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Part 2: No Superstores, but ........

Looking back to the early 1950s, one of the most remarkable aspects of the village was its level of self-sufficiency. Nowadays, it is difficult to imagine a village of comparable size supporting not only a fair number of everyday shops, but a Hospital, a Draper, a Watchmaker, a Shoemaker, two Blacksmiths, a Gents' Tailor, a Bank and a Police Station.

Food shopping was taken care of by three shops - Giles beside the school, JM Mackie down near the Ythan, and a third which changed hands a number of times (Beaton’s then Dempster’s), on the main Aberdeen road. The first two were much more than convenience food stores, and Mackie's in particular carried an enormous range of merchandise from binder twine and barbed wire to galvanised baths and bee-keeping supplies. The shop also had a mobile shop operating from a van which visited the outlying farms and hamlets, and a small satellite shop at Inverythan.

It should be remembered that no shops were Self Service, and everything was sold over the counter by the grocer or his assistants. In addition, only a small proportion of grocery products were prepacked. Many commodities, from flour and dried fruit to biscuits and sugars, were delivered to the shop in bulk and were either packed up by the grocer, or sold loose by weight. The existence of Resale Price Maintenance meant that a tin of beans cost the same in a small village shop as in a large city store, so the existence of small retailers was not yet threatened on this score.

Mackie's was also the base for the Tailor, who beavered away in solitude on a huge cutting table upstairs. I think he was the first of the specialised trades to disappear, since I don't remember him being there after 1952. (Gordon Simpson has recently added the information that the last tailor was his grandfather). The Shoemaker remained until the death of the last owner in about 1958; I suppose that the Watchmaker's did not survive much longer, since Mr Hutcheon was already fairly elderly when I last saw him at about the same time.

Helen Taylor has detailed memories of another tailor’s shop at Woodhead : The Tailors shop always had a fire on to heat the large, heavy goose irons which were used for pressing. The tailor used woollen cloth, serge and tweed, to make made to measure gentlemen's suits. The tailor - Mr Smith - sat crossed legs on the table by the window. Hand sewing the material with long basting stitches and then using a treadle sewing machine for the main stitching. He had large reels of thread and a long very sharp scissors and discs of chalk for marking the pattern onto the cloth. The empty wooden reels were kept and used to make the upright columns for a shelved whatnot.

The Smithies were wonderful places for a child to watch and wonder - I rather think we had much closer access than current Health & Safety legislation would approve!! Horse-shoeing was already only a minor part of the work, but repairing farm machinery and other activities still involved the spectacular play of furnace, bellows and anvil. George Manson (I'm not certain of the forename) was the smith next door to our house, and he seemed to us a giant completely in line with storybook notions of a village blacksmith. Helen Taylor remembers the other smiddy being run by Charlie Esslemont.

Other food trades were served by the Co-op Baker on the main Aberdeen Road, and by Simpson’s a genuine sawdust-on- the- floor Butcher on the road up to the War Memorial. A small Sweetshop and CafĂ© operated as the "Woodbine" on the main road, and had its glory days when school picnics from other towns came to the football pitch opposite.

The Post Office moved a few times, and was at different times opposite the garage on the main road, and next to the bus station opposite the old school.

Milk was obtained in a number of ways - there was ordinary doorstep delivery, but there was also the daily trip to Coutts' Farm for the freshest possible product of his Ayrshires straight from the cooler into our metal can, or the special treat of the high-cream Jersey milk from the Castle Home Farm herd.

I have a vague memory of a travelling fish van, possibly weekly, and would be interested if anyone can confirm any details.

Outside the food trades, there was the Draper's shop owned by Miss Minty, with its amazingly wide range of knitting wools in every conceivable colour. Haberdashery items were also sold by Smith's the Newsagent next to Manson's Smiddy, but were only a small part of a stock which was wide and varied in stationery, greetings cards, fancy goods, gifts and many other bits and pieces.

The Chemist's was down beside the Garage on the Aberdeen Road, and had the unusual sideline of being the source of the newspapers on Sunday mornings, when everything else was closed. The said Garage was the one I have already mentioned for the charging of wet batteries; since we did not possess a car I am unsure about the range of its other services. For those of us on two wheels, there was Ranald Ferguson’s repair shop up near the school for the fixing of damaged bicycles and their delicate tyres.

Eating and drinking outside the home was not hugely catered for - the Ythan Bar was small and basic in the extreme with a small area of standing room only. The Vale Hotel certainly functioned, but apart from paying to watch their TV, as I have said, I have no memory of my family ever going there.

My recollections are seriously deficient outside the retail trades, and I would love to hear from anyone who can fill in the gaps. Although I could see and now remember the shops and other trades with open premises, it was naturally my parents and not I who would have dealt with other experts. There must at least have been an electrician, and a plumber, and possibly someone who did building repairs, but since their activities did not impinge on my youthful pursuits I can pass on nothing useful. Since I wrote that, Helen Taylor has listed
"Eddies the Slaters, Willie Beaton the joiner, Ogston, masons and house builders, and Ogston’s garage at Mansefield."