Beatrix Pot­ter and Whitby

This England - - Post Box -

The cre­ator of Peter Rab­bit will for­ever be associated with the Lake District. A lit­tle-known con­nec­tion to the York­shire sea­side town and pho­tog­ra­pher Frank Sut­cliffe has re­cently been dis­cov­ered.

Eng­land’s first su­per­mar­ket opened at Streatham, South Lon­don, in 1951. Seven years later, as one of 15 stu­dents with the high­est marks in the In­sti­tute of Gro­cers ex­ams, I en­joyed a week at a ho­tel in Rus­sell Square vis­it­ing dif­fer­ent food man­u­fac­tur­ers as they opened their new self-ser­vice stores. By 1960 I was at the Premier Su­per­mar­ket, Har­row-on-the-hill, as a re­lief man­ager and it was a priv­i­lege to wit­ness the emer­gence of other Lon­don su­per­mar­kets as the decade un­folded, in­clud­ing Pricerite, Fine Fare, Vic­tor Value, Tesco and Mac Fish­eries.

The con­tem­po­rary crime fic­tion tele­vi­sion se­ries, Dial 999, starred Robert Beatty and opened with: “Lon­don, city of ad­ven­ture.” For me, it was just like that. The ex­pe­ri­ence brought fun but on rare oc­ca­sions, trauma as well. My clos­est shave came at Pricerite in Cat­ford when the door of my of­fice burst open at 8pm. We were fi­nal­is­ing the cash from the tills when a thug wear­ing white over­alls aimed an an­cient shil­le­lagh at my head but only suc­ceeded in lodg­ing it in the slop­ing roof. An­other thug then ap­peared scream­ing “Let’s have the money!” I tried to push him out but was beaten to the floor and my an­kles tied to my wrists. I lay face down while my clerk was tied to her chair but I thought if I turned my head I might see some­thing — and I did. His mask slipped and I saw his face. His ac­com­plice yelled “Pull your mask up” — but it was too late!

There was an eerie si­lence, then the thug stand­ing above me yelled “Blow his head off if he moves once more.” A sawn-off shot­gun was clicked loudly, with the bar­rel left rest­ing on my fore­head. My as­sis­tant man­ager had al­ready been grabbed as he went to lock the door and was also tied up. The phone was ripped out, the of­fice searched, the safe opened and all the money taken. They left, warn­ing us to “be still”, but I found a knife to cut us free and af­ter speak­ing to CID got home around 10.30pm. We were still back at the store at 6.30am as usual the fol­low­ing morn­ing, though. No coun­selling in those days!

At Scot­land Yard I was shown pho­to­graphs of Lon­don crim­i­nals and was able to iden­tify one of a no­to­ri­ous gang who was well-known to the po­lice. The case even­tu­ally went to the Old Bai­ley where the thieves re­ceived prison sen­tences. Once out, the lead vil­lain re­formed his gang and in 1971 robbed a jew­eller in Black­pool. The po­lice, how­ever, had re­ceived a silent alarm call and chal­lenged them out­side. Sadly, they shot and killed Chief Supt. Gerry Richard­son — later awarded the Ge­orge Cross for brav­ery — and only failed to kill an­other po­lice­man be­cause their re­volver jammed. It took six weeks to cap­ture all the gang who re­ceived fur­ther long sen­tences.

There were many lighter mo­ments, though. When I alighted from the bus early one morn­ing to do a week’s re­lief man­age­ment at Premier’s su­per­mar­ket in Grove Park, I was sur­prised to find a crowd of peo­ple star­ing through the win­dow. Although I had the keys to open the front door, I nonethe­less de­cided to look through the win­dow my­self where the scene was one I’d never seen be­fore or since. Perched on top of a stack of gran­u­lated sugar pack­ets about five feet high was a mouse. Di­rectly in front of it on the floor was a cat. The crowd’s fas­ci­na­tion was sim­ple — here was a real live Tom and Jerry sit­u­a­tion. How­ever, as soon as I opened the door there was a cho­rus of dis­ap­pointed “oohs” as the cat and the mouse smartly dis­ap­peared. It turned out that the shop had a prob­lem with ro­dents and whilst await­ing ex­perts

Self-ser­vice stores be­gan in Amer­ica dur­ing the Thir­ties with su­per­mar­kets suc­ceed­ing them af­ter the war. They ar­rived in Eng­land dur­ing the early Fifties and looked some­thing like this at the time.

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