Crossing over the top of the Brae led to Kilmacolm Institute. It had a Reading Room where the newspapers were available every day plus meeting rooms and Public Baths. They were huge baths, each in a cubicle with soap and towel provided. When I left school I joined the Institute and was able to enjoy the Baths and the Library. Next door was Miss Fairlie’s Sweetie Shop. She had a marvellous selection but my favourite was her Russian toffees. Not that I tasted them much – they were well out of the Saturday penny range!
Hugh Rose, Italian Warehouseman and Grocer, followed in a larger shop. If you asked for half a pound of butter he would use wooden butter spades to cut a slab from a large block, lay it on greaseproof paper on the scale and add or take away until it was the right weight. Cheese was cut with a wire and dealt with in the same way. Sugar was loose in a bin and put in small or large blue paper bags with a scoop. They also had a particularly tasty Wiltshire Roll, hams and so on, all of which had to be cut on the slicer and weighed. “Going the messages” couldn’t be rushed and was a very social affair.
Paterson’s the Butcher was another busy shop. Again, everything was weighed and wrapped. The butcher table was behind the counter with his knives and hatchet for the bones. He had a long steel for sharpening the knives, which he did very quickly with a loud swishing noise. On one side there were huge beef, sheep and pig carcases, hung on rails with large hooks for all to see, plus rabbits and poultry. All butchers had similar displays, and probably did their own slaughtering of local animals. The floor was spread with sawdust.
Moving along the street, my memory fails me a little but there was Jim Conway’s, probably for floor covering and furniture, and Mr. Geo. Mackintosh, Painter and Decorator. Mr Hutton’s Shoe Shop was also in St James Terrace. It was a very attractive shop and had a scent of leather. We sat on a chair and the assistant had a stool with a slope at the front where the customer rested their foot to be measured. Then the lady would bring some shoes and put them on for you helped by a shoe-horn. I remember then having to walk round the carpet to see if they hurt at all.
Jean McVean’s Newsagents, which she ran with her sister, was a lovely shop with much more than just newspapers. When the sisters retired, it changed hands but stayed much the same except for Jean McVean’s cheerful personality.
Max Donald had the Chemist Shop and was a tall, slim, dapper man with a nice smile. The shop was long and narrow and had lots of drawers with symbols and funny names. I loved the tall glass containers high on a shelf filled with differently coloured liquids. Mum had a recipe for cough mixture which he made up for me to soothe the winter coughs.
The Ironmonger’s was a family business. Mrs Laird was elderly and looked after by her daughter while her son, Andrew, managed the shop. When I left school in 1941, they needed an assistant and I got the job. I soon got the hang of the till and had no problem adding up the bills. It was more like play than work, and the lady assistant was very nice to me. The wage was 14/- per week, of which I gave 12/- to Mum – and felt rich with the remaining *2/-. After about 3 months Mum became unwell and needed me at home. So it was going the messages, helping with cooking and cleaning and so on. I was happy to be useful and still had lots of time for reading, stamp collecting and being with pals.
Ferguson was another baker’s shop and was owned by a couple with a grown-up son who worked in the shop. They were popular with the school children because they sold ha’penny and penny bags of broken biscuits. I used to wonder how they had so many broken ones, did they get them from a factory or did they break them specially? As well as Ben’s, there were two other cafés – Baldi’s, with Dino and Gina, and Coia’s who had Enrico and Betsy.
At the end of the shops was another butcher, Blackwood’s. But before it was my second favourite after Ben’s. It was always called ‘The Fancywork Shop’. I wish I could recall the name of the lovely woman who owned it. It may have been Miss Fraser but I can’t be sure. She was always ready to help with matching threads or buying transfers. There were wooden chests with narrow drawers which, when opened, revealed a rainbow of coloured Anchor embroidery thread or tapestry thread. Then there were all the wools and fabrics, dress patterns, knitting patterns, etc. From a young age I loved embroidery but never felt the same about knitting. Across the road was Joanna’s Hairdressing Salon.
Heading back to the Cross, we passed a pharmacy, the veterinary surgeon, Galbraith’s the Grocer and Sheridan the Butcher. Any others are lost in the deep recesses! Then came Kilmacolm Public School where I spent so many happy years. The Boys’ playground was first, then the building and the Girls’ playground was on the other side at the back. There was a Hall where we had our Drill, Cookery and Housewifery, and Woodwork. It was used by various organisations too. The Headmaster’s house was next to the School. Mr Steele was always firm but fair. The teachers I remember were Miss McLintock, Miss Steedman, Miss White, Miss Aitken, Mr Nicol and Mr Souter. I still remember Miss McLintock’s style of dress and admired it tremendously – always a tailored jacket, green or brown and a culotte skirt. She had auburn hair and looked lovely.
Miss Aitken was a gentle person who seemed always to be calm and tranquil, and we all responded to her. She became ill during our year with her and was in hospital in Glasgow for a short time before she died. I sent her a letter to the hospital, as we were encouraged to do, and she sent me a postcard which I still have in my album. It was a sad time. It was that year, or perhaps the following one, when the girls all had a passion for autograph books! We hounded all the teachers including Mr Steele and eventually he sent a note round the classes that Autograph albums were banned from school! So we had to find fresh fields for our hobby.
Returning to 1933, when I left Miss Lang’s class I had no idea what a special summer holiday it was going to be – but you’ll need to wait a few posts to find out why!
*Shillings. 1 shilling = 5p, although it would be worth about £1.45 today.