Tag Archives: supermarket

Chilli Chimps

The site now occupied by Tesco on the corner of Chillingham Road and Tosson Terrace was once, as many readers will know, a cinema. Sadly, the Scala (always pronounced, as was stressed at a recent Heaton History Group talk, Scay-la) became a victim of the growing popularity of television, closing its doors for the last time over 50 years ago on 1 July 1961. The photograph below appears in ‘Cinemas of Newcastle’ by Frank Manders (Tyne Bridge Publishing, 2005):

Scala cinema Chillingham Road

Former Heaton resident, ‘RS’ has only vague memories of it:

Being only six when The Scala closed, I would have been too young to have been allowed to go there on my own, but there is a vague memory of having visited there once, with a friend and his older sister. Certainly however, even at that young age, I was entrusted to make my own way to and from Ravenswood Primary School, and the most direct route by which to do so would have taken me past The Scala twice a day. To sum up: I may have visited it once, and must have seen it on many occasions, yet my memories of the building are faint.

However, he has much clearer memories of what came next. The world of retailing was changing and the old Scala was eventually demolished to make way for what RS believes to have been Chillingham Road’s – and, possibly, Heaton’s – first supermarket, a ‘Fine Fare’.

The writer was there, standing on the pavement with many others – trust me, it was a big deal at the time, and there was quite a crowd – at its grand opening.

I recall a bright but chilly Saturday morning and, if so, a best guess would be for sometime in the spring of 1965, when I would have been nine or ten. Predictably enough, there was a ribbon to be cut, and men in suits officiating, likely to have been a director of Fine Fare and a perhaps a local councillor. And there was a show business presence as well. On that Chillingham Road pavement, outside the Fine Fare, was a female celebrity, who I believe may have been a pop singer of the time. Now we’re not talking someone with the profile of Cilla, Dusty or Lulu here, but there was definitely someone from showbiz. I recall her having dark hair, and am tempted to have a guess at her identity … but no, that’s all it would be – a guess.

Star attractions

But there’s more – the main attraction, in fact. On that pavement, right in front of the shop entrance, there was placed at least one trestle table – maybe more – where the star guests performed their familiar routine, well known to ITV viewers since 1956. Yes, two or three of the Brooke Bond PG Tips chimpanzees had been brought along and – suitably and safely harnessed – were put through a traditional ‘chimps’ tea party’ act, for the benefit and amusement of the assembled crowd. At least we were all led to believe they were the genuine Brooke Bond TV chimps, hitherto only ever seen in black and white: it didn’t seem to be in the spirit of the occasion to ask for proof of their identities, and they may have been random, Geordie-based chimps for all anyone could tell. But on reflection – probably not. The demanding of autographs was also judged to be an unrealistic option. And then it was all over – no doubt much to the chagrin of the various grocers, butchers, bakers etc. of that stretch of Chillingham Road, now faced with the arrival of a new form of retailing which would do their own businesses no favours at all.

I shopped at the Fine Fare from time to time myself, and actually ended up working there, after school on two evenings a week and on Saturdays, in the early ’70s, when in my mid-teens, tasked with filling the freezer cabinets, but unfortunately without the benefit of an incipient frostbite allowance.

No longer resident in Heaton, I still occasionally drive past the premises noting occasional changes in ownership and name. And, after a gap of probably over four decades, one afternoon in the summer of 2013, I finally ventured back inside. On leaving the old, former Fine Fare, I lingered on the pavement outside for a few seconds, and those memories of nearly half a century ago returned – the memories which you have just read. Just a Tesco Express. Who would give it a second glance or thought today? But once it mattered. Maybe only for that single Saturday morning, so long ago. But, in the history of Heaton, once it mattered.

Seventies

The photograph below was taken outside Fine Fare in 1974, on what appears, at first sight, to have been a somewhat less memorable moment in the history of Heaton.

Fine Fare

Fine Fare

We have Hungarian Laszlo Torday to thank for capturing just an ordinary moment some 40 years ago. Torday was a chemical engineer and amateur photographer who took hundreds of similar everyday scenes around Newcastle – and especially around Heaton because he lived on Jesmond Park West. The writer, Paul Torday, best known for his novel, ‘Salmon Fishing in the Yemen’ was Laszlo’s son. Newcastle City Library bought Torday’s photograph albums when they came up at auction some years ago and has given us permission to reproduce this one here. See more Torday photographs here.

Can you help?

Do you have memories of The Scala, Fine Fare or its successors to share? Do you remember who the celebrity was? Maybe you took a photo of the chimps? Or remember other early supermarkets in Heaton? Or perhaps you recognise someone in Torday’s photo? Post a comment by clicking on the link below the article title or email chris.jackson@heatonhistorygroup.org

Thank you to ‘RS’ from whose longer essay, these memories have been taken.

Shopping on Heaton Road: a century of social change

An analysis of the shops on a section of Heaton Road (east side, from the railway up to Meldon Terrace) in the year 1898, 1914, 1939, 1965 and the present day, shows how the shops and shopping habits of the people of Heaton give an insight into changes in British society over the period.

Nineteenth Century

In 1898, the shops on Heaton Road comprised only the stretch from the railway line to the Baptist Church, but the sample provides us with a clear picture of shops selling food or non-food, with only one providing a service and that very much of the time, being a photographer. People obviously shopped locally for all their food and other requirements and the drapers and haberdasher shops show that the needlewomen of the area were very active.

World War 1

In 1914, the shops still indicate a local habit of shopping for food and other goods, with many butchers, grocers and fruiterers.

Staff outside Brough's 60 Heaton Road post 1923

The appearance of three milliners reflects the standards of the time ie that no respectable women would appear in public without some head covering, but also the affluence of those living near or on Heaton Road at the time.

World War 2

At the outbreak of the Second World War, the shops really have a 20th century feel, with opticians and radio dealers. But the butchers, fruiterers and grocers show that people still shop locally for food. The increase in the number of shops acting as delivers of services, such as plumbers, decorators etc, begins a trend which continues to this day. The loss of the dairy and bakers probably reflects the growth of large national companies dominating the market.

Sixties

In 1965, people are still shopping locally for food (two butchers, three fruiterers, three grocers), and other goods; but a sign of the times is the demise of the last milliner, although the continuing existence of the final drapers indicates that the impact of globalisation and the import of cheap clothes had not yet made a difference. The move towards shops providing services rather than food or goods continues and includes the very sixties poodle parlour and launderette. The milk bar is the first example of a trend to come, of eat-in or take away food.

Heaton Ice Cream Parlour in the late 1980s

Heaton Ice Cream Parlour in the late 1980s

And now

In 2014, we can see a complete turnaround in the types of shops in this section of Heaton Road. In 1898 over 50% of the shops sold food; in 2014 only 5 out of 38 sold food (13%). Obviously this is because of the impact of the large supermarket chains and also of the more general level of car ownership, which is required if a visit to a large supermarket for a weekly shop is to take place. The existence of home refrigeration in virtually all homes is also a factor in the large weekly supermarket shop. The trend for the food shops to be replaced by services is continued to the point where 50% of all shops in the survey in 2014 were service providers of some kind. Some of the services were very 21st century, such as the tanning salon, web design, fancy dress hire and tattoo parlour.

Heaton Road Tattoo Parlour 2014

The biggest changes since 1963 are reflections of the change in the inhabitants of Heaton. Six letting agents, mainly catering for students, indicate the vast number of students now living in Heaton since the huge expansion in student numbers following the Robbins Report of 1963. This may also be the reason for the expansion in the numbers of premises providing cooked food, either to eat-in or takeaway (c25%), though other factors come into play including greater affluence, and with most men and women working, the lack of time for home cooking.

There has been a great change to shops and shopping on Heaton Road since 1898. But whilst the move away from over the counter sales of food and other goods towards services and cooked food is clear, there may be evidence of a move back to local provision. While it is unlikely that we’ll ever see drapers and haberdashers again whilst the rest of the world continues to provide us with cheap clothing, there is a move back to the local shopping parade of small supermarkets (see Tesco Express, Sainsbury’s Local), providing a service that was once provided by many independent grocers, butchers and fruiterers. In addition, local shops seem more recently to have become home to more esoteric and niche businesses (many in start-up mode).

We can’t predict the future for Heaton Road shops, but we can be certain that they will continue to evolve.

Alan Giles