Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Culture
  2. Food & Drink
21 September 2022

In praise of the honesty box

In Shetland and elsewhere, remote fridges and larders update a tradition of snacks dispensed in good faith.

By Felicity Cloake

A little model house by the side of the road saved my life a couple of weeks ago. After cycling 90 briskly undulating kilometres to the most northerly hotel in Britain, only to discover the kitchen was closed, I hobbled to the local pub (also closed) – and there it was. Lifting the hinged wooden roof revealed a treasure trove of neatly wrapped parcels: gingerbread, lemon drizzle and chocolate crispy cakes, all surprisingly modestly priced given the remote location. I emptied my wallet into the adjacent tin, and, as I replenished my sugar levels, gave thanks for the enduring popularity of the honesty box in Shetland.

In fact, the islands have brought an old idea, once used for everything from bus fares to newspapers, into the 21st century; fans of the BBC detective series Shetland will be familiar with the illuminated roadside cake fridges which enable enterprising locals to sell ice cream, cheesecake and trifle alongside the more usual bannocks and brownies.

Elsewhere on my two-wheeled travels around the UK, I’ve seen sheds, American-style postboxes and even old microwaves repurposed as weatherproof larders for eggs, preserves and sacks of muddy spuds. Foreign correspondents report purchases of avocados in Australia, oysters in Alaska and cheese in Switzerland (where, of course, the vendors take credit cards).

I suspect the charm of the honesty box system is as powerful a sales tool as the produce itself – the feeling of happy serendipity as you happen upon an unexpected treat, coupled with the warm glow of being trusted to do the right thing. So when someone does abuse that trust, it’s far more likely to make headlines in local newspapers (accompanied, inevitably, by a picture of a disappointed child or furious smallholder brandishing their empty cash tin) than theft from more conventional businesses. To steal is bad enough, but to steal from a honesty box… Well, that really takes the biscuit.

[See also: Architecture Notes: The Queen at the National Portrait Gallery]

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

Content from our partners
Harnessing breakthrough thinking
Are we there yet with electric cars? The EV story – with Wejo
Sherif Tawfik: The Middle East and Africa are ready to lead on the climate

Topics in this article :

This article appears in the 21 Sep 2022 issue of the New Statesman, Going for broke