Wetherby Sweet Shop Robbed

Edward Gifford

We have all been robbed…or I was robbed; well, the shop where I work was robbed, just before Christmas.

Wetherby is a small market town known to all Englishmen, a place of commerce, community and continuity; and to the metropolitan as a backwater, a relic, a postcard. Nestled on a hill above the River Wharfe, Wetherby is mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086 as ‘Wedrebi’ ‘settlement on the bend of a river'. The town comes together on the market square, filled on a Thursday with traders and hawkers, farmers and more recently hipster cheesemakers. There too the Town Hall stands; a solid, self-effaced Victorian testament to civic society.

I can, wherever I might be, bring myself back to that place. Appleton’s the pie maker, Johnsons the greengrocer, his fresh produce soiled, still crated, and opposite Tarbetts, the fish monger, in a pokey shop on the corner before one enters the Shambles.
Out of the market, away from the Blackbull, a crouching, shrunken old pub, one crosses the Great North Road, as it was known. It was great once, before the A1 bypassed the town.

Past it are perhaps the two best shops; Andrew’s the butcher who shoots his game, hangs his birds, makes fantastic sausage, and knows you by name. Next to his red awning and chain mailed door is the unassuming bakery Oven door, the only baker one needs. Hot rolls, crumpets, black bottomed cobs all sit in wicker baskets, gone quick at fair prices.

If I leave the square the other way, towards Spofforth and Sicklinghall, the library, the bookshop, the stationers await. From there I pass the tailor, an upstart quickly welcomed, no one now knows when he arrived or if he was ever not there.
    Nipping up the ginnel, past another pub, there’s a car park – both ugly and essential – bordered by elegant terraces and a parade of shops. The shops here may come and go, except for the children’s shoe shop, handily opposite the school, and the sweet shop, where I work.

Faded lettering announces that it has, since 1948, spoilt the town with sweets from jars weighed by the quarter and sold elegiac papers decrying the King’s passing and Churchill’s, the milkman’s and the mines. I have quickly come to like shop life, its idiosyncrasies; busy in the mornings, slowing to a steady trickle by eleven of regulars who prefer a slower breakfast. Their papers stacked behind the counter, labelled by name, a mere formality. Imagine a robbery here, witnessed by peppermint creams, lemon bon-bons and crisp piles of The Telegraph.

‘5’10”, dark hair, brown eyes, pale, hooded with a green anorak over his school uniform. Yes, purple tie and charcoal trousers. And, of course, a mask. Ran off in the direction of Andrew’s, near Morrisons. It was tobacco, papers, a considerable sum.’ I told the police at about eight-thirty, after a half-hearted chase, knowing I was the only one in the shop. He was out of sight before the door was locked and sign twisted to ‘closed’.

There’s another thing you would miss, or just not notice, there is no bobby in Wetherby. That pied check no longer on the beat. They did away with whistles, capes and clips round the ear, and in the end policemen. How they now deter crime with a blaze of lights and sirens rushing to the scene after the crime is anyone’s guess.

There is a letter pinned in the shop’s office, the address was the old station across the bridge, by the riverbank. I often lingered over it whilst making a cup of tea. It read that the constables patrolling to check on shopkeepers, were to become a WhatsApp group, checked weekly.

The crime I had witnessed and reported ended with a curt phone call from an anonymous operator and a crime number; that was Justice’s course. I did however learn, as was explained in a supercilious, condescending tone, that I had suffered technically theft not robbery, without a threat. Naïvely I enquired as to whether a constable would visit the school and if the headmaster would be informed, I needn’t have bothered the line was dead.
    I was left disappointed, all the stories in the papers about the police were true. I was sad too for the young lad, that he will not feel the hand of justice upon his shoulder, no reason to set right his way. I was more saddened for Wetherby, and towns like it, the towns we all know; left to fend for themselves, no longer deemed worthy of police time. A lost childhood, stolen livelihood, lost faith in civic society–we have all been robbed. 

Chargé D'affaires - Depuis 2020