COLUMN: Looking Back with Pete Colman

A Ripon shop of the past: Eden's fruit merchant ' date unknown.
A Ripon shop of the past: Eden's fruit merchant ' date unknown.

In his last ever Looking Back column, Pete takes a nostalgic look at the shops of Ripon’s past and looks at some dark secrets:

The days when almost every street in Ripon had its own corner shop seem to be long gone.

The high street of the past was full of smaller specialised and interesting shops All the shopkeepers were friendly and knew you by name. There wasn’t much variety as we have today but everything was locally grown and locally made on the premises.

There were lots of small corner sweet shops in Ripon we loved going in to spend our pennies on sweets and somehow always managed to end up with more in the bag than the money should have bought.

Before we leave the corner shop, our first dark secret emerges from Fanny Little’s shop which was on the top of Lickley Street. Under the counter, sales went on in the form of selling Woody Woodbines.

This was done by buying one Woodbine and two matches which were wrapped in a small sweet bag (not that I bought any) and were sold to you when no-one was about.

Looking at Queen’s Street today, you can hardly imagine that space once permitted another street. In the 1700s, it was known as the Flesh Shambles with the amount of butcher shops there.

John Rayner, a draper, was not impressed by the amount of compensation he was offered to demolish his shop during the 1902 street-widening. The situation, however, could not last, and in 1905 compensation of £8,000 was agreed and the building came down.

Rayner’s relocated to new premises close by, with Queen’s Street being basically as it is today – the widest street leading into the Market Place.

Hodgson’s fishing tackle and gunsmith’s shop was next door to the new Rayner Shop, and was popular with fishermen until it closed in 1987. Shops were proper family-owned, some examples were Winsor’s Fish and Game shop. They were at 15 North Street for nearly 100 years until 1968.

Another was W B Moss and Son’s grocers of Otley and Hitchin which opened in Ripon in 1899 and were at the corner of the Arcade.

The Arcade was quite a novelty when it was first opened with visions of Ripon being developed into a modern city.

The businesses that started there soon dwindled away, people just passed it by as if it had never existed. It was demolished in 1963.

Another dark secret was buying items on tick – or on the “never never”. Most major items were bought on the “never never”.

John (Jackie) Briscombe’s shop on Kirkgate was one of the shops where you could get “on tick” and I remember the big book that Jackie would drop on the counter (as big as the Domesday Book) before flipping through the pages and telling you what “credit” you had run up. This was always kept quiet and you only entered the shop when no-one was looking down Kirkgate.

My third and last dark secret came from the old hairdressers’ shops of Ripon: Dixons, Steels, Gordon Tempest, Blackburn’s, Smithson’s, Metcalf’s, Wilson’s and Rita Wadley’s, and they had an old saying which went along the lines of :“Something for the weekend, sir?”

As a young lad sat on the wooden board in the chair waiting for my short back and sides cut, it was a mystery to me why the hairdresser always asked the men as they paid for the haircut, do they need something for the weekend. Only later did I find out this was a discreetly way of selling condoms.

A special mention must be made to the “Man Dressed in Black” – not Johnny Cash, but Paul the hairdresser. Paul came to Ripon in the mid-1960s from London with his first shop being at 66 North Street before moving to 20 Westgate and then moving onto the bottom of High Skellgate.

The reason for this mention is he was the first hairdresser in Ripon where young lads could have a modern fashion cut and not just the boring short back and sides plastered down with Brylcreem we used to have done.

With the influence of supermarkets, shopping has changed so much in Ripon. They first came to the city with small supermarket shops like U-Save, Hinton’s, Lipton’s, and the Maypole.

When I see the children of today, I wonder what memories they will hold as they grow older and will they look back with nostalgia at their childhood memories.