Our first Afternoon Tea at ‘Cooke’s’ was held on Tuesday 17th April – and for most of our guests the last time they walked in the building was to do a day’s work some 40 or more years ago! This time old staff members were waited on, and it was lovely to see folk waving across the room to old friends and to hear stories of the good old days.
The Signal events space was transformed into an old style teashop, complete with cake stands, proper teapots and china, doilies and ‘50’s style décor – Rachel even had her iron out, so no creases in our tablecloths!
We also made a timeline for the wall as a visual prompt to remind our diners what the various departments may have sold through the decades since 1915 – which turned out to be very quality goods, by all accounts.
Everyone got into the mood thanks to atmospheric 40s and 50s music provided by Sheila, a backdrop to our guest’s stories of working in the Cooke’s building and Winder’s:
Everyone remembered how a human chain of workers was formed to get deliveries to the top floors.
Norman Alderson told us how when he started work at 14 and had to shift rolls of linoleum and heavy furniture, but he wanted to get out and about so became the van boy.
One not so generous employer at the Barrow Island Post Office told their Counter Assistant to pick out a three piece suite from Cooke’s for herself as a wedding present and then took the money out of her wages each week to cover the cost.
A typical weekly wage in 1963 at Winder’s was £2.4s.6d.
Ladies who worked in the toy showroom sold dolls (“Every face was different!”) and toy motorcars; they carried three-wheel trikes up five flights of stairs on their shoulders as there was no lift.
The fire had to be lit in the office every morning, which made the 15 year- old-shop workers feel like Cinderella.
We are also beginning to build a picture of what life was like living and working in the area around Cooke’s, with stories of how Arthur Kellet, who made props for the Coliseum, recalled the day Buffalo Bill and his Wild West Show came to town by train and marched his entourage complete with ‘Chief Sitting Bull’ to the Coliseum.
The Waverly Hotel, which stood across the road, took a direct hit during a bombing raid in 1940, and the roof of the public baths lifted off with the blast and was closed for repair until 1957.
The WW1 memorial plaque in the railway station entrance still bears signs of the peppering of shrapnel from a bomb hitting the station in the 2nd World War.
People brought photos and documents for us to scan. One of some lovely dancers (staff) in flapper dresses (made of old curtains), pictures of Harry Cooke having fun with his mate, Anne Fell’s father, and standing in front of the left-hand drive(not sure why?) delivery van.
We are looking forward to the next two afternoon teas to see what new stories may come to light. Colin and Rachel took some great pictures on the day, some you’ll see here, others for the board.
More stories to follow…..