Barry Band: Memories of Blackpool shop work in the 50s and 60s

Parkinsons Outfitters, 1973
Parkinsons Outfitters, 1973

Last week’s piece about Blackpool’s Church Street in the 1950s and 60s started a conversation about the junior shop assistants who kept our shopping streets looking smart.

Can you imagine the reaction today if the youngest member of staff was given a brush and shovel, a bucket and sponge, and a tin of metal polish?

Shops on St Davids Road South, St Annes, in 1968

Shops on St Davids Road South, St Annes, in 1968

But it was the first job of the day for young ladies and gentlemen who worked in hundreds of shops in the Fylde.

Clean the front!

Shop owners, who were mostly local people, competed to have the shiniest door handles and the cleanest window ledges and footings.

When I first worked in the town centre in 1958 there would often be a council water bowser at about 8.30am, hosing the gutters in Church Street.

JR Taylor store, in St Annes

JR Taylor store, in St Annes

But the ethic of clean streets and shop fronts applied right across the Fylde.

Here’s a first-hand story from my wife Thelma, who worked in a shoe shop on Church Road, Lytham, opposite the war memorial.

After being a “Saturday girl” from the age of 14, she became full time on leaving school.

Her first job of the day, in the winter months, was to rake out the ashes from the grate in the owner’s office and dump them in the back-yard bin.

Then she would build a new fire in the grate. The owner, Mr Jamieson, was very particular about having a warm office.

Central heating? Not a patch on a cheerful coal fire!

Thelma says her next job, as the junior, was to brush the front step and pavement and wipe the window ledges and door with a damp cloth, before polishing the door handle.

At the same time the juniors at the neighbouring shops were doing similar tasks.

They would chat and friendships were made.

After the menial jobs it was wash hands, tidy the hair and be ready to face the customers.

The inside of the shop would have been vacuumed and dusted by one of the two senior ladies (senior by a few years).

One of them, Ruth Holmes, who married Lytham sportsman and Preston engineer Bill Alston, remained friends with Thelma for more than 50 years.

After Bill and Ruth retired to North Norfolk, we visited them every year and for several Christmases.

On one occasion, coming out of church at Snettisham, Ruth told Thelma they had been sitting next to the Queen’s physician.

Bill also moved in high circles.

He was in a bowls team with Lord Cholmondeley (pronounced Chumley) of Houghton Hall, North Norfolk, who would travel with “the lads” to their away matches.

Bill said he would introduce me to his lordship, but we were never there at the right time.

• In last week’s article a wrong phone number was given for people who might be interested in joining Amounderness LLL. The correct number is (01253) 869307.