For much of my childhood I remember that my mum worked at the ‘top chip shop’ which was between Brierley Street and Kinver Street on Ford Green road, it was top chippy to distinguish it from Sammy Lowes at the bottom of Ford Green Road.
The business was owned by Cliff Brown and his wife Mary. They had a son and daughter Anthony and Karen. The shop was an old terrace with an alley between the next shop and Poole’s butchers into a walled courtyard at the back. From the shop there were a couple of old stone steps up into the back room, with a hatch into the shop, a doorway to the stairs and a door to the courtyard. The courtyard had an outbuilding where the potatoes were peeled and the cold stuff was kept in fridges and freezers. There was also an outside loo, using that after dark certainly spurred you on. The courtyard cast shadows at night and both that and the alleyway were frightening to a young lad.
In the back room was the machine that turned the potatoes into chips. The peeled potatoes were fed into the hopper at the top and they were sliced into chips and collected in a clean bucket. The chips were taken through to the shop and I can still hear the loud Swoosh noise has the raw chips met the hot fat in the fryer. In the early days I remember the Kingfisher branded boxes which contained the solid fat in which the chips were fried and in those days chips were wrapped in part printed copies of the evening sentinel which was a broadsheet. The boxes made a good seat for a youngster and I often waited in the back room for my mum to finish her shift. The old newspapers became a thing of the past as food hygiene laws meant that food quality wrapping had to be used, this was in the form of large white sheets of paper stored in the back, this also made good drawing paper for a bored lad.
The paper was stored on the stairs and I don’t ever remember going up them as they looked rickety and unsafe, in fact very rarely were they used. They were however another good seat and a vantage point to watch all the comings and goings of a busy shop. The back room has an old sideboard which played host to the brew kit and a kettle would be boiled on the four ring gas stove in the shop which also held the steamer. The back room was a place for breaks and a quick cuppa.
Another of my favourite vantage points was on the old stone steps that led from the shop to the back room as I could lean on the end of the counter which was a wooden affair, quite tall and angled outward as it came up from the floor to the counter top which was formica. The counter top had 2 or there large salt and vinegar plastic bottles because everyone liked it put on their way, from the lightest seasoning to a full on vinegar pool. Behind the counter top was the worktop where the wrapping took place. The ladies who worked there could wrap neatly, quickly and made it look easy, it was a mastered technique. My mum could deal with complex orders in here head and do the maths for the money in the same way, no need for modern technology. To my right was the gas stove which I mentioned earlier and the peas, gravy and three tier steamer were all on top, the steamer contained the tinned and foil meat puddings. Next to the cooker was the main range and Mr Brown used to work it like the driver of a steam train, checking and setting all the gauges to the right temperatures. The frazzle of chips the splash of a freshly battered fish. The chips were ready when Mr Brown said they were and a pinch of the cooked product said they were just right, they were then gathered, drained and scooped into either one or both serving compartments, the fish and other hot products were kept warm in the hatches above. At the far end ‘fish bits’ were scooped out of the fryer, small lumps of fried batter that people would ask for as a treat.
In those days the shop was a gold mine, lunchtime orders from local businesses, the footfall of works from the steel and potts calling for their tea on the way home. The late night rush of hungry drinkers walking home from the local pubs and hungry school children counting their money to check they had enough. A lot of people knew me from my mum working in the chippy though sometimes the teatime and evening shifts played havoc with family life but they were still happy memories of the times waiting for mum. The smells of the food cooking, the faces in and out of the shop with all the friendly banter, the regulars who had exactly the same orders, the pensioners with the pudding bowls for their orders to make sure they got the right amount. The cold pop Corona at first then Barr, mushy peas, thick brown gravy, the noise of the chipper, the cold of the outbuilding. One of the first times I saw a microwave or heard of scotch eggs.
I hope this gives an insight but some of it I can’t put into words but like fond memories of a loved one I will never forget.
Memories of Barry Ashley