You must have had a beautiful baby ... and you probably clothed it at Risdon’s

A busy High Street West in 1962 looking towards Risdon's corner
A busy High Street West in 1962 looking towards Risdon's corner
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Sunderland was hit by the news that Mothercare was shutting up shop in the city after more than 50 years.

It is due to close next month.

Risdon's was gutted in the 1898 fire.

Risdon's was gutted in the 1898 fire.

Philip Curtis, of the Sunderland Antiquarian Society, has looked back on the days of another baby shop in the city.

J Risdon & Co served the city for nearly a century.

In the pre-Bridges days a shopping expedition to Sunderland’s city centre provided a very different experience from that of today.

There was no heavy traffic, no parking problems, no litter and no shutters.

Risdon’s stood on the corner of John Street and High Street West and it had a reputation for being the best shop in town for baby wear, as well as for prams and cots

Philip Curtis

And visitors could browse in locally-owned shops which were packed with goods of pretty much every description.

Imagine being able to buy a mouth-watering cake, a smart new outfit, an impressive suite of furniture and even a motor car - and being able to do it within yards of each other.

Imagine spending an evening in Sunderland long after the shops had closed, feasting your eyes on beautifully arranged goods which adorned shop windows.

This was known as window-shopping, and it was something which disappeared with the introduction of shutters.

The whole shopping experience did seem then to be more of a pleasure with the customer always being right and personal service being something that everyone took for granted.

Of course, it can often seem that our memories are packed with images which have been filtered through rose-coloured spectacles.

But there can be no doubt that, even up until just a few years ago, the shopping experience in Wearside was different.

Locally-owned shops dominated and many are still fondly remembered by the people of Sunderland.

The recent announcement of the imminent closure in High Street West of Mothercare must have evoked memories of the city’s other ‘baby’ shop which served Wearsiders for almost a century – J. Risdon &Co.

Risdon’s stood on the corner of John Street and High Street West and it had a reputation for being the best shop in town for baby wear, as well as for prams and cots.

The business was started in the late nineteenth century by Norman Risdon and in its early days, it was run by a Miss Oliver whose sister eventually married Norman.

But it wasn’t all plain sailing with the premises being completely gutted when the city was hit by the Havelock House fire in 1898.

Undaunted Norman was not going to let a fire stop him. He opened again once new premises had been built on the same site.

After that, the shop went from strength to strength as a result of the large amount of footfall which had been generated in this area with Caslaw, Hayter & Tate next door, and with J. Jones across the road and the National Provincial Bank and Caslaws on the opposite corners.

By the early 1940s, two sisters called Gwen and Lily Taylor were in charge and, as both had the same surname, Gwen was known in the shop as Miss Taylor with Lily opting to be called by her mother’s maiden name, which was Miss Swann.

Everything then was much more formal and it was considered inappropriate for shop assistants to call each other by their Christian names during working hours. It was a little like the store in the popular television series Are You Being Served.

Risdon’s had just about everything that you would need for a baby, ranging from shawls to top quality prams and cots.

It served Wearsiders right until 1977 when the westward movement of the town’s commercial centre led to its closure and to an auction of all its fittings.

The premises remained vacant for a while but are now occupied by a bookmaker.

There must be thousands of Wearsiders today who, when they were babies, were dressed and pushed around in prams bought from Risdon’s.

If you have any memories of Risdon’s, email: chris.cordner@jpress.co.uk.