Shops and Brands Part 2

Following on from my last post, this entry is looking at the shops I remember for our trips to the cities – Swansea an hour and a half away, Cardiff two hours. My memories of being in the cities in the fifties is totally centred on Woolworth’s. As kids we loved that store! The pick and mix, the affordable kids’ jewellery, the stationery.

As I moved into my teens, clothes shopping became more important. My mum had always shopped in C and A, British Home Stores (later named BHS), Littlewoods, the clothes branch of the Co-Op and, of course, Marks and Spencer. There were also department stores which always seemed to have those amazing pneumatic change machines which went whizzing through the various floors of the store. As fashion-conscious teenagers who read Honey magazine, my sister and I discovered Lewis Separates, Richard Shops, Dorothy Perkins and Etam which were a bit less mumsy than the other chain stores. Lewis Separates was later re-branded as Chelsea Girl which in turn became River Island. Richard Shops no longer exist. Unless they still operate online or in other countries. I once saw a branch of C and A in Prague many years after they had disappeared from UK shopping centres. Woolworth’s have reappeared online as has Etam.  I also remember a chain called Home and Colonial which I think was a grocery store so not of much interest to me at that time!

The ‘big’ shopping trips were whole day affairs as the towns were a reasonable drive away. We used to lunch in a cafe – what a treat! Sometimes this would be in a store cafeteria; Woolworth’s, Littlewoods, and British Home Stores all had great cafeterias. Or so they seemed to us as children. We even loved the sugar dispensers which gave exactly a teaspoon and the tomato sauce container in the shape of a tomato. The other option was the Wimpy Bar or the Golden Egg.  Whilst looking up Golden Egg cafes on the Internet looking for photos for this post, I stumbled across the fact that the chain was started by the Kray twins!The mid-morning drink was often taken at a Kardomah cafe. That wonderful smell of roasting coffee as you walked in! The dark, exotic-looking interiors. The last Kardomah I ever went in was in Nottingham where I was a student from 1969 to 1972.

Shops and Brands Part 1

When I was very young, from four to thirteen, we lived in a village. There was a village shop and Post Office which was also the village telephone exchange. Ours was not a nucleated village, it was a scattered one. The centre, not a centre as most would know it, was on the main road passing through the village. There was the shop, a chapel next door, a church 50 yards away and a pub 100 yards away. The school was half a mile away in the other direction. Every other house or farm was dotted around a one-mile or so radius.

The shop was a 15 minute walk from our house but we loved it! Being a child at the time, my main memory is of the sweets. Sherbet Fountains, Flying Saucers, Spangles, Love Hearts, Refreshers, aniseed balls and pear drops. I could go on! The shop was small and stocked with a limited range of tinned goods, packets and toiletries – as well as sweets. There was a small Post Office counter at right angles to the shop counter. The switchboard was in their sitting room which was next to the shop.

For things which couldn’t be grown in the garden or bought in the village shop there was the town, five miles away, and regular vans which drove around the countryside selling their goods. The fish man came on Tuesdays and Fridays, the butcher came mid-week and also on Saturday. Our Sunday joint was always bought from ‘Arthur the butcher’. There was also a bread van, a pop van and a general grocery van. 

The town, although a small market town (two thousand people), it had a few banks, loads of pubs, two chemists’ shops, two newsagents, a shoe shop, two butchers, two bakers, two drapers, two grocers, a greengrocer and an ironmonger. it loads of pubs, two chip shops and a cafe. The drapers and the shoe shop provided most of our regular needs – underwear, school uniform, school shoes. The brands I remember are Clarks, Start-Rite, Ladybird, Cherub, Banner and Trutex.

For ‘big’ shopping such as Christmas shopping, new summer clothes, new winter clothes, we went to Swansea (an hour and half drive) or Cardiff (a two hour drive). In between there was catalogue shopping – Marshall Ward, Littlewoods, Kays – essential in that sort of area and in those times.

Primary School

I started school in 1955 when I was four years old. At that time there were 28 children in the school, many of them walking a mile or more to get to school, some being taxied in from the remotest farms. Cars from the garage in the town five miles away were hired by the local authority to ferry kids to school. I can remember, as a four year old, being seated at the front of the class with the other new pupil. The oldest children, ten and eleven, sat at the back of the class.

The day started with a hymn and the Lord’s Prayer. We then remained standing and recited the alphabet forwards and backwards, all the times tables up to 12 X and the weights and measures we were expected to know. And example is the distances one began with ‘1,760 yards to a mile, 880 yards to half a mile, 440 yards to 1/4 of a mile, 220 yards to 1/8 of a mile, 3 feet to a yard . . . ‘

The youngest children learned to write with pencil, progressing eventually to pen and ink. The pens were wooden barrelled dipping pens. The desks had a circular depression which held a china ink well and a groove to stop a resting pen rolling down the sloping lift-up lid of the desk.  

There was an ink monitor, one of the older children, whose duty in the mornings was to collect the inkwells from the desks in a tray with depressions in it. Yesterday’s ink was rinsed out. Fresh ink was made from an ink powder mixed with water. Always blue-black, not blue or black. The fresh ink was then poured into the inkwells, the tray was carried around the classroom and fresh, full inkwells placed in the circular recesses.

The toilets were outside. They were the kind with a wooden bench seat and a bucket under the hole in the seat. I HATED them! I lived nearer to school than most of the other children and used to squeeze through the hedge at the back of the school and run home to use our bathroom instead. A proper toilet block was built during my last year at school. It was a separate building, so we still had to go outside, but the toilets were flush ones and there were sinks and taps.

We had a radio in school, a huge dark brown Bakelite one. We used to do something called Music and Movement, a BBC Schools programme which was broadcast twice a week in term time for twenty minutes in the morning. We loved it! We never did any other PE or Games lessons, inside or out. Sometimes, on a fine day in summer, the whole school would be taken on a ‘nature ramble’.

There was great excitement in April 1961 when the school purchased its first television in order for the whole school to be able to watch Yuri Gagarin become the first human being to be launched into space.

Public Transport

First of all, I want to point out that I grew up in a remote part of Wales so my memories will not be the same as many other people’s. I hope there is still plenty for you to identify with and I welcome any contributions.  We had no service buses but the village railway station was a walk of about a mile from our house. Trips to the town (five miles away) when my dad was using the car for work, involved my mum walking up to the station with the three of us to catch the train. We hated the walk because we kids inevitably caused us all to be late leaving the house so it wouldn’t be a walk, more of a route march along the lanes to the station. We loved that station! Although a remote, rural station, it had a full-time station master who was wonderful with kids. The waiting room was always cosy and welcoming and in winter had a coal fire burning. I don’t ever remember waiting on the platform with anybody else or seeing any passengers alight at our stop. Even so,  John the station master kept that station immaculate. The trains were amazing! That smell! Each carriage had several compartments. A sliding door led from the corridor into the compartment.    The only time I went on buses or trams was when we went to stay with friends and relatives in Swansea and Cardiff. I loved the trams with the sparking poles connecting with the overhead wires – apologies for the very un-technical jargon! The buses had conductors, an entrance and exit at the rear and – joy of joys! – a stairway to an upper deck. As children, we thought this was the very best way to travel!      



My memories of car travel in the 50’s includes – and this is a child’s view, so there will be no observations on models, performance etc – bench seats in the front, handbrake coming out of the dashboard, the dip operated by a pedal on the floor, indicators which stuck out at the side of the car, no seat belts, no car radio, older cars being mostly black and smelling strongly of leather, frequent breakdowns.
My sister, the youngest of three often sat in the front on the bench seat in between Mum and Dad. At the top of a steep hill – and I grew up surrounded by hills! – there were always cars pulled over with the bonnets up and steam escaping from the engines. On long journeys, there being no in-car entertainments, we sang songs, played games and spotted things to tick off in our I-Spy books. The books were small and perfect for taking on a walk or a journey. My favourite of the ones we had was I-Spy The Unusal.
In the 60’s there were cars with individual car seats, wider rear and front windscreens, blinking indicator lights instead of flag ones sticking out and more colours including, I remember, some two-tone cars. As kids we spent hours playing outside in the mud and dirt with our Dinky, Corgi and Mathboxcars. We were impressed with the new two-tone look and used Airfix model paints to give our cars a more fashionable look. If we still had them, and we don’t, they would be worth nothing. Unlike the pristine ones in their boxes which can sometimes be seen on programmes like Flog it and Antiques Roadshow. But we had many hours of fun with ours so no regrets there!

in the 60’s came seat belts and reversing lights.  When reversing, the driver switched the reversing light on and had to remember to switch it off or risk getting a £50 fine! I remember this particularly because it was a recent development when I was first learning to drive in 1968.

This is all from my childhood memories.  I haven’t looked anything up (apart from the photos) so I’m sure there will be some slight inaccuracies. My intention is to spark off readers’ own memories of motoring in those two decades.

Although I called this post Transport, so far I have only covered cars. I will re-visit soon with more about trains and buses.