Dickson’s bakery was known as ‘the shipyard’ because it was so noisy

Butchers working in the Fowler Street shop, probably around 1978.
Butchers working in the Fowler Street shop, probably around 1978.

Today Dorothy Ramser continues to tell us more about the early days of one of South Shields’ most famous firms – Dickson’s.

“MI Dickson’s was the only pork butcher on Prince Edward Road, but there were many butchers at the Nook,” explains, Dorothy, who is the youngest daughter of the company founder Michael Irwin Dickson.

Scraping the pie tins in the Fowler Street shop.

Scraping the pie tins in the Fowler Street shop.

“Sharp’s the butcher had been there for maybe three generations, and sadly closed around 12 years ago. Another was called Carr’s.

“The pork shop day started about 6am or 7am, and the shop closed around 5.30pm- 6pm, which meant that by the time everything was thoroughly cleaned, ready for the next day, they didn’t finish until 7pm – a 12-hour day of hard, demanding back-breaking, physical work.

“The equipment in the pork shop was unpredictable in those days.

“A coke oven is one of the most unforgiving contraptions imaginable.

“The boilers in the back shop had fire boxes underneath them. It took a lot of hard work to keep them functioning, not to mention the dirt they created and the ash that had to be disposed of.

“The first bake-off out of the ovens could be easily burned because you had to start from an extremely hot oven temperature.

“The more pies you baked, the harder it was to keep the oven temperature.

“We made steak and kidney pies, mince and onion, corned beef and potato pasties as well as pork pies.

At Christmas time, Irwin Dickson made his own sweet mince filling for mince pies.

“The bakery always started the day by making the raw pastry pie shells. Lumps of pastry dough were placed in each tin and then blocked out under a hot dye by pulling it down into the tin.

“The pastry would be lining the tin. The machine was called Hunt’s Little Champion. Then the pastry shell would be filled by hand with cooked meat filling, unless it was pork pie filling which went in raw.

“A lid of pastry was placed on the top, and then each pie was stamped out under a different dye which made the pattern on top of the pie, and gave it a hole in the lid.

“The excess pastry on the edges was removed and all the pies were egg-glazed with a brush. Anyone operating the dye ended up with a very strong right arm!

“Once assembled on cast iron trays they were ready for the brick oven. This was all very noisy work. When those tins were being moved through each operation there was much clanging.

“Then when the pie was cooked and ready to be removed from the hot tin, you knocked the pie tin to loosen the pie so the rattling din was a constant background noise.

“Then, with the tips of fingers, to avoid being burned, the sizzling pie was taken at the edge of the crust and placed on tissue paper-covered wooden boards.

“People referred to the place as the ‘shipyard’ because it was so noisy.

“The tins and trays were thick and heavy, so carrying a tray full of pies to the oven was hard work.

“Whoever worked at the oven wore a hessian apron.

“When the pie tins had been used, any cooked pastry left clinging to them had to be scraped out and then they were wiped clean.”

Dorothy recalls that just as Dickson’s were establishing themselves in South Shields, they suddenly found themselves up against a serious rival – Ibbitson’s, a large pork butchers from Sunderland, who opened a shop just a few doors away.

“Aunt Rose said that for a depressing two weeks, Dickson’s takings plummeted as once loyal customers sampled Mr Ibbitson’s wares.

“Then the euphoria as the customers flooded back, and Ibbitson’s shut their shop not long afterwards.”