Country doors very soon.

As innocuous as they may be, milk carts have a key part to play in the social tapestry and history of the region, and so they will in the future – starting with the iconic Graiseley Carts. Nina Garter explores their history.

1950s deliveries

Milk delivery has always been ahead of its time in the UK as the method of delivery has always, typically, been electric. One of the most iconic vehicles in the Black Country in that regard is the Graiseley Cart. Built by Diamond Motors Ltd. in Wolverhampton, these handy little vehicles were a common sight around times around the mid 20th century according to the Express and Star. With that, they became a moving advertisement for Black Country productivity.

Typically, small-scale operations operated these devices, designed to deliver milk as well as bread and other products to local streets. As demand grew higher, both in the Black Country and beyond, there became a need for more sophisticated, centrally-organised distribution of milk and other dairy products. To ensure that households received fresh and timely milk on their doorstep before the morning rush, something akin to the last mile was established in the milk float armies of the 60s onwards.

The iconic milk float

Bringing mass organisation to the milk delivery world was the milk float. Bigger and with a longer range than Graiseley Carts, they retained the electric mode of power – in many ways, milk floats are one of the original eco-friendly, green fleets. Many of the major manufacturers were located in the midlands, although not the Black Country, with particular density in Leicester, Loughborough and Market Harborough.

Interestingly, milk deliveries are seeing a surge in interest. Milk & More, who have been reviving the sector, were purchased by Muller in 2015, and The Telegraph have reported huge expansions in their business.

Historic character Dave Ball poses with the Museum’s Graiseley Milk Cart.

Giving way to drones

The future of groceries delivery, and with it milk, appears to be in drones. Multiple vendors, including Coles, Coop, Alphabet and Amazon are now trialling drone delivery in the UK, first through ground-based robots and then through the air.

There are logistical challenges to this, chiefly in managing airspace; but, as anyone who was around for the peak of electric float usage will remember, milk floats often caused consternation on the roads. It’s worth keeping an eye on the progress of these futuristic devices, and how they might bring fresh milk to a new generation.

While the importance of milk on the doorstep has faded with the wider availability in supermarkets, there’s still nothing quite like getting a fresh cold bottle first thing in the morning. With drones, it might be a reality once again, especially given the market interest, and resurrect a bit of nostalgia with a strong link to the Black Country.