The Nostalgia column with Margaret Watson: Setting aside money via clubs for wonderful food at Christmas

At this time of year our thoughts turn to childhood and happy memories of Christmas past.

Tuesday, 8th December 2020, 2:36 pm
Ready to serve: This picture reminds us of when there were plenty of grocery stores in the town centre, Redman’s being just one of them. This picture shows staff outside the store in Daisy Hill in 1935, including Nellie Walshaw, then aged 21. Kindly loaned by her daughter, Carol Hall, some years ago.
Ready to serve: This picture reminds us of when there were plenty of grocery stores in the town centre, Redman’s being just one of them. This picture shows staff outside the store in Daisy Hill in 1935, including Nellie Walshaw, then aged 21. Kindly loaned by her daughter, Carol Hall, some years ago.

But my recollections of the festive season are not so much about the toys I got but about the food we’d be eating.

Many of my generation, especially those born during the war, will remember that Christmas was all about food.

We didn’t get many presents but no matter how poor people were, they made sure there was plenty of food in the house.

Margaret Watson.

They put money aside each week in Christmas clubs at local shops to ensure there was enough to buy all the Christmas essentials.

Christmas dinner was usually a piece of pork or beef, and on Boxing Day, there was stand pie with pickled onions and red cabbage, mince pies and cheese, trifle or chocolate log.

There were tangerines and nuts, chocolates and dates, a bottle of sherry or two and always a bottle of Egg Flip and a few bottles of Guinness for the grown-ups.

Town centre shops and market stalls were heaving at this time, and many readers will still remember their names, Redman’s, Driver’s, Broughs’, Jubbs, Maypole, Lidbetter’s, Farm Stores, Fullerton’s, Dempster Lister’s and many more.

All these lovely shops disappeared one by one when the supermarkets came along, but we will never forget them.

This week, reader Iris Bettney, from Thornhill Lees, contacted me after reading last week’s column about the disappearing shops from Dewsbury.

Reading about them brought back happy memories of the years she worked in two of them – Redman’s and Broughs’.

She still remembers the recipe for salmon paste which she made fresh every week while working at Redman’s in the early 1960s.

“We used seven 1lb tins of pink salmon together with a teaspoon of cochineal, mixed well to a paste and placed in a tray to be served to the customer’s requirements,” she recalled. Iris left Redman’s in 1962 to go work at Broughs’ at the top of Daisy Hill where Mr Hull was manager.

She recalled how there was plenty of work around in those days and it was easy for people to change jobs.

Broughs’ also ran a delivery service for customers who had an account with them.

All they had to do was phone in their orders and their groceries would be delivered to their door.

Iris believes this was a bit of a forerunner of what is happening today with people now ordering their weekly shop on-line from supermarkets.

“Broughs’ also had mobile shops which covered the outlying areas of Dewsbury once a week,” she recalled

“I was allocated a place on the one covering Thornhill and Thornhill Lees. I did all this through the snowy winter of 1963.

“One Friday of Christmas week I arrived home at midnight and started work the following morning at 8.30am. That was how people worked back then.”

The list of foods Iris recalls which sold fast at Christmas time, included: cheeses, cooked meats, fruit pies and meat pies, as well as various pastries, Christmas cakes and puddings, pickles, chutneys, loose spices and fruits, nuts and jellied fruits.

Later, Iris, who left Earlsheaton Secondary Modern School, aged 15, was to work part-time at the Playhouse cinema.

Mr Spinks was manager, and Iris remembers him as a lovely man who was something of a father figure to the staff.

She recalled eight people worked there, the manager, under-manager, two usherettes, one kiosk attendant, two cleaners, and a projectionist, who ran the cinema between them.

Iris, who married in 1964, was an usherette and loved going round with a torch and telling those who had their feet on the seats to take them off.

Also, during the interval she was selling ice creams from a tray, another enjoyable part of her job.

On Saturday morning she was on duty at the ABC Minors which was attended by children only.

“I loved it very much and would sing along with the kids, and after all this time I’ve not forgotten the songs,” she recalled.

The picture on this page of Redman’s was kindly sent in some years ago by Carol Hall, whose mother, Nellie Walshaw, worked at Redman’s, but that was some 30 years before the young Iris started there in the early 1960s.

I hope in a forthcoming column to write more about Nellie, who also worked at Ellis’s fishmongers in Foundry Street, another town centre shop long gone.

Yes, Christmas was all about food in those days, and the food shops took advantage of it.

They took out huge advertisements in the Reporter advising customers to order early to avoid disappointment.

In 1937, before the war, Fullerton’s were advertising their stand pies, mince pies, Christmas cakes and special turkey lunches.

These were being served in their up-to-date cafe-restaurant in Northgate, and like Broughs’, they also made home deliveries.

Some items advertised in those days cannot be advertised today – like cigarettes and tobacco – which were bought as Christmas presents for dad, usually from Halstead tobacconist.

But life moves on – and our memories fade, but somehow Christmas memories stay with us forever.

Christmas may not be the same for most people this year, but I’m sure our dining tables will be just as festive as they were all those years ago.

We will make that effort I know.