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Thursday, 24 April 2014

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Whitehaven life in the 1960s

Remember Whitehaven in the 1960s? Here one of our readers recollects her teenage years with great affection – and can take us on a nostalgic shopping trip right round town...

THE place to buy your 30-denier nylons in a variety of shades such as Brandysnap or Calvados (a dark brownish-black colour) was Wilson’s of Upper King Street but as they weren’t mesh there would soon be “runs” up and down the leg, necessitating the application from an always-handy bottle of nail polish to stop ’em in their tracks!

Lucky Charm 15-denier micromesh stockings in American Tan cost 5/11d and would only hole, or run upwards. Cheaper ones for everyday wear cost around 3/11d. By that time not many women were wearing stockings with seams and later on patterns came in, diamond and geometric shapes, and (with the arrival of The Beatles) some with small beetle designs. Top tip for pre-tights days: always carry a sixpence, in case you lost a button from your suspenders.

Gondola baskets played havoc with your stockings but were just the job for bringing home a few choice purchases from town or your latest creation from domestic science at school.

Dresses were bought from Paige’s, also on Upper King Street, or from New Modes in sizes 34, 36 or 38 inch – not in 12s, 14s and 16s as now. Many opted to head down to the market where there were several stalls selling fabric, or to the Beehive to buy some material and make their own. Buy it in the morning, make it in the afternoon (or get your mam to, on her old Singer sewing machine) and wear it in the evening, to the Tow Bar at Nethertown or the Empress Ballroom. You could catch a bus for Nethertown or take a chance and thumb a lift, saving the fare.

PVC dresses a la Mary Quant (very sticky to wear on a night’s dancing) could be found over at C&A in Newcastle, travelling by train and hoping the Whitehaven train connection at Carlisle waited for you on the way back – it usually did in those days.

There were Op Art designs in black and white squares and circles, usually sleeveless. Black matador-style capes made a brief appearance in Whitehaven as a fashion item but didn’t last long. Some fashionistas wore brimmed hats, white shoes and carried large white handbags.

There was a great little boutique opposite the rear of St Nicholas’ Church known as Eve Boutique where the owner stocked wonderful up-to-the-minute styles at reasonable prices and the first in Whitehaven to stock Oxford bags, the wide-legged trousers with turn-ups, for girls.

Byers’s shop in King Street was great for underwear and there was the slightly more expensive Ainsworth’s at the top of King Street who had a good clothing selection. We bought from home catalogues, too, like Burlington’s, which wasn’t that different from buying on-line today.

Edgards, on the corner of King Street and Lowther Street, was the dry cleaners and also sold fantastic blouses at good prices. They had a factory making uniforms up at Preston Street, employing lots of women who did the machining and hand-sewing of buttons and press-studs etc. It provided a good source of work, and pay, in the summer holidays, with the radio going in the back ground, waving at your friend down the factory if a favourite tune came on Sounds of the 60s.

There was the Scotch Wool Shop too that sold blouses and skirts and kept great knitting patterns for their Greenock knitting wools.

Lucas & Cussons had more up-market clothing and kept the good old fashionable Grammar School green uniform too. Patsy Whites and Buena Fashions were also nearby on Church Street.

To alter the appearance of a jumper, dress or jacket, you could buy lace collars and cuffs from Woolworth’s and headbands, too, which you could decorate yourself for a wedding.

Shoe shops in town included Freeman Hardy & Willis, Benefit, Stead and Simpson, Easiphit, and Charles Bie, the latter more expensive but you could put your feet under a box which showed an x-ray photo of how your feet looked inside the shoes.

FRIDAY night was Amarmi (setting lotion) night when you put in your rollers in readiness for the weekend nights out. Some would venture up town for Saturday morning shopping still wearing them, covered over by a headscarf.

Woolworth’s sold Dream shampoo for about 4d, but, if finances allowed, you might splash out on Breck shampoo. The steel tail-comb from Boots at around five shillings was a must-have for back-combing; lacquer cost around 1/6d in a plastic pod which was poured into a puffer bottle. So sticky!

At Christmas time we would go to Yvonne’s hairdressers in Duke Street to get our hair put up in loops. She was the best for doing flat loops – they stayed in for ages, stiffly lacquered and glittered. The only way to get that stuff off was to crush a bath cube (modern version bath bombs) on to your hair, work it in and then wash it out. It would take a couple of goes, though. If you had long hair and wanted the sleek straight look you got a best friend or sister to iron it (no straighteners then), putting your head onto the ironing board with some brown paper, shiny side down, on top of your hair. Madness!

Perfume we liked was Adagio, Bond Street, Black Rose, Coty’s L’Aimant or some of the Avon fragrances, Elegance or Topaz. Woolworth’s sold White Fire in its little red bottles with a gold pointed top. Evening in Paris was in a blue glass bottle and then there was California Poppy, which was cheaper but rather sickly smelling. Amongst the more expensive scents, if you could afford it, were Estee Lauder’s Youth Dew and Chanel No 5 or Max Factor’s Hypnotique.

Most of our make-up items were by Rimmel as everything in the range was 1/6d, or there was the Boots No 7 range and also Miners products. And who can forget the “spit and brush on” mascara! Disgusting! Panstick at 5/11d was often the foundation of choice and Gala lipsticks and nail varnish were popular too.

There were lots of chemists’ shops – two Claytons, two Wandless’, Fares, Timothy Whites...

At the Tow Bar the headline group on the Saturday night reappeared as the backing group on the Sunday. If there were no bands it was dancing to records. From the bar there would be Merrydown cider for 1/6d, Babycham, Pony (“the little drink with the big kick”), a lager and lime or splash out on a vodka and lime which cost about 4/6d. We also used to go to the RAOB (Buffs Club) on Strand Street and the Avon Club down at the rugby ground, and the Haven Club.

We would rush to get a copy of The Whitehaven News when it came out to see who was playing at the various venues that weekend and decide where to go. It was almost always the Tow Bar that won.

Among the local groups Ashley Kay’s Invaders were considered the best, and there was also The Phlock, Peasants Revolt, Lenny & The Silhouettes and a lad from Parton called Adam would always get up and sing with the local bands, his speciality was Shakin’ All Over. And there was always the radio, Radio Caroline and Radio Luxembourg 208 – a bit crackly but they played great music in the evening.

Spending teenage time in coffee bars was the norm. Ma’s was popular, next to the old Queens Cinema where most of the motorbike lads went. When it was pulled down the graffiti-ed walls should have been photographed, they could tell many a tale of some great nights!

Then there was the Espresso in the Market Place, with Franco at the helm. You would aim to make your Vimto, Coke or frothy hot chocolate last as long as possible before Franco realised and insisted you buy another drink or ship out. The juke box was a great draw. If you went near it with a coin, everyone would shout out their recommendation of which record to select. On King Street, opposite Woolworth’s, there was Amasanti’s where you could get a great fresh sandwich. And there was also the Fondant on Tangier Street and the Eclair on Church Street, both owned by the people who ran the Caramelle Cafe at the CMS bus station in Workington. We remember getting chips from Peeney’s in the Market Place or the Elnoca on Duke Street.

Summer days and weekends were spent on the beach at St Bees, with your transistor radio tuned to Radio Caroline, a pack of home-made sandwiches and a bottle of pop. Plenty of socialising too – no need for mobile phones, Facebook or Twitter.

Going to the pictures at the Queens, the Gaiety or the Empire was a popular pastime, especially if you were courting and got a quarter pound box of Milk Tray, Black Magic or Dairy Milk bought for you. Everyone always seemed to meet up with people at the Bus Station, either inside or out, or by the “green box” outside which could have told a tale or two.

If you visited people at the old Whitehaven Castle Hospital and were in the habit of wearing stiletto heels, you had to take your slippers to put on. They didn’t want heel marks all over the floors.

There was half-day closing on Wednesdays and shops were not open on Sundays except the little shop near St Nicholas’ Church. Sunday papers were sold from Roko’s doorway at the bottom of King Street or the doorway of Barr’s tobacconists on Lowther Street.

But best of all was the record shop on Lowther Street, complete with music booths. You could go into one of three booths at Gillett’s and listen to a couple of records and decide which one to buy. Wonderful vinyl LPs were around 30 shillings in either mono or stereo.

Brooks also sold records and you could also buy a radiogram there to play them on. That would cost around 50 guineas. Woolworths sold cover versions of records and, for a short time, Finlay’s sweet shop on Duke Street also sold records from an area at the back of the shop.

The whole of King Street was open to traffic and you had to keep out of the way of the Marchon wagons going to and fro from Kells to the harbour when there was a boat in. Lipton’s was the main supermarket in King Street and popular butchers were Donaldson’s in the Market Place and West’s in Roper Street. Barlows was the general ironmongers on Lowther Street; Skinners of Roper Street had all your decorating needs and there was Burnyeats for sporting and camping gear.

McConnell’s displayed their stock outside the shop with anoraks and shoes galore. It was a brilliant shop. Items needed for school, as now, could be found at W H Smith’s, and Callander & Dixons was good too. Remember the good old Grammar School magazine Gryphon.

Oh happy days!

Have your say

always remember some good scraps in empress,we always sat upstairs to watch.

Posted by cynical west cumbrian on 23 August 2013 at 19:15

I loved the 60,s allways looked forward to sat nights TOW BAR night.

Posted by kevin kelly on 8 June 2013 at 03:03

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