You could stand for ages watching all the containers whizzing from different parts of the shop, high up to the cash office.
Round the corner, at the bottom of Cartington Road were a range of shops, most of which belonged to the Co-op.
On the west side was the Co-op fruit shop, then the Co-op bread shop, known as May’s, because the lady who worked there for many years was called May. I used to go round to May’s for ‘1 small unsliced brown loaf’ and can clearly remember when the price went up so that I no longer got change from 6d. This was probably when farthings went out of circulation.
On the corner was Baird’s chemists, then a shop which changed hands a number of times. At one time or another, it was Willet’s leather shop, Smith’s wool shop and a wine shop.
In the corner on Wallsend Road was Ann’s, it was run by two ladies called Ann. The highlight of Ann’s was the ‘penny-box’. For 1d you could choose a sweet from the ‘penny-box’. Candy blues were 1d as were Highland toffees, Black Jacks and Fruit Salad chews were 4 for 1d. Sometimes there were sherbet fountains, but they cost 2d or 3d. That was a lot of money when your pocket money was 2 x 1d and 2 x ½d per week.
On the east side of Cartington Road, there was a Co-op butcher’s shop which later closed and was amalgamated with the Co-op grocery shop next door, on the corner.
Shopping at any Co-op shop required that you told the assistant your mam’s Co-op number (22117 in my case) so that they could write out this number and the amount spent, on a coloured paper cheque so that mam could collect her dividend at the big Co-op in North Shields. As children, we often knew your friends’ numbers as well as your own because we often went together to the shops for messages for our mams. It filled in the days during the holidays and was a necessary part of life, no one had freezers and although we had a small fridge that was quite unusual.
When I went to the Co-op grocers with my mam, I used to love to go to the back of the shop and watch as they cut bacon and cooked meats on the bacon slicer, especially when they had a long side of bacon which hung off the back of the machine which made a lovely swishing noise as it cut through the meat.
At the back of the shop, they also used to use a wooden spatula to take butter off a large lump. They then carefully patted it into a block and wrapped it in greaseproof paper. At the back of the shop you weren’t in anyone’s way and there was always something to watch. The worst part about going shopping as a child was that grown-ups were forever being served over your head as if you were invisible.
On Wallsend Road next to the Co-op were two more shops. The middle one changed hands quite often but the one in the corner was mainly another fruit shop.
When we went into North Shields our favourite shops were Hill Carter’s and Atkinson’s. Hill Carter’s was a large department store that ran along the south side of Union Street. The cafe was at the back of the shop looking out over the river. Because it was high above the river you got a wonderful view down into the dry dock where there was sometimes a lightship moored. You could also see the car ferries going back and forth between North and South Shields.
The other exciting thing about Hill Carter’s was the way goods were paid for. You gave the assistant money in the usual way, but it was then screwed into a metal cylinder and put in a hatch in the wall. It then disappeared out of sight to a central office somewhere and after a few minutes, your change arrived in the cylinder.
For the same reason, the main branch of Atkinson’s on the west side of Bedford Street was even more exciting. That was because instead of the money going down a hidden chute, it was screwed into a container on a wire high above the shop and you could stand for ages watching all the containers whizzing from different parts of the shop to the cash office high above the shop. As you watched, you could see the lady take your money out and then you tried to guess which returning container held your change.
Another lovely shop was Williamson and Hogg’s chemist shop towards the bottom of the west side of Bedford Street, near Gladstone’s. In addition to the usual chemist things, they sold freshly ground coffee. The smell was wonderful. They took the beans out of large jars and put them into a machine. Then they tipped the ground up contents onto a sheet of white paper with the shop name on it. The paper was then carefully folded to make a lovely package that was sellotaped at both ends. It was a marvellous operation to watch.
In Camden Street, there were two shops which were important to us as children. On the comer of Saville Street and Camden Street, opposite the Midland Bank was Dobey’s toy shop that was actually two shops knocked through into one and a wonderful place to browse. Further up Camden Street on the opposite side was the Dolls’ Hospital where toys could be repaired, and replacement parts could be bought.