In Part 2 of my blog about Christmas shopping in Batley in 1915 I focus on gift-giving. Although the shadow of war cast a cloud it could not, as the papers put it, “eclipse the public’s desire to remember the season of goodwill”.
The war had made a mark though, in terms of presents given. Children’s toys took on a distinctive, militaristic theme. And the postal system and Army Transport were inundated with food and presents for soldiers, sailors and nurses serving overseas or training on home shores: Cakes and plum puddings to revive memories of home; grocers reporting a run on goods men in the trenches could relish; butchers supplying hundredweights of comestibles; clothing retailers, ironmongers, tin-ware merchants and jewellers selling practical goods aimed at those serving King and Country. Batley folk had a wealth of local shops to satisfy these needs.
The town centre had a good selection of jewellers. The universally popular product stocked by all, aimed especially at those serving in the Armed Forces, were Radiolite wrist watches with luminous dials, readable in the dark. These were also promoted as useful in the dark for people at home.
Joe Fox, whose clock was a much-loved time-teller for shoppers on Commercial Street, was one retailer of these wrist-watchers. He also had a good number of other clocks which, the paper remarked, were not easy to obtain nowadays.
Commercial Street’s Messrs Gerald Brooke, Ltd also retailed these “luminous levers”. Diamond and gem rings glittered in the window of this shop, described as “ranking high amongst jewellers and silversmiths in the West Riding”, making a display worthy of their big reputation. Upholding its good name, Brooke’s sold clocks, alberts, signet rings, canteens of cutlery, silver and plated goods such as cake-stands, and dessert dishes and other goods “at prices that cannot be repeated”.
Mr F E Morton was a third Commercial Street jeweller who boasted the sale of luminous watches, a number which had already been sent to soldiers. Silverware marked the other outstanding feature of his shop, with a beautiful home-enhancing collection of vases, bon-bon dishes, cruets, cake, fruit and jam stands. If that wasn’t enough to entice the discerning Christmas shopper, there was also, of course, the alluring range of mantelpiece and wall clocks, watches, rings, bangles and pendants.
The town’s choice in shoe and clothing shops was equally impressive. Salter and Salter’s heavily stocked Commercial Street shop’s advertising ploy was “The best is cheapest” when buying winter boots, shoes and slippers. Leather was becoming more difficult to purchase so the public were urged to spend their money to the best advantage and see Salter and Salter’s plainly-marked goods.
Messrs George Jessop and Son, clothiers, hosiers, boot and shoe dealers was one of those stores making a virtue of selling stock bought in at old prices without wartime additions. The famous firm used this tactic to encourage people to buy quickly as “much of the stuff cannot be replaced” at these current quoted prices. They stocked fashionable dark grey overcoats with silk velvet collars. They also held a good supply of blue nap and real indigo blue serge which some tailors could not buy for “love nor money”. They had a display of Scouts outfits in one window. Seasonable presents for those at home included ties, hats, hosiery, snow-shoes and galoshes. Cardigan jackets were suggested for soldiers and sailors.
Mr M Watssman of Town Street, Batley Carr also held a stock of cloth bought at old prices. Supplying a choice of new materials and up-to-date patterns cut to a perfect fit, his motto was “no fit, no pay”. He also had a special ladies department with sealskins and raincoats.
Well-known in Dewsbury and Wakefield, Messrs J Pickles and Son, hosiers and outfitters, opened their Batley branch in time for Christmas 1915. Located at 18-20 Commercial Street this was an establishment where “gentlemen can have their every wish gratified in the latest design of ties, shirts and socks”. Soliciting trade from those with military loved ones, they claimed one local officer made repeat sock orders, proof of his satisfaction with them during active service. They stocked fashionable soft hats and the latest ties with open ends. Raincoats were made to order, so the customer could have his particular ideas catered for. And their vast quantities of underwear, gloves and scarves made the purchase of a sensible Christmas gift easy.
Mr Thos. Hull, old-established Batley outfitter and draper, located in Exchange Buildings, Commercial Street, had been remodelled and boasted new fitting rooms. One wonders if this was a response to new local competition in the form of the Pickles’ shop. Managed for more than 20 years by Mr W Bainbridge, the shop sold hats, suits and “superb” raincoats. The latest fashion in knitted silk ties in bright, mixed colours featured here. Scarves were touted as a suitable Christmas gift. But the real big selling point was khaki mittens of a quality far superior to anything Mr Bainbridge had handled. With over 240 pairs sold for soldiers, these mittens were popular with warriors who found them so useful. Khaki colours also appeared in the shop’s handkerchiefs, socks and shirts.
But the ladies of Batley did not miss out. Miss Kendall’s store at 11, Commercial Street was described as “a revelation and a joy for ladies” and “a shopful of ladies’ delights”. It stocked exquisite, beautifully made Maltese lace, embroidered frocks and handkerchiefs, perfume, pinafores and dainty blouses in the latest fashion, as well as a supply of gloves noted as one of the best and biggest in the district. They also stocked “a delightful array of cushions, table centres, and other articles that go to make home life truly bright and agreeable”.
Miss Hazzlewood was Batley’s blouse specialist. The “Batley News” enthused that “some of the dainty creations now on view will make charming gifts for the fair sex at Christmas”. The on-site staff, in this domain for ladies, also manufactured large quantities of underclothing. But men were not overlooked by Miss Hazzlewood who, in conjunction with Batley Ladies’ Sewing Guild, cut over 1,000 shirts for soldiers and other garments “for the fighting boys”.
Toy shops abounded too. Mr Lionel Leach had taken over the 68 Commercial Street business previously known as C T Mellor’s, selling handbags, cards and books. His leather goods included wallets, purses, writing and jewel cases. Fountain pens, photo frames and antimony ware made ideal gifts too. Books catering for children and adults and toys and games were in particularly brisk demand. Christmas cards featured khaki, Union Jacks and other patriotic war-themed embellishments.
Military toys, electrical goods, cycles and motors were found in the shops of Mr Herbert Hainsworth, on Branch Avenue and Well Lane in Batley and 42, Northgate, Dewsbury. Air-guns, some firing 1,000 shots without the need to re-charge, trained the eye to accuracy. A toy machine gun with wooden “shells”, emitting sounds mimicking the “bark” and “crack” of the weapon, was described as “wonderfully reminiscent of its big brother at the Front”. Then there was the new Sandy Handy, a mechanical toy which filled and emptied buckets of sand.
Hainsworth’s shop also catered for adults. For fighting men they recommended their pocket lamps, leather vests and motorcycle clothing. Their motor and cycle departments held countless accessories which made useful presents, such as capes, gloves, tools and lamps. They sold bicycles. And motor cycles by Triumph, P and M, BSA, Sunbeam, Lloyds and Wolf were available, including new lightweight models for 1916. They also served the business customer through their light delivery van and commercial motor trade arm.
Mr Thos Wood (late Mr E H Tate’s) was one of the Heavy Woollen District’s foremost ironmongers. The toy shop element of the business was located in Well Lane, with its forts, guns, cannons and building sets. His Commercial Street shop window proved a seasonal delight, reflective of the times. One window portrayed in detail a Red Cross Hospital. They also had a miniature Charlie Chaplin! Christmas novelties for the soldier in the family included a bullet-proof shield which doubled as a mirror and periscope. Cigarette lighters made a nice Christmas gift. And the visitor was urged not to miss the trench stores containing “wonderfully simple little things that Tommy Atkins values immensely”.
But the shop which delighted the children of Batley, Santa’s very own Toyland, was Misses Western’s Commercial Street shop. The “Batley News” proclaimed “it may be aptly called the Batley Home of Santa Claus. He fills his pack and reindeer sledge there”. This year the toys had a largely military theme with soldiers, forts, guns, battleships, miniature tents, cooking stoves, aeroplanes and Scouts outfits. In addition to boys mechanical toys manufactured in England or France, girls could choose from dolls made in Britain, France or Japan. Meccano sets were aimed at both sexes. Adults too were catered for with brushes, combs, oak trays and basket-ware.
So in this selection there are many gifts familiar to today’s Christmas shoppers; and many which typify the war-torn times of 1915.
In Part 3 I will look at Christmas food and drink vendors.
“Batley News” – various November-December editions.