Nostalgia with Margaret Watson: Val seeks old pals from days working in Dewsbury shops
Most of us have forgotten how easy it used to be to get a job in the 1950s and 60s compared with today.
Nearly everyone who left school could be sure of getting a job and if they lost it they knew they could get another one pretty quickly – sometimes on the same day – with no references or CVs needed.
This is what happened to Valerie Riding (née Atkinson) when she lost her first job in a Dewsbury chemist’s shop shortly after leaving Templefield School in 1966.
Recently she wrote to me in the hope of tracing some of the friends she worked with in those early days before going to train to be a nurse.
Hers is a heartwarming story and one which will bring back memories of what Dewsbury used to be like in those days.
Val, as she is known to her family and friends, now lives in Huddersfield but she says her heart is still in Dewsbury.
The following is a copy of Val’s letter in which she talks about the two places where she worked before going into nursing:
“When I left school in 1966 I went to work at Timothy Whites chemist in Dewsbury. I was 15 going on 16, and the manager’s name was Mr Brooke.
“I enjoyed the job, even though I was only going to be there short-term because I had applied to go nursing either to hospitals in Dewsbury or Huddersfield.
“I told someone I worked with I had done this and they told the boss. He then called the area manager, Mr Bottomley, who rang my father and asked him to come down.
“I was fired immediately, something which couldn’t happen today, and my father never forgave me. I was the only one in the family who this had happened to. He always said I had brought disgrace on the family.
“I walked through Dewsbury and saw a sign in the window of Wigglesworth’s shop at the bottom of Daisy Hill and went in.
“I explained my situation and started work the next day. It was a fancy goods shop, selling china, crockery, glassware, ornaments and knitting wool.
“The staff at Wigglesworth’s were lovely. There were two older ladies, Mrs Peel and Mrs Squires, and a young girl like myself called Ann Reid.
“It was a pleasure to work there. We all got on very well and whenI left a few months later to commence my nursing career at Huddersfield, they gave me a little party with a cake.
“I am now 62 years old and retired from nursing after a varied nursing career starting at 16 years old.
“My mind often goes back to those days and I wonder if anyone can remember the shops, now closed, and have they any stories to tell or pictures to share?
“I am sure Mr Brooke, Mr Bottomley, Mrs Peel and Mrs Squires will be long gone. They seemed mature people to me, a mere 15-year-old.
“There was also Jean, who had red hair, and Lynn, who had blonde hair, who were both slightly older than me, and Ann Reid.
“I wonder if any of them are still around. I would like to see them again. The last I heard of Ann she was married with children and living in Scout Hill.
“How lovely it would be to see her again. She was a lovely person. I often wonder why I never kept in touch with these people, but I guess my career took over.”
Val, who used to live in Thornhill Lees , laughingly recalls the memorable day that a young gentleman came into Timothy White’s chemist and asked her out on a date.
She recalls: “He was on leave from the Navy. His name was Steve Walsh, and he came from Dewsbury Moor.
“He had brought in a film to be developed, and he asked me out. We went to the pictures a couple of times and then I never saw him again. As I remember, he was tall, dark and handsome.
“But as they say – a girl in every port – and I guess I was his girl in Dewsbury. Where is he now? You could say he was my first boyfriend, along with my first job.
“I think in those days I was paid £3 a week, working six days, with a half day off on Tuesday – no Sunday opening in those days.
“I also remember Josie who worked at Timothy Whites, and Ethel the cleaner, a lovely lady who made us milky coffee and gave us red Waifa biscuits. What a wonderful mixture.
“They say tastes and smells take us back to wonderful times. That mixture certainly does for me. Our coffee break was just 10 minutes - standing up in the backroom.
“ Life is so very different today. It almost seems like this story belongs to a forgotten world. Dewsbury then was a lovely town, full of lovely people with lots of good shops.
“It has lost its sparkle in recent years, but I am still loyal to the place.
“My family live here and I return regularly, sit on the seats on Longcauseway and dream of happier times.
“I live in Huddersfield but my heart will always be in Dewsbury.”
Many local people will remember Val when she worked at Dewsbury Hospital during the last 10 years of her nursing career.
She was the liaising sister at Dewsbury running the discharge lounge, making sure that patients were discharged correctly.
“We didn’t send them home at three in the morning as can be the case today. We made sure everything was right for them at home, and that all the services they would require were in place.
“All this was done before they were formally discharged.”
Val did her general training at Huddersfield which included midwifery, school nursing and district nursing.
Val is sorry she lost contact with the people she worked with before going into nursing, and would love to hear from them.
“I spent only a year in the two jobs at Dewsbury but they were very special to me,” she said.”
If you would like to get back in contact with Val, ring the Reporter team on 01924 468282, and we will pass on her phone number.
Alternatively you can email me at [email protected] and I will pass on details.