EVERY so often a reader decides to write something of their childhood and send it to me for inclusion in this column.
This week Robin Dawson, of Mirfield, has done exactly this and in so doing has gladdened my heart.
For he gives a fascinating insight into the history of a well-known local shoe business – Archer’s – which was renowned for its high quality footwear.
And, he also writes about the changing face of Westtown, the village where he was raised and about the shops which once existed there.
Here is what Robin, a former pupil of Wheelwright Grammar School, writes about those days:
“THE business was founded in 1861 by my father’s great grandfather, on his mother’s side, Thomas Archer, in premises on Huddersfield Road, Westtown, just at the top of Webster Hill.
“This was at a time when Westtown was growing into a thriving shopping centre where most things could be bought without visiting the town centre.
“Two of his sons later ran the business, Edward Archer, who managed the Westtown shop, and Fred Archer, who opened new premises in Westgate in Dewsbury town centre. Another branch was later opened in Commercial Street, Batley.
“In the 1920s, the Westgate premises were extensively modernised in “Art Deco” style, which at the time was seen as an outstanding example of contemporary design. The business was recognised for selling high quality footwear.
“The Westtown premises also had an extensive repair workshop for customers at a time when shoes were made to last for many years.
“My father entered the business after he was demobbed following the Second World War and he remained there for over 30 years until retirement.
“He initially ran the Westtown shop, which was very convenient as we only lived 10 minutes walk away on Huddersfield Road next to St Matthews Church, so he was able to come home every day for his “dinner”.
“Being a shopkeeper meant his only day off was Sunday, although he also had Tuesday afternoon off which was the traditional half day closing in Dewsbury.
“My childhood memories of the shops are that they were all very traditional with lots of polished wood, extensive window displays (particularly elaborate at Christmas) and stacks of shoe boxes lining the walls. The repair workshop at Westtown was located upstairs and I can recall the overwhelming smell of leather and glue whenever I ever ventured up there. Watching the cobblers at work reminded me of elves in Santa’s workshop.
“Archers also ran an extensive Agency arrangement with shops in outlying districts where customers could leave their shoes for repair which would then be collected and returned some days later.
“My father ran this side of the business, and during school holidays I would accompany him in the firm’s van visiting Thornhill, Ravensthorpe, Dewsbury Moor, Westborough etc.
“I always looked forward to this as without fail he would buy me some sweets or a “lucky bag”!
“The Westgate shop was also very conveniently located for me as a child because Worfolks’ toy shop was just round the back as well as Caddy’s Ice Cream parlour.
“Although the business was successful, the times were changing and in 1970 the Westtown shop was compulsory purchased and demolished, along with all the other Huddersfield Road businesses nearby.
“It was all part of the road improvement scheme to build what is now the dual carriageway. Part of our front garden at home was also taken for this. In the 1960s I used to walk past all the old Westtown shops before heading up Boothroyd Lane to school, and it was sad to see the decline of the area.
“Most things could be bought here, and I can still recall a motorcycle shop, post office and newsagents amongst others, as well as one or two pubs. Unfortunately Archers was one of the last businesses to shut, and during the latter years, my father would be regularly knocked up at night by the police to say that the windows had been smashed and stock stolen.
“The repair workshop was subsequently relocated to the Batley premises and my father continued to run the business from there.
“The Batley and Westgate shops continued to successfully trade throughout the 1970s, but the Westgate one was sold in 1979, I believe to the developers of the new shopping centre.
“However, it must not have been ultimately required as the building is still there and currently sells children’s clothes. In 1980 the decision was taken to close the business for good and the Batley shop finally ceased trading in 1980, following which, my father retired.
“My father said customers’ habits were changing and they no longer bought shoes for life, the throwaway society was taking over.
“He must have foreseen the changing times, as he never wanted me or my brother to continue the business.
“I entered a career as an estate’s surveyor in the water industry, and my brother became a town planner.
“The shoe business did influence me personally, for apart from sports’ footwear I don’t think I ever bought a pair of shoes till I was about 21.
“To this day I have a bad habit of not looking after my shoes, as in the past I simply used to help myself to a new pair!
“As far as I am aware, there are no photographs in existence of the shop interiors, which is a pity because this would be a fascinating record of this traditional business.
“I now live in Upper Hopton, and Jackson’s shoe shop here in Mirfield does remind me in some ways of Archers as it still has shoe boxes lining the walls and double fronted display windows.”
○ Next week I hope to show other pictures relating to what robin has written about this week.