First of all, here is a very brief account of the Gracie family (I have compiled a complete history dating back to 1841, which will be available to members of the Gracie family):
On 10th November 1834, Pawnbroker, Robert Gracie (born In Scotland circa 1810) married Margaret Aspden at Bispham-with-Norbeck, Lancashire. In 1852 their son, Robert Thomas Gracie was born. On 27th December 1874, Pawnbroker’s Assistant Robert Thomas Gracie married Eliza Batho from Wrexham, Denbighshire. The marriage took place at Toxteth Park, Liverpool. One of the children of Robert Thomas Gracie, and Eliza Gracie (nee Batho) was John William Gracie (born 23rd January 1878). At the end of 1905, Pawenbroker’s Assistant, John William Gracie married Harriet Williams (born 28th February 1875) of Liverpool. The marriage was registered in the District of Birkenhead and by 1906, they had moved across the border to Rhosllanerchrugog. By 1909, John William Gracie and his wife Harriet were living at Osborne Street, Rhos and John William was a self-employed pawnbroker.
RHOS BRANCH OF GRACIES
In 1919, John William Gracie had a pawnbroker’s shop in Hall Street, Rhos. We know this because in September 1919 his shop window was broken and a number of articles of jewellery were stolen.
Gracie’s shop was in the old Bazaar, next to the Public Hall in Hall Street. They later had a new shop built on the site of the old White Lion Inn (now occupied by Spar Supermarket). On Monday mornings women would bring their clothes to pawn. The shop was managed by Tom Clydesdale.
We know from a receipt that in 1937 Gracies Ltd. was a Jewellers, Pawnbrokers, Outfitters, etc. Goods could be purchased and paid for weekly. We know (also from a receipt) that in 1947 the Managing Director of Gracie’s was Robert William Gracie. Other directors were: William Henry Gracie, T. Clydesdale, H. Parry and F. Sinclair. The family all helped to run the shops – Edith Gracie, Dorothy Gracie, R. W. Gracie and W. H. Gracie. We also know that at this time the Gracie family had shops in Market Street Rhos; Bailey Street, Oswestry; Crane Street, Cefn; High Street, Coedpoeth; Castle Street, Llangollen and High Street, Wrexham. It may even interest some readers to know that in 1947 Gracie’s were selling wellington boots for twenty-six shillings and two pence a pair, but you needed four coupons per pair, as rationing was still in force.
Gracies had two shops in Rhos, one was where the Spar supermarket is today. Del Taylor told us that opposite this shop there was a large lamp post on a concrete plinth which was known as Y Groes. Sheila Gracie told me that the other Gracie’s shop was where the pharmacy is now at 85 Market Street, Rhos. John Evans told me that his friend, Frank Gracie Owens’ parents were Richard and Edith Owens (nee Gracie) who ran the shop where the pharmacy is now. Richard was a tailor and sold suits and school uniforms and they lived in Osborne Street; they were lovely people. Lesley Anne Cross agreed that her grandfather, Richard (Dick) Stanley Owens, used to run the little shop at 85 Market Street, Rhos. Dick was also the great uncle of Joan Harrison.
Megan Rowley remembers that Gracie’s used to have goods displayed outside on trestle tables in front of the shop windows and there were no reports of stealing in those days. Sheila Gracie has seen the actual table tops recently and described them as being eight feet long and two feet wide, painted green.
Gracies sold Brocks’ fireworks at Guy Fawkes and a wide range of Gifts at Christmas.
Let’s read now about what it was like to work for Gracie’s shops in Rhos.
Sheila Gracie worked in Gracies and told us that, “it was a very busy shop that sold everything.” Sheila worked with Meirion Parry, who had previously worked in the Llangollen branch of Gracies. In 1970, Sheila Gracie (then called Sheila Jones) married David Robert Gracie, son of Robert William Gracie and his wife Eluned Gracie.
Susan Ettinger lived in Osborne Street and the people who owned Gracies lived a few yards across the road. “I lived in Stanley Villa and my dad was the chemist, Jack Hughes.”
Ena Woolford remembers Edie in Gracie’s as being always pleasant and helpful. Ena wishes we could turn the clocks back and have Rhos as it was.
Marilyn Lloyd’s aunty (Margaret Davies of Ffordd Powys, Gardden Road) worked in Gracie’s shop on the Cross. Nicky Abel told us that Gracie’s was her nain’s family’s chain of shops. Nicky used to love going to them as a kid; “they sold everything, as I thought when I was small. Good memories.”
Sue Hallard remembers both of Gracie’s shops in Rhos and worked in the one on the Cross during school holidays when she was fourteen or fifteen. Eileen Williams told me that, “my mother-in-law, Bertha Williams (nee Phillips), used to work at Gracie’s as a bookkeeper. She married in 1943 and had her son David in 1945, so she would have left Gracies around that time.”
Ronald Evans’ Uncle George’s daughter, Mary Evans, who worked there married into the Gracie’s family. Joan Jones’ mum, Edith Hill, worked there – “I remember her telling me that the money customers spent was put into a container on a pulley, and then their change was sent back in the same way.”
Pauline Hughes’ mum used to work at Gracie’s with a lady called Ruby Parrott. Christina James’ mum, Ivy Griffiths (then called Davies), worked in Rhos with John and Mary Gracie, possibly as a cashier and said it was a lovely place to work.
Gillian Cooper’s mum, Megan Williams, worked there in the 1930s from the age of fourteen until the outbreak of WW2 when she went to work in munitions firstly in Marchweil then in Coventry building aircraft. Gaynor Dewar’s father was Peter Clydesdale. His father Thomas Clydesdale was manager of Gracie’s in Rhos. Hazel Scott’s Mum worked at Gracie’s before she married and Hazel still has a canteen of cutlery presented to her from Mr and Mrs Gracie for her wedding present.
Alan Williams told us that when Gracies is mentioned he thinks of Dennis Price’s mam working there and thinks she may have been the manageress.
And now let’s hear from the customers, without whom Gracie’s shops couldn’t have survived:
Kath Goodman-Parrott loved Gracie’s shop. Joan Fletcher remembers getting her school uniform from there for Grango school. Joan Hughes bought her daughter’s pram there in 1961 and Valerie Williams bought her son’s high chair there in 1962. Amanda Hayward loved going to Gracie’s shop with her mum as it was so exciting. They always bought something and Amanda’s son used to love running around in the shop when he was little.
They also had a Christmas club. Karen Thomas and Beryl Suckley remember Gracie’s having lovely Christmas displays in their shop windows and Nigel Shepherd enjoyed seeing their Father Christmas. When Lynne Holbeck was a child she saw a toy telephone exchange in Gracie’s Christmas display. On Christmas morning Lynne found it amongst the gifts at the end of my bed. Needless to say, she was delighted. Ceris Evans liked going to Gracies with her mam and always hoped she’d buy her something. Ceinwen MacNaughton remembers that Gracies shop was part of everyone’s childhood in Rhos, “it was so exciting to go there shopping on a Saturday morning.” Christmas time must have been a lovely time of year for the customers of Gracies. A 1959 Christmas Advert for Gracie’s of Rhos advertised such gifts as a Mosda Cigarette lighter, for 19s 6d, with three years of free service; Rovex Electric Trains; Fancy Goods and Chinaware; Bear Brand Nylons; Boxed Handkerchiefs; Timex, Westclox and Smiths watches; Shirts, Gloves, Socks, etc. Sue Hallard worked for Gracie’s during school holidays and remembers that at Christmas time they would open from 9 a.m.to 8 p.m, six days a week. They had a grotto on a Saturday and the children would be queuing for miles. Nia Ridgway remembers Father Christmas in his grotto for local children to visit on a Saturday leading up to Christmas. David Jones remembers their display windows down Smith Street, which are now bricked up. Emrys Hughes can also remember Gracie’s having toys in their side windows at Christmas.
CEFN MAWR BRANCH OF GRACIES
As early as 1917 John William Gracie had a pawn shop in Cefn Mawr. We know this because on Friday, 8th June 1917, a boy appeared at Ruabon Children’s Court charged with attempting to break into Gracie’s pawn shop in Cefn on Wednesday 18th April. Elfed Thomas, an assistant at the pawn shop, told how he went to the shop on that day. It was closed, but on going to the back of the shop he saw a boy near the door, with another youth nearby. The defendant was trying the door with a small iron bar (produced in court) and when Mr. Thomas asked him what his game was he began to cry. Elfed Thomas had locked the door at dinner-time but he found the padlock burst open and thrown into the dustbin. He also found two long iron bars which did not belong to the shop. On arriving at the premises, P.C. Cunnah found the padlock broken. He also noticed three deep dents in the door as if someone had been trying to force it open. He later saw the defendant in the presence of his mother. When asked what he’d been doing at the shop, the boy told him that the other lad had wanted him to go in for him. He admitted bursting the lock himself and said he had procured the bars from the back of a neighbouring shop. When asked what he intended to do inside the shop he told the constable that the other boy had told him he might find some money there. The defendant was cautioned by the Chairman. Unfortunately the rest of the news article is missing.
Originally, Gracies chain of shops was run as a Limited Company. Gracies of Cefn Mawr was very well known and they even had adverts on the back of bus tickets. Valerie Williams’ aunt, Mona Clarke, worked there in the early 1920s as a trained milliner; Valerie’s mum worked in Williams and Watkins and told her that they wouldn’t close at night if Gracie’s was still open. Jay EllieMai’s Dad’s cousin Nancy worked in Gracies shop at Cefn; Jay remembers the beautiful furniture. Derek Oldfield’s father also worked at Gracie’s in Cefn when he left school. “It was then known as the pawn shop. It was one of many great shops in Cefn – a thriving village.”
Ruby Andrews (nee Roberts) said that in 1943/44 she and her sister Joan and their friend Betty Ellis worked together at Gracie’s in Cefn.
Rachel Hampshire Burkill’s nana (a born and bred Cefner) called it The Pawn Shop. David Hart also remembers part of the shop being used as a Pawn Shop. It was accessed through a narrow gate at the right hand side of the shop. It was managed by a gentleman named Henry Parry, known at the time as “Henry Parry the Pawn”. In 1947 H. Parry was listed as a director of Gracies Ltd.
Len Salisbury told us that Henry Parry lived behind the building in a house in High Street. He was a local comedian in a trio. “He was known as Parry the Pawn as I believe that Gracies was also a Pawn Shop and they used to sell goods ‘on tick’.” Judith Coppock shopped at Gracie’s with her mum in the fifties and sixties. Muriel McClenahan also remembers buying green bloomers.
In the fifties and sixties, Heather Jones and her mother would walk to Cefn Mawr from Acrefair to buy their clothes from Gracie’s, as it was one of the top fashion shops in those days. Gracie’s of Cefn Mawr would helpfully order two dresses in the same size for Angela Robinson’s twins.
Muriel McClenahan told us that, “the sales person took your money and then it was flown high above the shop to an office, the change came wooshing back by the same contraption. I also remember the RGGS uniform buying. Always remember the shop when we visit Cefn.”
Gracies Ltd. closed in the early sixties and around 1962 the shop at Crane Street in Cefn Mawr was taken over by William Henry Gracie, his wife Megan and their family. William and Megan Gracie’s daughter, Elaine Gracie, worked alongside her parents at the shop after leaving school in 1964, aged fifteen.
Judith Roberts would go to Gracies with her Nan when she was little in the 60’s. Her Nan always managed to get what she needed. When Linda McGraw passed her 11-plus in 1965, her mother took her shopping for her Ruabon Girls Grammar School uniform at Gracies (Cefn): “It took ages and was very expensive for those days. I remember the poor sales lady running back and to, assembling all the items on the counter, while conversing with my mother the whole time. I can still remember the smell of that shop.”
Janet Valentine was the ‘Saturday Girl’ at Gracie’s for years and remembers Mr & Mrs Bill Gracie living in the flat above. Janet told us that Elaine Gracie took over the shop with her husband Mike after that.
Elaine told me that around 1973, her ex-husband Mike entered the business and they both took over the shop until it closed in 1995. Elaine considers herself to be privileged to have taken over her parents’ shop; she had fun with the efficient staff and made many friends. Elaine will never forget what her mother (Megan Gracie) told her: “there’s nothing artificial about Cefn people; what you see is what you get!! They are the salt of the earth.”
For the next few paragraphs I will hand you over to Susan Mills, who worked for Elaine Gracie at Gracie’s shop in Cefn for seventeen years. Susan told us: “I’ve got loads of memories, as I started working there when I was a shy young sixteen-year-old girl. Everything we sold would be wrapped up in paper, so I became very good at wrapping things up. It was run by Elaine Gracie and her husband, selling a number of things such as men’s, ladies’ and children’s wear; haberdashery, bags, gifts, kitchen-wear and curtains to name but a few items. It was the centre of the village in its day; a well-loved shop and lots of people have fond memories of it. Gracie’s was one of the biggest shops in the Cefn and very busy, with eight people working and you were very lucky to have a Saturday off, because that was mad busy.”
“We used to have reps that came in regularly to try to get Elaine to buy their goods, which she did on most occasions. They’d arrive by courier in huge boxes which we unpacked. Elaine and Mike would put a sticker on them in white or orange (non-vat) and it would be a mad race to get them priced with a price gun and put onto the shelves. This was hard sometimes when it was busy. We had clip boards around the different departments and if we were out of something or somebody had asked for something we didn’t have, it was put onto the list and when they went to Manchester to buy stock, Elaine would transfer the lists to one list. Stocktaking was a nightmare; we had cards with numbers on for each department so when we sold something before stocktaking was complete we needed to find the card it was on and then cross it off. I was always told that the customer comes first and we must always make them feel special; a service not practised a lot these days.”
“Most of the goods were in drawers and we used to get them out for people to choose, such as socks, pants, bras etc. Wellies and bags were hanging from the ceiling and we used long-reaching ladders to get them down. We had an Appro book so that people could take the items home to try them on and some were lucky enough to have a credit account. They also had a lay-by option whereby people could leave the items in the shop and pay each week on them. Monsanto’s dances were the busiest time for us, with women looking for their perfect dresses. Some had been to Wrexham and Chester but couldn’t find anything, so they’d come back to Gracies and find something.”
“Christmas Eve was amazing, as Elaine would give out sherry / wine and mince pies for customers and we would stay open till 5.30, then she would do a buffet and drinks for the staff. They had chairs in the shop for the older generation to sit on. Many would go to the vegetable shop or the butcher’s and then on to Margaret’s to have their hair done, then they would come to Gracie’s to wait for their taxis home. It was a proper community in those days and some even got a cup of tea. Most people of a certain age will remember buying school uniforms and presents for their friends and family. We never had calculators and used to have to add up on a piece of paper, which we had to put on a long needle by the till before we rang it up, then if the till was out we would go through them to see what had happened – e.g. a wrong amount rang in.”
“Another thing I have memories of is the window displays. Elaine was amazing at dressing the windows. We had a ladies’ window that was always colour-coordinated with four mannequins; a men’s one, a children’s one and gifts and hardware. They all had to be changed frequently due to the sun fading the stock. It was a great day for me when Elaine trained me to dress the windows and that job was given to me when Elaine was busy. There were also displays all around the shop to show what was sold. People used to love to see the window displays especially at Christmas, when they were amazing.”
“I had seventeen happy years working there and when they retired I took half the shop over and called it Jubilee Stores, doing the same on a much smaller scale. I also lived in the flat above for a while. Nowadays, you are lucky if you see anyone in the Cefn shopping; not a change for the best unfortunately.”
After Susan Mills’ wonderful account of what it was like to work in Gracie’s shop, let’s hear briefly from some other members of staff:
Sharon Mazzarella worked in Gracies Cefn years ago with Elaine and Mike. It was a lovely shop.
Elaine Gracie told me that her father (William Henry Gracie) considered Mary Powell to be the best and most efficient member of staff that he had ever known. Sylvia Wooding remembers that Mary Powell worked there for many years.
Gracie’s valued their loyal customers, so I have collected a few quotes from some of the many satisfied shoppers who frequented Gracies in Cefn.
Debra Mairs said you could buy anything at Gracies; “they had a men’s side and a women’s side; I remember all the glass-fronted drawers with female underwear inside; they were trend-setters, as this was not normally done in those days.
Anita Rushton remembers shopping there: “it always felt so posh when I walked in, though I would take a deep breath and hope and pray the children would not knock anything over and break it, lest I would have to pay for the item with a very red face and be watched closely after that as the lady with naughty children who break things. They used to sell everything you needed from underwear, school-wear, tea-sets, powder compacts, safety pins, hair clips, etc.”
Barbara Davies used take her young daughter there most Saturday afternoons and never came out empty handed. Adele Gregory loved Gracie’s at Cefn and said it was a real treat to go there. Tyger Be Bow-Jones never needed to go into town “’cos Gracie’s had it all.” Julie Francis has many lovely childhood memories of that fantastic shop. Julie Evans reckons it was, “the best shop ever!! They sold everything you needed; it was the heart of Cefn Mawr … sadly missed.”
Siân Gaughran’s mum loved Gracie’s shop in Cefn Mawr. “I think she was their best customer! I loved going in there as it felt so posh to us kids. I always wanted to work there.”
Brena John’s nain was a bit of a shopaholic so they were always in Gracie’s. Brena particularly remember lovely silky nighties, stockings and new pinnies. Martin Milner and Rose Thomas remembers signs reading, “Nice to handle; nice to hold; anything broken considered sold!!” Melvyn Jarvis’s mum used to make him read the signs and every time they went in he was too scared to take his hands out of his pockets.
Barbara Pugh always used to shop at Gracie’s in Cefn and Amanda Batchelor remembers going in there when she was little. Gillian Hughes also loved going into the Gracie’s shop in Cefn when she was a child. Jude Laker thought the Cefn Mawr Gracie’s shop was lovely and told us that they used to sell clothes and haberdashery. She said it was like the Woolworths of Cefn Mawr. Yvonne Evans was once going on a cruise and couldn’t find any clothes she liked in Chester or Wrexham so she popped into Gracies in Cefn and bought three gorgeous outfits. Lynne Gilbert also bought some beautiful dresses from Gracie’s and they were usually unique, whereas, “if you went to town to buy a dress you’d see loads wearing the same one.”
Barbara Arthur remembers going to Gracies when she was a teenager to buy knickers. Because it was a man serving her she went numb. Jennie Pritchard-Jones loved Gracies in Cefn, where they sold everything; Jennie wishes it was still there, as does Denise Hughes, who had to wear bottle green socks and knickers. Caroline Rogers bought her first pair of nylons with seams up the back from Gracie’s, at Cefn.
Jean Price went to Gracie’s for school uniforms when her children were at school. In the 1980s, Hayley Elizabeth also remembers going to Gracie’s every year to get her school uniform and school bag. She was in Garth School at the time.
Nesta Jones always thought it funny that Grace Bros was the department store in the sitcom, ‘Are You Being Served’ A bit like Gracie’s minus Mrs Slocum’s pussy. Joan Harrison feels we could do with having Gracie’s Cefn shop back as it was “the best; you could buy anything there.” Sylvia Wooding agreed that it was the best shop in Cefn.
Dawn Louise Lennon remembers going there for uniform and P.E. kit. “I actually work in that shop now”, she told me; “it’s a Hair and Beauty Salon. Half the shop has changed from being Michael’s Photography shop into a Botox clinic and the other half has been a salon for almost four years.”
LLANGOLLEN BRANCH OF GRACIES
Gracie’s in Llangollen was at 26-28 Castle Street. Nesta Jones lived at Boots the Chemist, next door to Gracies in the 1950s. Nesta remembers that Gracie’s later became a Forté’s cafe and it is now Spar Supermarket.
Robert Aspen Gracie managed the Llangollen store and by 1939 it was managed by Mr Enoch Hannaby of Bronhaul, Abbey Road, Llangollen. Robert Gracie later moved to Sunny Bank, where he died in 1955. Gracie’s has been described as “one of the great Aladdin’s Caves of the town – Gracies emporium – a large open plan, well ordered shop, where one could buy anything from a reel of cotton to a bicycle. At the end of the store was an impressive double staircase leading to a veranda-like showroom which extended right around the shop.” Martin Davies’ uncle, Meirion Parry, used to work there with Mr Hannaby. Martin told me that Meirion Parry used to live in Church Street, Llangollen. He moved to Afoneitha and started work in Rhos when Gracie’s closed in Llangollen.
Jill Morris’s mum worked at the Llangollen shop and Francis Keating remembers Jill’s mum there too.
WREXHAM BRANCH OF GRACIES
Marilyn Lloyd’s aunty (Margaret Davies of Ffordd Powys, Gardden Road) worked in the Wrexham Gracies before working at the Rhos branch.
Hilary Prandle worked in the Wrexham Branch of Gracies on leaving Grango School. She described it as being at number 3 High Street, Wrexham, next door to Duttons Sigarro store. She said it was a gentlemen’s’ outfitters and drapery store and she had many happy days working there. Hilary remembers that Mr William Gracie was the Manager of Wrexham Gracies and Mr Peter Clydesdale was the under Manager when she worked there.
OSWESTRY BRANCH OF GRACIES
Gina Sargeant remembers Gracie’s shop in Bailey Street, Oswestry as being like Aladdin’s cave, with lots of clothing hanging up outside.
Margaret Owen told us that Charlie Weaver worked there from about 1950. In the late sixties Charlie Weaver worked at John Collier’s the tailors, with Gerry Owen, who described him as “a legend.”
Mary Buffey thinks her Grandfather may have run the shop on Bailey Street in Oswestry but he died in 1937, age 57. His name was William Lorenzo. Mary’s father was Bob Lorenzo.
COEDPOETH GRACIE’S SHOP
Gracies had a shop on the High Street at Coedpoeth. Shirley Jones remembers that, “during the war years, they had two baby dolls in the window. “On my way to school I always wished for just one doll. Of course, no dolls were available at that time.”
Joyce Reed told me that Gracies of Coedpoeth was, “a brilliant shop, they sold everything there. The Manager was Mr. Rowlands, a lovely man. Marina O’Brien and Marjorie Jones worked there; village girls.”
Cheryl Simons can remember going into Gracies with her Mum, but she was very young, and can’t remember much else about it.
WRITTEN BY: Dave Edwards. November 2020.
SOURCES: I have named everyone whose quotes I have used, but here are some more sources: Census forms; Births, Marriages & Deaths; Sheila Gracie; Lesley Anne Cross; Elaine Gracie; Annette Edwards; Judith White; Peter Jones; Llangollen Advertiser (4th June 1915; 15th June 1917; 12th September 1919; ); a special thank you to Susan Mills for her wonderful account of Gracie’s shop in Cefn Mawr; a special thank you also to Elaine Gracie for her help in placing the Cefn Gracies comments into chronological order