photo credit Newcastle Libraries Gosforth High Street 1920
Memories of Gosforth High Street 1950s Onwards
Part 1 Elmfield Road to – The Little Barber
Born just off the High Street in 1946 I came to know Gosforth High Street well, since having a disabled Mother, I was her ‘errand boy’. Locally we called it ‘going a message’ or an ‘errand’ and we spoke about going ‘along the village’. Gosforth at that time had that local ‘villagey’ feel about it.
Can You Imagine A World Without Supermarkets?
Supermarkets and self-service shops were quite unheard of in the 50’s. Mother , a chiropodist, had opened a small surgery on the High Street towards the end of WW11 at no.75a (actually half of a shop) where she practiced chiropody briefly until our father returned from his RAF wartime duties and took over the surgery (also a chiropodist) and Mother became pregnant with me and never returned to her work there, since she also became progressively disabled during the early months of my life.
From being very young I was sent on errands along the High Street . There was little worry in those days and young children wandered abroad much more freely. By the age of eight I was even sent in to Newcastle alone on the bus, to get my hair cut at Hollingsworth’s Hairdressers in Market Street, opposite what was then Bainbridge’s Department Store. The bus stopped exactly outside and all I had to do was ask a passing ‘lady’ to show me across the road, but ‘never a man’ as my parents were slightly wary of this. I was also told never to speak to ‘tramps’, of which there were a few regular ones, well known in the area, who often passed through Gosforth.
Beginning At Elmfield Road
Going on to the High Street heading North on the West side the first shops were on Elmfield Road, with Pool’s the Chemist (later Dancers) and Mr.Veitch’s Greengrocery And Game Dealer’s Shop. One of the few shops that regularly paraded their wares outside. Some of their stock was put outside on wooden boxes raised off the ground – probably orange boxes. Gosforth had a great many greengrocers and grocers at that time.
On the very corner of Elmfield Rd. was ‘The Corner Shop’ or Robert’s , a tiny sweetshop and tobacconists next to Fleck’s the Grocer’s (run by the two Fleck brothers). Flecks later acquired the Corner Sweet Shop and Mrs.Fleck, the wife of one of the brothers managed it.
Robinson’s Pet food store came next, part of a small local chain of pet shops complete with their sacks of dog and animal feeds and biscuits and other paraphernalia for small pets. All with a very distinctive aroma.
Gosforth Assembly Rooms
Beyond the pet shop we find the entrance to Gosforth Assembly Rooms, larger upstairs premises, that were used for many a small local function or dance. After this we reach Harry Wood the Butcher, so obliging as a source of sawdust for my pet rabbit’s hutch , and just beyond him, Nicholson’s the Newsagent, quite a narrow shop later to become ‘Pastimes’ Toys.
Nicholson’s sold Walls Ice Creams and I well remember their Snowfrute ice lollies which were like a long triangular fruity prism on a stick. After Nicholson’s we find Davy Johnson, the greengrocer, who was later to be taken over by Milthorpe’s who had a shop further along. Davy’s , being near , was the shop of choice for small errand boys sent for heavy potatoes . Mother would send us for half a stone which felt more like half a ton, especially if added to other heavy purchases like carrots and apples. Poor old Davy had a perpetual runny nose and almost always had a large dew drop hanging on the end of it. We children would watch horrified as this dropped on to our potatoes making a large wet patch on the dry soil coating them. We christened this drop ‘A Johnson’ and the name stuck for many years to come.
Passing on beyond here is Martin’s Bank – later Barclays, on the corner of Causey Street , and just up here on the left hand side was Mr.Brown the old fashioned cobbler where we would take our shoes for repairs. A friendly man and intriguing to watch at work as well as being a useful supply of small leather off cuts which attracted small boys, although seldom with any real thought to any further use for them.
Discovering Heritage are a team of heritage researchers with expertise in researching house and family histories we are based in Gosforth.
Clarkson’s Doll’s Hospital
Opposite the cobbler on the corner of the back lane was Clarkson’s Doll’s Hospital . Not much use to small boys but very interesting to watch, through the window, this elderly gentleman working to save many a girl’s well-loved dolly, and he could also fix a boy’s Teddy Bear if necessary. His shop was soon to become Clare Mellor’s Hairdressing Salon where Mother attended for several years for her cut and perm with assistant hairdresser Miss. Knight.
Lower down was Barney’s Wine Store, a very small off licence where we would be sent with a note for cigarettes for our father or at Xmas perhaps for a bottle of Cream Sherry. Father knew the manageress, Miss. Hobbs, who was a patient. Here some wines and sherries could be obtained ‘off the wood’, for which they filled your own bottle from a plastic lined box with a tap on. A larger forerunner of the later to come wine boxes. These wines, I was told, were of poor quality and rather ropey tasting.
As I did so much shopping on the High Street, often with little notes from Mother, I became pretty well known among many of the shop keepers who knew my parents well from their having the Surgery on the High Street, and I was often rewarded by some with small treats. (A lolly or a few sweets extra in the bag, or perhaps a banana or apple or some such treat or when buying flowers for my Mother as a present, a few extra bits or some greenery would be thrown in ).
Buying A Lucky Dip!
Reaching the bottom Northern corner of Causey Street we come to Clarkson’s Toy Shop at 59a High Street, owned and run by Mrs.Clarkson, wife of the owner of the Dolls Hospital. A real treat for us kids was the 3d Lucky Dip in her Bran Tub. These were just made up in a brown paper bag by Mrs.Clarkson, unlike later factory produced Lucky Dips, and were concealed within lots of bran or shavings in a small barrel , where we would fish around trying to find the best bag. Of course they were probably all the same and filled with small items she wanted rid of that hadn’t sold well. This shop later became a florists, run for many years by Nancy Mellor and her sister before becoming Katherine’s Florists. Nancy was younger but I believe she owned the business, watched like a hawk by her older sister, who would tell her off if she gave anything free. The small shop next door is lost to memory but later in the 70’s became Baps Sandwich shop with sandwiches made from large white and brown stotties, stuffed with delightful fillings. After that it became a fruit and veg store and is now Alberto’s Stitch and Sew and handbags shop, full of colourful leather handbags.
Now we are at Laws Stores, a branch of a local grocery chain, again quite small, as most grocers were at that time. Laws was to become the very first Self Service shop on the High Street in the early 60’s. Unheard of up until that time, we were all amazed to be allowed to select our own goodies in a mesh basket without having to wait to be served at the counter. Laws later became Gosforth Health Foods and then Just Kidding children’s boutique with a successful upstairs coffee shop. In those days coffee shops and cafes tended to fail on the High Street , perhaps because there was less spare cash and more time had to be spent on preparing daily meals and washing; Takeaway food was unheard of with the exception of fish and chips. Passing Laws Stores we arrive at WD Nicholson the butcher, long standing supplier to my family, where I would pop in for a pound of pork sausage, half a pound of stewing steak or 3or 4 lamb chops perhaps and also here was another source of sawdust for my rabbit.
Laws leads on to Christensen the Watchmaker and Jeweller. His tiny shop sat partly under the stairs leading up to the accommodation above. I well recall this nice avuncular old man, sitting with his jeweller’s loupe screwed up in to his eye, mending clocks and watches. The shop had a special smell of cleaning solvent used on the horological movements ….very similar to lighter fluid. His business was later taken on by Geoffrey Ormerod, a younger man I later came to know professionally, who was always involved with various ‘fantastic inventions’ such as his puncture proof tyre he worked on with Lord Hesketh, having developed a special five ways valve for inflation . This shop became the Little Card Shop and then the Little Barber reflecting on it’s tiny size.
Watch out for the next in this series of posts along Gosforth High Street
Copyright David Wardell & Discovering Heritage