The Forgotten Delivery Bike: Janet’s Cycling Story

The article entitled ‘Granville, fetch your cloth!’ reminded Janet of the time her family moved into their own grocery shop and prompted her to get in touch with a story of her own.

Hodgson & Hepworth, Hexthorpe Road Branch, 1928. Names Left to Right: Douglas A. Kitson (Errand Boy), Mr Walker, Hanson (known only by this name by Janet’s Dad. He didn’t know why – maybe he didn’t care for his other Christian or Surname).

Janet writes, “[It] reminded me of the time we moved in to our grocery shop, ‘Kitson’s Stores’, at Daw Lane, Bentley. This fulfilled my father’s ambition of working in his own grocery business, going back to the time he was an errand boy at the Hexthorpe Road Branch of Hodgson & Hepworth’s in the late 1920s. His wage was a mere 9/- per week at the age of 15. My uncle’s brother Roland Kemp tells me that every errand boy of the era would have used a delivery bike during his working week.  

It took my brother Dennis, age 9, and I quite a while to get used to this change, after living at Balby where ‘Open All Hours’ was to be filmed many years later. There it had been safe to play and we had all of our mother’s attention. Now we were limited, with the safest places to play in the house or the tiny back yard. As our mother couldn’t keep her eye on us as she used to be able to do, I often ‘went missing’. Apparently, the only way anyone knew where I had gone, as a toddler, was by the persistent squeaking of my doll’s pram’s little wheels. Therefore they never were oiled. The neighbours living in Daw Lane were very kindly and kept their eye on me in particular.  

When Dennis was at school, the days were long for me. I often ‘helped’ in the shop to fill in the time. A lot of ‘loose lines’ were sold in shops in those days, so I was often found occupied weighing out sugar into the 1lb or 2lb blue paper bags. Sometimes I would weigh out the butter using the Avery scales, which accommodated weights up to 7lb when adjusted. I would shape the butter using the old fashioned butter pats and wrap it up in greaseproof paper. It was then kept in the giant sized refrigerator. How times have changed! 

In order to chat to customers I stood on top of an empty 7lb biscuit tin to see and reach over the counter (biscuits were also sold as a ‘loose lines’ in those days). Taking after my father, I was very talkative and had got into the habit of asking some of the ladies ‘Is that your best frock?’ My mother became annoyed with me for continually doing this and told me not to. One day, Peggy, a regular customer, came in and said to me ‘And before you ask, this is not my best dress!’ I thought, ‘I wasn’t going to ask – this time!’ It all depended on whether I found it attractive or not. 

I looked forward to the school holidays, when Dennis and I got up to all kinds of things. During the early days I was scared of the spooky World War Two air-raid shelter in the back yard. It had been built close to the house and shared during the War with the house next door, accessed by a gate in the boundary wall. It was always pitch-black inside, as no electric light had ever been fitted and the only door faced the house. Most of the natural light was cut out, even with this door ajar. As time went by I became braver and would peep inside to have a look, but all I could see were giant spiders lurking on their cobwebs, empty jam jars, empty pop bottles (for collecting and returning to the manufacturers to be refilled in those days), stacked wooden crates to hold the bottles, miscellaneous gardening tools and odds and ends.

One day during the Christmas holidays, we ventured inside the shelter using Dennis’s new torch, which had been one of his Christmas stocking fillers. We spent some time moving things about then right out of the shelter, before discovering an old delivery bike hidden and forgotten right at the very back leaning up against the shelter wall. It was festooned in cobwebs and their crawly, long-legged owners soon sped off in all directions. This scene looked spectacularly creepy in the torch light.

We tried to move the newly found bike but found it to be extremely cumbersome -far too heavy for me to handle. However, Dennis managed to bring it out into the yard on his own. We saw that it had been painted black and was very dirty, with a large metal basket attached to the front handlebars and a stand to prop it up with. Sadly, there was no advertisement under the cross bar. Even after being neglected, the wide tyres were partially inflated and seemed to have little wear on the tread. We ran inside to tell our mother of the find and she was surprised as nobody had ever mentioned the ‘Order Bike’ before (as we had christened it). We could hardly wait for our dad to get back from his work at Doncaster Plant so that we could show him the bike.

When he did get home, he seemed pleased and said it would come in handy. He demonstrated his cycling ability by riding it all around ‘the Daw Lane backs’ making us laugh as his knees stuck out as he pedalled. Dad said that he needed to raise the seat and handlebars. For a while it was far too big and heavy for Dennis to cycle on, but later on he liked to ride it round the ‘backs’ for fun – especially as nobody else had one!

When our uncle, E. Haydn Kemp, came to visit we showed him the Order Bike. He said that it was similar to the one he used at the Armthorpe Branch of the Co-op, where he had been the very first errand boy. Dad used the delivery bike for local grocery orders but had to use a very large woven basket inside the frame of the metal one attached to the handlebars in which to place the orders. In the mid-1950s he bought a racing green Austin A 40 10cwt. van, which meant that he could go further afield with shop orders. Eventually the Order Bike was sold on by my Dad. I never knew who to. 

I believe that someone must have visited our grocery shop years ago, met my dad, Douglas, and been inspired to write the TV Show ‘Open All Hours’, modelling the character of Arkwright himself on dad’s funny, tight Yorkshire ways and his reaction to the customers! Give my dad a stutter and you have Arkwright. Take Arkwright’s stutter away and you have my dad! When I was about 8 years old, dad saw me standing in the shop door-way outside and said ‘Come away from there. You are frightening the customers away!’ 

When commercial travellers called at the shop they usually offered my dad a cigarette. He didn’t smoke but couldn’t refuse anything free, so he would take it, put it in his top overall pocket and say ‘I will smoke it later’. These cigarettes accumulated, so he would keep them in a cupboard. Occasionally he would smoke one and cough piteously, saying ‘I will be glad when this is finished!’ When he had enough saved up, he would cadge an empty cigarette packet from somebody and fill it with his free cigs. He could then offer a cigarette to various people at Christmas! Ingenious!

Dad often went to the Cash & Carry Superstore during the 1960s, but he could not resist a bargain. He often came back with unnecessary items, even though my mother would have warned him that we had enough of them in stock before he went. In order to get a roughly made folding wooden stool as a free bonus gift (with steps at one side), dad bought two sacks of 1d Bazookas Bubble Gums. Awful stuff I thought, and the kids were getting fed up of dad always pushing it at them to spend their pocket money on. A typical conversation between a child and my dad would be:

Child: ‘What can I get for a penny Mister Kitson?’ Dad: ‘Well, there’s a juicy penny Bazooka, or a Bazooka Bubble Gum for a penny, or there again you could have 4 Black Jacks for a penny.’ Child: ‘I’ll have the Black Jacks.’  Dad: ‘Sorry, I have just sold out of them. So it’ll be the Bazooka then?’

I am sure mum threw out most of them as they went too hard for the kids to ‘get going’, as they used to say. As for the stool, it was not safe to stand on. It was made of rough wood, had wobbly hinges and steps. It stood in the garage for years. 

We often wondered what he would sell next as he used to like to try out new lines. One day he wandered in with a tray of fresh meat, which was met with great distain by us all. ‘Where on earth have you got that from?’, my mother asked him.  She thought it would never catch on in our shop but it did! From small bags of coal, to fresh meat we sold them! 

Mr Douglas A. Kitson, general grocer. Photo taken by Mr Roy Ingram in early 1966. Courtesy Janet Roberts.

This photo of my dad wearing a brown overall is similar to the one Arkwright became so famous for. It was at the time when the shop at 30a Daw Lane, Bentley was being prepared for its opening in 1966, when mini markets/self service were beginning to catch on with the public. It had previously been a butcher’s shop called Webb & Limbs.

Kitson’s Shop at 30a Daw Lane, Bentley just after the opening. Photo taken by Mr Roy Ingram in 1966. Courtesy Janet Roberts.

The next shop photo is just after it opened. Note the white writing on the window done by my dad and its similarity to Arkwright’s, and latterly Granville’s, shop window writing. As for the sign writing above the shop itself well, (SELF  KITSON’S  SERVICE), that’s another matter for which dad got into a lot of trouble! Instead of some lovely serif lettering involved, as my mother had expected, dad had got somebody to do it on the cheap! Mum’s comment was that she could have done better using her feet and with both her eyes closed! Dad reckoned he couldn’t see anything wrong with it. Nothing was ever said about this sign writing again! 

Kitsons Grocers, 24a Daw Lane. Image Courtesy Janet Roberts.

Sadly, there isn’t a photo of the older shop’s frontage in full at 24a Daw Lane. The above photo is of Dianne Martin sitting on a sack of potatoes in 1958/59 outside the shop. My memory of it when we first moved in is summed up as ‘Quaint’ during the 1950s.”

By Janet A. Roberts née Kitson 

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