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Turn Back Time: Memories of Walsh's store in Sheffield
Perfume counter at Walsh's, Sheffield, 1972
Perfume counter at Walsh's department store in 1972. The building was on Sheffield High Street and is now TJ Hughes.

There was a time when large towns and cities across Britain had their own independent department stores rather than the same chain stores.

Walsh's, on the High Street opposite the Castle Square tram stop, was one such shop.

John Walsh Ltd opened in 1875 and by 1895 there were 36 departments selling a wide range of goods.

The store was bombed in the Sheffield Blitz in World War II and moved to Broomhill whilst repairs were carried out.

After the war, the store was bought by the Harrods group and was renamed Walsh's. The rebuilt store was reopened in 1953

Neville Helliwell worked there from the early 1960s until 1975:

"Originally I started off as salesman in the boys' schoolwear department then I got made up to assistant buyer and then eventually buyer of ladies', children's and gents' shoes."

"It [the store] was quite luxurious and modern because it had all been changed by the 60s. It was ultra-modern, as far as we could go in those days. We thought it was the cats' whiskers.

"All the departments were done out very nicely, with mannequins in the fashion department. Each night before we went home we had to cover these displays with dustcloths and set them up again in the morning."

He admits it was a different world then and that the TV sitcom "Are You Being Served?" was not too far from the truth:

"I had a lovely fashion manageress and we used to go on buying trips together. She was one of the old school. She always wore a little mink cravat hat and a patent handbag.

"In those days when ladies went into the restaurant at Walsh's they had to wear a hat and gloves and have a handbag and they would be told off if they didn't.

Walsh's on High Street in the 1950s
John Walsh's was reopened in 1953 after being bombed during WWII

"When I was first interviewed for the position of buyer by one of the staff officers I happened to say 'ok'. She said 'Mr Helliwell, we do not say ok at Walsh's. We leave that to the Americans.' So that was me told off.

"We had to wear a dark suit and as a buyer I had to wear a white stiff collared shirt, lace up shoes, and have hands scrubbed perfectly. When it got hot you couldn't take your jacket off, you just had to serve in those conditions.

"You had to call everyone Sir and Madam and there were chairs in each dept for people to sit down. In those days we had to wrap everything in paper, not plastic bags, so we had to go on a one day training course to be shown how to wrap difficult size boxes and difficult shapes and every crease had to be neat and tidy."

As well as the high standards expected of staff, according to Neville the Harrods connection was an added attraction to some customers.

"A Harrods van used to come up to Sheffield once a week on a Wednesday bringing stuff from Harrods to Walsh's. It also did local deliveries.

"We had one lady who lived out at Ecclesall and she would order one loaf on a Wednesday from Walsh's, costing 1s 6d, so it could be delivered - by Harrods van."

In spite of the formal atmosphere, Neville enjoyed his time there:

"It was an excellent place to work. They looked after the staff very, very well and most of the customers were really nice people.

"We had a lovely restaurant for the staff, the buyers' restaurant and the public restaurant.

"In the public restaurant you were always met by a seater who took you to your table and gave you your menus before the waiters and waitresses came. It was very similar in the buyers' room. In the staff room, it was much more self service but it was a family atmosphere.

"We had lots of social clubs. We used to play rounders in Graves Park and we had parties at the Fiesta, so it was very much a family store."

Neville left Walsh's shortly after it was taken over by Rackhams. It was later bought by House of Fraser.

The building it used to occupy on High Street is now TJ Hughes.

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