Shops in Chesham in the 1940s and 50s

Bill Howard

What is now the fish and chip shop opposite the bottom of Lowndes Avenue used to be a general store owned by Winnie Barnes, a regular stop-off on the way home from school to spend our rationing sweet coupons on sherbet dabs or huge gob-stoppers!

These latter would probably be banned on the grounds of health and safety these days, as once you had forced them past your teeth there was no way of extracting them again until you had sucked them smaller.   They changed colour as the layers were sucked away.

“Give us a shot at yer gobstopper”, a good mate might say, and the half-sucked sweet would be ceremoniously passed over with a stern warning to suck it only as far as the next colour.  Woe betide any recipient of this kindly offer who ignored this limitation and strayed into a subsequent colour!   As the old saying goes – ‘They don’t know they’re born these days!’   Len Pearce had a general store in Sunnyside Road opposite the end of Higham Road and further down was Webb’s stores.

Alf Bone had a newspaper and tobacconist shop in Berkhamstead Road, close to Jesse Wright’s factory and opposite my maternal grandmother’s terraced house (number 245).

We used to buy our fireworks from Bone’s.  No controls then on errant youngsters and we delighted in tormenting the girls with casually lobbed Brocks’ Bangers or the totally unpredictable ballistic qualities of the Standard Jumping Betty!

Alf Bone shop on Broad Street
Alf Bone shop, Broad Street

These days it would attract a costly, time-consuming but totally ineffectual ASBO.  Then it was a summarily administered clip round the ear if you were foolish enough to be collared by an observant adult.

On one side of my grandmother’s house was Miss Hobb’s sweet shop.   In there, the sweets were all in big old glass jars and she would make up individual ‘pokes’ of paper to hold the ounce or so of whatever you selected.  With a deft operation of her fingers she quickly transformed a small square of paper into a twisted cone or ‘poke’ as we called them.   She had an old-fashioned bell on a spring which ‘dinged’ as you entered the door – I can still hear it now!

On the other side of number 245, about two doors down, was Batchelor’s hairdresser.   ‘Batchy’, as he was known, had somewhat limited tonsorial skills, the ‘pudding-basin’ being his favoured – indeed only – style.

He used hand-clippers, and to remove the accumulating trimmings, he would blow hard and frequently on your neck.    As he was an inveterate smoker who never removed his fag from his mouth (his hands being fully occupied with clippers and comb), this blast was generally accompanied by stinging pinpricks of red-hot ash!

The shawl placed round your shoulders did nothing to stop the rest of the hair going down your collar and you thus spent the remainder of the day with the agony of excruciating itching.  When ‘Batchy’ died, we transferred our allegiance to Walt Atkins who had a shop behind the Market Hall (as was!)   We lads were invariably greeted with, “How do you want it today boys – back to the wood?”   No matter how many times we heard it, we always seemed to find it hilarious!

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