We had quite a self contained little community when I lived in Tawd Bridge in the 1940s and 50s. To acquire the things we needed we could go shopping in Wigan, Ormskirk or Skem, but we hardly needed to. It seemed that there was a little shop on the end of nearly every row of houses!
I lived in the last row of brick terrace houses about 4 doors up from the Tawd Bridge Pub. So, working along the road from there, let’s see if we can remember all the little shops.
Nearest to us at the end of our row was a little shop which I remember as being run by Mr and Mrs Makepiece. It was a typical little crowded shop which attempted to sell everything. The thing that made it unique in my memory was that it had the first ever vending machine that I ever knew…a chewing gum dispenser. This was a rectangular metal container attached to the wall near the shop door. You put in a penny and turned a knob on the side and out came a packet of P.K. The best bit was that there was a little arrow on the knob and every fourth turn when the arrow was pointing in the right direction, the machine would dispense two packets! Next to that shop was an opening between the rows of houses, and in the opening were a pair of steel girders which were literally propping up that whole row of houses! They were badly affected by subsidence and leaning at a remarkable angle! All of the Tawd Bridge kids used to love climbing up those girders and sliding down!
Further up the road, opposite the end of Spencer’s Lane was the shop owned and run by the Watkinson family. I have already made a description of that shop; but when I was living there the shop was run by Walter Watkinson, grandson of the original owners. I have to say that the shop of the 1950s was very similar to how my mother described it in the 1930s. However, Walt had made a few innovations. For instance, he got a refrigerator! It wasn’t like a modern shop fridge, it was just a large domestic model. I guess the quality of the bacon and other cooked meats may have been better and more hygienic! The thing that impressed me as a child was that he used to make ice lollies. He used to just fill up the ice tray with orange cordial and put a little stick in each little compartment, and when they were frozen he sold them to us appreciative kids for a penny. Walt no longer baked bread in the bakehouse at the back, he got the bread from a large wholesale baker. (Coultons and Rathbones were the bakers that supplied local shops.) Walt still made meat and potato pies in the bakehouse and also produced a range of cakes.
As we progress up the hill to Grimshaw Lane, the next shop on the opposite side of the road was the Co op. I don’t remember much about the Co op as we never did much business there, but I do recall the special smell of that shop. I don’t know what it was, but it was rather pleasant and comforting and remains in my memory still.
In the middle of Grimshaw Lane (this was still Ormskirk Road, but was referred to as Grimshaw Lane for this small section) was my Nana’s shop. My Nana, Mrs Coulshed, had a little shop in Spencer’s Lane, Digmoor, but left there and took over the shop in Grimshaw lane that had previously been run by Polly MacNeill. I can only just barely remember Nana’s shop as she retired and sold up the business when I was about three years old. I can remember the big blocks of butter and cheese out on the counter. They also had a bacon slicer on the counter which was operated with a hand wheel, and with which I was always absolutely fascinated! In later years several people told me how Mrs Coulshed had a very good shop. People always mention that she used to cook stuffed hearts, which were then sliced up for cold meats, and how good they were. In the back garden of Mrs Coulshed’s shop there was a pig sty, empty when I was there, but they previously had a pig or two, and sold home cured bacon.
Not very much farther up Grimshaw Lane you came to Kenyon”s shop. When I was very young this shop was run by Peter Kenyon, who was always called P. I remember going up to P’s shop with my little ration book to buy sweets. Later, after P retired, this shop became our beloved fish and chip shop, but more about that later.
Further along again we came to Gladys’s little shop. It was very similar to all the others. as a very small childthe thing that sticks in my mind was that after my Nana retired and closed down her shop, Gladys bought up a lot of the stock and equipment from Nana’s shop – including the bacon slicer. I always used to feel very jealous when I went into Gladys’s shop and saw “our” bacon slicer on the counter!
All of these little shops along Ormskirk road were built as shops with a large distinctive shop window. I remember that at one time my friend and I had heard the term “Window Shopping” (probably on TV, and not really realising what it meant,) so we decided that we would go window shopping. After standing out at the front of Uncle Walt’s shop window for a while and staring in, we decided it was rather boring and we were getting cold standing there so we never did that again! However, thinking back now, I’m not sure if Gladys had an actual shop window.
The little shop that my Nana Coulshed had in Spencer’s Lane at Digmoor was just set up in the front room of their house.
Apart from potatoes and a very limited amount of meat, I don’t think any of these little shops sold fruit and vegetables or other meat. And that brings me onto the next part of my story.
My great great Grandmother, Sarah Whittle and her husband Robert were originally from Skem, but took over the shop at 426 Ormskirk Road Tawd Bridge, probably in the late 1860s. Sarah and Robert’s daughter Mary Alice, (Polly) took over the running of the shop after them. Polly married John Watkinson and their daughter Alice also worked in the family shop. Alice married Tom Myers, and their eldest daughter Eva, (my mother) lived with her Grandma Watkinson and worked in the shop from the time that she left school aged 14. After Eva married, she and my Dad lived at Alice’s house (next door to the shop) and that was where I was born. So you see I had a strong attachment to that place, going down through the generations!
My mother, Eva, died in 2007. In the last few years before she died, she and I spent a lot of time writing down stories and memories of her life in Tawd bridge. I thought it was wonderful how she retained clear memories of her home and the shop and her work there.
The following is her description of that shop at Tawd Bridge when she was working there before World War 2.
They had a grocery shop which sold practically everything; drapery, hardware, pots and pans, buckets, chamber pots (which hung up on the ceiling.) They even had a paraffin tank in the same small area where they sold bacon and other perishables!
Near the paraffin were big scales and next to that was a big wooden box with potatoes, and you weighed these out on the scales. There was a barrel of vinegar and people brought their own jugs or containers to buy vinegar. Next to that barrel were wooden crates with little bottles of pop, and then a big wooden box with loaves of bread baked on the premisis. The bread was originally baked in the kitchen at the back of the shop. (The brick bakehouse at the back of the shop was added around the turn of the century as a purpose built bakehouse.) The bread was not sliced or wrapped, just served from the wooden box.
There was a metal bin for flour, which was loose and weighed out as needed. Next to the flour was a shelf with various different sizes of bags, to weigh out the flour and other loose goods into. Then there was a counter and in the space next to that was a shelf for drapery goods and haberdashery. Next to the drapery counter was the door and passage leading through to the kitchen.
On the other side of the door was mostly soap and cleaning things, and on the bottom shelf were rubbing stones and chalk. A lot of people whitened their hearth with chalk. The chalk was molded into the size of a plate and broken into quarters to use. Children thought they were lucky if they got a piece of chalk to mark their hopscotch beds.
Near the cleaning goods were tinned fruit and jars of jam, boxes of currants, sultanas, raisins and pruins. These dried fruits would also have to be weighed out. On the top shelf of this section were three containers of different kinds of tea.
There was a meat safe, the sides made of gauze to keep the flies out, but with no method of keeping the meat cool. The type of meat sold would be bacon, ham and cooked meat. Next to the meat safe was a trestle with a big thick wooden butcher’s block, and every Friday the wholesale butcher would come with various kinds of fresh meat. It had to be sliced up and sold on Friday. On Friday night Grandma would gather all the scraps of leftover meat and make them into a stew.
On the shelves above the meat were medicinal goods, such as Indian Brandy, syrup of figs, “Composition” (for stomach complaints) Aspros, Vaseline, Germolene, “Carter’s Little Liver Pills”, Beechams Pills, Sloan’s Linament, caster oil, olive oil and Phlamergen Wool (a pink wooly thing that was worn next to the skin for complaints such as bronchitis, rheumatism, lumbago,etc.)
Further along these shelves were big jars containing sweets and toffees, and in the lower shelves were bars of chocolate. Under that shelf was a box of apples. Poking out under that was a barrel containing washing soda, and a barrel of dried peas. Above these was a shelf of cigarettes. Turning around you would be facing the cash till and legers which were partitioined off from the main counter.
The counter had two sets of scales. They were beam balance scales, the smaller set were for weighing sweets. The scales were made of brass and had to be polished every Wednesday, (half closing day.)
On the counter were large blocks of best butter, lard and cheese, which had to be cut and weighed.
Along the passageway leading to the kitchen there were lots of shelves on the right with things such as pick shafts. (In this mining area the workers had to provide their own tools, even the wedges to tighten the pick head onto the shaft!)
There were sacks of sugar which had to be weighed out into blue bags, and the sugar scoop and the bags were stored there too. Then there was an old zinc corrugated dolly tub filled with oatmeal, which was also weighed out into the blue bags. Next there was a big metal can containing eggs, which were usually home produced. Eggs were not packaged in dozens, they could be bought one or two at a time.
That is the end of my mother’s description.
My observations – I am amazed at how much stuff was contained in that small space! I also have to wonder at the casual way that paraffin, washing soda, tools and hadrware were interspaced with food, particularly the perishables! Shops these days are so concerned about hygiene and food handling and sealed packaging, and yet in the not so distant past it was not even regarded as important! And yet our ancestors lived and thrived on it!