I can still remember the doorbell tinkle as you opened the door.
It is the early 1930s and a boy of that period encountered many such establishments (mainly houses turned into shops). I lived in King Street in North Shields and as the eldest in the family I was assigned by my mother to do the ‘messages’ to all the shops in a small area.
In my street alone I could count ten. Just to list them, next-door was a typical front room shop, to this day I can still remember hearing the door bell tinkle away as soon as you opened the door. It was located at the top of the door on a spring like bracket. This was the only way the occupier of the house knew someone had come into the shop. The private part of the house was the kitchen and their front room was the shop and this was a common situation in other similar house shops.
At the other end of the street was Newton’s corner shop, on the opposite corner was another small shop that I remember had a cigarette machine attached to the wall next to its entrance. Going in the opposite direction at the other end of the street we had Hail’s the Butcher, there was always sawdust on the floor here. Just a few yards further on we had Hail’s the Grocer. Opposite was a cobbler and round the corner a newsagent. In those days my father used to buy the Daily Express mainly because if you kept the serial numbers of the paper safely until the correct number had been collected he could put them all in an envelope and by return of post receive a beautiful new book. The book that comes to mind is ‘All the Movie Stars of Early Motion Pictures’. He collected many books by this method which proudly filled my dad’s bookcase in the front room.
To get back to the shops. At the same end of the street we had another cobbler along with another butcher, a fruit and vegetable shop and a barber. In the back lane of the same street was a slaughter house, which would attract a lot of attention on the day. I will not go into details but remember seeing it happen and it was very frightening!
Back to the corner shops, most goods sold were reasonably cheap because there were no overheads. As children we only had coppers to spend so sweets were our favourites, for instance Lucky Bags, a Sherbet Lunch maybe, Liquorice Laces or a Smoking Pipe. Most items were attached to large cards hung on the wall for all to see. There were also non-perishable goods i.e., bundles of sticks for the fire, bottles of Tizer or babies comforters.
Another corner shop opposite the fruit shop was a tiny Post Office. Any more than two people waiting to be served would have to wait outside until someone came out. The shop window was full of wonderful children’s toys. I could never afford any of them; in fact I can never remember anyone ever buying one. On the other corner was a draper’s shop; this was strictly a lady’s shop.
Let’s not forget the most important house shop – the perennial Fish and Chip shop, which was fifty yards along Tynemouth Road with two doorsteps. Many was the time I’d run along there for a fish and chip supper for my mam and dad.
It was true as Napoleon once said – England is a nation of shopkeepers!