Historic Hamilton By Garry L McCallum
Historic HamiltonBy Garry L McCallum 



If you were shopping in Burnbank, before 2006, then you would have most certainly at one point in your life visited John Dell’s, newsagent. John Dell, served the Burnbank,community for 46 years, and in this time, he employed many paper boys and also staff working behind the counter.

John Louis Delgrosso, or better known to you and I as John Dell, was born on 27th December 1944, to parents John Delgrosso and Mabel Clarke. John’s father, who was also called John, was born in New York, when his parents moved to Ellis island from Italy and as the fourth of five children, he was the only one born as an American citizen. The family tired of America, eventually immigrating to Scotland and settled down in Burnbank where they put down roots and started a family.

The war had come and gone and like many Italian families in Scotland the family changed their surname and shortened it to Dell. One reason that John’s dad changed the family surname could have been because of the prejudice still held by some in Scotland against Italian families and in the early 20th century when you had an Italian name whether it be a first name or surname it was very difficult to get a business license. I can’t be sure that this was the reason for the Delgrosso family to do this, but it is one possibility.

John’s Grandparents were the first to move to Burnbank around 1920, where they opened a Fish & Chip shop and rented the shop from Annie & David Aitken, at 189 Glasgow Road,and the shop was a cafe and a chip shop with entrances on either side of a close which would have led them upstairs to the family house above the shop, this address being 193 Glasgow Road. 
The family business in one way or another would remain in
Burnbank for the next 86 years and in this time the Dell family saw major changes in Burnbank when the old Tenements were bought by the Council on compulsory purchase in the mid-1970s and Burnbank Cross as everyone knew it was eventually replaced and was to become Burnbank Centre, out with the old and in the new. The Dell’s family business was to be handed down from father to son spanning over three generations.

When John was a young boy he was brought up in Elliot Crescent in Hamilton where his father owned another Fish and Chip shop which was around the corner on Low Waters Road. John attended St Ann's and St Mary's primary schools in Hamilton and then attended Our Ladies High School in Motherwell. He left school in 1960 at the age of 15 where he followed in his father’s footsteps and started work in dads Fish and Chip shop in Low Waters Road. As a young boy, John used to love going to the fish and fruit markets with his dad to order the fish and potatoes for the shop.

While his dad John (they were both know as Johnny) still had the fish and chip shop his mum Mabel opened a small newsagents in Burnbank which she named M.C. Dell, this name was named by his mum, Mabel Clark and eventually John’s dad left the chip shop to concentrate on the newsagents, where he bought over a tobacconist known as Whitehouse in Burnbank the family moved from Elliot Crescent to Russell Street.

When Burnbank was being redeveloped in the 70s, a group of shop keepers decided to buy the land on which they built a group of shops which we all know today as Burnbank Centre. During the planning and building of the shops, M.C. Dell was in a temporary shop previously called The Ramblers Café.

John Dell’s was a thriving and established business and John would spend all his working life in the shop and he had early nights to bed and up early every morning for 46 years. John met a local girl who was called Jean Martin Archibald and they met in the County Bar in Almada Street...the source of many a romance in its day! and Jean’s family also ran a business!

Jean’s parents owned the company that was called “Andrew Archibald Upholstery and Cabinetmakers” and they married on Wednesday the 21st October 1975. Now I hear you asking, why did they get married on a Wednesday? Well, John & Jean were so committed to their businesses that they married mid-week so that they could work around the business hours. This shows how dedicated both families were in serving their communities. 
The happy memories of the wedding celebrations were to end abruptly where John’s dad sadly died not long after while he was on holiday in Italy.

Jean Dell, who is Johns wife told Historic Hamilton about John’s time in the shop and Jean told us:

“We had wonderful loyal staff who were with us for many years including John’s sister Maureen. It was a very busy shop open every day, at one time opening around 5 am for the buses leaving Burnbank to take the miners and steel workers to work, and also for the many factories at that time in Burnbank and Blantyre.

We had large orders for Christmas annuals every year, calendars, chocolates, Easter eggs and cards always being a big seller. John would collect his elderly customers bring them to the shop so that they got their Christmas needs etc, and then he would take them home.

John was approached by Cadbury, who were instrumental in the launch of the lottery and asked to be an agent, there were very few machines initially and it was a big honour to be asked and John put a lot of time and work into the launching on Saturday 19 th November 1994.

For a long time, Saturday's were crazy busy with people queuing almost out the door to get their ticket, so our son Mark spent his Saturday's manning the lottery machine and nothing else.
We were considered a very lucky shop, we knew of several winners and many we wouldn't have known about, scratch cards later became very popular, with one lady buying a card on way home from work, got to the bus stop, scratched her card to find she had won 50 K...in disbelief she asked the guy beside her to confirm....

We had many paper boys over the years, most good...one unfortunate boy found an elderly man dead on his doorstep one winter morning and sadly one poor paperboy lost his life when the Bing behind Holyrood Street where he was playing suddenly collapsed.

We had many great loyal and amusing customers and we also had many funny incidents too! The daftest being early one Sunday morning when a guy came in with his face covered and tried a hold-up!!! John and a customer saw him off, but a couple of hours later the same guy came back into shop (No Names Mentioned) He was, in fact, a customer of ours and John had recognised his voice, never a word was said, maybe he had had a few too many on the Saturday night, no harm was done.”

On the morning of the 30th September 2005 John suffered a stroke in the shop and took time off to recover at home and his sister Maureen, was invaluable and really helped John in his absence, but being the hard worker that he was, he recovered and he decided to return to work, after about 18 months John and Jean decided it was time to sell up, so they retired on 27th May 2006.)

These day’s John is still in Burnbank on a regular basis he likes reads a lot and is always at the library. He is still always welcomed with a wave and a shout out from old customers. He loves to walk and walks round Strathclyde Park most days.
John & Jean have two children who are Mark who lives in Hamilton and Jacquie who lives in Dallas Texas. John & Jean enjoy their trips out there.

Most people would agree that John Dell was very well-liked in Burnbank in his time in the shop, however, he loves his retirement and is very content.

On a more personal note from myself; John, I have fond memories of you from my younger years in Burnbank. You were always very pleasant to me and I loved your patter! Anytime I was in your shop, I was always made to feel welcome.

We would like to thank John & Jean Dell for sharing John’s story with us. They are both a fan of Historic Hamilton and have given us permission to write John’s story. What are your memories of John Dell’s shop in Burnbank?

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© Garry McCallum