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A Fish and Chips Shop in Your Front Room

Would you think of such an enterprise nowadays? In, and well before, the 1920’s / 1930’s quite a few Barton people had done just that! They had seen a place in the quick, easy to handle food market and they did put a fish and chip frying range in their front room, the room that was accessed through the front door from the street outside. It made a change from leaving it as cold as cold until it was next required for a wedding or funeral did it not?
I imagine it is difficult for todays younger people to imagine, to realise, that at that time there was no such such thing as a Chinese, Italian or Indian restaurant or take aways, no licenced restaurants and as far as I remember only the George Hotel had a dining room. In fact the only fast food to be had with your pint in the pubs was a plate of mushy peas or cockles bought from the indefatigable and industrious Jim Sharpe. He did his rounds of the town on the weekends, suitably attired in a white jacket, carrying his basket which he refilled from further hot supplies ferried from home on Butts Road by his daughter, using the family Pram.

I had been looking up some Barton facts in Kelly’s 1930 Directory. Kelly told me that the population of Barton in 1930 was about 6,500 and among the other statistics was the listing of 9 Fish Fryers. I thought that to my own knowledge there was more than that and so this article was born.

Then whilst I was still wondering whether to bother to write a few words or not I read, in the magazine ‘Yours’ ( Jan.2005), that the title of Fish and Chip shop of the Year was up for grabs. The article said that nowadays Cod and Chips generally cost about £5.00 but at the prestigious Rick Stein establishment in Cornwall Cod and Chips was a modest £17.50. Asked what made it special he said only fresh cod and thick cut chips were used and added, ‘ the secret is in our Grade A Dripping’.

Well, well. As I remember it Grade A dripping was de rigeur in Barton and Humberside generally and one could sometimes see the large blocks in the pans, gradually rendering down as the fierce coal fires upped the temperature to the appropriate working level. I did know of one alleged exception. A fish and chip shop, the Cadora cafe, opened in the house next door to the then GPO in Burgate, the premises are now used as a Computer Training Centre. Much to the dismay of the Barton Trads. it was said that cooking oil was the frying medium. Shock!, Horror indeed! By the way. The fish of choice for the customers then, and mostly now, was Haddock, most certainly in Hull and Grimsby. I was told that the trawler men held that the humble cod was a ‘bottom’ feeder living on the detritus as well as the available natural small sea life and organisms. The implication was that the lordly Haddock fed at higher level on a strictly seaborne diet, a sort of discriminating organic individual - hence the customer preference. A little anecdote if you, the reader, can stand it. One fine day I was in the queue at Ernie Beckets shop in Cleethorpes Market Place, the pans were full of haddock and skate and orders plentiful. A lady, obviously a day tripper or holiday maker came just inside the door and asked if there was any Cod to be had . Well. H.M.Bateman the cartoonist would have had a field day registering in his inimitable way the range of facial expressions of staff and customers. Cod indeed! Whatever next. Told that no cod was available and that no one knew of any establishment that dare sell such a thing, she said, by way of explanation, ‘My husband will only eat Cod’.

Well, no accounting for taste is there? Sorry about that. Back to Barton. Some of your readers will remember some of the fish and chip shops that were indeed , front room shops in a terrace type house .
Here is how it was done. A coal fired range was placed on the party wall with the next door house, the cooking pans of the range were heated from the coal fires placed one at each end of the range, the smoke went up the communal chimney. The ranges usually had two pans but there little difference in application between them and the more modern gas or electrically heated ranges. But let us take an example. The shop in Queens Avenue has not long been closed, the sign was still on the outside wall when last I saw the house. In my day it was West’s fish and chip shop. Mrs West (Gertie West) had it. The range was against next door’s wall. The staff stood and worked in front of the hot pans and behind them was a counter which ran across the full width of the room. It consisted of the serving counter, a broad shelf on which was arranged clean white paper for the initial wrapping and piles of opened out newspapers in which the order in the plain clean paper was wrapped. Newspaper has remarkable insulating properties. Usually a chip cutting device stood here. The front of the counter was a narrower higher part on which stood salt and vinegar servers. Some bottles of ‘pop’ could be bought if required. The fully wrapped or opened out order, opened if customer wanted to put salt and vinegar on it, was placed on this and then it was on with the next customer. As may be imagined there was very little room for the customers between the counter and back wall but order prevailed. If the weather was bad, rain or very cold then there was a tendency to crowd in, ‘Push Up a Bit’. At this shop ,on a busy Saturday Dinner time, one could hear a muttering, a sigh almost of resignation, when one young lady took her turn to order, everyone knew that her orders were long and involved since she fetched the fish and chips for her own family and many other in her street. Queue discipline prevailed and good manners forbade any audible complaint.

Let us get to the actual shops. Who remembers Walter Guy in his small establishment at the end of Barracloughs Lane on Waterside road? I suppose he drew trade from the houses at the Point, the brickyards, Ings Road. The Sloop Inn and Waterside Tavern would provide some trade as would the casual callers taking their evening stroll down to the Point. The next nearest was Bob Johnson’s shop in the front room of his small house, opposite the Railway Station and just to the right of the end of Castledyke West. As I recall one had to negotiate a step down into this quite small shop. Next, in Fleetgate, but on the other side of that same junction the somewhat larger shop of H.Grassby, there is a space and a telephone kiosk there now. He also kept some milking cows in a byre just about where the road bends. Tom Grassby was still there in business in the early 1950’s. A little further along Fleetgate , about opposite the Steam Packet , now ‘Charlies’, was Martin’s. This was another ‘front room’ shop, it had been Chas. Harness’s. From Fleetgate, turning into Newport there was another front room establishment, Hedley’s, This was in the long row of terrace houses on the south Side. The service there was not rapid and it provoked many unkind remarks. When the house was finally sold I am told that the old range was still in situ. Leaving Newport and going into High Street the next shop, not a front room one, was Mr. and Mrs. Alan MacIntyres, the ‘Surma’ Restaurant stands there now.

Next, in Burgate and just beyond Marsh Lane end was the shop I knew as ‘the Cadora Cafe’, this was next to the former GPO, now a Computer Training Centre

In the 1930 Kelly’s a Mr. Ernest Wright is listed here. No. 54 Burgate I believe. The Cadora Cafe. When it first opened it was said, shock! horror! that the frying medium was cooking oil. This was a radical departure from established practice in Barton. It was still fish and chips though and it was bought.

Going towards the Market Place, the next shop was Turners, this was where the present George Street Shop is situated. In the Market Place a Mr. Matthew’s had his shop in the block now occupied by Mr. Ready. There were others. As mentioned above Mrs. West had her shop in Queens Avenue, Mrs.Brown presided over her shop accessed from Butts Road. This shop was part of the outbuildings of Mr. & Mrs. Brown’s house which stands on the corner of Marsh Lane and Butts Road. An example of the minor requests made generally for pennorth’s of chips is that quite a few of us children used to play around the long seat which stood in front of the heavy fence which stood across the Drain and I was elected to take our pennies and ask for eleven one pennyworth’s of chips. No problem, eleven pence was elevenpence in those days. There was another establishment in Pasture Road or Sheepdyke as it was known to many. This was not a bricks and mortar building, it was almost opposite the Anchor Brewery. I seem to remember a corrugated iron roof at least. The ladies who presided were also called Brown but were not related to the others.

None of these establishments had any seating arrangements, not even a form along the back wall, a form such as one sat on in one of the Hull Market Place fish and chip stalls.( Does anyone else remember the hungry eyed, barefooted children who waited in that market for any generously minded customer to give them something to eat? The late 1920’s and early 30’s were ‘lean’ times, even in Barton.) I was told that the Cadora started to serve meals in the back room but I don’t know this myself. A fish and some chips, ‘one of each’ was threepence. Some scraps could had on request. At times a small whole haddock, a ‘chat’ or chad haddock, was available for a penny or twopence more. Wow1 One or two of the shops, mindful of the times, would serve a twopenny ‘one of each’, a small piece of fish with some chips. Of course there was no shortage of potatoes in this mainly agricultural county and the fishing ports of Grimsby and Hull could provide all that the Humberside outlets desired. Fish came into Barton by way of the LNER, in the Guard’s Vans of passenger trains, packed in ice in strongly made wooden boxes. As one may imagine the Vans all had a distinctive fishy odour. Not at all pleasant if a pram or something similar had to be accommodated and accompanied. There was one retail fishmonger, Mr. Bennet in George Street, this was near the side entrance to the Bank, about where Weaver and Wroot have an office.
About the three fish and chip shops still retailing here. The George Street shop is on the same site as was Turners. The shop at the corner of Finkle Lane is in the shop once operated by Messrs Eastman, Butchers, they owned many shops nationally and sold good quality frozen meat. Naturally Barton people called it the ‘Frozzie’ shop. The shop in Market Lane is in what was one of the cottages owned by Kirkby’s Mill and occupied by their employees. My Grandfather, Harry Coulam, was a waggoner and Miller and he lived in the end cottage, now the Fish and Chip shop. My Mother was born in that cottage in the late 1800’s

Article kindly supplied by Charles Watkinson


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