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Saturday, February 14, 2015

Nostalgia of Shopping -Part 3

Continuing from my last post, further along Bedford High Street was Hockliffe's bookshop. I've always had a real passion for books, so to spend time browsing in a good bookshop and selecting a book to read has always been, to me at any rate, part of the enjoyment or owning books. It was one of those shops that seemed to go on and on, further back, what seemed to me a long way, down a lot of steps and into different room and along passage-ways and up stairs. They had a record department upstairs, selling L.P.'s and singles. This was long before the introduction of cassettes and C.D.'s. There's something exciting about browsing for music in a shop. L.P's in particular because they always had good art-work on their covers. The size of a cassette box was so small that the artwork always looked cramped and pathetic. C.D.'s weren't much better. They may have been technically better, it was easier to find a track on a C.D., they contained more music and they didn't 'click' or 'crackle' like L.P.'s which you had to treat with care. I did have a Philips cassette player, one of the first portable models, but I never liked cassettes. It was difficult to find a track, as you had to keep on winding the tape back and forward. Even with some sort of numbered indicator on the more advanced machines, they were difficult and technically inferior. You could have Dolby noise reduction, special metal tape and so on but it never really improved the sound quality. Hockliffe's eventually became W.H. Smith, which in a way was a pity because when the 'big boys' take over the independent shops you just get bland shops, so that every high street throughout the country has exactly the same shops, the chains such as Smith's, Boot's, Marks and Spencer etc, and all selling exactly the same stock. When the Harper Centre opened in the late 1970's W.H. Smith moved into the new shopping centre. I'm not sure what became of the old Hockliffe's. I think it became a bank or building society branch. 

Almost opposite Hockliffe's/Smith's was (or still is, I'm not so sure, I haven't been along Bedford High Street in a good while) Golding's ironmongers. Another shop which goes back a long way and also has an upstairs department. Not only did they sell your usual range of things like kettles, pots and pans and the usual household paraphanalia, but at the very back was a department selling craft items such as Airfix model kits, balsa wood, glue, aeroplane kits and the like. I was always making models of some sort when I was a child and this was a sort of Aladdin's cave and really interesting. All the staff in Goldings were of a 'certain age,' all seemed at least 50 years old or older and some seemed to have been working there since they left school. You always got excellent service, the staff would go out of their way to help and this was another shop where they had chairs for the customer to sit on. Nothing was too much bother for their staff. You could buy things like nuts and bolts , nails, screws, hooks and so on individually, not in packets. If you wanted only one or just a few items, you could, not waste a packet of, say, a dozen, when you only wanted one item. This was an old fashioned shop which had old-fashioned values. They certainly knew how to look after their customers.

There was another grocers further along the High Street called International Stores. I think my mother shopped their occasionally, but it was difficult to park around there so perhaps she only went in there for the occasional item which she couldn't find elsewhere. This was the time when you went shopping at different shops, the greengrocers, baker's, chemist etc, unlike today where you drive out to a large supermarket on the outskirts of a town, a Tesco's, Morrison's, Sainsbury's etc etc and do all of your shopping in one place which as everything under one roof, along with such extras as opticians, pharmacy, baker, fishmonger, butcher, greengrocer's. May be convenient, but I expect a lot of the smaller businesses closed down because they couldn't compete on price and value, unfortunately.

As a child I used to go to several toy shops in Bedford. Alas, none of these are still in existence. One was in Midland Road, about where the junction of Alexandra Road is, called Hepplesthtwaite's (I think that's the spelling, or near enough.) Another of those shops that seemed to stretch back miles and miles, or is it when you are a child you're a lot smaller than an adult, height-wise, so everything appears smaller and when you grow up, everything you see now is a completely different size because you're seeing it all from a different angle. Anyway, it was the sort of shop that you don't have many of nowadays, sadly, because the large warehouse-type companies have come along, such as Toys R Us and just put the smaller independent shops out of business because basically they can buy in larger quantities and then pass on the price cuts to the customer. This is the same with bookshops, unfortunately. There was another toyshop in Greyfriars, I think called Longhurst. I think it was part of Longhurst and Skinner's which was a large furniture shop which also had a toy department and presumably someone managed to keep this going, but in a much smaller shop. Both now long gone and the old Longhurst and Skinner's department store is now a pup called the Pilgrim's Progress. The last toy shop was in St John's Street, called Brighton's and this is where we bought both my brother James and Robert's bicycles. I think Robert's was red and James's was blue. They had them to ride to and from school. I don't know what happened to the red one, but I inherited the blue one, a Rudge I believe, which I had for many years until it was unfortunately stolen from a house I lived in in Tyne Crescent in the early 1990's or thereabouts. Anyway, Brightman's sold all manner of toys, not just bicycles but things like Meccano, which I had as a child. My eldest brothers had it and then it was passed down to me (probably one of the advantages of being a middle child.) and was often given Meccano for birthdays and Christmas and so built up quite an extensive collection. This shop, Brighton's had a connection with school, as one of the Brightman sons went to school with me when I was at Rushmoor. I have a recollection that after a game of football (not my favourite, as I have discussed in an earlier post.) I must have gone home with some of his kit or something, because we had to have everything marked with name tapes. The shop and as far as I know, the business of Brighton's disappeared some years ago. It was demolished when a new one-way traffic system was introduced in the town and they put a sort of link road in almost exactly where the shop stood in St John's Street.

The large out-of-town supermarkets didn't reach Bedford until the 1990's or thereabouts. A Tesco was built on what had formerly been the show ground for the Bedford agricultural show which sadly disappeared in the 1970's. (I believe it merged with other county shows and became the East of England Show and moved to a permanent site at Alwalton near Peterborough.) To gain planning permission the supermarket company put forward the proposal that a leisure pool would be built alongside the supermarket on the same site. This became the Oasis, and is quite a  distinctive building which is in the shape of a pyramid. I believe that originally Asda was going to open on the site but for some reason Tesco took over the site. Another Tesco was built and opened on land on the outskirts of the town at Goldington. Sainsbury had a central Bedford store up until the late 1990's. It wasn't very large, but it closed and they eventually opened a new store at the corner of Shakespeare Road and Clapham Road. My mother wouldn't have been around to see either as she sadly died in 1981. I don't know how she would have coped with shopping in a large out-of-town supermarket. She shopped at some point at a shop off Cardington Road called P and A, a sort of discount supermarket which was laid out with all the grocery items left in their boxes and not neatly as you would have in a more modern supermarket. I don't know what happened to them. I think they closed down at some point but may have run a wholesale outlet somewhere in the town.  I think people did shop at a variety of outlets, going from one to the other, such as the butcher, greengrocer, baker etc etc and not in a large outlet as we have today.

Our school uniforms could only be bought from one outlet in the town. That outlet was Braggins. Not in the High Street, but in Harper Street. My eldest brothers went to Bedford School, and myself to Rushmoor School. Braggins was yet another very old fashioned store, built over many small departments much like the bookshops and other shops I've mentioned. My mother had a cash account there and once a year we'd go in to get our school gear replaced. Another company that seemed to pride itself on it's customer care. You were treated with respect, allowed to sit down whilst shopping (at least the ladies were.). They had one of those systems whereby once you're purchased something, all the paperwork was put in a sort of sealed tube and it was closed up and then disappeared, presumably to the pay desk somewhere within the store and a few minutes later your invoice and change came back in the tube. I imagine it was operated by compressed air or something, but it always intrigued me. Not like today's shopping where it's all done with barcodes on every product and the till operator just scans the items and doesn't even have to work out the change or else you present your credit or debit card and enter your P.I.N. and the transaction is made. The department we went to was called Ovr Boys, or at least that was what the sign said outside in the street. It was for all types of children's school uniforms, every item including socks, shirts, shoes, blazers and trousers. At Rushmoor (no doubt the same at Bedford School and all the other private and Harper Trust Schools throughout the town.) you were expected to have a summer uniform as well as a winter one. Aertex shirts for summer and a grey shirt and tie in winter, a raincoat as well as a cap. The cap was a vital part of the ensemble. Bedford School had a blue one with a crest on a sort of embroidered design, no doubt the school crest with a motto, don't as me what it was. Rushmoor's cap was dark, royal blue, with a red top section, with an embroidered 'R' on the front. It had a peak which meant when you took it off you could fold the peak inside. You were expected to wear it at all times when in uniform outside the school and could be sent for detention if you didn't wear it or were seen out not wearing it.  I can't remember exactly what he rest of the uniform comprised of, but junior boys were short grey trousers and then as you progressed through the school you wore long grey trousers. Very scratchy on the legs, from what I remember. Horrible.

I believe my elder brothers went to school with the Braggins brothers. They must have sold the business at some point or other as it became Universal Stores in the late 1960s or early 1970s, and then it was sold on again and became Beale's. It changed considerably over the years and had a very good stationary department as well as records, books and CD's. They built a new section which faced onto Harper Square which was originally Bedford Modern School, the mock Gothic-style building was saved from demolition in the 1970's when the school moved to brand new premises in the 1970's, to a site in Manton Lane. A hill-side which at one time had been where the games field for Rushmoor School was, up a steep track which was invariably muddy and unpleasant and usually in rain, snow or other appalling conditions. You can see why I couldn't stand games and got put off all sorts of sport, having to run around in howling gales on the top of a very open hill in games kit, getting cold and miserable and generally not enjoying things. Above the new extension of Beales the local council built the brand new Central Library.

One more store which I haven't mentioned is E.P. Rose. In the High Street and you couldn't possibly miss it as it was an imposing building on several floors and the entrance from Silver Street had a sort of tower, made of white stone or brick. It became Debenhams, probably in the 1970's-80's. My mother had an account there and I assume she bought most of her clothes there. It intrigued me as a child as it had a lift. I think it might possibly have been the only store in Bedford with a lift, but it fascinated me that you could get in this 'box' with a door on the front and then we whisked up, or down, and move fast. Possibly because it made me think of the Tardis in 'Doctor Who' which was one of my favourite television shows and which began in 1963 and I must have seen the first ever episode. Sorry to say, but the newly-revived version hasn't got the same sort of magic as the original, even if they can use the latest C.G.I. graphics and a far bigger budget.

Roses had a Father Christmas grotto at Christmas, no doubt in the toy department. Sadly, Debenham's don't have a toy department any more. I think I saw through the fakery of Father Christmas because another store also had it's own Father Christmas and I worked out that he couldn't possibly be in two places at once. They did make quite an effort over the grotto but what spoilt it for me was that he wore Wellington boots covered in a layer of white paint and I saw through the whole thing because i noticed that the paint was peeling off and you could see clearly that they were a common-or-garden pair of Wellies. My cousin Rosemary Kendal had her belief in Father Christmas completely ruined when she was taken with us to visit Father Christmas one day and I pointed out the flaking Wellies! I remember another occasion when I went with mum shopping, and going into Roses, no doubt to buy clothes for herself. She went to the department and wanted to pay for something and she found a group of staff gossiping and was somewhat annoyed that they weren't paying attention. Well, it wasn't the time or place for them to be gossiping, and certainly not on the shop floor or in front of customers, and an account customer at that.
I do remember Taylor Brawn and Flood, a chemist's which had several branches around Bedford. As a child I used to call it 'Taylor, Brawn and Fluid.' I know, sad really, but you know how you pronounce things as a child. It no longer exists as a company, as far as I know. Probably got merged in with another company long ago or just went bust. They had a shop part-way down the High Street in Bedford, I think on the corner of Mill Street. I suppose my mother shopped there. All I remember is that they had some really large bottles in their window, filled I presume with different coloured liquids, probably red, green, blue etc. Sort of bulbous at the bottom and narrowing into a thin neck. I think I've seen something like them on Bargain Hunt or Flog It on television, but these particular bottles intrigued me as they were so large and very striking, taking up a large part of the window display. I think they also had a branch in St Peter's Street, at the traffic lights at St Cuthbert's Street. No doubt I was attracted to the huge bottles in the window there when I was in my parent's car and waiting at the traffic lights.

On the way to school we used to go over the River Ouse along Prebend Street and past an antique shop called, I think, Sherwood's. I've never been inside, but it always appeared to always have the same things in the windows for years and years. As I haven't been to Bedord for a few years and certainly not been along Prebend Street, I can't say whether it's still there, but I don't think I ever saw anyone come out or go into this shop. As the stock never appeared to change over a great many years I can't see how on earth the owner made a living from it. The stock was hidden behind a sort of pull-down shutter or mesh sort of screen, which I presume was to discourage burglary, but all I could ever remember seeing as we drove past was a large brass bed-warmer thing, hanging in the window and the rest of the stock looked very dusty and not very inviting.
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