Echoes of the past: Changes to Commercial Street

Commercial Street in the 1950s
Commercial Street in the 1950s

You often hear people say that little has changed in Brighouse town centre. While some of the names may have changed and the ground floor windows have been modernised, it is the first floor where things have often stayed the same and where aspects of a town centre’s history can be found.

Looking back to the 1970s, there have been changes in our town - some traders have come and some have moved on or retired. Once it was the Co-op that dominated our town centre where you could buy almost everything, and the benefit of the ‘divvy’ (dividend) to look forward to was an obvious attraction for many families.

But sadly the Co-op, which opened in Brighouse in 1856, is no more, but many will have happy memories of it. Only this week I was a guest speaker at a residential home in York and met someone who was a retired butchery manager from the Brighouse Co-op. He could recall his days there and spoke of Walter Bond, who went on to be the general manager who I sure many readers will remember.

Clifford Sutcliffe, who was the manager of the tailoring department, was one of the old school of tailors. He could take one look at you and instinctively knew your waist and inside leg size. Downstairs, which is now M&Co, you would see Jack Bray, who could always advise on the best shirt and on hand to advise on those stocking fillers that mothers, wives and girlfriends would buy for Christmas.

With the arrival of the large supermarkets and other new names in the town centre, the Brighouse shopping experience is now much wider. With more specialist shops the town overall is better, with Commercial Street being its heart.

There was a time when girls who were engaged or dating seriously (that used to be called courting) would often visit the town centre to buy something each week for what was referred to as her ‘Bottom-Drawer’. This would be things like bedding, towels, tea towels, cutlery and other similar smaller items of kitchen equipment. Now how often do you hear that? Most would not have a clue what you were talking about.

Most young couples had little to nothing back then when they moved into their new home, whether it was bought with a mortgage or a rented property. A bit of carpet from this relative, an oddment of three piece suite and maybe a small black and white TV - you did not have much but you were happy. The pleasure of saving up for something and its eventual arrival to your home was a great event.

At some of the speaking engagements I have visited over the years, some of the members have often told me about the receipts their late husband has saved. Hundreds of them and each one relating to things they have bought during their long lives together. Each one a story in its own right, the very first washer from the Co-op, new bedroom furniture from Oliver Hinchliffe’s in Bradford Road. These faded receipts are just small pieces of paper but to the widow or widower they reveal so much about the lives they had together.

I remember buying our first carpet at Direct Carpet in Bethel Street more than forty years ago. Mr Michael Armitage, the, owner was the person who served us. He was in the wartime ATC with our dad, so when a little bit of credit was needed it was no problem. He had been in business so long he knew everyone’s dad, so there was no ducking or failing to pay-up.

Then it was time to look for a TV - no thoughts on buying one in those days, it was a visit to DER, Granada or Radio Rentals to rent one. Most of used rented major electrical appliances back then. Earlier generations of ‘newly- weds’ would have bought a real piece of furniture in the form of an Ambassador radio from Stillingfleet and Harper’s on Commercial Street. I wonder how many readers still have anything from their first home or wedding presents they had bought all those years ago?

In those days you had to save up which was the advice drummed in by your parents – save up for it, or do without until you can afford it and always get the best you can afford. Good advice even today.