Thoughts on Shopping
David Baird takes us on a trip up Long Street in the 1950's
In early October 2012, I was struggling to push my grandson up Ludgate Hill in his lightweight buggy. Pausing for breath, I remembered pushing his father up this same hill thirty-nine years before, in a much heavier pram, but much faster. Scanning back a further twenty-one years, I was ‘running’ up ‘The Steep’ as my mother referred to it, marvelling at the size of the huge kerb stones, especially on ‘the other side’, the side of the road that we never used. There on that side there were even steps to get up to the pavement. Steps up to a pavement; now really that is a marvel!! Those kerb stones are still there, so is nearly everything else that I can remember of the Town as a small boy, and what I do remember I will put before you now. If I am wrong, please do not blame me, blame the schoolboy, the one with the vivid imagination.
Our journey starts at Dyers Brook, opposite the junction with Water Lane. Here was the depot for the coaches owned by Wilf Jenkins. (W. Jenkins Luxury Travel), a large tin shed with a curved galvanised roof festooned with massive icicles in the winter. There were always echoes of raucous shouting and arm waving when the freshly cleaned coaches were backed into the depths of their shed. The driver had lots to do with his left hand!
The Shearman’s Arms came next. If the landlady at that time, Mrs Tanner, was out brushing the front steps she would always call out, ‘Hello David’. I would answer ‘Hello Joyce’. I referred to people the same way that Mum did. It seemed the polite thing to do .
Fringe by Mr. Richards
The Steep followed and the first shop of any consequence, once it was scaled, was the best fish and chip shop in town—The Melrose Fish Bar. Mr Witts would regularly drop the longest chip that he could find into my hand while he was wrapping up Mum’s order. If I never got a free chip I could always warm my hands on the front of the big silver fryers.
There was not much else of interest to me on this side of Long Street until Richings the Butcher’s, followed by Brutons the Ironmonger’s (Harry North’s Dad ran that). He only sold nails and things like that, nothing for me other than when a kit of a Spanish Galleon appeared in the window that I desperately wanted. After swearing to dig the garden, wash up etc., etc., I managed to wheedle the money out of Mum and Dad. Eventually, I took the Galleon home only to discover that it was a wooden kit and not a plastic one - more swearing! I vowed never to look into those curved glass windows ever again on principle!
The Post Office had a nice little dispenser for stamps on the wall outside. I liked that, but I didn’t like having to go inside. It was all brown woodwork and wire, like a prison and they always looked at me in a funny way, daring me to let go of Mum’s hand and move!
My friend Roger’s Dad kept W R Andrews & Son Electricians, which was very handy for light bulbs. Then came a little sweet shop where, once you had climbed the steps and opened the door, a small counter was in front of you from which Mrs Clements served a poor selection of sweets. Her husband, Crowden Clements, used the rest of the establishment as his photography studio.
Following on came Portlock’s Stores, Grocer’s and Off-License. The off-license was at one time a totally separate unit with its own door to the street. Whether it was knocked into one because of ease of use or a change in the licensing laws I never asked, although I did go to school with David Portlock who lived above the shop.
Non-uniform by W.H. Thomas
The red and white striped pole gave away the identity of Mr Richards’ establishment, Barbers, though it may have been advertised as a Gentlemen’s Hairdresser’s! Either way, I never enjoyed the experience.
It may have been old Mr Richards wearing a white smock, or his son wearing a grey one, who attacked my head with hand clippers and flashing scissors. The result was always the same, very little left on top and a slanting fringe, all slicked down with a drenching of rose water mist sprayed from a big oriental shaped silver atomiser.
Only in the more ‘gentlemanly’ shops, purveyors of high class (was there any other?) clothing and drapery was the wearing of the long buttoned up smock not the norm, or as in Baxter’s The Butcher’s, a blood-stained apron, very often with a flat cap as well. Next door to the butcher’s, Mr Merritt and his son ran a greengrocer’s, with crates of vegetables set out on the pavement, as did many of the shops selling similar produce. Both of them wore smocks of different colours as well! Was it to show their rank? Not like soldiers with stripes or pips, but colour coded and only grown-ups knew how it worked, because I never had a clue!
The less said about The Co-op, the better! Every single time that I got interested in the row of open biscuit tins, Mum would drag me forcefully over to another counter to buy sugar or rice packed in little blue paper bags, and then to another one for soap or something. She also got a ‘divi,’ (dividend—Ed), but from which counter I never knew.
At this stage in the writing of this less than concise history, I began to realise that I did not know much about anything, especially things, people or places that did not have a direct impact on my life. Therefore of Fowels the Jeweller’s, I only have a vague recollection. On which side of the street it was located, I cannot say. The office for Horace Tily, Builder, was on one side of The Rope Walk, and on the other side was, I believe, a tea shop. Well, we always went back home for a cup of tea!
Now came the place to really drag your feet and claim undying love and devotion to your mother, aunty or whoever had charge of you that day; - Organ’s The Toy Shop. It sold real toys like cars and soldiers, cap guns and bombs held together with elastic bands that you loaded with single caps and threw up into the air! I am getting carried away now! Oh...and Airfix kits!! They also sold fireworks (in season) as did Mr Sims next door, mainly ‘Wessex’ I believe, but his main thing was bicycles, prams, and cameras. Holloways, Draper’s and Ladies Wear followed on from there, another place for Mum, but not for me.
Herrick and Gorham, News Agents on the corner of Market Street was next on my list, mainly because I can’t remember what shop was between there and Holloway’s, but the corner paper shop was different. Besides newspapers, cigarettes, envelopes, etc., they also sold toys! They didn’t have as good a range as Organ’s. but still worth a look, especially for their assortment of plastic kits, not Airfix, but Frog and Monogram. Monogram, an American company, featured an action packed illustration on the front of the box, an artist’s impression with no bias at all. Quite understandably, all German Aircraft were shown with smoke and flames streaming from the engines and tracer bullets fired by avenging allied fighters whipping past them. It was the box top painting that made the model of a B17 Flying Fortress totally irresistible and the object of my desire for the weeks that followed until yet again I had my way.
It was about this time in my life that I started to turn into a martyr, actually refusing offers of the odd 3d or 6d for sweets because I needed 10/6d for a bomber! The window with the toys in it faced out onto Market Street, in fact it was the only window on Market Street that held any interest at all for a small boy. All the way up to The Swan, the poshest pub in town, were nothing but dark, dirty and dusty windows and doors. The dour Town Hall stood between the hallowed confines of The Swan and The Cinema, and if you were on the end of a queue that stretched back to the Hall, you may as well go back home, because there was no chance of ever getting a ticket. My biggest disappointment was missing The Lone Ranger and the Lost City of Gold, although the excitement of being on that pavement when the fire siren went off, made up for it. It was an experience to see the fireman running up the road or leaping off their bikes with a clatter of hobnailed boots as they rushed into the Fire Station, then moments later the big red engine, bell ringing loudly, roared off into the distance.
The other side of Market St. only had one very small sweet shop run by Mrs Faller, Tony Charles, Ladies Hairdresser and another draper. On the corner, below the Tolsey Clock, Bobby Walker had his Electrical Shop, and like Mr Andrews, was an accomplished electrician. He could in fact, build you a television to order, and fit it into a cabinet made by a local carpenter.
Next up the High Street was a dentist hidden behind a door and small window, it did not look like a shop at all. Bradley’s Gents Outfitter’s, however, did look like a shop as did Hilton’s Shoe Shop. Here small feet would be measured with a highly polished sliding scale. If the size needed was not available the next size up would, in fact, prove much better, because, ’This make always sizes them rather tight and it allows a bit of leeway for growth’. We were not always convinced! If I didn’t get a new pair of shoes, I had a much better chance of getting a cake from Stokes’ Bakers’ and Confectioner’s.
With an adjoining restaurant, Stokes’ also made their own ice cream, so if you were still ‘saving’ a 1d lolly was a good bet. For your penny you received a stick and a grown-ups thumb-sized and shaped lump of coloured ice. Unfortunately, after just one suck all you had left was a chunk of clear ice and a red mouth! Some Saturday mornings I would go shopping with my Aunt Bet, then I was sure of a toy AND a cake! On those occasions we always had our cake with a cup of milky coffee in the restaurant! If there happened to be a function on that weekend, a small portion at the rear of the main hall containing a couple of little round tables with chairs would be screened off, and we sat there in very subdued lighting munching our coffee cream buns. Little did I know then, that in the far distant future, I would be using that very same room for my own wedding reception! If anyone happened to be sipping their morning coffee behind the same screens, I never knew. Above Stokes’ was, and still is, the Bank. As for the big building on the corner of Haw Street, I have a vague memory of Mr Smith the other barber standing in the doorway wearing a smock.
Crossing over the road to the other side of High Street (looking both ways, no one-way system yet), we stood outside a Tobacconist and Sweet Shop. Displayed in this window were packets of cigarettes that my father smoked; Players, Woodbines, and Senior Service all of which I had in one of my many collections of empty packets, alongside more exotic sounding ones like Three Barrels and one brand which I believe had a rendering of a Cavalier on it called Passing Clouds. From here you could look along Bear Street towards The British School and the only shop of note (I believe it was the only shop), Walkers, The Bakers; ‘Cream buns to beat all-comers.’
Directly opposite the tobacconists, on the other side of Bear Street sat Mr Barbour Taylor’s Furniture Emporium. I believe that I was only dragged into there once! Turning back down High Street there was an Army Surplus Store, followed by Howard Mann’s Seed Merchant’s. I am sure this shop was the only one in Wotton in which you could also buy small tins of Smedley’s Garden Peas which, strangely, never seemed to go off the shelf. Next door electrical goods were sold, followed by Maison Stokes, Ladies Hairdresser’s.
Set back a little off the pavement, we had a fish shop run by Mr Witts, the brother of the Mr Witts who owned the chip shop. So my childish logic surmised that what one did not sell ‘wet’ during the day, the other sold ‘fried during the evening! Adjoining Mr Witts there was a wool shop selling wool, embroidery silks and all the impedimenta that went with them.
The chemist next door sold, amongst other things, photographic chemicals. From what I deduced by reading the labels on the bottles, you poured out one solution to start something happening, then you poured out another to stop it! Why didn’t everyone send their films off to ‘Gratispool’ like my Uncle Mervyn did? The Postman would bring his photos back ready done and he got a free film as well! The White Lion, a pub, came next, but there was also The White Lion Coach Company as well, though I always ranked them just behind Wilf Jenkins. Mrs Keynton’s Decorator’s Shop always looked deserted, but she would appear from out the back after a few minutes. Her tins of paint, distemper and rock-hard blocks of putty stayed on their shelves longer than Howard Mann’s peas. Many of her tins became so rusted that streams of yellowish oil leaking from the bottom of one can, would strip the label off of the tin stacked below it. She sold wallpaper as well and my job would be to cut off the unwanted edging strip with a pair of scissors before Dad hung it. Snipping away at rolls of wallpaper and hanging skeins of wool on both wrists while Mum wound it into balls ready to knit, was yet another way to get extra pocket money for whatever happened to be my latest must have.
Dunn’s the Opticians was also on that side of the street and the International Stores. Grantly House, standing between the International, a grocery store, and the Newsagent’s run by Mr Davis, was just a house!
Selby Robinson Florist and Norman Powell Tailor, were also there. Marmont’s the Draper’s and Ladies’ Wear, fascinating for Mum, but not for me, followed on from them. Mr Marmont sometimes ‘forgot’ to charge Mum the extra farthing on items that were say sixpence three farthings, and gave her back a halfpenny. Mrs Marmont, on the other hand, had eyes like a hawk, and would always point out his mistake in the nicest possible way! Footwear next door was sold (no pun intended) by Hector Hayes.
A bank and the entrance (flanked by redundant Petrol pumps) of Lister’s Factory led onto Walker’s Bakery. To me it was a cake shop, selling for 4d, the best custard tarts on the planet. I believe that Eli Evens may have been a grocer’s, but I do know that he also sold sweets!
Harry Morley on the other hand sold everything else. If the Wotton-under-Edge & Dursley Building Society ever did sell buildings, I never heard about it!
Mr Taylor, Bicycle Repair’s, not only sold and repaired bikes, he also ran yet another coach company, parking the vehicles near his house at Potters Pond. Another chemist almost completed the shops on Long Street. There was also a dull, dilapidated ironmonger’s with a fretwork model of what may have been Hawkesbury Monument sitting in the window. A huge kettle hanging high on
Harold Morley with everthing
W.H. Thomas on one side and the Chip Shop on the other
the outside wall advertised the shop’s wares, as did the coats and hats in the window of the Gentleman’s Outfitter’s on the corner of Church St. All of my school clothing, including shoes came from W.H. Thomas. Mum always thought ahead, so the Duffel Coat that she bought for me when I was eleven and due to start at the secondary school, had sleeves that were still too long when I left four years later!
The grocery store run by Oliver Mills next door to Thomas’ will always haunt me, because it was here, standing eye level with the counter top that I made my first ever purchase ALONE! A few minutes earlier, while we were halfway down Ludgate Hill on our way home, Mum realised that she had forgotten to buy soap. I volunteered to rush to the rescue. In those days, I could and did, run back up the Hill. Money was not an issue. Everything that Mum bought during the week from Mr Mills went into ‘the book’ so I did not need a mitten to carry any loose change. I waited my turn, staring up at the sides of bacon hanging down from the ceiling above the gleaming hand operated slicer! ‘And what can I get you young man?’ Craning my neck, I answered, ‘Mum wants soap, please.’ My expectant smile withered when he asked, ‘What kind of soap, toilet or washing?’ Well, I knew that Mum used Domestos to clean the toilet, because we could get 2d back on the empty bottles, so knowing that soap to clean the toilet was not needed, I opted for ‘washing’. Rushing home clutching a block of green Fairy, I was expecting mountains of praise as I charged in through the back door! Unfortunately, she wanted Lifebuoy or Imperial Leather! Looking back, I think that was my first lesson on what it is like to be a man; not crying when you can’t guess what a woman is thinking and getting blamed for it!
Church Street also contained a butcher’s (again run by the Richings family), and a haberdasher’s. The man in this shop did not wear a smock, but he did have enormous ear lobes! I could never take my eyes off them; they were the size of marbles. To give him his due, he always gave me the small cardboard boxes that his reels of cotton came in for displaying my bird egg’s collection.
Silvey’s a coal merchant and an agent for the gas company, where you could pay your gas bills was next. This was followed by a grocer’s shop run by Claude Evans and his wife, though she spent most of her time serving in the off license next door. Later, these had a doorway knocked through so that either of them could keep an eye on both establishments. Another grocery store finished off the run of shops on this street. Run by Mr Organ, wearing a grey smock to show supremacy over the rest of his staff who wore brown, this shop also sold pet food, including the mixed corn for Dad’s pigeons.
Claude Evans wearing a smock
Hood's Corner Shop
On Hood’s Corner, opposite The War Memorial, Mr Hood had his tobacconist’s. Here all kinds of tobacco could be purchased, the aromatic vapours of ‘Virginia Ready Rubbed’, etc. mingling with the clouds of smoke from Mr Hood’s own pipe introduced a subtle nuance into the ice creams nestling in the bottom of the freezer that stood in the middle of the shop. A better bet for an ice lolly would be The Tower Café next door. From the same counter that held a big vat of orange juice, atop of which a couple of plastic oranges were agitated by a paddle, I could buy an ‘Archie Andrews’ milk lolly. If I collected enough of the specially marked sticks from the aforementioned lollies, I could send off for a free book. I did! I ordered Treasure Island, but because of demand, I received What Katy Did Next! Not knowing what she did in the first place, I threw it away in disgust! From then on if I wanted a book, I would go to The Cotswold Book Room, which was just a room a little further up Old Town, on the other side of the road.
Crossing over to the other side of Church Street now, and making my way back towards the top of Ludgate Hill, as a small boy, all that I can remember about the shop on the corner was of a big shed-like building where Mr Cook would weigh our blackberries or rosehips that we had picked from the hedgerows around Hack Hill and Water Lane. He would then pay us 3d a pound for each.
At some time, Mr Smith moved his barber’s shop from the top of High Street down to Church Street to sit alongside Freddy Allen’s Fish and Chip Shop. The steam generated by the fryers formed a swirling cloud just below the ceiling, which condensed at the doorway, hitting you with a wet oily slap as you fought your way in.
At the time of writing (March 2013), this is still a fish and chip shop, though now with an oriental flavour. Derek Thomas is still running his grandfather’s Gent’s Outfitter’s from the same corner premises; Stokes’ Hairdresser’s and The Co-op sit in the same position; as does Taylor’s Cycle Repairs. Quality meat can still be bought from where Baxter’s and other butchers before them hung their wares in the window. Only The Cotswold Book Room and Walker’s The Baker’s have moved. The Book Room is now where Mrs Clements sold her sweets and Walkers just one shop uphill. I used to get my custard tarts from where Cicada now stands. The big Banks still sit there and for all intents and purposes, the streets have not really changed, just the people!
I have done, as you may guess, no real research, so the spelling of some of the names may be wrong. I have asked no-one of my own age or older for added input, but simply relied upon memory (fading though it is!).
I walked up and down that street at least once every school day, twice if I ran home for lunch. Now, fifty years later, there are many businesses of which I have no recollection, although I am sure that if I was with a small group of old school friends, the gaps would be quickly filled in. One would be prompted by another. Very few remember it all, and if they did, would they be correct?
Our Curator, David Baird, will introduce a young man, a Methodist minister, with a different idea on education that arrives in Wotton-under-Edge to take on the role of Master of the new British School, in three short years he would astound the world!