Day 82 – Dept.Stores 2: ‘Marks & Spencer’ written by Maureen Kershaw

Day 82 – Dept.Stores 2: ‘Marks & Spencer’ was very different between the 50s and 70s. A Cafe in the basement was more like a work’s canteen in comparison to today’s decor and layout and nearby was a Toy dept. which sold lovely dolls. In the 60s and early 70s there were large counters, with its own till and staff on hand to serve. The counters displayed all manner of goods and usually packed in polythene.

In the early 70s I sang with a double quartet and as one of the four girls of varying sizes we found M & S could clothe us for our daytime concerts. One of the two sopranos was very tall and thin and the other small. Myself and the other Alto were the same height. The Altos loved all shades of purple which the Sopranos hated – preferring pink or……anything but purple. ‘Marks’ suited our needs. We bought day dresses and separates, two in one colour and the other two in a co-ordinating shade – we were all happy! Amongst the separates were straight, fully-lined knee-length skirts in a lovely warm heathery mix boucle with toning Shetland wool jumpers. They were sold as a two-piece item and always FIT. There again they were under the ‘St Michael’ label and ‘Made in the UK’. We even bought matching dresses – in a Summery green patterned crimplene – all our sizes were catered for. I think we’d be have been hard-pressed to find one style to fit and suit everyone these days!

Opposite ‘M & S’ was ‘Woolworths’ a large store being on three floors; furniture upstairs and a bit of everything on the ground floor plus a food dept. and cafe/tea bar at the rear of the store. A double sweeping staircase from the ground floor saw many young people on a Saturday leaning on its balustrade overlooking the Record Dept. with its own ‘Embassy’ label. Household goods, light bulbs etc were also downstairs and possibly seasonal goods. I do remember the Button counter being there but only because a friend had a Saturday job at ‘Woolies’, as did many whilst still at school. Again, another loss to Leeds as ‘Woolies’ was not just on Briggate but in smaller stores around the City too.

‘Littlewoods’ was a popular store selling much of their ladies stock under the ‘Berketex’ label and again customers of a certain age years ago swore by their good quality. It did move to smaller premises in the St John’s Centre for a short time before clothing was replaced by their catalogue division of ‘Index’. That too was short-lived and ‘Littlewoods’ was no more in Leeds. Another store to disappear from the High Street!Prior to ‘Debenhams’ on Briggate, the building was occupied by the lovely ‘Matthias Robinson’s. An old fashioned store but full of character with its uneven and creaking floorboards, until the transition to ‘Debenhams’ when a major refurbishment was undertaken, losing much of its appeal I felt. ‘Matthias Robinsons’ had the old type of passenger lift with its double metal gates, operated by a uniformed Lift Attendant announcing each floor.

The ancient cash system was a fixture of the Store too, where money was put into a capsule to be whizzed away into infinity – or the cash office in reality. We would await the whoosh along the pipe when the returning capsule would drop into a basket for the assistant to present our change. Who needed point-of-sale cash registers and tills?! The store had a hairdressesing salon but it was hidden from view of the shop floor so I never knew what it looked like, nor did I eat at their Restaurant but I did see waitresses dressed in uniform black with small white aprons and caps.More character lost.  Next time…..’Lewis’s’

Thank you Maureen, until next time…