Mount Pleasant- Centre of Commerce
I was interested in Bill Leeson's account of the small shops and businesses that served the communities living on Mow Cop fifty years ago. I also grew up there, and when I moved away in 1957 I believe that many of them were still operating. With the introduction of supermarkets and increase in car ownership most people find it more convenient to shop in the nearest town, but at one time it was essential to have local butchers and grocery stores. During my childhood in the 1940's going to the shop was part of the daily routine. In many families this task was often delegated to the older children while mothers got on with the housework, which was a lot more time-consuming than it is today.
We lived at Bank and the first shop I remember was at the end of Smith's Row just above Bank Chapel. It belonged to Baileys and must have sold groceries, but I was more interested in the jars of pear drops, wine gums, lollipops and that stood on the shelves. I don't suppose that many people will remember the shop as I think it closed when WW2 broke out. However there was another grocery shop at the bottom of the Brake. The owner was Arthur Richardson and he sold almost everything, including cigarettes and tobacco. It was a double-fronted premises and there were usually one or two customers inside. On the counter stood a large set of scales with iron weights, a pile of brown paper, a ball of string and an enormous pair of scissors. Behind was a row of shelves filled with various jars, bottles and tins. The top shelf held a set of big metal canisters where Mr. Richardson kept things like loose tea, coffee, rice, sugar and currants. Serving a customer with one of these commodities was quite a ritual. He would carefully take down the canister, place a piece of brown paper on the scales, weigh out the required amount then very skilfully fold the paper and its contents into a parcel which he then tied up using the string and scissors with a flourish, even making a loop to carry it home. This procedure could not be hurried, and must have been exasperating to someone behind in the queue who had only come in for a packet of Woodbines. It was a lot more straightforward to buy a jar of pickles or a bottle of Gartons sauce, a tasty concoction that added a touch of spice to a meal. The ingredients were a mystery but we often had it on the table. One day, after studying the label, my brother invited me to spell Gartons backwards. The result was startling! We bought HP after that – even though the list of ingredients was always written in French. Gartons were still in production in 1972. I was quite surprised to drive past the factory in Warrington on a trip to North Wales.
Mount Pleasant was the main shopping centre for the area. Even though it was a twenty-minute walk there were several shops including Number 9 Branch of the Congleton Co-operative Society. It seemed to be quite large and up-to-date compared with the other small shops, and there were advantages in buying at the Co-op because the more you spent the more “ divi” you could get. Most people were members and got their weekly rations from there during the war and for some time afterwards. On Saturday mornings when supplies were delivered the store was always packed out. I was sent regularly with a shopping list and the ration books to get the essentials and it took ages! I was never much good at pushing myself forward and there were so many waiting that nobody seemed to know whose turn it was except that it was never mine! The assistants were very busy on Saturdays, and there were a lot of noisy goings-on in the stock room at the back. The Co-op closed down some years ago and is now a house. It is hard to believe that once it was a hive of activity.
Next door to the Co-op was a butchers' shop but it was not the only one. Further along the street was Butcher Whitehurst's, where we obtained our meat rations. For some reason he was always known as “Billy Butcher” and his son and daughter were “ Freddy Butcher” and “Dodie Butcher” respectively. Anyone who was not a native of “Bottom end” might have found this puzzling! Bill Leeson's information about the slaughterhouse they used to have in the field next to Butchers Bank confirms that Whitehursts were a significant family in the trade.
It would not have been easy to compete with the Co-op for grocery supplies but in those days there was always room for other small businesses, and Mount Pleasant boasted a number of other shops. One of them belonged to “Kiddie” Boote. It was opposite the “Crown” and shopping there was like stepping back fifty years.
The inside was very old-fashioned with a tall desk at one end of the counter. There was never much stock on the shelves but if you wanted potatoes, paraffin or firewood then Kiddie was your man! He entered all transactions in a ledger on the desk in pen and ink and took his time over it. I don't think it was a much of a going concern
as I believe that Kiddie spent a lot of his time in the “Crown” instead of drumming up custom. Dennis Bradbury from the Co-op took it on eventually and gave it a new lease of life. He provided a catering service for my wedding in 1956.
Hall's was a small shop opposite the chapel. They sold groceries and specialised in sweets and confectionery. Decorated birthday cakes could be supplied to order and they also had ice cream when it re-appeared after the war. It was a popular place that stayed in business for quite a long period.
At the other end of the village was Ecclestone's, where you could get sweets and tobacco, but I do not remember it being there after the war. Joe Snape took over empty premises at the top of the Hollow, selling greengrocery, a bit of hardware and occasionally fish. This added variety to the Mount Pleasant shopping experience.
Man does not live by bread alone. Farmer's newsagents sold papers and magazines and took on the running of the Post Office, which was formerly in Ford's Yard with Esther Moores in charge. If shoes needed repairing “Clogger” Howell was ready to oblige. He worked in a wooden hut lower down from the chapel, and as his title implies, his field of expertise was principally making clogs and putting on new irons when required. Quite a number of lads and even one or two girls still wore clogs for everyday footwear early in the 1940s. They made an awful lot of racket when a group of youngsters were out playing but with deft footwork could create a fine display of sparks. They were also great for sliding on ice in the winter! However it was not long before leather-soled shoes became the norm. It must have been relatively expensive to keep them in a good state of repair, as “Shank's Pony” was the most common mode of transport. There was usually a pair of shoes to be collected from the cobbler, who never seemed short of work. On Bank we had our own shoemender. He was known as “Cobbler” Booth and lived down Spring Bank at the end of Mill Lane. His workshop was a shed in the garden. There was a little stove inside and large sheets of leather from which he cut out new soles and heels. He always seemed a contented man. It was probably work satisfaction – we couldn't have done without his services. Shoes have improved since then. They fit better and never seem to need mending. I call that progress!
Retracing our steps back up Butchers Bank to Mount Pleasant we soon pass Leeson's garage. Only one or two people had cars and a few men had motorbikes, but there were lorries to maintain. The haulage firms were probably the biggest customers. At the side of the garage was a tiny shop, which was very dusty and cluttered. Sometimes they managed to find puncture repair outfits and brake blocks for push bikes. Putting them on was another matter!
Deep in the recesses of my memory I see a blurred vision and smell the faint aroma of a fish and chip shop, housed in a wooden shed next to the garage. I do not remember it clearly as it must have disappeared before 1940. Did it belong to Owens?
It was possible to combine a shopping trip to Mount Pleasant with a visit to the doctor. The “Health Centre” was the front parlour of a house on the main street with a convenient yard and draughty entry where patients lined up at mid-day on Tuesdays and Saturdays to see the GP who came out from Kidsgrove. Appointments were unheard of –it was a case of “first come, first served” and most people came out with a bottle of medicine. Waiting in the queue gave ample opportunity to discuss symptoms and commiserate with fellow sufferers. In spite of complaints about the current NHS I think that health care has moved on since 1940.
Readers will gather that most household requirements were available in “Bottom end” 50 years ago. In Bank we had a few extras. Hassal's travelling shop came round from time to time selling paraffin. clothes pegs, yard brushes and other essential items. There was also a weekly visit from a lorry with bottles of Tizer, Dandelion and Burdock and fizzy Lemonade. They obligingly took back the empties the following week. A real treat was when the Pikelet man came from Macclesfield. He travelled by train to Mow Cop station and walked up Drumbers Bank with a heavy basket of pikelets and oatcakes calling at the houses along Birch Tree Lane and onwards with his delicious wares. He must have been sure of customers to go to so much trouble, and no doubt went back to Macclesfield with a spring in his step!
We did go to town occasionally. Sandbach Market made a popular Thursday outing on Hollinsheads' bus when it was a nice day. Congleton and the Potteries were accessible by regular bus services, and sometimes we bought things from Maypole Dairies or Home and Colonial grocers. Boyce Adams, a rather upmarket shop in Hanley was considered the height of sophistication, but shopping in town for groceries was not really necessary unless you wanted something special.
There are no longer any shops on Bank and I believe that only one is left in Mount Pleasant, although I have heard that there is a hairdressing establishment. That's how it goes! Others have been converted into houses so if you have a big parlour who knows? You might be living in a former shop.