A shopping trip to Dublin with my mother was always a very exciting day in my childhood especially at Christmas. Arnotts, Boyers, Clearys were her favourite shops especially their Summer and January Sales days. I, as a small child loved a trip into Woolworths and then down to Hector Greys. I remember pleading with her to buy me this shiny diamond ring in Woolworths, now it looked like a diamond, shined like a diamond but it wasn’t a diamond. It was some kind of cut glass that reflected different colours when held in sunlight and I was mad about it. I was about 7 or 8 at the time. Another store she would occasionally visit was Hector Greys. I just have memories of her buying clothes pegs and mouse traps and the odd other item. To me the stall in front of the shop was so different, it was easy for a child to see everything including the dolls. I begged and pleaded for one of these dolls, and for peace sake she bought it. The leg came off in the car on the way home, but it was easy to attach it again and I became expert at it. Everything went fine until one night when I was gone to bed, my older brothers puzzled at how her eyes opened and closed had to
investigate and had removed her head and her eyes were never the same again.
But who was Hector Grey?
“I’m not asking for three pounds, I’m not asking for two pounds, I’m not even asking for one pound” so you knew you would get it for ten shillings. He was a man of the people. This was him, and to Dubliners he was an institution during the 40s, 50s, 60s and early 70s.
He had been born in Scotland in 1904 and was christened Alexander Scott and was one of a family of 13. Shipbuilding was the profession of his family so he was expected to get involved in but he didn’t, instead he got a job as a cabin boy on a steamship travelling all around Asia, and in different ports it was here he saw the street traders in action. When he came back to Scotland, his father and brother warned him not to bring disgrace on the family, he was also very fond of horses and a flutter. One day he backed a horse called “Flincheck” had 10 shillings on it and it won. The jockey that rode the horse was a New Zealand man named “Hector Grey” so not wanting to bring disgrace to his family he changed his name to Hector Gray and moved to Dublin.
He first travelled to China to a trade fair and made a lot of contacts there and came back and started operating out of a van near the Woollen Mills at the Halfpenny Bridge. He was a heavy, balding man with glasses and a real Scottish accent. He was a natural sales man who made it a point of getting to know his regular customers, and they flocked to him every Sunday. It wasn’t long before he moved to a premises on Liffey Street and became an accepted trader among the regular traders on Henry Street and Moore St. Over time he went on to have 3 shops, the other two in Mary Street and in Crumlin.
What did he sell? Everything, ornaments, plastic jewellery, crayons, water pistols, cups, small metal toys with moveable parts, penknives, playing cards and the bottle of bubbles, Christmas decorations soap and his famous “Cheeky Charlie Monkey”.
He (Alexander Scott) married in St. Barnabas Anglian Church in Thomas Street on the 6th October 1930 Annabella McCain. In his marriage cert. he is described as a Salesman and the son of John Scott a Shipbuilder and Annabella was the daughter of Robert McCain an engineer. He was a great friend of Noel Purcell and they loved to go racing and often went to Aintree.
He died in 1985 aged 83 and the shops were closed in 2006.