Shared Moments: Christmas Displays written by Maureen Kershaw

Walking down Briggate this week I was disappointed in its Christmas lights display. As with last year, banners cross the street at a high level with messages which I didn’t find particularly easy to read due to their height and style. Mindful of those walking around me and not wishing to bump into them, I still am unaware of their messages!

What a shame though that the main shopping street has the least decoration compared to years gone by. Turning left and right, the side streets offer better displays and of course our beautiful Arcades are exquisitely adorned, lifting the spirits. On my walk I decided to visit John Lewis, a Store I rarely visit but was bowled over by their wonderful silver, very modern style Christmas Tree situated outside the main entrance.

However, walking around town, I just felt ‘something’ was missing. The shops no longer have the lavish window displays to admire. My mind wandered back to when even the (many) shoe shops of yesteryear would have tinsel or a few baubles amongst the shoes, winter boots or handbags. The couple of remaining Stores have large windows but for some reason these days, they are simply dressed with a couple of outfits, and maybe a cushion or throw, hardly a head-turner to draw customers in!

Do you remember when, back in the late 1980s, the Council started Thursday late night shopping until 9pm? Oh the novelty of it all. My son was in a pushchair ( those days when they had to be folded up to board the bus – the pushchair not the child that is!) and we wandered around the City centre, marvelling at the lights and excitement in the shops. There were even ‘Santa Specials’ – buses trimmed with fairy lights and tinsel, the driver dressed accordingly, to take shoppers around the main streets, for a minimal charge. At 9pm the shops closed their doors and long queues formed at every bus stop around town. The 51 and 52 buses which ran more to time back then still had their moments due to the increased traffic but who cared? There was a sense of excitement and camaraderie as we all chatted about our evening of shopping. I distinctly remember how many shoppers carried rolls of wrapping paper, not the ones we buy now, but a roll of separate sheets, secured with a rubber band, purchased from a vendor at street corners, their ‘stall’ being a clothes airer on which were draped brightly coloured papers, ten sheets for £1 or was it 50p then? Probably. It was always intriguing to know whether there may be a different design on yet another airer where a closer inspection and possible purchase ensued.

When I worked at Rackhams (previously Schofield’s and later becoming House of Fraser) in the old ‘Woolies’ building, we would hold a special Christmas evening. The Coffee Shop would serve festive food and the music tapes the staff knew by heart would be given an extra play throughout the store. Lively orchestral music and I think Cliff Richard’s ‘Mistletoe and Wine’ but certainly no Slade! My job as Management Secretary entailed hiring Victorian/Edwardian costumes for the staff, even the Store Manager, to wear. There was such excitement, apart from the Carpets dept. who missed out on the fun. We didn’t have a Toy dept. or Grotto but offered a Christmas Emporium and plans were made for the following year to have myself and another secretary dressed as elves. I felt it was time to leave before that came into force and ironically joined the Playhouse whence the costumes had been hired from!

Many of us will remember the wonderful Grotto in Lewis’s. The queue would stretch back down the staircase overlooking the Headrow. Half a dozen themed displays would capture the hearts of young and old. Pantomime characters, or woodland creatures would glisten in the artificial snow, glittering from the coloured lights, magical scenes!. By modern standards it would have been quite simple, but it was of its time and became a tradition for so many families to visit each year.

I do miss those shop windows of years gone by. Window shopping was a pastime enjoyed by many, whether gift ideas or crockery and glassware, the displays were magnetic and spectacular. Everyday items, such as an Addis kitchen set would be adorned with tinsel, sparkling alongside windows festooned with artificial snow from which peeped out, glittery brooches, necklaces, and rings. Sequinned evening bags and sparkly shoes or perhaps a beautiful stole and long gloves for those being invited to annual dinner dances. I remember particularly a showcase in Schofields on the Headrow displaying heavy sequinned tops to wear with a long velvet skirt. So expensive were the fabulous garments, they were displayed flat in the showcase rather than on a rail. In the Menswear depts. would be frilled dress shirts and huge velvet bow ties! Velvet dinner jackets too. These days many of those items are more likely to be found on vintage rails of charity shops! As for sequinned tops, dresses and all accessories, they are everywhere and at a fraction of the price but they don’t seem to be in shop windows any more…..Oh well, I suppose it’s a sign of my age that I like to look back on those simpler, but yet at the same time, more ‘glamorous’ days!

picture sourced from YorkshireEveningPost