by Walton Gale
Published August 2012
In the early 1930s J W Woolworth & Co. had a three penny and six penny store in Old Town Street. If you walked right through the store and left by the rear entrance, you found yourself in the Market Square, just a few yards from the covered market in Frankfort Street.
Those who were unable to afford a covered pitch parked their handcarts along Frankfort Street. On a winters afternoon each cart would carry a napptha flare illuminating their fruit piled in high pyramids with Jaffa oranges where are they now?- together with highly polished apples. The Market Square itself housed some remarkable characters.
Dr Barrow parked his Rolls Royce there and thought nothing of resetting a dislocated shoulder or wrist, right there before your eyes! He didn’t even charge for his services!
The Chocolate Kid sold chocolates from a large van. He would make up a parcel of well known makes of blocks of chocolate and run a Dutch auction. It was possible to buy a substantial amount of chocolate for a few shillings, but who on earth, in those days, could afford to buy it? He must have made a living though, presumably by undercutting the normal shop prices
We mustn’t forget the man who sold razor blades hundreds of them, of all kinds, the names of which he recited in a rapid tirade Blue Gillette, Hurrying Man, Evening Shadow, Morning Star, to name but a few! Then there was old George Ebury, selling books and talking of the great lives of those people lucky enough to live in Russia under the rule of a benign Joseph Stalin!
The tone of the proceedings changed somewhat in the evenings. Plymouth teenagers youths, we called them then assembled in the Square. Dockyard apprentices and those from the building sites arrived there, having covered their knuckles with adhesive tape, possibly the day before. They stood around with their hands thrust deep into their pockets, so that these simple knuckle dusters could not be seen by the policeman who was keeping a watching brief.
As a youngster, you allied yourself to one of the opposing political factions. You became a member of the YCL Young Communist League or the BUF British Union of Fascists. I don’t recall a visit by Sir Oswald Moseley himself, but he sent one of his Yes men to beat up the opposition. At some unspecified time during the evening, the battle would commence and those of us who didn’t want to take part, went off to the cinema instead! 7d (3p) for a seat in the Empire Cinema in Union Street, was preferable to a beating!
One result of the political battle was that when the police moved in to restore order, one Plymouth senior police officer had the embarrassing experience of arresting his own son, re-splendent in his new black shirt. That lad, if he is still alive, is now in Australia.
If whilst reading this fascinating account, it has reminded you of something which we no longer enjoy or not in Plymouth, today, why not send in an article which could be included in the next edition of our newsletter. What may seem ordinary to you, is history which unless recorded now, will be lost forever! Please send any entries – handwritten or not -to Gloria Dixon or Barry Corey