LIFE AT THE MAYPOLE

When I started work at Maypole, Market Harborough, aged 14 in 1940 I was still in short trousers and they called me ‘Titch’. My first job was delivering customers’ orders on a box tricycle, and my wage was 15/-. I was so short I could hardly reach the pedals.

Like Mary Carter (Best of British, September/October) I was instructed to call my manager “Sir”. Routine jobs were cleaning the shop windows daily, polishing the brass scales and weights every Monday, keeping the shop floor clean and sprinkling fresh sawdust at the back of the counters every day.

There were no such things as computerised scales or electronic tills.

In those early days of the 1930s and 40s, Maypole specialised in butter and margarine, and after a short time I was able to ‘knock up’ butter and marg with the special beaters, finding the sound of these and slicers on the block an attraction.

Maypole then increased the number of its special lines such as tea, Medova loose biscuits, Scribbans Kemp fruit slab cake, Australian tinned fruit,jams and marmalades.

The war, and rationing, enforced Maypole to increase many grocery lines because customers had to register with shops carrying a full range of grocery items which became available through ration books on a points system.

I was called up for Army service in 1944, when I was 18, and after three and a half years’ service I rejoined Maypole as a trainee manager at the Market Harborough shop. Soon afterwards I was appointed manager of a small branch at Wolverton, Buckinghamshire, and after a short period returned to Market Harborough as manager.

Later, I was appointed assistant training manager at Powyke Court, a residential training centre set up initially to re-train men coming out of the Forces, which later became a training centre for many assistants of all ages, along with potential managers. I was there for 18 months.

By this time the war years had changed the image of Maypole, with all the butter and margarine blocks gone, and by this time there were more than 900 branches.

I took up an appointment for a new Maypole branch at Corby New Town in 1954, and as the town grew the shop became much busier. In the early 1960s I opened one of the first Maypole self-service stores on a new site in the middle of Corby, which proved a great success.

In 1964 I moved to Nuneaton to open yet another bigger supermarket, which included a launderette, ladies’ hairdresser and cafe. These were the pioneering days of additional lines such as household items and clothing.

I was moved to Shrewsbury to take over an existing supermarket in Claremont Street and it was from here, after 27 years’ service, that I left Maypole, having earned my inscribed gold wrist watch for 25 years’ service.

Things changed rapidly in the supermarket world. Intense competition led to the closure of many small Maypole branches, and as part of the Unilever Group, Maypole was sold to the Cavenham’s confectionery group.

For me it was the end of the story – there were some hard days, but I have lots of happy memories, too.

I’ve certainly seen some changes in my time, but after 56 years in the retail trade, I decided to call it a day in 1996 aged 69.

Charles H. Wade