Showing posts with label Margaret Colditz. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Margaret Colditz. Show all posts

Monday, 14 October 2013

Missing from Beaumont Street

“All these shops, but nowhere to buy a nail!”

This was my husband’s recurring lament, after we moved to live in Hamilton.

We love being in close walking distance to a wide range of shops and services. It wasn’t long, though, before we discovered some serious gaps in the retail mix.

These gaps are a priority for the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce, as part of a bigger plan to attract more people to our business district. For Margaret Colditz, growing up in Beaumont Street through the 1930s to the 1950s, there were no such gaps.

In her unpublished memoir My Beloved Beaumont Street, she tells us about many of the shops and businesses. Margaret’s own story is here.

This is what she says about some of them – ones that are missing from Beaumont Street today.

I’ll start with the nails – and the old fashioned hardware shop.

Deitz’s hardware store was on the corner of Lindsay and Beaumont Street.

Advertisement in the Newcastle Herald and Miner's Advocate, 1955/56.

As a one-time Girl Guide, Margaret Colditz writes:[1]

There was kind, smiling-faced Mr Deitz. He had the most comprehensive array of hardware. He always greeted us with a bright, happy face. When we would request ‘one yard of blind cord please Mr Deitz’,he immediately knew that we belonged to St Peter’s Girl Guide Company....many a young one learned to tie a reef knot outside Mr Deitz’s shop.

Quietly, Mr Norm Agland was always ready to guide us when we had to buy our first billy can for outdoor cooking. Norm was an authority, in those times, on household effects – for example, butter coolers, meat safes, and fly papers. He helped our mothers to select new wire for their clothes lines....

I wondered if Brian Agland, who as a child used to run in and out of the house that once stood on our block, was related.

‘Norm was my father’s cousin’, Brian tells me. ‘He was tall, slim, and always wore a dust coat. He was always very calm. I would often walk up to Deitz’s with Dad on a Saturday morning and Dad would buy nails and screws by weight, and these were packed in a brown paper bag’. Read more about Brian here.

In a tragic, freak accident during a parade in 1944, Mr Norm Agland’s 70 year old mother was killed by an out-of-control horse, on the corner of Beaumont and Tudor Streets. Norm was 34.

Then there was the fish and chips shop. One can buy fish and chips in Beaumont Street today, but gone is the iconic, single purpose establishment of Margaret’s times – and it would be wonderful to be able to buy fresh fish there.

It is the stories and characters behind the shop façades that even today, make Beaumont Street unique. Margaret writes not a word about the taste of the fish and chips she bought –

Fish and Chips
Stockfood/Ken Field Photography Ltd. R.F.

but something else that lingers in her mind:

I remember with affection Tony’s Fish and Chip Shop, and his brother who had a gold front tooth. None of us had ever seen a gold front tooth. This one had come, with its proud owner, from Italy.

There is always plenty of walking to be done, as the business section of Beaumont Street is around a kilometre long. But a shoe shop today? Not one!

Mr Lee’s shoe shop .... was very elegant. One half side of the shop had Ladies’ and Children’s Footwear, while the other side was the Gentleman’s Department. If one couldn’t be fitted, Mr Lee personally measured one’s feet and arranged for shoes to be personally crafted.

Shoes 1940s
Photography courtesy

What Bunnings is to hardware today, so Spotlight is to drapery, haberdashery and manchester. Gow's Drapers was a very large shop for the times, and employed many people. Approaching Gow's, Margaret always wondered what new window display would be featured. It was Gow's the schoolgirls visited at the beginning of each school year to purchase their sewing requirements.

One yard of white lingerie lawn became converted, during the year, to a pair of Bombay Bloomers, with a spray of flowers artfully embroidered on each side. All of course, hand sewn!

Gow's also sold clothing for women and men. While Beaumont Street has an array of boutiques for women, only men who take big sizes are catered for now.

And then, the money system. No cash registers, but one all-powerful central cashier:

The assistant at the counter would put the docket and money into a cylindrical container, pull a cord, and one watched it whizz around the wires to the central cashier, to the cry, in Gow's, of ‘Change, Miss Bates!’

Read more about the Gow family  here.

Finally, a type of business we definitely no longer need – Mr Poole’s coal, coke and wood shop. It is worth checking out here, because it demonstrates, as Margaret writes, that “Trust was everywhere!”

Mr Poole’s large shed looked like a large, black cavern. Not only did it store coal, coke and wood, but there was enough room for a truck inside. Then -

At the entrance, hanging on the wall, was a black board, and some white chalk. With this, customers wrote their name and order – no need for an address, Mr Poole knew all of us. We all welcomed him as he refilled our ‘coal holes’ in the garden. We would replenish our coal scuttles and then have fun making our fires in the dining room fireplace.

Coal scuttle

While we may be missing some specific businesses in Beaumont Street, a very distinctive customer service can still be found. On Saturdays, I wend my way through the shoppers to find my special purchases – fresh pasta at Pina Deli, my favourite fetta cheese at  Nina's IGA, the best chicken at the Beaumont Street Butcher, or luscious strawberries at the Hamilton Fruit Market.

At every stop, I am reminded what customer service really is.

Like the shops Margaret Colditz remembers, cheerful greetings, attention to detail and pride in quality are still part of the Beaumont Street experience. Perhaps, after all, that is what makes a visit really memorable.

[1] Sections in italics are reproduced with permission from Margaret Colditz: My Beloved Beaumont Street. Unpublished manuscript, 1990.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

"My Beloved Beaumont Street"

“I was so happy growing up there, and have tried to recall the events and experiences that made it so. I want others to be happy there, in the future.”

So wrote Margaret Colditz, in May 1990. The earthquake in December, 1989 had changed Hamilton’s main street irrevocably. People who had lived there all their lives told her they felt that with the terrible carnage to the street, “part of them had died.”

When I moved to Hamilton in 2012 and began delving in the Local Studies Section of the Newcastle Region Library, I found a 21 page manuscript,[1] written in Margaret’s exquisitely clear handwriting. Captivated, I read it all at once. I knew it was a treasure.

Several months later, I obtained a photocopy of "My Beloved Beaumont Street" and brought it home to read again at leisure. By now I had already researched and written many blog posts on Hamilton, so I quickly recognised where Margaret’s memories were adding fresh new material.

The manuscript is written like a letter, to Beaumont Street. There is even an address at the top. I checked the phone book, and was surprised to find an entry under that address. I had a vague memory someone had told me Margaret had passed away. Thinking that perhaps a relative might still be living in the family home, I telephoned. Margaret answered the call, very much alive!

Within a few days, we visited this intelligent, articulate woman who is now 87 years old.

Margaret Colditz (2013)

For at least the first 43 years of her life, Margaret Colditz lived in Beaumont Street –

....and have done so, in memory, for the whole of my life.

She uses the word “in” deliberately –

My home was “in” the street, literally, but apart from that fact, I am sure that most people of Hamilton felt part of that interesting, bustling street that runs north to south.

Everyone knew each other, and it was Hello! Hello! Hello! all along the way.

There was a “family feeling”. Everyone was interested in each other and proud of each others’ achievements and skills.

Life was interesting because of the cosmopolitan nature of the street. I don’t think we were aware that it was so. As children, we were not. All of the people were always there, and each was a part of the whole. For sure, the buildings were there, but it was the friendliness and sense of belonging, the sense of family that produced the atmosphere.

Margaret’s letter is a homage to her beloved Beaumont Street as she remembers it over four decades, from the mid 1920s to the 1960s.

I asked Margaret if anyone had ever contacted her about her manuscript.

“No”, she replied. “You are the first.”

It was her friend Norm Barney who ensured Margaret’s letter to Beaumont Street was placed in the Newcastle Library.

Thirteen years later, I want to bring her memories to light and share them with my readers.

This will happen over forthcoming posts, but first I would like you to know something about the remarkable woman behind the writing. This is why I wanted so much to meet her.

Margaret’s mother, Isabella, had been “a lady bookbinder” in Glasgow. At Scots Kirk, Hamilton Isabella married Sam Primrose, also from Glasgow – a marine engineer – who found a position at Honeysuckle Railway Workshops.

Honeysuckle Workshops NSW (n.d.)
Photograph by Ralph Snowball, part of the Norm Barney Photographic Collection, Cultural Collections, University of Newcastle, NSW, Australia

Sam  Primrose bought a home for his new wife at 161 Beaumont Street.

Present day, 161 Beaumont Street, Hamilton (2013)

They had a son, Thomas. Sadly, Sam succumbed to cancer and died. The house at 161 Beaumont Street had been paid for, but Isabella was without any means of ongoing financial support. Since there was no bookbinding work in Newcastle, she found a cleaning job at the Hamilton Municipal Chambers. Margaret recalls Isabella telling her how she scrubbed the floors of that large building, upstairs and downstairs, on her hands and knees.

Hamilton Municipal Building and Clock Tower in Beaumont Street, photographed February 12, 1936
Photograph courtesy Greg and Sylvia Ray

One day Edward Camfield, a railway engineer who also worked at Honeysuckle, was passing the entrance to the Council building. Isabella was scrubbing the marble steps. He couldn’t believe Sam’s widow was “reduced to this,” as he put it.

I’m not sure how long it took for the romance to flourish, but Edward and Isabella married. They lived at 161 Beaumont Street.

Margaret was born at Fettercairn Private Hospital, Hamilton in 1926. Read the story of Fettercairn here.

'Fettercairn' at Lindsay Street, Hamilton
22 April 1904
Courtesy Newcastle Region Library

Thomas, then aged 11, was delighted with his new baby sister. Over their lifetimes, he was a loving and protective brother to Margaret.

Margaret walked to school (Hamilton Infants and Hamilton Public), and describes how it was then –

Naturally, everybody else’s mother knew us because of knowing our mothers. Mothers didn’t make friends at school or because of school. (They met at social, church or sporting activities, often in homes). Mothers were not involved in the school! True!

They didn’t walk us to school, in our case, by order. Our headmistress informed the mothers, who were waiting at the gate (they were not allowed in) on our second day of school, that we were “big children and didn’t need our mothers to walk us home!” Few mothers dared to defy Miss Lambert. Furthermore, the girls were not allowed to talk to the boys on the way home.

Miss Francis Lambert, Headmistress, Hamilton Infants
Photograph from Dr Bob James, A History of Hamilton Public School,

We didn’t wear school uniforms. Pretty 'Dimity’ floral material (a sheer cotton fabric ) was bought by our mothers at Gow's and dresses were (hand)made. Being post Depression, this must have been affordable.

A sample of floral Dimity

In 4th Class, Margaret remembers bringing home a textbook called “Mastering the Mother Tongue.” Her father laughed and laughed when she showed him the book, saying –

“I don’t think you will ever master your Mother’s tongue!”

This was a reference to her mother’s strong Scottish brogue.

Margaret attended elocution lessons for 5 years to ensure she did not replicate her mother’s accent. The first thing I noticed about Margaret was her well modulated voice and fine articulation. Those lessons clearly worked!

Margaret went on to attend the selective girls school, Newcastle Girls High, where she was school captain.

Margaret Colditz (nee Camfield) second from left, Captain Elect Newcastle Girls High, being congratulated by the then Headmistress
Photograph courtesy of Margaret Colditz

Margaret trained as a nurse at The Royal Newcastle Hospital.

Royal Newcastle Hospital - North Wing (left) and York Wing (right) (n.d.)
Photograph courtesy of Hospital Archives, held by University Archives in Cultural Collections, University of Newcastle, NSW, Australia

She attended one of the earliest university nursing courses, winning a Florence Nightingale scholarship to undertake a postgraduate nurse tutor assistant course at Melbourne University.

“It was a great honour”, Margaret explains. “On the first day, we walked past these grand stately buildings – only to find we were being taken right down the back – to an ex - army hut! It was as cold as charity! So much for the honour!”

Eventually, back at the Royal, Margaret became Tutor in Charge at the School of Nursing. Thus she combined her love of both nursing and teaching.

At the age of 27, Margaret married Harry Colditz, the son of watchmaker and jeweller Henry Colditz whose shop was at 45 Beaumont Street. Harry learned his skills from his father, who had left Australia to train as a journeyman watchmaker in Belgium and Switzerland.

Present day 45 Beaumont Street, Hamilton (2014)
Photograph by Craig Smith

Hundreds of bicycles, ridden by men going to work at BHP steel works, surged along Beaumont Street – “so close a pin couldn’t fit between them,” Margaret tells me. Because of the shift work, alarm clocks were absolutely essential, and keeping these in working order was bread and butter business for the watch maker. Margaret remembers a large shelf being built in the shop at No. 45 to accommodate all the alarm clocks. Men would drop them off on the way to work, and collect them, expertly repaired, on the way home.

Alarm clock circa 1930s

Harry and his father had bought land for a weekend retreat on the shores of Lake Macquarie. In time, Margaret and Harry moved to live there permanently with their young family, and care for Mr Colditz senior.

In that tranquil, bushland setting, Margaret has never forgotten Beaumont Street. She specially loves its sounds, and I imagine that in the twenty years since Harry passed away, there are many quiet days on Lake Macquarie when birdsong mingles with her recollections of those sounds –

If one lived towards the southern end, there was no need for an alarm clock. “Ting, ting, ting” from the  blacksmith's shop as he struck the large anvil, was a melodious way of being awakened. .... St Peter’s church bell on Wednesdays and on Sundays....the paper boys wheeling their often home made billy carts, usually with iron wheels which made quite a noise on the bitumen surface – also ensured we woke up early on Sunday mornings. The milk man, with his horse and cart...used to run down the long side lands to the back verandahs, measure out a quart of milk into the billy can, replace the lid and then run back up to the horse and cart.

At night, a Steel Works Bus would take men to “Dog Watch” (the late night shift) and return them in the morning, We all used to listen for that bus. Tucked up in bed asleep, early, we still seemed to sense that bus about 10.15 pm.

I wonder if even now, Margaret sometimes hears the Dog Watch bus as she drifts off to sleep?


Thank you to Margaret Colditz for her memoir 'My Beloved Beaumont Street' (unpublished), her later contribution and and photographs.

[1] Colditz, M: My Beloved Beaumont Street. Manuscript (1990).