Archive for the ‘scooters’ Category

The Old Corner Shops

August 1, 2019

The Old Corner Shops.
By Eddie Blackwell
Shopping is it any wonder I dislike it today, it’s just not as it was in the days of the old corner shop. You were recognised by the shopkeeper as a customer a person with a life, not a plastic bag on a conveyor passing through the checkout, or £’s going through the computer as fast as they can because their primary function is to take your money as quickly as possible. The corner shopkeeper would know your likes and dislikes, and they’d always stock things that they knew you’d want to buy, none of this psychological selling, placing the most popular brands on the top and bottom shelves where it’s awkward, in the hope that you’ll take the easiest ones to reach which are the ones they want to sell you, and placing pallets of goods at the ends of the isles to block you in like sheep thinking you’ll buy more goods because you take longer to get through. If you really want everything in one store, furniture clothes hardware etc you can always go online. I have to tolerate it because that’s the way it is today, the big International Companies squeezing out the corner shops, with their bulk purchasing power, but it’s our fault because we support them it’s our money their taking, and where do the profits go not back into UK pockets that’s for sure. When you add up the time that we spend shopping during our lives it amounts quite a bit. My feeling is if I must spend that much time at least it should be doing something I like. Here’s a few memories of when shopping was very different than it is today.
Mrs Fenton’s half way up Devon Street was the first corner shop that I remember, she sold groceries, provisions and potatoes, and she kept cats which I couldn’t understand at the time, because they obviously peed on the potatoes you could smell it when you went into the shop. I was born in Devon Street about 100 yards from the shop, we lived at No 29 and the shop was No 41 which due to a bend in the street, made it at right angles to our house, There was a connecting door to No 43 which was where Mrs Fenton and her family lived. This was during WW2 and rationing was in force, you had to register your Ration books with a selected supplier, Mrs Fenton was ours for everyday groceries. There were hardly any motor cars on the roads, although Mrs Fenton’s daughter’s boyfriend had one that was powered by producer gas, and had a big rectangular bag on the roof of the car that was filled with gas from the street lamps (in hind sight that must have been illegal), but it was a gravity feed to the engine, we spent hours pushing him up and down trying to get it started but usually to no avail, it need a pump to feed into the gas into the engine, even as small boys we realised the problem, but this guy was oblivious to the advice we gave him, we threw a few bricks onto the top of the bag, and the engine fired two or three times. He walked with a limp supposedly from a mining accident down the pit, but he always seemed to run without limping when his car wouldn’t start.
As you can imagine from a very early age I was sent to get this or that as and when we needed it, Mum had a tick book (sometimes called a slate) that she paid every week, it was the way in those days, people never had much money and were always waiting for their weekly pay packet, on Thursdays or Fridays. Obviously being a small boy I became friendly with Mrs Fenton over the years, and I remember one year I think I was about five, Mum said I was to have a scooter for Christmas, and my older sister who used to send me up would say, go to Mrs Fenton’s on your (imaginary) new scooter, and get some sugar or whatever, but be careful on the road and make sure nobody steals the scooter whilst your in the shop. Off I went all excited on my pretend scooter, placed it neatly by the shop window and went into the shop there was a queue, with Mrs Fenton gabbing away to the customers, and I would pop outside to check the imaginary scooter was still there. Eventually Mrs Fenton said what are you doing Edward your in and out like a fiddlers elbow, I’m watching to see that nobodies pinched my scooter I replied, well she lifted the hinged counter and came outside with me, and said I can’t see a scooter there Edward, I know I said but I’m getting one for Christmas and I’m just practicing for when I get it. Well they all burst out Laughing in the shop and thought it hilarious. They played some awful tricks on me when I was little, but I did indeed get the scooter that Christmas, it was a handmade wooden affair made by some one who lived behind the old Slip Inn, the wheels were a bit on the big side but I eventually I grew into it.
I recall each week Mum would get the book and add up all the shillings pennies and half pennies to see how much she owed, which she found a bit laborious (no electronic calculators then), sometimes she would make the total less than Mrs Fenton, but usually ended up paying it anyway, she new figures were not her forte. As I got older 9/10 I was doing quite well at school and I found numbers to be my best subject, and I’d take the book add up the weeks shopping and go with my Mum when she went to pay the bill, occasionally Mrs Fenton would find it more than the book total, but instead of just paying thinking she was wrong Mum would say add this up Edward, and I’d go through it page by page adding in my head, suddenly the boot was on the other foot, and It was Mrs Fenton that had to capitulate. She’d say I hate adding up the books, you could come and do this for me every week Edward. We still got our weekly shopping from Mrs Fenton for two or three years after we moved, I had a 27 inch diameter two wheeler bike now, a Magenta coloured Dawes with drop handle bars and alloy rimmed wheels, and I would ride down collect the shopping and Mum would call in on her way home on Fridays to settle the account. After food rationing ended in 1954 we found it was easier to shop locally and slowly stopped using Mrs Fenton’s.
I remember another shopping incident when I was about 8/9 rationing was still on, it would go around the area if one of the local shops had special goods for sale like Chocolate Biscuits which were on ration, well one such occasion occurred. It was a grocery on Temple View Road almost opposite Knight’s Fish and Chip shop, the name eludes me for the moment, I’ll most likely remember it when I’m driving in the car. It was a Saturday morning and Mum said, take this ten-shilling note and the ration book up to was it Crowther’s, and ask if you can have half a pound of Chocolate Biscuits please, and then you can go to the ABC Minors which starts at twelve o’clock. Great I thought I’ll run and be back in plenty of time to get to the Shaftsbury Cinema, a Flash Gordon Special was on that day that I wanted to see. I arrived at the shop, waited my turn, asked politely for the Chocolate Biscuits, handed over the ration book with the ten shilling note on top the lady opened the ration book cut out the coupons weighed out the biscuits and said that’s one shilling and three pence please( I don’t remember the exact amount), I gave you a ten shilling note with the ration book I said, well it’s not here son perhaps you’ve left it at home, I’ll save these for you until you come back. I was home like a shot I new this was trouble with a capital “T”, Mum went absolutely bonkers, the monies not here you took it with the ration book, she walked me back to the shop the way I’d gone, we looked in every nook and cranny, but the money was not there. Eventually we went into the shop, and the Lady said hello you’re the little boy that came in earlier for the Chocolate Biscuits, I found your money it must have fallen on the floor when I opened the Ration Book, here’s your biscuits and there’s your ration book and your change. What a relief ten shillings in those days was a lot of money, but I still wasn’t out of the woods. You’re not going to the ABC Minors Mum said, that’s not fair it wasn’t my fault Mum, possibly not, but you were given the responsibility, and you’ll make sure it doesn’t happen in future. Sometimes you learn the hard way, and this was one of those occasions. I was grounded for a week.
In those days you could find a corner shop that would sell or provide anything you could ever want, “Manchester House”, had a shop in Pontefract Lane, it had a large baby doll in the window as I recall, they sold all kinds of wool, and knitting patterns etc. My Grandma would send me there for hanks of wool, then I’d hold them with arms apart for her to turn them into balls of wool for knitting mittens, gloves, scarves, jumpers and balaclavas, for the winter months. She would also knit Baby Clothes, bonnets, coats and booties for additions to the family they were usually white in colour, the sex of the baby in those days was not known until it entered the world and a neutral white suited either sex. Then there were the rugs that we would make from clippings of old clothes, she’d set a canvas base on a wooden frame, and we each had a pricker usually whittled from a wooden peg, then the clippings would be inserted using the pricker into the canvas base to form a “u” shape and the loose upper ends were the working surface of the rug, usually a decorative pattern would be made, forming a new rug to adorn the floor in front of the fireplace for Christmas.

Another odd shop that we don’t see today was the cobblers, we had one in Pontefract lane, opposite the Princess Cinema. Can’t remember his name now but he had rows and rows of shoes and boots that had been resoled and heeled, the welts and sole edges all sealed with black or brown wax to make them waterproof. Uppers were always made from leather and would last for years if properly looked after, we polished ours every night before going to bed, in readiness for the morning. I always had a lot of help from my big sister in that direction it was something she enjoyed doing. I remember a craze that became popular on the concrete paving in the school playground, it was sliding. You could have steel studs and heel segs on the soles and heels of your school boots, which prolonged their life before needing repair, but also enabled you to slide on the hard concrete surface of the playground, we found it great fun until the headmaster saw us and stopped the practice, he said it was too dangerous and someone could break an arm or a leg if they fell whilst practicing this pursuit. Seemed an odd thing to say when at his behest the school played Rugby League Football. I think the real reason was we were wearing the surface off the concrete, and he could see a bill for repairs coming if it wasn’t stopped. We still enjoyed the studded boots though we’d form a line and march in step left right left right (a sound to be repeated in later years when National Service came around), and they did extend the life of the leather soles and heels, however in those days you were growing that fast you needed a new pair of boots anyway because the old ones didn’t fit any more. When my Dad came back from the war, he bought a cast iron last (we still have one in the front garden as a reminder of the old days), and we used to repair our own boots and shoes. These adhesive stick on rubber soles also became available, and unfortunately the days of the cobbler’s shop were numbered. Today Footwear is a throw away market, cheap imported mass-produced products have taken over, and a new pair of shoes is usually cheaper than the cost of repairs. Most of the old established Cobbler shops are now key cutters and suchlike. I took a pair of good quality Ladies leather shoes for repair the other day, some of the leather stitching had become frayed and needed repairing, the Guy examined the shoe and said these are not really worth repairing I’d have to re-stitch them by hand, and it would take ages and cost a fortune, your better off buying a new pair. I couldn’t believe my ears, he just couldn’t be bothered to do the job because he would have to use his hands, unbelievable.
In Pontefract lane, we had an Upholsterer’s Shop it’s true, it was adjacent to the Old Cobblers shop but on the other side of the row of houses I think it was Devon Terrace, he could make you a brand new three piece suite, or completely recover an old one to give it a new lease of life, he repaired broken chairs with upholstered seats and backs, re-polished tables and suchlike, He’d come round to your house and sort out scratches and damage furniture. I used to watch him doing repairs through the shop window, but never had any personal contact. It seemed an unusual shop to me, although I suppose he did need somewhere to display his craftsmanship. Further down was a confectioners and bread shop, a toys and sweet shop Turners as I recall, Manchester House and then a barbers shop Mr Thwaites I think it was called, he had cigarette packet cards on the walls hundreds of them, I always thought he must be a heavy smoker, but I never saw him with a cigarette in his mouth. He wore glasses and had a magnifying lens attach to the right hand side of the frame, I think he repaired and cleaned clockwork watches as part of his business activities, it was short back and sides and a tuft on top, not a very stylish cut, but clean and healthy as was dictated by the times, and of course the nit nurse. Who visited schools in those days on a regular bases, to ensure unwelcome visitors weren’t invading your hair.
Well I know I’ve been rambling on a bit, and you’ll all be fed up by now, I’d just like to leave you with this list of food which was the amount of food allowed for an adult for ONE WEEK, during WW2.
Bacon and Ham 4 oz.
Other meat to the value of one shilling and two pence (equivalent to two chops).
Butter 2 oz.
Cheese 2 oz.
Margarine 4 oz.
Cooking fat 4 oz.
Milk 3 pints. (occasionally reduced to 2 pints).
Sugar 8 oz.
Preserves 1 lb every two months.
Tea 2 oz.
Eggs One fresh egg plus one packet of dried egg every 4 weeks.
Sweets 12 oz every four weeks.
Vegetables unlimited depending on availability.

Try it for a week, weight watchers the Ministry of Food an Official Body authorised by the Government of those times, compiled this list as being sufficiently nutritious for an adult to live on. If you could grow your own vegetables, or had money to buy on the Black Market, then you could supplement your diet. “Dig for Victory” was a catch phrase from those times. No wonder we had to have Malt and Cod Liver Oil supplements at school.

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