The Nostalgia column with Margaret Watson: Shops right up your street

NOW that we are being allowed out to do our Christmas shopping, I am wondering how many from my generation will be taking advantage of it.

By The Newsroom
Wednesday, 2nd December 2020, 8:20 am
Margaret Watson.
Margaret Watson.

Most of us have been in self isolation for so long (nearly 12 months would you believe?) that we’re not taking the risk.

Anyway, we’ve forgotten how to shop because having to wear face masks and being socially distanced, means that shopping is no longer the pleasure it once was.

We remember when shopping was something you looked forward to, and many of us made it a day out, especially on market days.

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Down your street: Looking at this picture of Northgate, Dewsbury, it is hard to believe that none of these shops are still there. John Manners, on the left, was a men’s shop and next door was Wilkinson’s drapers, and further down was Frank Cooke’s men’s outfitters, and next door was W.H Smiths, stationers, which later moved to the Princess of Wales Precinct further down the road and is still there.

We would meet up with relatives and friends, have lunch together in one of the many town centre cafes, and even fit in a matinee at one of the five cinemas.

Shopping wasn’t something you did in a rush but something to take your time over, including crossing the road, as can be seen from the photograph above.

Sadly, many of the town centre shops closed when shopping trends changed and supermarkets and out-of-town shopping centres came into our lives.

Times were changing, and not only shops were suffering, but also the local cinemas because we had started staying at home to watch the telly.

All the cinemas in Dewsbury town centre were packed to the rafters, but they started closing in the 1960s because we were all at home watching Dixon of Dock Green and Sunday Night at the London Palladium on TV.

Cinema managers tried everything to keep their establishments going, and I remember as a young reporter watching poor Mr Masterman, manager of the Pioneers, turning to pop stars for help.

He got big names like Cliff Richard to give live performances, as well as Marty Wilde, Adam Faith, and if you still remember him Emile Ford of What Do You Wanna Make Those Eyes at Me For? fame.

I got free tickets to all these shows, interviewed the stars, gave them brilliant write ups (as if they needed them) but the cinema still closed, as did the other four.

The supermarkets also took their toll of how we lived our lives, especially the food stores in the town centre, the oldest being a lovely little shop in Bond Street called Spikings.

Mr Spiking told me he was closing because he couldn’t compete with the supermarkets any more as his customers were leaving in droves.

He sold freshly ground coffee, all kinds of specialist teas, mixed spices, fresh yeast and dried fruits.

He always wore a spotless white apron and his orders were delivered by bike, mainly to his posh customers up Halifax Road.

Yes, society has changed dramatically over the past 60 years, and if we’re honest, so have we.

Some time ago, I was given a souvenir booklet which had been published in 1927 to mark the 1,300th anniversary of Dewsbury Parish Church.

The booklet was published at a time when business was booming in Dewsbury and it was fascinating to read some of the adverts inside.

Looking at them, I could see how local society has changed, and how thrifty people used to be.

Painters and decorators also cleaned and restored old pictures, re-gilded frames, and among the wallpapers on offer were hard-wearing papers like Anaglypta and Lincrusta which most people had in their doorways.

Three piece suites were often re-upholstered instead of being consigned to the rubbish tip, and faded sideboards were French polished to give them a facelift. This was at a time when a lot furniture stores made their own furniture in Dewsbury.

George Ellis, who had premises in Nelson Street, advertised his speciality as being “patent double spring hair Chesterfield suites” made in their own works where customers could see them being made.

Margaret Hepple, a gown specialist at 53 Westgate, assured customers they could shop with confidence at her shop, and her specialities were over-blouses, corsets, gloves, hosiery and knitwear.

Some of the adverts today would not get past the critical eye of health and safety experts, especially the one for Megson’s Cafe in Church Street, which announced in large letters – “LAUGH AND GROW FAT AT MEGSON’S CAFE”.

Another advert by Crosby and Allan, who sold cheese in Market Place, urged customers to “EAT MORE CHEESE AND LIVE LONGER!”

It must have been truly wonderful to live in an age when people didn’t worry about their waistline, didn’t count calories and didn’t have to worry about their arteries furring up because of the food they ate.

Oh happy, happy days.

○ Just to let you know that the painting I showed last week of cottages in Hanging Heaton, have been positively identified as being in Kirkgate. More about this in forthcoming articles.