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In the late 50's and up to the mid 60's my Mom worked at Lewis's
She worked there as a cleaner doing the morning and evening shifts.
Mom was one of those women who always wore a pinny, I swear I cant remember if she even took it off for a bath...
The pinny had one of those Kangaroo pouches in the front, Mom used it to store more nuts than a Squirrel.
She was forever nibbling away on Peanuts, Walnuts, Hazel nuts, every type of nut you could think of.
Mom claimed she picked them up off the floor as she cleaned around the counters, all I'll say is, the staff at Lewis's must have been the clumsiest Assistants in history.
Mom being Staff also got us in to see Father Christmas and Uncle Holly every year, we even managed to get a small present, and we never seemed to wait in the queues.
Mom even took us on to the roof park there, but I cant really remember much about it, that bit is lost to history I'm afraid.
I remember when I first moved to Tamworth,
I invited my neighbour Terry around for a drink the one Saturday night.
I was quite suprised to discover that Terry too was a Nechellite from around Belmont Row.
We got to talking about the past and he asked about my Mom and Dad etc and where they worked.
Well the night ended and Terry and Gill went home, the next evening he returned and handed me a photograph.
Now, when I talk about my Mom and Dad here, I do so without thinking too deeply about them, you see, the sad truth is, even after 30 odd years the memory is still too painful to bear.
The photograph Terry handed me was one of his Mother enjoying a staff party with her best friend..
And her best friend was my Mom...
She was holding a bottle of Mackeson and laughing into the camera..
I have built so many barriers and defences over the years, they were designed to get me through some painful times and protect me from my early life.
That photograph destroyed every one....and it broke my heart.
Terry very kindly gave it to me, I keep it now as one of my greatest treasures.


Lewis,s had been in Birmingham since the late 1800,s and it is said that David Lewis the founder of the empire stood on all the street corners until he found the busiest and that ,s wher he built the store.

The roof garden I can remeber going to as a child and I belive it was closed when someone committed suicide.

I also worked at Lewis,s from 1968 to 1976 and staff were allowed onto the roof during break times.

As a child we had our school uniforms bought from Lewis,s and the nnaula trip included a meal in the resturant where we had fish (cod ) and chips and bread and tea. A great treat .

I can remember seeing father Christmas there too as a child and uncle Holly .

When I worked there running the grotto was one of the jobs I had and thee year I was there we had a father Christams who had the same name as me .He was a student at bham uni and kept pet rats.
One of which he brought into work and kept inside his father xmas outfit It pooped out one day and casused a bit of a rukus . so wasnt alowed again.

In the early days of the store the basement was flooded and turned into a miniture venice for a promotion .and during the war it became a temporary hospital.

We had continual bomb scares during the early 1970s .

A friend from school, father died falling down a lift shaft (he was a lift engineer)

We used to have great staff parties One was at the " Locano" opposite where Toys rus is now.


In 1935, when I was 6 years old, my mother Florence Parsons, was a waitress in the top floor dining room. In Lewis's. She died in 1976, but I was always very interested in the 'tales' she used to tell whilst working there.
Her wages at the time, combined with her tips, matched up to my dad's weekly wage from the factory. It was a good job too, because factory wages - if you could get a job - were very poor.
It was whilst she worked there that we children were introduced to the delights of 'left overs'. Cakes, biscuits and fruit, all of which were paid for out of her wages at a much discounted price. Grapefruits cut in half, segmented, sprinkled with sugar and left overnight in the pantry ready for breakfast on a Sunday morning were a rare treat and for me, a taste which was aquired after many false starts. Chocolate biscuits and fairy cakes, cream buns and rock cakes - take your pick, in fact all sorts.
A 'tale' she often told in later years, was when she was a bit late getting to Lewis's in the morning and was hurrying along, when she felt an entanglement around her feet. To her horror, she spied her knickers around her ankles - the elastic had bust (or it might have been pinched). Anyroadup, she swiftly stooped down, retrieved the item and stuffed it in her handbag, then proceed to the 'Ladies' and from there to her station in the dining room.
Whilst serving lunch to a couple of her regulars, she overheard them discussing the funny sight they had seen earlier on, when they were on their way to lunch - this woman who nearly fell over when her knickers fell down and how quickly she retrieved them. They were having a good old chuckle when mom said, "I had to, I never carry a spare pair" The men didn't know that it was mom they had seen - only ever seen her togged up in waitresses uniform. Apparenly they left a good tip.
Mom was never known to be shy! :lol:


Anybody else remember losing their baby curls at Lewis's? My Auntie Doll took me there to get a cut and set (I was about 5 yrs old) and I don't think my hair ever curled again! I do remember the chair being in the shape of a large rooster.


gone but not forgotten
Jean, I never had my locks cut there but heard of plenty of kids who did. They told me they were sat on rocking horses to have their trim.

I've never, to this day, been able to figure out how the hairdresser did a decent cut with the kid rocking. :shock: Or did they sit on the horse with the kid? :?: :?:


Paul: I don't remember rocking chairs or having any company during the trim. All sounds rather dangerous!


I remember having my hair cut in Lewis's. My nan always used to take me and I remember sitting on a horse or something while I had it done. We always went to the roof top for a lunch after. It was by way of a little treat.


Peter Walker

gone but not forgotten
It's surprising Lewis's has not been mentioned much before. I thought it was the principal department store in Brum, certainly bigger than Grey's opposite in Bull Street, and others like snooty Rackham's and the Beehive tucked away in Albert Street were far smaller.
Lewis's was enormous, in two halves separated by the Minories, the only road I remember in Birmingham which had rubber setts to reduce noise. There were basements on either side, which were connected by two or three passages beneath the Minories. The basements were the most interesting part of the store, where the groceries and the fresh fish were sold - what a wonderful smell - I can still remember it! The cosmetics and the haberdashery were on the ground floor and (having checked from a photograph) I can confidently say there were no fewer than six floors above that. I hated the children's haircutting section, where as a tot I had to sit on a wooden animal to have my hair assaulted. On the top level of course there was the Pets' Corner, which I loved, although looking back I suspect the animals had a rough time there.


gone but not forgotten
Peter Walker said:
It's surprising Lewis's has not been mentioned much before...
There does seem to be an everlasting fondness amongst Brummies for what was their premier department store.

Such was it's prominence that it became a metaphor for quite a few Brummie sayings: For a lucky person... If he fell off the top of Lewis's, he'd drop into a new suit. When p'd off... Well I might as well go and throw meself off the top of Lewis's (and quite a few did). For somebody hard to find... He's like s***e from a wooden rocking horse in Lewis's.

There is quite a lot more about Lewis's on this forum; try this for a start:


Not wishing to bring Xmas back, just yet, but talk of Lewis’s department store bought back memories of queuing up those 6 flights of stairs for what seemed hours and to be greeted by Uncle Holly at the top and then going into the Grotto to meet the REAL Father Christmas


gone but not forgotten

Yeah, those were the days. :lol: I don't think the REAL Father Christmas has been to Brum since they closed his REAL grotto. I'm told (much too young to remember) that there used to be a great parade through the city centre when he arrived - bit like Christ arriving in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. :)


master brummie
We must all have fond memories of Lewis' going back to Christmas the window displays were magic for young children. I also remember in the passages in the basement where we first had the soft ice cream cornets from a row of machines, and also tasting my first waffles, they were absolutely delicious. When my son was a little boy it was a must to go up to the roof garden, this would be the early sixties, it was closed after someone either fell or jumped off the roof.


master brummie
There was a lady who used to demo cosmetics on Saturday morning. she was there for years. She was small and brash, and the panstick on her face would have plastered any wall. Thre was always a crowd at her counter, and the banter was wonderful.

Peter Walker

gone but not forgotten
Lewis's (and other firms') ice cream

Sylvia's note on the ice cream machines in Lewis's brings back memories -but mine were not so fond.
From when I was a real nipper before the war, I can remember only two brands - Midland Counties, whose tubs had a blue-and-white diamond checker pattern round the cardboard sides, and Wall's, who had a depot in Nineveh Road, right next to the bridge over Hockley Brook, just round the corner from my three surviving grandparents. A small army of 'Stop me and buy one' men went out from there every day on their tricycles. With rationing and so on, I think ice cream went off the menu from some time in mid to late 1940.
The next I remember about ice cream was at a department store in Leicester in early 1945, (I think it was another branch of Lewis's, but I am not sure now), when a substance looking like off-white non-drip emulsion paint was being put into cornets that were probably years old. As I remember, the taste was mainly of powdered milk, saccharin and cornflour, and it left behind an unfamiliar feeling on the tongue, reminiscent of diluted cod liver oil. Yuk.
Not long after that, a similar substance was sold at the Birmingham Lewis's, as I remember in the base lobby in Bull Street close to Grey's. Shortly after came the d-i-y machines where I think you turned a small lever rather than pressed a button, and the mixture oozed into your empty cornet. I believe you paid a cashier before leaving, rather than putting cash into the machines at that time.
I would guess now that it was not until 1946 or 47 that the battery of slot machines Sylvia mentions were working. By that time, ice cream was quite nice, I remember.


master brummie
My first memories of these ice cream machines go back to about 1950/2
I went to Aston Commercial and as my friends lived in various parts of Birmingham we used to meet in town on Saturdays or in the holidays and mooch round town, we didn't have much money to spend but could usually run to an ice cream or a waffle.


I worked in Lewis,s in the 1960/70s and there were 5 selling floors plus basement .
The 6th floor was two restaurants 1 self service the other waitress service

The 7th floor was the staff restaurants.there were four staff restaurants 1 for staff 1 for assistant managers both self service then 1 for managers and 1 for senior managers both waitress service .

Underneath the basement was the sub basement which held the staff cloakrooms 1 for women 1 for men . and a few stockrooms.
Underneath the sub basement was a the boiler room.

The basement held tools,tiles, wood, gardening, electriacl goods, hardware,ironmongery, kitchen ware .
Ground floor "B" block was food and pets, the pet shop was closed cus a member of staff died of parrotts disease above that was mens wear , above that ladies wear , third floor was linens and soft funrishings and ladies hairdressing , fourth floor was furniture , Fitfh floor seasonal departments ie Toys,
in The A block ground floor was toiletries, cosmetics, fashion acessories, first floor fashion fabrics miss selfridge, 2nd floor ladies outerwear ,3rd floor beds , 4th floor sofas etc 5th floor seasonal ,

I think childrens wear was on the second floor .
The record shop was outside underneath opposite zissmans menswear , and a coffee bar.

There used to be saying that if you stood outside Lewis,s on a saturday you would see everyone you have ever known.


Kiwi Brummie Admin' Team
:D Peter, if you go to search (Bars top and bottom of this page) and type in 'Lewis's' you will find at least 12 threads where Lewis's gets a mention. One started by Kandor is even entitled 'Lewis's'.
History Lewis's Kandor 6 212 Wed May 12, 2004 2:28 pm ...
Also some posts on topic's and threads have had to be removed over time by the team in the back room, in order to make room for new posts, topics and threads. However on saying that they try very hard and I may say do a very good job at retaining historical ones. 8)
Hope you don't mind my pointing this out no offence intended. :)

Peter Walker

gone but not forgotten
Paul] What I meant to say was how I appreciated recollections from someone who actually worked at Lewis's, rather than passing through like most of us did. The Webring is a wonderful way of recording events, people and places that would otherwise go forgotten. Let's hope it will long continue to give our successors a few tips.