Childhood recollections of Gloucester Road in the 1950s and 60s
by Jo Fisher
on 02 Jan 14
from The Bishopston Society
Starting in 1957, when I was five, I can remember the unfortunately named “Ponts” greengrocer, on the corner of Zetland Road and Gloucester Road facing the old Lloyds Bank,opposite the Greek Kebab take away. I also remember in the narrow street next to The Greek place, the Zetland Road ‘Scala’ cinema** whose passing many people regretted, including me. It was highly ornate, a real flea pit with plush, dark red velvet curtains concealing the huge screen. The auditorium was similarly ornate with more plush velvet on the seats, which tipped up when not in use. I remember an upstairs circle and panelled cloakrooms reached via narrow corridors with oval mirrors over the washbasins. It was seedy and worn but had an unmistakeable theatrical glamour. In the early sixties I saw “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” there and the unforgettable Rider Haggard's “Ayesha” entitled “She” (who must be obeyed).
Moving up the Gloucester Road, where I believe ‘Maplins’ now is, was a department store called ‘Morgans’ which had clothing, beauty, haberdashery, knitting and sewing pattern departments on various levels. Up the carpeted stairs was a millinery and hosiery department and in the sixties, dummies modelling corsets and Playtex rubber girdles, the last a punishing piece of undergear which mercifully I escaped but well remember my mother and my aunt struggling into. ‘Morgans’ was similar in ilk to ‘Brights’ (Clifton) and ‘Jollys’ in Bath.
Midway up the Gloucester Road and opposite what is now ‘Tarts’ was a very traditional haberdasher and school outfitter called Hector Crump. You had to wait in a dark panelled environment for an assistant to serve you from drawers behind the counter. I remember sitting on counter-high Bentwood chairs, dark and polished, and looking through the glass countertop to see wooden trays of neatly folded Aertex shirts and pants. Near ‘Crumps’ was ‘Greggs’ the butchers complete with porcelain stands from which ham was carved “off the bone”. There was, I think, sawdust on the floor and white tiling on the walls. The butchers all wore blue and white striped aprons.
Next to the corner of Overton Road was ‘Browns Army and Navy’ which remained I think into the seventies. Next door was ‘Rowes’, a traditional sweet shop, dark and like a treasure grotto stuffed with sweet jars on shelves full of humbugs, gobstoppers, peardrops etc and one of the few shops allowed to be open on a Sunday. ‘Martins’ the fish mongers was situated on Overton Road between ‘Browns’ and ‘North Road Stores’ on the curve of Overton and North Roads.
Next to the dreadful Royal Hotel – a scrumpy ciderhouse which I didn't notice in the fifties though it may have been a pub then, was ‘Carwardines’ where you could see and smell the fabulous aroma of coffee being ground and next door again [actually a little further up - ed] an impressive ladies dress shop, ‘Edgars’. which always displayed a beautiful ball gown in the window.
Opposite, now where Cancer UK’s premises are, was a kiosk with a wooden frontage where you could buy magazines, tobacco and comics etc. To the left of this was ‘Arley Antiques’ in the 1960s and left again was a fruit and veg stall with produce piled high. All this was fronted by a broad esplanade the width of the existing prom and where the highspot of a Saturday morning shopping trip was a visit to ‘Fortes’ Icecream Parlour, complete with the Italian Mr Forte who welcomed us into a parlour of gilt wickerwork sofas and chairs and glass topped tables where we consumed Knickerbocker Glories or Peach sundaes on hot afternoons in 1957. Straws were wrapped in paper which you could fire off at other customers if you were bored. There was a real continental feel and a sense of space.
If you have read this far you may wish to know or be reminded of ‘Bailey's Stores’ (currently Scoopaway), Woolworths and next door, Norman Smith another purveyor of corsetry and the school outfitters for Fairfield Grammar. I remember the total cost of my school uniform was £100; the hatband alone was half a crown. This was in 1963. Further up was ‘Mitchell's’ fishmongers (opposite Bristol North Baths) where fish were displayed on tables on the pavement outside and then ‘Bendall's Stores’ where in the fifties Mr Bendall and his father presided. Here your money would be folded up and put into a small canister and relayed on a wire overhead to a cashier seated in a raised enclosed area with a small window through which you would receive your change.
Who knows, 30 years on from now, someone recalling Gloucester Road shopping in the second decade of the 21st any purchase finally became an obsolete act.