Christmas-time in the shop was always a busy, frantic period with many extra hours put into the business. It would start round about the middle of November when the window displays were being prepared for the climax of the year’s trading, windows which traditionally had been crammed full of all manner of menswear goodies to tempt the shopper in a sparkling display of festive products.
My father was carrying on a business originally set up by his grandfather in 1896; his father took over in the early 1920s and my father took it on in 1956 on the death of his father. One of the employees at this time was a gentleman who had been taken on for his skills in tailoring, in reality he never did any but was responsible for measuring and for overseeing alterations of made-to-measure clothing manufactured elsewhere. One of his other skills was in window dressing and my father could rely on this employee to undertake this task without any input from himself. In 1972, at the age of 75 this employee retired and so my father was left with no-one to take on the window displays so tackled it himself. This was fine for year round displays but the traditional Christmas windows needed assistance – this is where I come into this tale, somehow I seemed to be the one to which my father turned to perform this annual ritual and one which I quite relished.
I actually hated being in the shop and serving customers, it was not what I wanted to do and I was never pressurised into taking on the business, anyhow, back to the windows, as previously mentioned work would commence on the display around mid November. I must confess to wandering around town and stealing ideas from other window displays and adapt them for our own purpose. It would normally take me about a week of evenings to complete the one main window, the one my father called “fancy goods”; in here were displayed shirts, ties, jewellery, gloves, socks, handkerchiefs, and other smaller items and was the window that attracted most viewers. Afterwards, I could stand back and look at the window with a feeling of some pride at the annual display.
As Christmas became closer so it was very often necessary to remove items from the window if the corresponding item in stock had been sold, we used a long reach grab for this as the window was so full access would have been very difficult without removing a large number of items. At the end of the day the reverse process would take place as I delicately replaced any removed items with similar ones from stock. Yesterday I surprised my brother by producing the log-handled-grab we used for window dressing, still in full working order.
Looking at photographs of the shop during the previous generations shows that full windows at Christmas was a tradition with Stokes & Sons, this continued until the business was wound down in 1980 when the final few years of the 90 year lease taken out by my great grandfather were sold to another gent’s outfitting concern. So ended 84 years of menswear trading in Bridgend under the Stokes name.