The Nostalgia column with Margaret Watson: Remembering “We Buy ‘Owt” shop near The Little Saddle pub

Most people in Dewsbury remember “We Buy ‘Owt”, the second-hand business at the end of a little ginnell, near where The Little Saddle pub was.

Wednesday, 10th March 2021, 10:07 am
Happy couple: George Stringer and his bride Audrey Fothergill on their wedding day in May 1954. Audrey worked at the shop for the last 10 years before it closed in 1994.
Happy couple: George Stringer and his bride Audrey Fothergill on their wedding day in May 1954. Audrey worked at the shop for the last 10 years before it closed in 1994.

It was a local legend, always crammed from floor to ceiling with all manner of things, many of which spilled out on to the street.

It was founded in the 1920s by Charlie Stringer, and started life as a market stall in Dewsbury with a horse and cart being his only means of transport.

Later he rented premises in Tythe Barn Street where he was helped by wife Blanche and his son George, and later his grandchildren, Jacky and Ray.

Margaret Watson.

It is his son, George, however, of whom I am writing because he made such a huge impression on me when I was a young journalist.

He always had time for me if I needed any information for the articles I was writing and he was loved and respected by all who knew him.

George played an important part in running “We Buy ‘Owt” which he took over on his father’s death in 1975.

Charlie had also had a market stall in Huddersfield which George stood on his own after leaving school aged 14.

He would load the cart so high with second-hand furniture and bric-a-brac, there wasn’t room left for him to sit on.

It meant he had to walk alongside the cart all the way to Huddersfield, praying he’d sell plenty of stuff so there’d be room for him to sit when coming home.

George knew every decent pie shop on the route back and stopped at every one of them, and thought nothing of eating four pork pies, one after the other.

Jacky, a trained chef, and her brother, Ray, a trained mechanic, both helped in the family business as children, and even after leaving school and had jobs elsewhere, continued to help.

Life got easier for George once he was able to acquire a removal van and could dispense with the horse and cart.

He also secured a contract with the old Dewsbury Education Authority to take school meals round in the days when schools didn’t have their own kitchens.

George had to collect the dinners from a central kitchen and deliver them to various schools with his daughter Jacky helping him, even when she was manageress at the Little Chef in Mirfield.

“I used to come out during my lunchtime to help dad deliver the dinners because family business always came first,” recalled Jacky.

“In school holidays I helped in the shop. I saw dad working every hour he could, even delivering furniture for Boardman’s furniture store in Daisy Hill.”

But times were changing. The younger generation didn’t want second-hand furniture any more and new health and safety laws prevented him from buying or selling furniture without fire resistant labels.

He had to turn down furniture without these labels which meant their once proud claim that they bought ‘owt, was being severely tested.

Other problems arose regarding the sale of gas appliances which by law could now only be fitted by Corgi registered fitters.

“My dad had supplied and fitted the cookers himself at no extra charge,” recalled Jacky. “It upset him having to tell little old ladies he was no longer allowed to fit their cookers.”

She also remembered him going to great lengths to please customers even to the extent of letting them have furniture from their house.

“I remember one woman wanting a three piece suite in red which we didn’t have but dad told her he knew where he could get one.

“That night he came home and loaded our suite on his van and took it up to her. We went without sofa and chairs until he got replacements.

“We were always able to choose our own Christmas presents but they had to come from the shop.

“I had a telly in my bedroom long before it was normal for kids to have their own – and I also had three bikes and a tape recorder.”

George will always be remembered by those who knew him for his quiet, gentlemanly demeanour, his good manners, good looks and, more importantly, as a man whose word was his bond.

Jacky never heard her dad once say he disliked anyone, he never called anybody and was a perfect dad and a devoted husband.

In his younger days, George, who was born in Mirfield, loved motorbike racing and stock car racing, enjoying the thrill of competing on the race track.

But his greatest love was horses, especially hackney horses, which he showed in various shows throughout the country, his proudest moment being when he took part in the Horse of the Year show at Wembley.

George died in Dewsbury District Hospital aged 77, six months after his wife Audrey.

Jacky, who now lives in Hornsea, remembers George as being the perfect dad,who had never ending patience, quiet and tolerant and always fair.

“I will miss him all my life and love introducing myself as ‘George Stringer’s daughter’, although there are not many left who knew him.

“Two years ago I met someone here on the seafront who knew him and they said they were thrilled to meet me.

“That was awesome and brought tears to my eyes. I felt such pride.”