Magical memories of Lewis’s grotto that saw Santa climb through window
If you ask anyone in Stoke-on-Trent for their childhood memories of Santa’s Grotto, only one place springs to mind. The Christmas wonderland that was Lewis’s department store in Hanley brings back treasured memories for so many, stretching over several decades. Situated in the unit now sadly left empty following the closure of Debenhams, in its heyday Lewis’s was a thriving store with Christmas window displays that could rival London’s Oxford Street.
More Christmas news Father Christmas would delight families as he paraded through the streets on his way to his grotto, handing out sweets, before climbing up a ladder on the side of the building and in through a window! Children were prepared to wait in long queues snaking through festive displays for the chance to meet him and receive a gift – which at one time were wrapped in blue tissue paper for the boys and pink for the girls.
Christmas at Lewis’s, Hanley, in 1962
It is a far cry from Christmas 2021, which has seen the Potteries Centre Santa’s grotto axed and a Covid-safe, contact-free grotto at Affinity Staffordshire.
We asked StokeonTrentLive readers for their memories of their favourite grotto and the consensus was clear – Lewis’s at Christmas was ‘magical’. Elaine Scarth said: “It has to be Lewis’s without a doubt. The parade when he arrived to climb the ladder and all the different displays in the windows in the arcade and finally the grotto were all breathtaking.
Happy memories.” Valerie Payne said: “It had to Lewis’s, that was the highlight. I could never understand though why our mum always insisted we told them we were a year older as she said you would get a better present.”
Santa in his grotto at Lewis’s in 1962 (Image: Unknown copyright)
Susan Pearson said: “Lewis’s was fabulous, loved it as a child, great memories – and they had a great display in the large windows at the front – like the ones in London, hard to believe now.”
Lynne Smith’s memories are still crystal clear. She said: “Lewis’s had the best grotto. First the parade when Santa arrived and climbed up the ladder and in through the window, the beautiful shop window displays, then the grotto.
“A rather long tunnel with twists if I remember correctly. There were automatons of little elves making toys, and small animals like rabbits which also moved, then Santa sat at the end with his fairies and a sack of gifts. “I used to be so nervous meeting him and only managed to pluck up the courage once, with the rest of the times I just walked past him and out of the grotto.”
Christmas shopping in Lewis’s, Hanley, in 1963
The animatronics were memorable for many.
Linda Close said: “Lewis’s was the best years ago when you used to walk through nice Christmassy animatronic scenes before you even got to Santa.” Sonia Biddulph said: “Lewis’s had the grotto. They had lights and moving animatronics – it was magical.
And Santa on his truck going round town doing a parade with people dressed as elves and they gave kids sweets. Happy days.” Julie Wood said: “Definitely Lewis’s, it was magical as a child.
I still remember the Hansel and Gretel theme they did one year where you waited in the queue to go see Santa.” The gift wrapping stuck in the minds of many readers. Lynda Grainger said: “Lewis’s in Hanley had a fabulous grotto.
Lovely gifts from Santa wrapped in pink tissue for the girls and blue tissue for the boys. Happy days.”
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Val Washington added: “Lewis’s in Hanley used to have a gift wrapped in tissue paper if I remember correctly. Blue for a boy, pink for a girl. It really was magical.”
Tricia Le-Doux, aged 65, still has a treasured item from the store today. She said: “Lewis’s – my mum bought me a Christmas stocking with my name on it done in gold glitter, for 2 and sixpence. “I’m 65 now, still have it, glitter not so golden, but I love it now as much as when I got it.”
Lewis’s in Hanley in the 1990s (Image: THE SENTINEL)
Some readers shared their memories of working at the store.
Louise Orton said: “Lewis’s in Hanley was amazing. When I was in my twenties, which was in the 1990s, I worked in Lewis’s and I helped out on the display team and and saw all of the old window display items ‘in the flesh’.” Although Lewis’s was by far and away the favourite, there were a few mentions for other grottos.
Mandie High Leighton said: “Sadly we moved here long after Lewis’s had gone but when my kids were small in the early noughties, there was a lovely Santa’s grotto at the Spode works.” Jayne Hackney said: “Alexander Sloans store in Chesterton, now the gym opposite the Grove Inn, back in the late 1960s early 70s.” Meanwhile, Jeff Jackson recalled the old Bratt & Dyke store in Hanley as his festive favourite.
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