Below is a further chapter from A Kerridge Childhood written by Enid Simpson. For a full introduction and index to all the stories please see the head page.
There were several shops on the main roads which had been there all through my childhood. Competition was low then and each shopkeeper was simply in business to make a living for himself. Chain stores, expansion and supermarkets were light years away.
The chemist shop was owned by Mr. Andrews. He had an artificial leg and was known to everyone as ‘Corky Andrews’. His shop, like all the others surrounding it, was drab and dreary. It had not seen a lick of paint in years, nor did it whilst we lived there. The window sported the usual apothecary jars, filled with coloured water, this was, like the barber’s red and white pole, a symbol of the trade. A few fly blown notices decorated the bottom of the window which usually had some faded crepe paper covering.
Chemist’s shops then were strictly business and sold medicines, cough and cold mixtures, powders to alleviate indigestion and stocked drugs to be used in the making up of home remedies. Doctors dispensed their own medicines and pills from the surgery.
Corky Andrews had the distinction of being able to ‘draw’ teeth. Whether he had any training for this I don’t know. Dentistry then was something akin to black magic and for the most part people ignored the care of teeth until decay and deterioration led them to visit someone who would extract all the teeth and fit false ones in their place. Corky didn’t reach those dizzy heights but when the need arose, would do the necessary extractions.
There were no such things as injections, the victim had to bear the pain and hope it wouldn’t take long. More than once, however, when Corky didn’t get the forceps (maybe they were just pliers) firmly gripped on the tooth, and the pain became too much, the victim leapt from the chair, spitting blood and bits of tooth and dashed from the room, with Corky doing a bop, skip and jump after him. It’s a wonder we all survived with this primitive treatment.
Another colourful character was ‘Clogger’ Wainwright. His trade, as the name implies, was making and mending of clogs. His shop was simply the front room of one of the many terraced houses which were built flush with the road. A little sign, in the shape of a clog, hung above his door, swinging and creaking in the wind. Once inside the shop, the smell of his tiny coke fire, leather soaking in water, dust and the rubbish of years was overpowering. The walls were lined with clog irons, soles and heels, from adult to children’s sizes. There were bits of discarded leather everywhere, and nails, which had been wrenched out of clogs to allow new irons to be put in place, lay on the floor for weeks. Mr. Wainwright wore a leather apron and his lips were always clamped tightly over a dozen or so nails which he was using to make or repair clogs.
Clogs were much more substantial than shoes as the road surfaces were usually stone ‘setts’ (or ‘setls’) (those square blocks of stone that Dad worked in the quarry) or simply topped with small loose stones. These were very hard on shoe leather but the iron soled clogs took much punishment and survived well. To be near a mill yard when it was time for entry or departure was to hear a symphony of rhythmic tapping as all the workers half walked, half ran to the door or gates.
Wearing shoes meant being ‘dressed up’ or working in an office, a cut above the average worker. Clogs were warm, weather- and waterproof, and did not need to be repaired as often as shoes did. Like today’s health sandals they did require getting used to, but once that was overcome, clogs became the only thing to wear.
On Kerridge, we had two rather colourful characters. Sampey Hunt, getting on in years, lived alone in the terraced houses which were built high in the fields and named Cheshire view. No doubt he had been christened Sampson but he was always known as Sampey. He liked to entice anyone, particularly children, to go into his house. I fear he had ulterior motives. I recall my sister Peggy being invited in once and when Mother knew she was off over those fields like a steam engine. She told Sampey what she would do to him, if ever it happened again, and I know she meant every word. I don’t think Peggy came to any harm, she probably escaped when she realised what he had got her there for.
The other person was a Mr. Brimelow, I never knew his first name. He and his wife and family arrived, literally from nowhere, and we played with the children as small village life demanded. He used to make cough toffee and stand the markets to make a living. How he did this, I don’t know as any kind of sweets, medicinal or not, came under the list of luxuries then. However, nothing daunted, he had his stall in Macclesfield market each weekend, and as a gimmick had a little monkey which either sat on his shoulder as he gave the spiel, or sat on the naphthalene light bracket, where a naked flame burned, swaying to and fro in the wind. Mother forbade us ever to buy any of his cough candy as she said the monkey might have peed on it! No doubt she was right – she usually was!
A strange feature of this family was the obvious mismatching of husband and wife. She was of a much higher social caste than was Mr. Brimelow and it must have been gall to her soul to have been reduced to such a living. Strange, at that time there was a rigid class consciousness, much more than is observed today. Whatever circumstances you were born into, you were expected to remain thus and marry within your station.
I remember Mary Jackson who was a farmer’s daughter. She gained a scholarship to the Girls High School in Macclesfield and from there went on to the University in Manchester. She would travel backwards and forwards by train, walking over the canal side to her father’s farm, and help with the milking and other farm chores. She must have been brilliant to have achieved all this from an ordinary village school education. The villagers however, never gave her the credit due, she was a misfit, belonging neither to one side nor another. The same thing happened to anyone who married out of their class, either above or below it. General opinion was that they ‘should have known better’ because ‘no good could come of the match’. This attitude, I’m sure, dated back to the feudal times when the lords and barons were on one side and the serfs and peasants on the other and there was no common meeting grounds.
© 1985 Enid Simpson