“Amongst all the changes and decline of Rhyl town centre one shop has stood tall and unblemished. It is a credit to the owner who has carried on undaunted and has kept things going as they have been for many years, determined not to be beaten by the pressures which have hit so many in the town, and by staying true to its history and sticking to what it does best by simply being Knowles’ Newsagent, Tobacconist and Confectioner in Bodfor Street.
Calling into the shop recently it was like going back in time for it was if time had stood still. The windows were dressed as they had always been and I think there was a new canopy outside but no papers on stands outside now.
I worked there during 1955/56 during evenings, weekends and holidays just before leaving Rhyl Grammar School . When I was there the layout of the shop was exactly the same and I felt that I could have just walked behind the counter and carry on working just as I had done all those years ago without having to look around for things.
Just entering the shop through the double doors there were papers clipped onto hanging racks and outside under each window were benches also with papers and journals held on with springs and people would pick one up and come into the shop to pay for it. No CCTV then! There were also postcards and novelty items on stands just inside the entrance. The canopy was always at the ready for sunny days or rainy days and had a life of its own when trying to close it up. In fact I never had the strength, or know how, to work it.
On the left as you went in was the counter for purchasing papers, tobacco, cigarettes, lighters and pipes. The smell of the many different tobaccos which were sold out of jars and tins when pipe smoking gentlemen would call in for their particular brand and it was weighed accurately on little scales. The smell would permeate around the shop and each brand had a distinctive aroma – some sweeter than others. The counter would be covered with an assortment of daily papers and the shelves behind were stacked high with every manner of cigarette in the most colourful array – not considered then to be a bad thing but obviously all changed now! There were the popular ones (my Dad called them working men’s cigarettes, but I believe there were a few daring youngsters too) and then the slightly dearer ones and also ones which were considered to be ladies’ cigarettes with all manner of fancy names. There was a drawer in which to put the money paid for any items, but not a till, and I remember having to add things up in my head as I went along – not done so much now I would think?
Straight ahead there was a counter, behind which were shelves with displays of pipes and lighters. Further along, huge boxes of chocolates with beautiful pictures and bows on many and were obviously bought as presents for the lucky romantics of the time. Then moving along that counter were trays of Anglesey fudge, we put gloves on to cut it up and placed it into little cardboard boxes. They were all different flavours which melted in your mouth. I think I did sneak a taste from time to time. There were also containers of chocolate brazils and almonds, Suchard and Lindt chocolates were also sold – new to me then and too expensive! On the corner of this counter, and the next one which took you back to the entrance of the shop, there was a set of white weighing scales with a silver dish to weigh loose sweets which were shelved behind the counter right up to the ceiling. To reach these was a small wooden step ladder. I loved weighing a quarter of this, or 2 ounces of that. Small paper bags were used to tip the sweets into and much care taken not to spill any. There were row upon row of all manner of sweets and chocolate covered nuts, raisins and toffees and however you tried to put the most popular ones at a lower level you could always bet someone would come in who wanted ones from the top shelf. An art in itself to balance a heavy jar in one hand whilst holding onto the ladder with the other and descending safely.
Regulars were always ready for a friendly chat and would be off to work, or off to the pictures, or just coming in for a browse and a little company. Val, who is still running the shop, worked tirelessly then, together with her father and mother, and still runs it to-day. I would not presume to give her age away!
I am sure that many staff have stood behind these counters over the years and may have different memories to me. I do remember Emily, who is a local lady that I still see about town, who worked there on a regular basis and was extremely efficient and helped us part timers to do things in a correct way.
Bodfor Street had so many locally owned shops then and it had a real community spirit about it. I hope other people will write about their memories of other shops and places which were once along there and unfortunately are no longer still going. My personal remembrances were of Hadley’s, Kerfoot Hughes’s, Staffordshire Building Society, a Café which I believe was Cryers, the Labour Club, the Grosvenor Motor Car Showrooms, and many more which I cannot bring to mind at this moment but hopefully others will be able to remember them and fill in a few other places.
Knowles’s shop keeps me in touch with a happy time in my life and brings back memories of friends and parents and a time when people went into Rhyl town to shop and to have a chat with friendly, helpful shopkeepers and their staff. A time when anything could be bought because there were shoe shops, clothes shops, grocery shops, butchers, bakers, greengrocers, cake shops, flower shops, furniture shops, cafes and coffee shops as well as Woolworths, Boots and M&S and just about everything we needed could be bought in Rhyl town centre without having to travel outside the town. Buses were central to the town and the pubs and clubs were thriving. Young mums would go into town to shop and meet up in the café with their babies and, heavens above, they were able to leave the prams just outside the windows or just inside the shops and cafes without fear of harm. These were not push chairs but big bouncy prams with children on show for all to admire. But I digress.
I think that Val and her family have done Rhyl proud and she is still flying the flag of yesterday, today.
Please don’t change things Val. The shop is a little oasis in the ever changing centre of Rhyl.”