Of all the things that have enjoyed a heyday in Spalding, dry cleaning isn’t the first one to spring to mind.
However, in the 1950s, there was a lot of competition among dry cleaners in town.
Bourne Cleaners had two shops, then there was Sketchley’s, Express Cleaners, as well as three dry cleaning units within launderettes on the outskirts of the town.
Woolworth’s was also at its height, with lots of people going in and out of the Bridge Street store... which was a bit of a blessing for a smaller business over the road, George Layton Cleaning & Dyeing.
For 40 or so years George ran the shop in Bridge Street, becoming a well-known figure in the town.
Remarkably, the dapper gentleman in his smart suit and tie is still in the business, working six days a week, despite the fact he celebrates his 90th birthday on Friday.
George manages the Spalding branch of what is now called Layton’s Dry Cleaners in Francis Street, and his son Andrew is managing director of a business that has expanded to two shops and a network of 65 agents.
George said: “Here I am at 90 and I am enjoying the business very much, meeting people I know, and it is very nice. It gets me up in the morning. I am here six days a week at the age of 90 – you don’t find many people like that do you?”
George started in the family dry cleaning business at Wisbech, but was called up to join the Army at 18, serving in Sicily, Italy and Austria.
One of his interests is cinema – he was projectionist at the Empire and Hippodrome cinemas at Wisbech at one time. During the war, he was moved to the Army Kinema service as projectionist and travelled around in a truck entertaining the troops in Austria.
He is also an amateur watercolourist, and his paintings of the White Horse and Ayscoughfee Hall have sold in print.
George was married with sons Andrew and Simon, who lives in Australia, when he opened his first shop in Spalding.
He puts the high demand for dry cleaning services in the 1950s down to the fact that many more men wore suits and ties, many in natural fibres that couldn’t be washed.
George said: “The first day I opened I had 100 customers and I still have the little ticket book to prove it. I put the press in the shop and that was the first time in Spalding they could see someone pressing clothes. I have learned on a press all my life since 14.”