HR-52 – Harry Ramsden’s, 1952.
|Written By||Brian Triffitt|
|Comment||Monday 8th July 1952 and a special event in Guiseley “The Big Fry.”|
Nearly 10,000 people swarmed into the White Cross district of Guiseley tonight for Harry Ramsdens “Big Fry” his final gesture of goodwill before he retires.
It was also the twenty first birthday party of his fish and chip restaurant.
When he sold out in May for £35,000 he promised that he would hold a celebration night and that he would turn the clock back 30 years,
“We will sell fish at a penny and chips at a halfpenny” he proudly said to a vaguely disbelieving public.
Last night showed that his promise was not a hollow one.
Never had so much salt and vinegar settled on so many fish and chips bought at so little cost.
One hundred stone of fish and nearly two tons of potatoes went into 6 pans with a resultant never ending stream of batter bound fish and glistening chips which were devoured by a slowly moving queue with three and a half pence at the ready.
Guiseley presented a spectacle that the district had never seen before.
Crowds came from Bradford, Leeds, Halifax Huddersfield and Cleckheaton in special motor coaches in cars on motorcycles, bicycles and on foot.
Twenty police men and five patrol cars equipped with microphones were called in to handle the crowds.
This was truly a fish and chip Mecca.
To entertain the queues there was Dixieland Music played by a band led by Mr. Ramsdens nephew, Harry Corbett and Martial airs from the Guiseley Brass Band and the Hammond’s Sauce Works Band of Shipley.
Vocal offerings were made by the Derek Holden Rhythm Choir.
At the back of the restaurant a fun fair was in full swing.
Flash bulbs popped and TV cameras were focused on the scene.
Over all of this presided Mr. Ramsden a man whose name has become synonymous with a dish which occupies such a distinctive place in the Englishman s diet.
Harry Ramsden was a benevolent figure at 64 in a grey check suit, winged collar and a sweet pea button hole, he moved among the throng signing autographs on old newspaper scraps, fish and chip wrappers and diaries.
“Are you alright” was his cheery question to all and sundry.
People stopped him to shake his hand.
One mother thrust her freckle faced boy towards him to “shake hands with Harry”
“What do you think of it all?” I asked Mr. Ramsden
“Well” he said “I’m delighted, it is costing me about £500 but it’s worth every penny of it. I have a staff of 51 working and I hope everyone gets served”
I asked him what he thought about his retirement after so many years in the fish and chip shop business.
“Well it will be a wrench” he said “but you have to retire sometime haven’t you?”
Rumour has it that he is to retire to Bournemouth, but Mr. Ramsden scotched the falsity .
“I like Guiseley a lot” he said “and I am going to carry on living here. Maybe I will go to Bournemouth to have a spot of cruising. I like sailing over the fish which have given me my livelihood.
So spoke a man who set up business 26 years ago in a little wooden hut he bought for £150.
People called it a white elephant but it blossomed into what is known today as “Yorkshires finest fish and chip restaurant”
The first customers were two 20 year old twins Mavis and Wendy Raistrick of 32 King Edward Crescent, Horsforth.
Spinners on holiday they were there at 1 o’clock and sitting on the doorstep watching the queue grow to 150 yards long, until at 6.45 (a quarter of an hour before time) Mr. Ramsden opened up.
For Mavis and Wendy who were the first customers there was a cigarette lighter and a card signed by Harry as a memento.
In the first hour perspiring attendants served 1,207 customers “Just seven over my estimate” said Mr. Ramsden with a smile, and the queue still grew.
At 9.30 a column three quarters of a mile longs stretched from the restaurant doors and a shuttle bus service was run from the front to the back of the ever shifting crowd.
Fish and chips were sent to patients at Menston Hospital.
What looked to be a crowd of Cup-Final proportions watched a half hour firework display which sent rockets whizzing into the night sky.
At midnight when it was estimated that 8,000 people had been served with a “pennorth and a haporth” the queue was 400 yards long filing slowly toward the distant counters in the light of fairy lamps hanging in the Ash tree and the shops green and red neon lighting.
And the band played on.
A late arrival was BBC producer Barny Colehan an old friend of Harry’s.
An amazing night at Guiseley came to an end at 1am, an hour after the scheduled time when Mr. Ramsden donned a white coat to serve the last customer, 62 year old Benny Patrick of Oxford Villas, Guiseley.
Said Mr. Patrick: “I’ve been a customer of Harry’s ever since he opened up, and I was determined to be the last customer”
I worked at Harry Ramsdens in the office and also as a restaurant cashier working first part time and then offered a full time job in the early 1960s and I loved it there. There was a great team atmosphere under Mr Eddie Stokes and Mr Knott was a nice man who greeted everyone at the door and the lovely Mary who organised everything. I can still remember lots of the names as I did the wages! I was only young but was given lots of responsibility which was such a good training for later life. We had many part and full time staff to organise. Mr Stokes and his wife Effie and her mother Mrs Scott lived in the semi next door and my dear friends Jim and Dorothy Robinson lived next door to them with my friend Margaret Robinson (waitress) and daughter Susan. They all worked at Ramsdens. I often worked every day of the week to earn extra money and had fish and chips each day I worked for over for about 3 years!
Things I remember most:
Mr Stokes loved the Black and White Minstrels and I had to load up the music which was piped into the restaurant from opening till closing – we all got sick of it!.
It took me days to count all the charity boxes and empty all the machines – I can remember the one I loved best was a large “Guide Dogs for the Blind” dog situated outside the toilets! We collected thousands of pounds for charity.
The Jacksons (John Peter and Dad ) office was at entrance to Leeds/Bradford Airport used to provide a taxi service to take us home at night when we had finished after midnight. Mum Kath worked in the kitchen.
Lots of the staff were related, mother, sisters, sons and daughters and many were over 60.
The “special soup” was a mix of Heinz, tomato, vegetable and oxtail and it tasted delicious.
There was a “staff room” upstairs (narrow wooden steps) at the back where we all used to go to eat our meals on our breaks.
We got through 100s of table cloths each week and I had to count them all (plain white and checked over cloths) and put them into wicker baskets every Monday for the laundry to collect (think it was the Yeadon Laundry).
When the potatoes were delivered every week Mr Stokes would have several peeled and chipped and fried so he could test them before the lorry was unloaded – a bad lot of potatoes could damage your reputation.
There were workers there 24 hours a day and the night shift of men were responsible for making sure all the chips were prepared properly (all eyes/blemishes removed) and the fish was thoroughly filleted and portioned (no bones or skin allowed).
The batter was delivered packed with the Harry Ramsden label as this was a “trade secret”.
My clothes and hair used to smell of fish and chips!
I can remember celebrities coming in to eat and often Harry Corbett (Sooty and Sweep fame) used to come in usually Sunday nights. Also the Australian Rugby Team who were on tour and staying in Ilkley.
Happy, happy days I still have the lovely reference Mr Stokes gave me when I left there aged 19.
My brother and I were so sad when Harry’s closed down and when I am with him and we have fish and chips we always say “cheers Harry” in memory of him.
Sadly hardly any taste as good as the ones served in Harry Ramsdens in those good old days.
Does anyone else remember this time?
Valerie Ryan (nee Valerie Hoare)
22 August 2013.
I was 11 years old in 1957 and attending what was then Guiseley Secondary Modern when the dinner money went up to 3 shillings and threepence a week. My mate Terry and I decided not to give the money in for our dinners but to go instead to Harry Ramsdens. At the ‘outdoor’ we could get fish and chips, a slice of bread and butter and a mug of tea for 1 shilling and a penny. We went there on Monday, Wednesday and Friday but we starved on Tuesdays and Thursdays. You do the maths…. Happy memories.
18 December 2014.
Consolidated by Jack Brayshaw. 22 August 2022.
Last updated: 22 August 2022.