I Was A Child Of The Thirties – Christina Byrne

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Christina Byrne – Essay on Growing Up in Clydebank

I was a child of the thirties

I was a child of the thirties and forties, growing up with rationing and war-time shortages, and one item that was in very short supply was money. My father had an allotment where he grew soft fruit and vegetables so we were adequately fed but it was a disaster if one of our family of six children needed a new coat or a pair of winter shoes. Dad was a wizard with a hammer and last so could act as a cobbler if needed but when our shoes got beyond repairing mother had to resort to the tally man.

The tally man came round every week to collect his few shillings and would supply a ‘line’ for a Glasgow warehouse where we went to select our new shoes, coats or clothes for school.

These warehouses were huge places that stocked everything from socks to three piece suites but they were not the same as High Street shops such as C & A, Arnott Simpson’s or Lewis’s Polytechnic. In a shop you could browse the displays until you saw something you liked then ask to try it on. In the warehouse the sales assistant put you in a cubicle and brought things that she thought would suit you. If you wanted a Sunday coat (often with matching hat), she would bring it to your cubicle and put it on you, buttoning it to the neck while mother stood back nodding approval or shaking her head. Children had no say.

A new coat had to last so it was often bought one or two sizes bigger than needed, resulting in a huge bulky hem being taken up so that it could be let down the following year. This was known as ‘growing into it.’

The clothing and other goods in the warehouse were of good quality so it was not a question of buying cheap rubbish and not every customer paid their dues to the tally man. Some well-off folk ran accounts that were settled quarterly, perhaps when their share dividends were paid. I don’t think any of them lived in our street.

Apart from paying off debt through the tally man, there were other ways low income families could buy what they needed. One of these was the ‘minnodge’ possibly a mispronunciation of the French word ‘menage.’ A member of a ‘minnodge’ was given a number and paid an agreed sum every week. Each week a number was drawn and the member received all the money that had been paid in that week. So if it was a twenty week ‘minnodge’ at five shillings a week the ‘lucky’ member had £5 in her hand to spend on anything she liked. I say ‘she’ because the members were nearly always women.

I think the organizer added an extra week to the twenty and that is how she was paid.

The savings club was also popuilar. It was usually for a specific purpose such as Christmas spending money or holidays. The person who ran the club would collect money which would be banked and he, or she, would take all or part of the interest as their bonus.

Both systems still go on but today they can be open to fraud and exploitation when a large number of people are involved. Back in the forties they were normally confined to a group of friends and such problems were rarely encountered.

As a child I was embarrassed to admit to wearing clothes bought on credit through the warehouse and longed to go to a proper shop and pick something for myself. Today few people care about being in debt. For some it’s a way of life and you are the odd one out if you don’t have a credit card. I do have one but rarely use it. I still like to have real money in my hand.

Christina Byrne– 17th-december-1936-17th-december-2012/

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Avatar of PatByrne Publisher of Pat's Guide to Glasgow West End; the community guide to the West End of Glasgow. Fiction and non-fiction writer.

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