Memories of the ironmongery shop in bygone Scotland


17 December 2015
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imports_CESC_mcmillan-68690_78440.jpg Memories of the ironmongery shop in bygone Scotland
Do you remember visiting your local ironmongers or hardware shop back in the days before DIY superstores? Bob McMillan shares some fond memories.

Do you remember visiting your local ironmongers or hardware shop back in the days before DIY superstores? Bob McMillan shares some fond memories.

I grew up in Coatbridge, an Iron and Steel town in industrial Lanarkshire.Make do and mend’ was the norm and necessitated all sorts of obscure bits and pieces being procured. Quite often it meant a trip by my father to the ‘Barras’ market in Glasgow but predominantly it was simply a trip to Nelson & Cleland’s Ironmongers on Coatbridge’s Main Street.
 
This shop, huge to a youngster, was dark and dingy, like most shops of the period, due to its dark wood interior. The long wooden counter ran for about twenty feet, from near the door to probably less than one third of the depth of the building. Behind the counter the wall was a mass of storage drawers from floor to ceiling. A step ladder on rollers could run the length of this array and while there might have been labels on the drawers, I don’t remember them. Brass label holders, yes, but labels in the holders, no.

'Do you have one o'them?'
 
The ever helpful staff (all male of course) wore brown dust coats and mostly seemed ancient, though they were probably all younger than I am now! Anyway, you could turn up with any sort of bolt, nut, fitting or widget and ask at the counter, Do you have one o’ them?
 
A scratch of the head and a muttered, ‘Aye’, would send the assistant off either to the drawers or into the vast depths of the back shop. Occasionally a shout of, ‘Wullie, d’you mind when we did the stock take we found a bag of whatd’ymcallits? Where did we put them?’
 
A few minutes later the assistant would appear either with the replacement, a very close alternative or an even older assistant who’d ask, ‘Now what exactly is it you’re needin tae dae son?’ A quick explanation extracted yet another, ‘Aye, right.’ And off he’d trot, coming back inevitably with the item or another solution which never seemed to fail.

A treasure trove
 
To a technically minded youngster and, in time, a husband and householder, that shop was a treasure trove. You never got past the counter, as personal service was all important then, but I never saw those guys beaten by a challenge! I still love browsing in hardware shops though they are few and far between nowadays. Yorkshire has a few, as do a few of the smaller English towns with older clientele who still think of ‘repair before replace’.
 
Inevitably I exit the shop to my wife’s cry of, ‘What on earth did you buy that for?’ Well, it might come in useful someday…

QUICK LINK: Shopping in the Sixties

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