PRESTONPANS CO-OPERATIVE - Henry Fraser
It was my fourteenth birthday, Monday 17 March 1930. when I sat
the Store examination along with another 28 boys for the vacancy
of Apprentice Grocer, and on the 18th March I received a letter
in beautiful copperplate writing from Manager Joseph Marr telling
me I had been successful.
I started in East Loan which was then called the Preston Branch
and my First task was sweeping up and more sweeping up! It was
a fortnight before I was allowed to serve a customer! Bennie Neilson
was the Branch Manager and the assistants were Alex 'Poet' Grandison.
Matthew Moodie. Katie Thomson and Tommy Bell.
The training was thorough. I was shown how to bag sugar, rice.
lentils, peas and flour, cut butter into half pounds from a large
slab and prepare the great big cheeses by stripping off the cloth
and cutting it with a wire. An experienced grocer could cut the
butter and cheese exactly to the half-pound or quarter, whatever
was asked for. I was shown how to bone hams. cut cold meats on
the slicing machine to the thickness required, ham and tongue
were thinner than bacon, and how to lay it out nicely. Everything
was done properly from folding a bag of sugar to cutting the knuckles
out of the Belfast hams with special narrow knives. There were
some pre-packed goods such as S C W S Shieldhall packets of semolina
and custard. Bluebell Margarine from Twynholm and Go/d Margarine
which was made in Craigmillar. The big cheeses and some of the
bacon came from the Kirkpatrick Dairy in Thornhill. Danish butter
came in big casks and after we knocked the hoops off them the
boys got them for making "draygon" kites. Soap powders
such as Al. Ammonia Powder from Grangemouth and Acdo tablets were
popular, tubs of soft soap came from Mellis's and then there were
Peerless soaps from Grangemouth. White Windsor and Blue Mottled
soaps also. Brasso was used to keep the door knobs shining and
Zebo to black-lead the grates. Pipeclay terracotta and White London
sandstone was used to Finish off the clean steps.
We started work at 8am and finished at 6pm on Monday. Tuesday.
Thursday and Saturday. Wednesday we finished at 12noon as we had
a half-day, and Friday was 7pm. Annual holidays were two week
in the summer months.
I liked the friendly atmosphere at the Store and the Boss. he
was a great man to work for. Isa (Nisbet) started in 1932 pushing
a Store milk barrow which was a heavy job for a girl. In 1934
she came to the Preston Branch Bakery section and it was then
we got friendly but it was many. many years before we married.
At Preston Lodge I sat my book-keeping exam and also a Co-operative
history course for Store employees. Then I went to Bellevue Night
School in Broughton Street. Edinburgh where I took window dressing
and studied tea and cheese and found the late Sandy Harkess there
taking the same subjects. I was given full training on the job
but that still meant five years improving and another four before
you were a fully fledged grocer - a total of nine years.
At the time I started there were no houses beyond Polwarth Terrace,
so we served the area east of East Loan. The centre of the town
used the Central Branch in the High Street and Summerlee folk
went to the West End Branch also in the High Street and where
the Lady Susan is now. The original Co-operative building was
at the top of Harlaw Hill, looking up the Loan and the clasped
hands still shown on a house wall are a permanent reminder of
the start in 1869.
Prestonpans Co-operative Society served the local people with
everything they were ever likely to need. The two smaller Preston
and West End branches supplied mainly food, including bakery,
and the present-day optician's shop was divided into two. One
side was the confectioner's where Lily Paterson served and the
other was occupied by the barber, Jimmy Ross. In Kirk Street.
Hugh Stewart was in charge of the Joinery and also provided full
funeral and undertaking services. There was a Blacksmith's in
the High Street, opposite Safeway's, where Wull Boyd and Peter
Ralton worked and Bobbie Blair was apprentice.
Central Branch, however, offered all that a modern supermarket
has. On the ground floor there was the main grocery, which also
had fruit and vegetables and bread, scones, buns, pies and cakes.
supplied from the Bakery down at the back of the building where
bakers Jake Smith, Jimmy Paterson. Tommy Smith, Tom Kennoway and
Joe Rowberry all worked with Jocky Edmond and Nessie Cruikshank
in the Bread Dispatch. Also down the back was Colin Campbell.
the Cobbler, whose staff were kept busy with repairs on all sorts
of footwear from school shoes to miners' tacketty boots. On street
level there was a separate butcher's shop where Jock Logie was
in charge of George Marr. Jock Rowberry. George Cunningham. Ian
McLeod and Alex Watson. From the street a marble staircase with
a beautiful wooden bannister led up to the second floor where
there was the office and then the millinery and ladies section
with Miss Darg, Agnes Sanders and Maggie Knox. the footwear with
Miss Thomson and Mr Alex Harkess had the gent's outfitting section.
Upstairs, as in the main shop downstairs, a system was in force
which sent cash and slips in a small cylinder through a series
of pipes to the cash desk and any change and slip being returned
in the same way. Of course, the member's store number was needed
at all times to be used on the slips so that the dividend could
be calculated at the end of every half year. Care had to be taken
when cigarettes were sold as dividend was given on the S.C.W.S
brand of Cogent and Straight Cut but not on the other popular
brands of Capstan and Woodbine. Woodbines were sold in small paper
packets of Five but some miners bought them in boxes of 1.000
if there were two or three smokers in the family! Thick and Thin
black tobacco were very popular with pipe smokers and others to
chew underground as the miners were not allowed to smoke there.
Shop assistants complain about the difficult customers they have
today but I think they were worse in the old days. One in particular
used to come at five minutes to six every Saturday night and we
all had to muck in to get her list of shopping together before
closing time. We all wanted home on time then as it was pictures
night! Anyway, this lady complained about the slice of fat bacon
in her order when she had ordered lean but she was politely told
that the slicing machine was washed and cleaned by 5.55pm so that
it was ready for Monday morning. Anyone coming after that time
just had to take what was already cut!
Eventually. I started driving after I learned on a Bean Store
van with a gate change! Tommy Bogie and van were attached to the
West End branch and my van duties were to look after all the wants
of Preston branch, deliver orders, transfer goods from the Central
branch such as bakery, to bring it up to Isa who later was in
the Cash Desk which attended to the Dividend slips as well as
cash. I was there until WWII brought changes to everyone.
One of the changes was the supply of milk. Penicuik Co-operative
supplied it and there was a friendly rivalry between the two stores
when they played a football match once a year. A Ford T-type van
took the team and supporters to Penicuik but when we came to Lasswade.
everyone had to get out to help it up the brae! In 1940 when fuel
was in short supply, the milk started coming from Tranent Co-op
Dairy farm but originally, of course. Prestonpans had its own
byres and dairy in Castlepark grounds.
I left Isa at the Waverley Station in March 1940 and when I Ianded
at Colombo. Ceylon in the July I found that my knowledge of tea
created an unexpected diversion. There were about twenty-kiosks
stationed along the grassy links and they were serving the 4,000
soldiers from the ships with tea. What else! When they asked if
I wanted sugar and milk. I refused and said it should be taken
on its own. I sniffed the tea and said that it was a Pekoe leaf
and before I was finished I had tasted and named twenty cups of
different tea until it was nearly coming out of my ears! I was
quite chuffed that I was able to distinguish them all although
my mates could hardly believe it!
After a spell in STALAG XVIII I arrived back home in June 1945.
Isa and I were married and got one of the Store houses at Beach
Cottage in the High Street. At work. I was posted to the Central
Branch which I did not like as much as Preston. Times and people
and standards were different and there was a lot of unrest.
Two Travelling Shops were created. Tommy Bogie in one and I did
the other. This was a new concept and it worked well in Prestonpans
but there were still a lot of undercurrents which I did not like
and eventually I wanted away from even the van. I handed in my
notice and Dougal Robertson told me there was a job at Hill Thomson's,
the whisky distillers and so I went there in 1954 as a van driver.
Through time it became Glenlivet and then Seagram's. so there
were a lot of changes. I was made Manager of the Edinburgh warehouse
and stayed there until I retired.
There is still a Store in Prestonpans. but it no longer has the
influence that it once had. Too much competition, but that's progress!
The letter received by Henry in
1930 telling him he had passed the exam and that he could start
work a." apprentice grocer.