South Shields Local History Group

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China Craft

China Craft was started by Sydney Curry in about 1951.  His first shop was at the top of Frederick Street and his second shop at 22 Green Street in 1953. 

He then opened another shop at 44 Frederick Street in about 1959.  This was advertised as a “Walk Round Store” ie a self service store or a mini supermarket as opposed to a store where the shop assistant handed you the goods, this was quite a new idea at the time.

Originally Syd or another driver used to travel down to the potteries at Stoke and collect pottery then sell it cheaply in the shop.  In the early 1960s Syd’s brother-in-law Jim Ford became General Manager and used to drive a Mini van down to Stoke to collect the pottery, then as the business increased in size Syd bought a Commer Van and that was replaced by one of the first Transit vans in 1965.

In about 1960 a China Craft was opened on the corner of Keppel Street and Fowler Street this shop was demolished in 1972 to allow a dual carriageway to be built on Keppel Street.

Keppel St/Fowler 1960s (South Tyneside Libraries, STH0018385)
Keppel St/Fowler Street 1972 (South Tyneside Libraries, STH0019363)

Originally just selling pottery Syd then added toys, fancy goods and toiletries.  In 1962 China Craft was taken to court because they were selling Vaseline at reduced prices and some of the (slippery) manufacturers were not keen on this nor were other shop keepers but the hard up public were very keen on reduced prices!

In about 1960 Green Street was demolished and a new store opened in New Green Street with Margaret Allen as the manageress.  The stock was stored at the garages at the back of the store or in a small unit in Maxwell Street.

New Green Street 1960s (Shields Gazette)
China Craft New Green Street 1960s (Shields Gazette)

In 1962 a shop was opened at the Market to the left of the current Heron Foods.

Jim Ford (General Manager), Jimmy Hawkins, Syd Curry (Owner) (photo Ken Allen)
China Craft at the Market (Ken Allen)
China Craft at the Market (Ken Allen)

In 1967 a new store was opened in Stanhope Road again with Margaret Allen as manageress.  This store was sold in about 1972 to a Mr Hussain who then traded as Faircraft.

In 1969 a China Craft was opened in Green Lane this was probably the largest of the China Craft shops.

Green Lane (Shields Gazette)
China Craft Green Lane 1960s (Shields Gazette)

In 1969 because of the high incidence of shoplifting in the shops five private detectives were employed!

Margaret Ford (now Gabica) the daughter of Jim Ford the general manager of China Craft remembers a new shop opening in Fowler Street in about 1969 or 70:

“Syd arranged for me to be on the new fruit and veg counter in the new Fowler Street shop (close to Frank Lakes shop or whatever it is/was called.  He wanted a bit of a splash to open the new shop, so the first one hundred (I think…) customers were to be given a frozen chicken (okay it might not have been 100…) but it was enough to have a huge queue of people outside waiting.  Also, the circus was in town at the time and Syd had contacted them and asked them if they wanted to do a bit of joint publicity by sending an act to officially open the store, expecting a clown or someone similar.  I was at the counter, end of the first aisle, waiting with my fruit and veg for the first customers.  I’d seen the queue so I was a bit excited, and then there was a huge roar from the crowd, and I couldn’t see what was going on but it sounded exciting.  Official ribbon cutting ceremony over, the doors were opened and in came the special guest to be the first customer.  I almost fainted with excitement when down the aisle came a keeper, accompanied by a baby elephant with a basket firmly clutched in its trunk.  It spotted the fruit and veg and made a beeline for me.  She (was a female apparently) put her basket in the counter and the keeper said she could have a banana.  I put one on the counter for her and she picked it up with her trunk and straight into her mouth.  I’ll never forget her eyelashes (oh they were so long,) fluttering as she ate the whole thing, skin and all.  Unforgettable. I can still see it now!”

China Craft also had stores on Prince Edward Road (Nook), Boldon Lane, Fulwell, Pallion and 13 Grange Road Jarrow near the Town Hall.

Syd had at least 13 shops in the 20 years that China Craft was operating.  In 1972 Syd sold the Frederick Street and New Green Street shops and they became Markworth Discount Stores.  Most of the shops were sold about this time, the rise of the supermarkets meant it was more difficult for China Craft to compete on prices.

Sydney Curry 1928 to 2011 a South Shields entrepreneur and a very nice man!

British Newspaper Archives
Ken Allen
Margaret Gabica (nee Ford, daughter of Jim Ford general manager)
Susan Melia (daughter of Syd Curry owner)

Ken Allen
Mudditt family
Shields Gazette
South Tyneside Libraries
Susan Melia

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