As readers of this column will know, I was born in the north of England where my father was a village policeman. In those days we lived in a police house and it was required that we moved every few years.
My father started married life near to Macclesfield and he gradually moved across the county until he finally retired in Lymm close to Warrington, which in those days was in Lancashire but is now in Cheshire.
In those days Warrington was a smoky industrial town subject to fogs so thick that it was impossible to see a couple of feet ahead. The clean air act has probably done more for the health of the nation than most of us realise.
In the days before supermarkets appeared on the scene Warrington, like many other northern cities, had a flourishing market and the town was full of small grocery and provision merchants.
The Maypole chain of shops always had a splendid window display of bacon, pies and hams, and at Christmas time chickens and turkeys hung in the market waiting to be sold.
For a while I worked at the grocery store of Henry Milling and Co Limited. The main branch of this company was situated directly opposite the market and was indeed a busy place. It was the intention that I should learn the trade and so I began life on the very lowest rung of the ladder as a van boy.
Millings had a fleet of vans which toured the surrounding countryside delivering grocery orders and the job of the boy was to load the baskets on to the van and then assist the driver to deliver
them. I graduated from this job to become a travelling representative, which meant I had to cycle miles with a notebook and pencil to collect orders from customers. These orders were then packed at the main branch and eventually delivered. It was all very labour intensive.
From cycling around the countryside, I graduated to the shop where I was put on the provision counter and taught how to bone and roll sides of bacon, bone hams, cut cheese to the exact required weight and cut ham off the bone. Millings was advertised as ‘High Class’ and on entry to the shop one was greeted with the wonderful aroma of roasting coffee beans which were prepared daily. There was a central cash desk and as customers paid, their money was put into a small container which was then sent on its way via a spring loaded overhead wire contraption.
The cashier in the central desk was kept busy throughout the day receiving these missiles from every counter in the shop.
The hardest job was unloading whole sides of bacon from the van in the early morning. They seemed to weight a ton and one had to sling them across ones shoulder and then throw them down a chute into the cellar, where they were prepared for the shop.
In the warehouse there was an outside hoist which consisted of a long steel wire, at the end of which was a metal hook attached to a large square box. Huge parcels of goods were brought from the
wholesalers, placed in the box and the hoist operator would then pull a rope to start the box on its upwards journey to the required floor. There were about five or six floors in all. This was a precarious task and many a time I have witnessed a disaster as the box tipped over and the precious contents crashed to the ground below. Health and Safety would have had a field day at Millings.
I never made it to the office which would have been the next rung up the ladder because I then went to enlist in the Grenadier Guards after which I went to college and life took a very different turn.
As the supermarkets began to make themselves felt, oldfashioned stores such as Henry Millings simply could not compete and gradually faded away. Guy Milling was one of the last of the family to be in charge of the company and I remember visiting him during the last days of his life in a local hospital.
It’s all a long time ago but each Christmas I remember my days in the grocery trade; the shop gaily decorated; special Christmas packs of cakes and biscuits; and above all that lovely aroma of freshly roasted coffee beans.
May I wish you all a very happy and peaceful Christmas and may you also have good memories this Christmas time.