Martin’s Memories – Blaydon Town Centre from Callers to the Coop Drapers

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The Martin’s Memories series has been reproduced with the very kind permission of Tony Martin from his posts on the Old Blaydon and Old Winlaton Facebook group.

OLD Blaydon and OLD Winlaton | MARTIN’S MEMORIES 20 | Facebook

Crossing Church Street from Danny Brown’s outfitter and clothing shop one reached Callers, a large furniture shop. Many a young Blaydon couple started married life with furniture bought here. In the late 1940s and 1950s “Beat the Budget” weddings were very popular for the simple reason that in those days when a married man had an income tax allowance for his wife, it was obtained for the whole year if you married before the end of the tax year on 5. April. Callers cashed in on this fact and throughout the 1950s, they ran an advert in the Blaydon Courier using the words of the famous Gracie Fields song “Walter, Walter, lead me to the altar” to attract young couples about to marry into the store. I believe they gave a special “about to be married” discount.

Next to Callers was the Empire Cinema. This was a place that had to be experienced to appreciate it. Many seats were missing and because it was so near the railway, the projector vibrated as the train passed and that was quite often considering that the goods yard was along side Railway Street and the Engine Sheds on Chain Bridge Road were fully operational. They got some good films, but at certain times of the year, there was an additional floor show provided by mice. When the Empire closed, the property was taken over by F.W. Woolworth who made as few changes as possible to the building and they still retained the sloping floor from the cinema days. I remember one time, I went in to buy some marbles and the assistant handed me a bag with a hole in it. Neither the assistant nor I could do anything for laughing as the marbles rolled down the whole length of the shop with various people running after them in an attempt to retrieve them. Needless to say, I got a new bag, but this episode was really in keeping with their slogan – “The Wonders of Woolies!”

Next to Woolworths was the Railway Inn and then next to this, the Mecca for all teenagers in my day….Joe’s Ice Cream Parlour. Not that we went there to buy ice cream, but we sat and drank coffee or warm juice while listening to the records which people had played in the juke box. Joe and his wife, Dora were very welcoming and both the front shop and the snug in the back attracted a large clientele. It was called Joe Saps….short for Sapparetti, but in fact Joe’s surname was Lunaticci….Italian speakers please forgive my spelling. If you were a teenager in Blaydon during the 1950s you had not lived if you had not been in here.

Next to Joe, there was butcher if my memory is not playing up and I think his name was Middlemas, but with my father being a butcher, it was probably the only shop on the whole of Church Street, I was never in. Next door was a baker shop belonging to Carricks, the well known Newcastle based firm.

There was then an alley into what was called Helen’s Court where there were a few flats and also a tailor and a ladies hairdresser. I can remember the tailor was called Potts, but by the time I was going round the town Madam Jean mentioned on the photograph had changed hands. On the other side of the alley was Cubey the Chemist. This shop was very old fashioned with dark brown mahogany fittings. The shelves were filled with colourful bottles containing liquids used in making up a “bottle” because as well as having a doctor’s prescription dispensed, you could ask the pharmacist to make you up a bottle for the complain you described. This was a service not provided by either Roberts or the Store chemist. In addition, they also sold sherry and port from the cask and I can remember people going there, especially at Christmas time, to have their wine bottles filled from the casks stored in the cellar. The shop traded under the name of R. Cubey, but after his death, the shop was run by his daughter, Jessie who lived in Bowland Terrace, next door to the teacher Bella Scott of Blaydon West fame. She was a very religious person, attending communion at St Cuthberts every morning and she had an old Austin car which was garaged in a wooden garage at the bottom of Polmaise Street. The shop was later taken over by Turtons who made a lot of changes to the shop….it was called modernisation !! Unfortunately Beamish Open Air Museum had not been established, otherwise this shop should have been a must on the main street there.

I acquired a number of printed bottle labels from the shop, many of them from items on open sale, were printed in red and marked POISON. But some of the bottles are interesting. For example Liquid Extract of Cascara Sagrada (sacred bark) to be used as a laxative. Or if you had taken too much of this, there was Paregoric, a treatment for diarrhea. The bottle is marked Poison and the dose was 1 teaspoon with the added warning …It is dangerous to exceed the stated dose. You could also buy MacLean Formula Stomach Powder to cure heartburn, acidity and flatulence or get a bottle of Ammoniated Tincture of Quinine, a teaspoonful of which in water was a cure for influenza and colds. The label that intrigued me more than any other was one marked Ipecacuanha Wine to combat gastro-intestinal issues, bronchitis, pneumonia and diarrhea. Needless to say none of these are available on the NHS, but show the types of things one was prescribed before the days of antibiotics. Wilson the Chemist in Winlaton reminded me a bit of Cubeys in the 1950s, but I have to say I found Cubey the chemist one of most fascinating shops in Old Blaydon. Next to Cubey was the great block of Coop shops which I described in my piece about the Store, so we will spring over them and, next time, our walk will start at the bus stop outside the Coop Drapers and continue to St Cuthbert’s Church.

Callers, Woolworths, the Railway Inn and Joe’s Ices on 9 June 1962.
This photo was first posted on this site by Paolo Nardini. It was taken at a venue away from Blaydon but shows Joe and his wife Dora, the lady next to him.
The view up Church Street from Callers.
Cubey the Chemist with a young Jessie Cubey (with spectacles) standing outside. The entrance to the side is into Helen’s Court