Dreamscapes: Suddenly I was five years old again...
Coffee Roasting Machine
was walking past Lloyds Bank and suddenly, quite alarmingly; I was
five years old again. Standing in the exact same spot.
lasted just a few seconds, at most, but for that brief moment I was
in Grimsby 1958, my face and eyes glued to the coffee roaster in Chambers
Grocery and Restaurant Emporium on the Old Market Place. God knows what
had done it, but I could see everything quite clearly. I could see my
now young again mother Joanna, shopping basket in hand and my new little
sister Sara in the other, as she went into Chambers with her list. I
was there, in my blue and grey St Martins school cap and grey shorts
(most famous old boy the actor John Hurt) inhaling the coffee
fumes. (Little did I know then what a coffee addict I would later become.
All I knew was that roasting coffee was the best smell in the whole
world. Better, even than the smell of baking bread at Malbys bread
shop across the market place.
I turned around quickly as another memory jumped into my mind. The ancient
Corn Market building; was it still there? Once Grimsby boasted its
own ancient leaning tower in the corner of the market (later torn down
in the sixties by unscrupulous Grimsby councillors who cared nothing
for history or elegance.) Yes. It was a curious structure tilting 20
degrees following subsidence after it was built a hundred years before.
Another opportunity for future tourism lost when they tore it down.
There's a few grand Victorian houses on Abbey Park Road still standing
that tilt in the same fashion. Back in Chambers there is a special lunch
advertised on the wall 'Grilled Pork Sausages courtesy of Pettits
the butchers', remarkably still in 04 they remain best butchers
in all of Lincolnshire.
I watched myself go inside. Chambers then seemed as big as any Sainsburys
now, but the choice was, if anything, better. The noise was amazing.
In the middle were mounds of fresh vegetables beautifully displayed,
the turf of two very dominant females who made you wait if they didnt
like you. To the sides, acres of tins and biscuits, the long deli -counter,
where huge hams and other cured meats hung on silver hooks from the
ceiling. The walls would be covered in tins and objects and in those
days you didnt help yourself. Clerks would take your order or
your lists and scurry up ladders or around the shop gathering everything
you wanted. Naturally if you are five you played with the fruit or scoops
in the sugar bins until someone slapped your hand or you teased your
baby sister. (She was still too young to be teased then.)
My mother paid (around three pounds for everything.) After that theyd
box it all up and deliver it all to our home later that afternoon. No
heavy plastic bags to lug out to the supermarket car park. There were
no plastic bags, no supermarkets back then. Good service and quality
ruled and of course rationing had long ended, everything was plentiful
again. (Although the Government still controlled prices.) Now there
would be a treat. Morning coffee. Usually my mother would meet a friend
or my godmother, Eva Sharpe or maybe one of her acting friends. (Joanna
was a leading actress at the Caxton Players at the time.) Unlike most
five year olds I wouldnt mind as I loved to go upstairs and watch
the orchestra from the balcony. But not today. We would be lunching
here later with my father. So my Mother grabbed us and took us around
the corner on Victoria Street to Guy & Smiths for coffee
the department store. She knew Id be unhappy about this as Id
trapped my fingers in the lift doors the year before and hated the metal
sliding cage doors.
She always took the stairs now, even though Sara was a heavy baby to
Perhaps shed stop to look at some fashions? This would be time-consuming.
Id usually escape for half-an-hour whilst she tried on clothes.
There was no need to fear about your kids back then, in town or country.
There was no danger; no one would touch a kid. They might short change
you if you actually had any money to spend, but never harm you. Hard
to believe this now, but almost everyone was honest and respected the
law. Certainly as a child Id wander all over town or in the countryside
when I was there and never be afraid. (Except of bulls or wolves, which
were central figures in many of the stories I read.)
I loved to go down to the Riverhead. Not the gathering of bars and bus
station it is now. But still very much scarred from bomb damage in the
war. Our neighbour, Authur Lee, had a big furniture store on the corner
(now the Post Office) and our Sandilands seaside neighbour Mr Sutcliffe
had a hardware store (I believe) across the way. I just loved watching
people and listening to the sounds of Victoria Street then. I was already
nostaglic for I missed the trolley buses that had already been withdrawn
a year or two before. If I had time Id run all the way back up
to the Bull Ring and the toyshop there to see if they had any new Dinky
Toys. At one time I had nearly two hundred collected (but sadly had
to sell them to pay for an operation in Canada twenty-five years later.)
Id usually get back to the tea-room in time for the where
have you been? I have looked everywhere for you? but Ma wouldnt
be too concerned, after all, I was back and ready for toasted tea-cakes
and what? I cant remember what I drank then. I was very fussy
I remember. Certainly not coffee. Children werent permitted coffee
and besides it never smelled quite as good as when it was roasting.
This was a very formal tea-room, with white table cloths on the tables
and long velvet seating against the walls with natural light coming
from the skylights, and always lots of cakes on display on circulating
trolleys. Children were not ignored at the table. You would be included
in the conversation, but, of course, any opinion you expressed on a
matter would be completely ignored. In the main Id wait patiently
and watch the funny ladies hats, amusing myself with the sugar until
my fingers got slapped.
some point the theatre or films would be discussed and luckily my
Mother was keen on both. Grimsby then boasted a huge range of places
to go. The Empire Theatre Repertory, The Caxtons Theatre where
she performed and The Palace Theatre, besides the tilting bridge
across the docks. I had been to see Snow White there and I had already
met the famous Elsie and Doris Waters there too, (Jack Warner of
'Dixon of Dock Green'' fame comedy sisters.)
cinemas provided the most choice. The Tower, Savoy, Rex, Globe, Chantry,
Ritz, Royal, Regal, Plaza, Rialto and Queens. It would be the Savoy
(then a Gaumont) where Id be watching "Dr No" with my
father on November 22nd a few years later and the manager came out to
tell us President Kennedy had been shot and sent us all home. I remember
we were all shocked. Some people cried. The Savoy is now a Macdonalds
sad to say.
If it was a Friday, it would be the one day in the week that my mother
and father would meet for lunch. It would nearly always be Chambers,
because my father Bob always ate lunch there, at the same table served
by the same waitress, Gladys, who had in turn served my Grandfather
Sam. I loved going to Chambers for lunch. The corner booth table, the
little three-piece orchestra, usually murdering something by Strauss
or Mozart and especially Gladys. Her tall willowy figure, always flustered,
but knowing all our names and what we might order. She always knew what
was cooked best in the kitchens. My father, would arrive in his business
suit and make a fuss of baby Sara and then me. I have no recollection
of any conversations, but I know I would nag Gladys slyly to try to
persuade the orchestra to play 'Teddy Bears Picnic' for me and that
became quite a ritual. They always played it, of course, and Id
go the circular railings and watch them saw away on the violin and bash
it out on the piano. Theyd then take little bows towards me, mocking
me I think, but at the same time appreciating that at least someone
My father would order something like partridge and it would come with
all the trimmings and several vegetables, all for about 4/6d. (46 pence
today.) Id probably be given liver and onions or steak and kidney
pie (things I would never eat now); my mother would be on a diet and
Sara would eat a grated carrot. Its funny, all I can recall is
the booth, the music, the smile on my fathers face, the burnished orange
texture of his tweed jacket but nothing of what was ever said.
Wed separate after the sweets. (Jelly and custard or apple pie)
and in a rush my mother would do the market getting vegetables
or cheeses from the stalls or kippers perhaps from the wet fish stall.
Id disappear, of course, usually to inhale one last fix of coffee
roasting, or race over to Betty Hartungs hairdressing shop to
say hello. Her young daughter and pianist Victoria would become a lifelong
friend until she moved to America.
I dont recall many of these visits because I was then sent away
to boarding school forever so the Grimsby I remember from my
youth is still vaguely medieval, rather than the place it is now. A
five-year-old knows nothing of what a town is really like, you just
know you way around it by smell and instinct. Above all old Grimsby
was a place of smells- a blind man would never need be lost. The bakers,
the fishmongers, Pettits the butcher with his pheasants hanging outside
the windows where you could stroke the still unplucked dead birds. The
heady scent of Hewitts Brewery alongside Pasture Street that was sometimes
so strong Id feel dizzy walking past. The steam trains that would
go to London direct in those days in just three hours via Alford, Boston
and Peterborough. The fish docks, the timber docks with my fathers
mill emitting ear splitting screeching from Swedish and Finnish timbers
being sawn for floorboards. I recall also the sawdust warehouse, the
contents of which my Dad would swop for free tickets to Billy Smarts
circus that came once a year to a field near Old Clee. I hated what
they did to the animals but the clowns were funny, unless they made
you join in!
Its a different place - different world. The surrounding elegant
homes of Grimsby around People's Park signify that once Grimsby was
something altogether more grand a hundred years ago. But like many other
towns in the sixties, it sold its soul to the devil (who apparently
was a scheming architect with a taste for ugly concrete), and destroyed
much that was worth keeping and built nothing that is worth saving.
By luck it has the excellent Freshney shopping centre in the middle
of town built in the late eighties that has kept the town cohesive and
focused. It escaped an out of town mall that has killed so many towns
across the world. But alas, no place there, that I know of, roasts coffee
Standing for that brief moment as a five year old again, you see with
astonishment that forty-five years ago the town still looks quite Victorian.
You realise that, even in 1958, half the population would have been
born when she was still Queen. Despite the wars and being in the dawn
of a new atomic era, the town was very old fashioned. I cant believe
that I too was born into a time that wouldnt look out of place
in a Miss Marple episode. Anyone young now transported there would probably
hate it. How drab it would seem. Only two TV channels, no mobile phones,
no computers, no nothing, save Saturday morning serials
at the cinema and maybe a dance at the Winter Gardens. If you looked
tall enough youd probably get into the many hundreds of pubs.
Of course, it was safer and there was something like full employment,
albeit in the fish docks or factories, nothing glamorous like real estate
or designer stores. A new home would cost all of 750 quid and they were
building council houses by the thousands back then. But for a five year
old, entering Chambers, passing by that roasting coffee drum, it was
as good as entering Aladdins cave (and a good deal safer) and
Im happy to have been there again today, even for a few seconds.
© Sam North
Jan 2004 -
Grimsby - The Dock Tower shown is a town of 120,000
people on the East Coast of UK
More by Sam-
If this is Global Warming - why am I so bloody cold?
all rights reserved