The days of delights in store for shoppers

Only eight shopping days left until Christmas, so we had better return swiftly to Great Yarmouth town centre for another buying bout. This rapid retail return results from my recent review in this column of Caister-based historian Colin Tooke’s new local book, Shops and Shopping.

From Canada, where they have lived for more than half a century and now read the Mercury on-line, ex-Yarmouthians Danny and Marjorie Daniels – whose exploits have featured in this column lately – e-mail to say: “It was always a pleasure to wander along Broad Row and up Market Row, admiring first of all the old Highlander (a statue outside the shop of long-gone tobacconist Nortons) and looking in all the store front windows.

“On the rare occasion when we went to Plattens, I was always intrigued with the overhead systems of canisters and pulleys that they used to send the money from the counter to the cashier at the back of the store, and then return the change to where you were standing.

“It was on a visit to Trowbridge on our recent trip to the UK that, in the small town museum, we saw they had a small version of this in their replicated haberdashery shop – along with an old cash machine, with keys for pounds, shillings and pence (plus ha’pence and farthing).

“I would loved to have rung up the price in old money for a yard of something-or-other!

“Also, at Christmas time in their downstairs area, they had Father Christmas that you could visit but, one year, you had to go in his aeroplane to visit him.

“Once you sat down, the ‘engines’ started up and you knew you were flying because, as you sat in your seat and looked down at the illuminated glass porthole in the floor, you could see the countryside flying past beneath you (clever use of a rolling decorated piece of canvas, of course.)

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“One of the bazaars that was missed out, apparently, was Peacock’s, at the foot of Market Row. And I loved the butcher’s shop just up and across from it – Stringer’s? In any case, they sold great pork pies!

“And at the foot of the bridge, was Brown’s the Baker where you could get saffron loaves as well as hot cross buns at Easter time.

“And in an entirely different category, a major delight was to go to Shipley’s stable at the foot of the bridge, and watch them shoeing horses! That smell is something that lingers in the olfactory memory yet.

“As for the fish and chips that you enjoy at Peggotty’s Hut (subject of another recent feature) – 11 selections to choose from! That’s one thing that’s really missing over here in Canada. You can get either cod or halibut, and that’s it. How we miss plaice (either fillets or on the bone), haddock, huss and – my favourite – skate, among others.

“Even in London this time, when we made a special trip to the Mermaid’s Tail in Leicester Square, they only had the North American choices, so we walked out!

“And although they sold only chips at the stalls in Yarmouth Market Place, I remember going to the next one over and buying tripe to go with my chips. There were also (are there still?) stalls that sold cockles, whelks and other delightful finger goodies!

“We love it when you remind us of ‘the good old days’, which they really were, in many respects, even if our mums had to put away sixpence every week into the Co-Op Club in order that we could have the extras at Christmastime.”

Thank you, Danny and Marjorie. Peacock’s bazaar is included in the Tooke book, but I could not list all that he covered.

That Heath-Robinson style overhead cash delivery system in Plattens? Mrs Peggotty worked for the Broad Row department store for some years, after that fascinating arrangement had been replaced by conventional tills...but before she arrived in Yarmouth in the Sixties, she operated a similar overhead system in the cash desk of a Co-Op in Sheffield.

The retailing run-up to Christmas nowadays means late-night shopping, and Sunday opening is now the norm, in contrast to decades ago.

I am reminded of a Mercury feature from nearly 40 years ago recalling Marks & Spencer opening in 1911 a penny bazaar in George Street opposite Broad Row, selling china, sweets, haberdashery, toilet soaps and stationery; moving in 1932 to King Street, where it expanded into clothing but was blitzed in the war; and temporarily occupying the empty Plaza Cinema in the Market Place before returning to its present rebuilt premises in 1952.

In that 1962 feature, a long-serving employee who worked in all three stores, Miss Edna Nelson, of Gatacre Road, told Mercury women’s columnist Flapjack about having to return to work after tea on Thursdays in the autumn herring season so Scots fishermen could buy presents to take home to their families.

It was a custom followed by many Yarmouth shops for a long time because the Scots herring catchers, and the Scots lassies who gutted the fish, were avid buyers, particularly as many lived in small ports without a range of big shops.

Indeed, it was not unknown for a Scottish drifter to sail out of our twin piers, bound for home and Christmas, with a large tarpaulin on deck, securely covering a three-piece suite and other furniture, especially if catches and prices had been good.

Miss Nelson remembered that the Marks & Spencer bazaar in George Street was open-fronted with shutters that were pulled down each night. It was “terribly cold in winter,” she said. “It faced east, and we had no heaters when I first worked there.”

She spent her working life with the company, always in Yarmouth except for the years after the King Street store was bombed out; until replacement premises were found in the borough, she was relocated to the Cambridge and Lowestoft branches.