Shop Worker

I worked for Bell Brothers

I worked for Bell Brothers in North Shields. Bell Brothers was a department store and had a wide range of departments including ladies fashions, baby linen. Toys, footwear and household goods.

My wages were 5 shillings a week and my hours of work were 8.30 am to 5 pm from Monday to Thursday, then 8.30 am to 6 pm on a Friday, and 8.30 am to 7 pm on a Saturday. It was quite a poor wage, but the management were good to work for and we did get an hour and a half for lunch.  As a junior it was my job to sweep the floor and remove all the dust covers before the doors opened, then before going home at night the dust covers all had to be put on again, we had to wear a black dress.

Bell Brothers had a sale every year, just the one, and people would queue for a long time before the store opened, right along Wellington St.  The management provided tea for them.  We had to go along the queue and take a note of items the people hoped to buy, and we would reserve them in case they missed their turn in the rush when the doors were opened.  We used to laugh watching people drinking tea out in the street.

Each department had a senior sales and a junior.  The junior had to follow the actions of a senior, which was how they learned their job and they weren’t allowed to approach a customer unless the senior allowed them to do so.  We were trained for a few months in each department so we could cover for other staff if they were ill or on holiday.  You always had to pay attention to the customer when they entered your department and make sure you offered to help them.  There was always a chair ready for customers to sit down while they chose their goods.

There was even a Ladies Hairdressing Salon in Bell Brothers and they had the overhead pulley system too, throughout the store.  You had to be careful with that when you put the money in as it could pull the hanky out of your sleeve before it whooshed up into the office.  Another thing was the credit system, a person would get a ticket for say £10 and they would be given tokens which could only be spent in Bell Brothers, they would pay a bit extra money back at so much every week.

Another shop was Lees Separates and Furriers, this was an upmarket shop and on the second floor they had the fur showroom, the popular furs at that time were Musquash and Beaver Lamb. When I was 19, I left Bell Bros and went to work there for another five or six years.

When I was working at Lees, war broke out and Mr Lee tried to get me deferred but was refused and so I was called up for National Service.  I told them I would like to go into the Women’s Land Army, but they told me they needed munitions workers so that’s where I ended up.  They sent me to Wallsend for training and then I was posted to Manchester where a car plant had been converted to a munitions factory. There we made pistons for aeroplanes etc. I worked in Manchester for 5 years and enjoyed my time there.

I worked all my life in shops in North Shields and finally retired from Walkers (House of Quality).  The social life was good there.  We went out on trips once a year and also went to dinner dances at the Bath Hotel in Front Street Tynemouth.

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