Remembering the early days of Dicksons: Birth of South Shields’ pork empire

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Dorothy Ramser is the youngest daughter of the founder of MI Dickson, that has been in business in South Shields, since 1953.

As a result of her brother Michael, the current MD of the company, being given a photo of himself and their late sister Christine – which was taken of them playing in the back yard of the business’ first shop at Prince Edward Road, in 1953 – Dorothy has kindly written a number of articles relating to the shop, the business and the people in their lives. This is the first of those articles.

Michael Dickson and his late sister Christine in Prince Edward Street shop.

Michael Dickson and his late sister Christine in Prince Edward Street shop.

“The founder of MI Dickson’s, Michael Irwin Dickson, first went into business with his childhood friend John Whitfield after they were demobbed from the Army in 1946,” explains Dorothy.

“They bought a shop on Tynemouth Road, Howden, from the German pork butcher Charles Dorsch.

“It was there he met Helen, his wife-to- be, who was at this time working for the German family. Once the shop was up and running, most of their stock was sold by lunchtime, as meat rationing was still in force in Britain at this time.

“Undaunted, the two friends opened a fish and chip shop too, which was located just off the Wallsend High Street, and they did a brisk trade.

“Helen would wait on the tables, which were covered with crisp red-checked tablecloths that they’d placed in front of the windows.”

Dorothy went on to reveal that in 1952, the two men decided to end their partnership.

“It was done without any animosity and they remained firm friends.

“Striking out alone, the Dicksons, along with their young children Christine and Michael, moved to South Shields in 1953 and into premises on Prince Edward Road, with their home being a flat above the shop.

“The pork shop had previously been owned by a family called Newton, who were originally from Germany.

“The shop had premises to the rear where there was a small bake house, and a back shop where there was a coke oven, coke boiling pans and a smokehouse. In the yard there was a small outhouse which during the past ownership of the shop, had – until the Dicksons moved in – been used for slaughtering pigs.”

The photo that prompted Dorothy’s letter came from Pat Cook, of Olive Street, whose mother Annie Douglas worked in the bake house during those very early days.

Pat remembers her mother wearing a coarse hessian apron, which suggests she worked on the oven. Pat’s late elder sister Joan worked in the front shop for a while.

“It was a very autonomous production facility, albeit small, and certainly a family business because apart from Irwin and Helen, Helen’s sister, aunt Rose, also worked for them.

“Not long after the shop opened, Tom Dickson, Irwin’s older brother, who left his job on the railways, came to work for them.

“Nana Dickson, Irwin’s mother, used to scrub floors and whatever else was necessary.”

She died, aged 83, in 1964, while their grandfather, who had a German accent and “a large impressive moustache” had died six years earlier, aged 75.

“The bake house was always a very busy place as the business has always majored in fresh, tasty pies and pastries,” remembers Dorothy.

“Mingling with that mouth-watering aroma was always the delicious smell of roasting pork and crispy crackling.

“The back shop was for meat processing, and smelled of raw sausage meat, polonies, garlic sausage and fragrant spices and herbs and the smokehouse of bacon or saveloys being smoked within.

“This was what home smelled like for us, and it was wonderful to have something good to eat always near at hand,” she added.