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World War Two and its role in saveloy greatness

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Today Dorothy Ramser, the youngest daughter of the founder of MI Dickson, concludes her journey back in time.

She talks about the famous South Shields’ business – and the people behind it.

“In 1960, a much bigger pork shop, which was double-fronted and had two counters, was bought in Fowler Street, South Shields, which must have been a huge challenge for my father,” says Dorothy.

“During the war, he had been a Battery Sergeant Major in the Royal Artillery, so he had a lot of experience and confidence overseeing more than 300 men, which no doubt stood him in good stead.

“Indeed the officer writing his release certificate in 1946 described him as: ‘A warrant officer of the very best type. He is most efficient and his administration of the battery has been of the highest order.

“‘He is always courteous to his superior officers and has a very pleasant personality. I can strongly recommend him for any position requiring zeal, initiative and a strong sense of responsibility.’
“He wasn’t a hard man, he rarely raised his voice, and had a wicked sense of humour, but he was focussed and very hard working, and expected everyone to give of their best.

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

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

“He always used to say: ‘You should never expect anyone to do anything you are not prepared to do yourself.’

“Every penny he had in the world went into that shop, and was appalled at the prospect that he’d have to borrow money – the only thing he ever took out a loan for was a new cold room in the back shop – but he made sure he paid it off promptly.

“The spectre of the Tally Man, from his youth growing up on Clyde Street, in Wallsend, was probably the reason for this, as it was a very poor area.”

Dorothy said life for the Dicksons changed after the purchase of the new shop.

“The family had been living in Harton, since 1956, but now the centre of production moved from Prince Edward Road, at the Nook, to Fowler Street, in the town centre.

“It was an end of an era.”

Indeed, as Dorothy adds, both she and her brother still regard the flat above the shop in Prince Edward Road – with the “faint smell of onions clinging to the very soul of the shop and the echoes of a very happy childhood, and of a much-loved mam and dad and sister Christine, whose smiles lit up their lives with their unconditional love, loyalty, sense of duty and tender kindness to everyone around them” – as their home.

Despite the move, however, Michael and Dorothy continued to spend Saturdays at the “top shop” (Fowler Street was the “bottom shop”) with uncle Tom and aunt Rose.

“Being keen on the RAF, Michael enjoyed making Spitfire, Hurricane and Lancaster Airfix models which he had assembled in what was the upstairs lounge.

“He’d built an aerodrome and several runways from Lego, and had fighter planes suspended from cat gut as if in a dog fight.

“Customers, in headscarves and curlers, would warily stare at the ceiling as Michael re-enacted the Battle of Britain over their heads, mimicking explosions and the rat-a-tat of machine gun fire spurts, and the dying curse of enemy aces as they met their maker over the green fields of his imaginary Kent.

“Aunt Rose, in a deadpan voice, would simply state after a worried query: ‘It’s our Michael, he’s playing’.”

Back to reality, and, as Dorothy explains, the front shop had a counter running along one wall, at the end of which was the slicing machine.

“Near to it, the sliced pork was slipped between halved bread buns and piled onto trays. Further along the counter was the saveloy tray where they would be heated up and assembled with pease pudding and stuffing and hot English mustard, as well as an optional swipe of the top of the bun through the saveloy stock or gravy as it was referred to.

“Opposite, was the counter facing the customers with glass fixtures, and at the end was a gate with a wooden top which you raised to go out into the customer area.”

Dorothy used to hold tea parties there with Teddy, passing imaginary cups of tea to any customers who wanted to play.

There were also long shelves underneath the counters.

“As a child growing up in the business you learned a lot of social skills, and it gave you a good vocabulary at an early age, enabling you to talk to anyone.

“It taught you to be responsible and understand dad’s saying that: ‘You only get out of something the amount you put into it’ – which is so very, very true.”