Who remembers the old Co-op stores?

Shields Gazette scanned hard copy    year 1981  old ref number 37840'Whitburn Co-op  corner of East Street and North Guards
Shields Gazette scanned hard copy year 1981 old ref number 37840'Whitburn Co-op corner of East Street and North Guards

The recent, wonderfully well-received articles by Olive Pinkney about corner shops in Tyne Dock, have certainly got you talking.

As Olive mentioned in her article in the latest volume of The Streets of South Shields, as produced by the Workers’ Education Association, before the days of the supermarkets, every other street corner, throughout South Tyneside, seemed to have a ... corner shop on it.

There were general dealers, newsagents, butchers, bakers, hardware stores and many more.

Talking to you and reading your letters and emails, it’s obvious how many people still have fond memories of these busy little businesses.

Tom Hearn was one of them; getting in touch after reading Dorothy Elliott’s letter in Time Of Our Lives about a corner shop in Hudson Street.

He said his auntie Jenny took over the shop in the 1940s, just before the outbreak of the Second World War. He said she traded there until the 1950s.

In her letter, Mrs Elliott refers to “a picture on the ceiling, of a little girl with peas for hair” which she thought was an advert.

Mr Hearns, of South Shields, says he can’t remember that picture but does recall a very large advert for Carnation milk.

“It was on the ceiling, and was a beautiful thing, filling the whole ceiling,” says Mr Hearn, who was born at Tyne Dock.

“It was advertising Carnation milk, saying ‘Carnation milk comes from contented cows.’”

Other readers remember corner shops being crammed full of every commodity imaginable, a bit like Arkwright’s store in Open All Hours.

And, just like on the classic TV comedy show, they were sometimes owned by a suspicious “old so-and-so”, who would greet many a reader’s mother with a civil “good day”, but never extended the same courtesy to the younger generation if they went into his “lair” on their own.

Children, they recalled, would get the “glare” and a most unwelcoming “what do want?”

And woe betides you if you didn’t have the right change. Give him a 10 shilling note for a loaf of bread, and he’d huff and puff and chunter under his breath as he rang it through the till before slamming down the change on the top of the counter, challenging you to count it if you dared.

But for the most part, visiting the corner shop seems to have been a most pleasurable experience – as was a trip to the local Co-op, as many of you remember.

They were different to the corner shops, of course, but no less fondly thought of.

For they seemed so big and uncluttered, with gleaming glass counters, behind which stood smiling men and women, who appeared to be only too happy to serve you.

One reader recalls going to the Co-op with her nana when she needed to re-stock the larder.

“I wonder how many readers remember the old-fashioned meat slicer?” she asks.

“It was a truly mesmerising machine ... I could have stood there watching the man in the white coat, carefully slicing the cooked ham, corned beef or whatever, for hours on end.”

And that’s not all, what about the vicious-looking cheese slicer?

“There was definitely an art to carving just the right amount of cheddar off those great orange blocks of cheese that used to sit under heavy glass covers.

“So nana would get her meat, then she’d move off to another part of the shop for flour or raisins, all weighed out there and then, before being bagged up before our very eyes.

“Again we’d move to another counter for something else, another staple food, nothing fancy, just stuff she’d need for baking or everyday cooking – lard, butter, eggs and the like.

“I don’t remember the Co-op of the 50s and 60s selling sweets or things that, but somehow, even as a kid, that didn’t matter.

“For the sights, sounds and smells of those retail oases were reward enough,” added the reader, who asked not to be named.

l Did you used to work in the Co-op or an Arkwright-type corner shop? If you did, I’d love to hear from you.

Please get in touch at peter.french@northeast-press.co.uk or ring 501 7476 or write to me at Alexander House, 1 Mandarin Road, Rainton Bridge Busines Park, Houghton, Sunderland, DH4 5RA

l Coming up: We’ve got more footballing memories on the way, as well a great follow-up story to one of our photos.