Shared Moments: ‘Few memories from my working days’ by Maureen Kershaw

Dear all,

With the continuing worries over job losses and reduced hours following periods of Lockdown, there must be many of us thankful to have retired. I’m sure many will remember their working days as being secure, with even a ‘job for life’ if wanted. Even in the last few years of my employment things were changing, work meant work, rules were tightening and it no longer held the enjoyment of days gone by. This makes me look back to my working life and I hope you will too.

Having never been a fan of school I couldn’t wait to leave at the age of 15. My Dad was the coach painter and signwriter of Thrift Stores Ltd at their head office on Bridge Road, Kirkstall and enquired as to the possibility of me working in the offices there. An interview followed with the Office Manager for the position of Post Girl on a snowy day early in 1964 and I secured the job, starting work after leaving school at Easter. Meeting Margaret, also starting that day, was the beginning of a lifelong friendship.

No such thing as Induction then, we were taken round the buildings, introduced to colleagues and that was it. Our starting wage was £3.17.6d, being paid each Thursday morning. Our Boss distributed the brown envelopes from a long box, reminiscent of those used for library tickets, all work being suspended whilst notes and cash were checked against the payslip. The self-explanatory role of Post Girl took us on two daily walks (yes the days of the 2nd delivery) starting with the offices including the Directors. One always appeared stern, a second was shy but it was the Managing Director, Mr Edward Popplewell who was our favourite. A tall distinguished gentleman who each day without fail, offered us a Fox’s Glacier Mint! The (shy) Grocery Buyer I met over 50 years later at the Leeds Playhouse. Recognising Mr Clark, it was like catching up with an old Teacher.

Our postal walk included the Grocery warehouse, passing ‘Cornflake Corner’ behind which dates were arranged or secret conversations held! The door of Patent Medicines, kept locked due to the vast quantities of aspirins and cough mixtures was presided over by two ladies, one as tall as the other was short, one wearing a lime overall, the other lemon.

In the loading bay Leeds Goole & Hull Transport would deliver goods, and our lorries would be loaded bound for the extensive list of  ‘Thrift’ shops around Yorkshire. Always friendly banter around the place and the occasional wolf whistles. Printing Dept next, then Drapery with its glass topped cabinets and lots of little drawers holding all manner of goods. Hosiery, knitwear and underwear to aprons, linens and towels.

Greenfruit warehouse, always freezing cold, held no interest with its tall racks of cabbages and fruits. Butchery was another where we wouldn’t outstay our welcome but as for Cooked Meats, that was different. Oh! The delicious and welcoming aroma of the roasting meats and hot pork pies! Electrical dept was nondescript then it was round to Transport, home to the lorries and vans seen on roads around Yorkshire. A team of mechanics kept the vehicles up to scratch with my Dad proudly responsible for the signwriting throughout the ‘Thrift’ brand. Next to the Garage was a bowling green for staff to play on – in their lunch hour of course.

The last port of call for Margaret and I was to visit Clarry at the Incinerator. On cold days it was bliss to feel the warmth of the flaming furnace. That Summer my Mum and Dad took Margaret and I to Liverpool for the day where we visited the Cavern Club and saw where John Lennon of The Beatles lived with his Auntie Mimi.

On the Monday, Clarry was eager to hear about our trip so we reversed our walk. Excitedly re-living our day we said our goodbyes, ready to deliver the mail – but where WAS the mail? Yes, you guessed it, Clarry had listened to us whilst shovelling the rubbish into the incinerator’s furnace – along with the mail, cheques – everything! The walk back to the General Office was probably the most painful we would ever take. How do we tell Mr England? How do we tell our parents we have been sacked? We needn’t have worried, so understanding was our boss, agreeing it was an accident and offering “if people don’t get a reply from us, they’ll write again”. NEVER, did we vary our walk again!

Any office workers back in the 1960s will, I’m sure, remember some of the awful machines we had to cope such as the hated duplicater! We had a Gestetner Banda for stencils and I detested every part of the process. Typing the stencil was nerve-wracking as mistakes weren’t allowed, the waxed sheet couldn’t cope – and neither could I. Once typed, the nightmare continued with the skin being peeled away and being secured flush to the roller drum. The relief felt as it clicked into action! A photocopier would have been so much easier but although invented then, they were still in their infancy and very expensive. There was a type of copier/printer in a corner of the office and goodness knows what fluid it ran on but each afternoon when opening the 2nd mail delivery Margaret and I almost fell asleep next to it!

A row of Sumlock comptometers resided in the office and I was in awe of the ladies never looking at the machine as fingers sped over the buttons. Two  noisy machines, resembling enormous typewriters clattered away all day. I’ve no idea what they did but the two operators, both named Denise, obviously did. We only really spoke to the Personnel Manager when placing holiday requests although had we been sacked for burning the mail, no doubt she would have provided the P45s.

Then there was the franking machine with its horror of stamping around 70 envelopes – with the wrong date! Margaret left for pastures new and I moved into the Warehouse office. The Thrift was full of characters, particularly the Stock Controller Ronnie. Continually making us laugh with his nicknames for all and witty sarcasm, but all delivered and received in good spirit. During this time I learnt how to operate the PBX switchboard with its cords, jack lamps and keys. Switchboard-cum-Reception was an oak panelled ‘cupboard’ with a sliding window to greet visitors . It felt more like we should be selling two for the 1/9ds for the first house at the Pictures.

The Canteen at Thrift Stores, Kirkstall was the real hub of the Company and was by no means elaborate with its formica tables and an assortment of wooden and easy chairs. Sited at the front of the building, it overlooked the Archie Gordon sports ground, now occupied by Leeds Rhinos. We all had our own tables at which to sit, nothing official, it was just habit and we rarely sat anywhere else. Morning break was the favourite visit as we were met with the wonderful smell of the hot pork pies delivered from the Cooked Meats dept. The favourite snack though, enjoyed by many, was hot dripping toast! The fresh beef dripping was thickly spread on toast, a liberal amount of salt would be added and we’d often accompany with a bag of Smith’s crisps with the blue bag of salt. A diet very much frowned upon now but so delicious then!

I remember learning to crochet at that time and each break-time would take the growing multi-coloured blanket to add more. I’m reminded of this whenever I see the Dingles house on ‘Emmerdale’! All the Branch Managers were invited for an Annual Lunch , an occasion for the men to wear their best suits or nice dresses for the ladies, instead of the regulation pristine white overall coats with the Company emblem embroidered in red on the breast pocket. An opportunity for staff also to be able to put faces to voices we spoke to on the phone, usually taking their Friday emergency orders. One particular ‘voice’, that of branch 12 – Roxburgh Road – had my friend Brenda and I, drooling over the rich dulcit tones but sadly on meeting the gentleman, the voice didn’t match up!

Most Fridays there would be fish and chips – but not from the canteen. An order would be rung through to the local shop up Kirkstall Lane and a couple of us would collect the order for something like fish/chips x 18 times, 7 bags of chips, 10 portions of mushy peas and 23 buttered breadcakes. All eaten in the canteen, out of the paper of course. On sunny days, being so close to Kirkstall Abbey many employees could be seen walking around the ruins and grounds or another day we may visit the Abbey House Mueum, the admission fee being fourpence!

A Staff Dance was held each year, the preferable venue being the Capitol Ballroom in Meanwood. For my first one I wore a pale turquoise boucle dress with poodle wool collar and cuffs, bought from Paige on Commercial Street. Fabulous memories of the Thrift Stores though was when Brenda and I used to visit the old Mecca at lunchtime a few times a week. We caught the No. 4 bus to town, sitting upstairs and donning nylon overalls which we wore with Scholls wooden clogs.  Steel tail combs and hair clips adorned overall pockets so we looked like hairdressers. The reason being that the Leeds United players of 1966 visited the Mecca at lunchtime, following their morning training. They often dated hairdressers so we would drink milk as the Players did and danced near to them, desperately trying to ignore them. We never got anywhere but it was fun and we’d rush back to work, all within the hour!

Four years ago I had the pleasure of re-enacting the story on the Quarry Stage of the Leeds Playhouse. What fun we had with that scene in ‘Searching For The Heart Of Leeds’. Anne the actress playing Brenda and I were standing in a bus shelter reminiscing about our youth at the Mecca. (Much) younger actors spoke as we did, dressed and danced to Motown music. Young men portrayed the Leeds United players and the audience loved it. I was thrilled to work alongside double BAFTA winning Writer, Mark Catley and bring the story to life again. I left the Thrift in 1967 and it was within the next five years that Thrift Stores closed its operations. The Bridge Road buildings were sold and Clover dept. store opened in 1972, later becoming Allders and finally British Home Stores. The landmark clock tower was removed some time before and when BHS closed its doors, the whole site was demolished to make way for the Kirkstall Bridge Retail Park. When visiting I try to visualise where each Thrift department was. One site I can pinpoint easily though was the Incinerator!

The spectacular Leeds dance hall with links to The Beatles and Leeds United - Leeds Live

image sourced from Leeds Live