Sidney Joel Young – ‘Mr Armstrong’

A tribute to my dad Sidney Joel Young 1927-1999

My father was born in the tiny village of Welcome, in the Parish of Hanover, Jamaica. The youngest child of Sarah Webb and Alexander Young. Sadly, my Grandmother died when my father was 7.

I have recently discovered through Ancestry DNA my great grandfather Albert Edward Young 1868-1946, great grandmother Florence E Young 1867-1933. Maternal great grandmother Priscilla Purrier 1845-1920. I have tracked the Young family name back to a Scottish gentleman Edward James Young 1827-1914 who married Sarah Ottway (great great grandparents).

Dad left Jamaica as a young man with his brother Aaron Berchel and initially went to the United States, Aaron met his wife and settled in Buffalo, whilst dad travelled on to Great Britian. His strong work ethic stayed with him his whole life, through first working down the ‘pits’ and then at Shelton Bar where he forged many freindships. The work was heavy and exhausting, dirty and dangerous, but dad never complained, and was just eager to earn his keep, doing his bit for the motherland and adjusting to his new life.

I look back with awe and respect when I think of the hardship he endured at such a young age…. a strange, cold country, no family, little money faced with ignorance and racism, from the majority of society at that time.

However, I never recalled dad focusing on the negatives of the racism he encountered. Instead he immersed himself in the British way of life and soon met my mum Betty Bailey.

They make a striking couple…. Sidney Joel…. dark, handsome, dapper and charismatic….Betty….blonde, blue eyed and beautiful.

Wedding photo for the marriage of Sidney Joel Young to Betty Bailey in July 1957.

They married in July 1957 and their photograph was taken by the late H Bowen of Longton… I’m sure their photograph in the studio window raised a few eyebrows back in the day!

They scrimped and saved to buy a little shop that my grandmother owned in Town Road, Hanley, it sold sundries really, this and that as shops did at that time, but, they stayed open all hours and lived above the shop. I was born in 1960 and remember as a child hearing the latest ”Beatles” hits through the open window being played in the adjacent public house called the Sea Lion (situated where the Potteries shopping center is now located, along the same strip of businesses was Derricots the chip shop, Leeks the delicatessen and Sherwins the record store. Across from there leading to our shop was Redman’s food store, Times Furnishers, the Wine Shop Off Licence and Kenneth Wrights Opticians.

The shop was three storeys high right at the top was the attic and main bedroom where I was born below that was the lounge and bathroom, ground floor was a small shop, a cozy backroom with a cardinal red fireplace leading to a tiny back kitchen, a little yard with a pear tree in a barrel and an outside toilet,  I remember the walls were always white washed and there was a beautiful stained glass window separating the backroom from the yard, the cellar stored the coal and the meter for the shilling top up of electricity.

Dad supplemented his income by working at Shelton Bar whilst mum was in the shop and then doing the evening shift, he took one or two jobs … traveling salesman at one point. They then bought an Off Licence in Westland Street Penkhull with a larger living accommodation a\s we then had my mother’s father grandad William (Bill) Bailey living with us too. We lived there until I was seven. Dad again working all the hours whilst my mum kept the shop going.

Mr Young

It was in the early 70’s that mum and dad decided to focus on the herbal side of the business and by the mid 70’s there was the early emergence of  ‘health food’ and that is really when Armstrong’s Health and Herbal started to take off. I think we only had three main suppliers then Potter’s, Carter’s of Shipley and English Grains (suppliers of Red Kogga Ginseng).

Flyer for Armstrong’s Health Food and Herbal Store in Hanley

By 1980 when I joined mum and dad we were a thriving business, I had previously studied a 2 year medical secretarial course and worked for a Consultant Cardiologist but left to study herbal medicine at Tunbridge Wells. I won a national competition as Miss Health Food Trader and the publicity in the Evening Sentinel coupled with regular talks to the Womens Institute and other groups created a further platform for success. We became founder members of the Institue of Health Food Retailng quite an accolade really! We were the first store locally to supply supplements and proteins to the newly emerging bodybuilding competition venues, we were the first shop in the area to sell Red Kooga Ginseng, there were queues as far as Times Furnishers when we first supplied it.

Mr Young in the shop.

By now we were sourcing an array of supplements and herbs and buying from many different suppliers, although the Armstrong own label products proved to be everyone’s favourites.

We would visit trade fares down south or in Harrogate every year to keep ahead of trends and current research.

We all worked so hard and as a team the shop consumed our every waking hour. However, it was dad’s compassionate nature that contributed the success of Armstrong’s, everyone loved the bones off dad and he was affectionately called ‘Mr Armstrong’.

We have third generation customers who still visit the shop today and reminisce about yester year and the delight of being served by Mr Armstrong, a wise and wonderful gentleman who worked hard to provide for his family a gentleman loved and respected by so many friends and customers.

Dad sadly died in 1999 a truly traumatic time for us all, but, the business survived and despite the changing face of Hanley, a recent challenging period after mums death in 2017 and now Covid-19, we still have a wonderful customer base, an array of natural supplements, herbal medicine and health foods and a fourth generation input in the form of my son James.

We are hoping to refurbish the shop soon, but would never want to destroy the old fashioned ambience that gives Armstrong’s its charm or the specialist advice we offer our customers.

Armstrong’s now established over a hundred years and after forty years of service along with my colleagues of thirty years Linda and John, James and Nicky we continue to provide an Aladdin’s cave of natural remedies in Hanley’s Town Road.

Lorraine Dobell

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