Stories about Shops

Shops and provisions

Kathleen Winifred Flory (nee Webb) 1909-1994


Mrs Hobbs was rather like Mrs Tiggywinkle – short and round with greying red hair and a wart on her chin which sported a red hair. Down a step into her little shop – filled to the brim with all kinds of confectionery – toffees and boiled sweets, liquorice ‘laces’ and chocolate bars, from ½d each, 1d and 2d, and sharp’s slab toffee, Kreemy toffee it was called. It had to be held in the palm of the hand and shattered deftly with a smart crack from a little steel hammer, so that the correct weight could be measured. An anxious moment this, as one watched the balancing scales hesitate to and fro. I seem to recall that dapper ‘Mr Sharp’, with bowler hat and monocle, also supervised the transaction from his place at the price ticket.

We could rely on a welcome from cheerful Mrs Hobbs, called though she may have been from the copper full of washing at the back of the house and often we took her a basket full of windfalls, which guaranteed a generous view of the scales in our favour.

Pear drops and raspberry drops, however, came from a little shop in Church Street which displayed a row of heavy glass jars filled with other boiled sweets, bull’s eyes, aniseed balls and gob stoppers. The pear drops, yellow and red, were highly flavoured and had a rough texture on the outside, which in some miraculous way seemed to prevent them getting sticky in the (usually short) time before they were consumed.

On a more exciting level we made an occasional foray into the Star Supply Stores, a general grocer’s shop which sold a sugary selection of fondant creams and jellies at 3d a quarter, a penny cheaper than other mixtures elsewhere, but looked on with some parental disapproval on the grounds that the ingredients might leave something to be desired. Nevertheless, ‘a quarter of Star Supply’ we would say, confident that the evidence would be destroyed before we reached home. Two other shops for the sale of sweets and cigarettes stood side by side in Broadway, Mayo’s and Hobbs’, and the Furniture Emporium Brandon’s took up a big space with covered walkways behind display cases, a refuge from wind and rain.

Drapers and Fashion

Next to Sells the bakers was Darby’s, with a good stock of haberdashery and
fashions and on the opposite side of the road, Tree’s, smaller but well-managed. V Swift was a small shop with knitting wools and embroidery threads and, for me, a fascinating stock of paper embroidery patterns which could be ironed off on to fabric (the most exciting part) and then embroidered slowly and painstakingly. In Darby’s one was often greeted by the proprietor who advanced with the dreaded offer “can I help you?” Since one had arrived at the age of puberty the actual requirement was a packet of sanitary towels, but one was far too embarrassed to confess this and blushingly replied “pins, please” and was directed to a female assistant (where one had hoped to arrive, unaccosted by the ‘floor walker’). Incidentally, since so many items were priced 1/11 ¾ (one shilling and eleven pence three-farthings) or similar, it was usual to accept the change in pins, from the paper concertina on which they were displayed.

Other shops

The Co-op (cream horns!) and bananas (7 for 6d, sold by number and not by weight.) Ladies’ hairdressing (“cut and singe, please”); shoes, butcher and grocer and Roses of Waterside, where Mother had an account. 7ib tins of biscuits, loose, in a rank along the front.

I do not especially remember a greengrocer – we grew our own apples, pears, plums, gooseberries and strawberries, raspberries, tomatoes and root and green vegetables. The garden had been laid out and planted by grandfather William Webb (whose father Robert had started Webb’s Brush Works). Old gardener would not accept orders from grandmother, saying he ‘couldn’t abide petticoats’. The garden had been enlarged by the purchase of land which ran behind the houses of Stanley Avenue, and which had been divided between father and Uncle Harry whose house was about five removed from ours in the Avenue. Our portion boasted a tennis court, a small orchard and a vegetable space, all enclosed by a fast-growing beech hedge. The garden was tended by Mr Hill and other duties were carried out by our dear ‘Groves’, called ‘Will’m’ by father, who worked at the factory, where he looked after the horses, Hasson, lady Bay and Kitty – the latter used for pulling the factory cart, later to give way to a Ford van. Hasson would pull the dog cart and wagonette and Lady Bay the graceful ‘chaise’.

After the arrival of the Ford, Kitty was sold to the milk roundsman and we were able to reward her with an apple when she called. The milk was delivered from churns and ails, the pint and quart measures hooked over the rim of the pail and poured direct into the large jugs waiting at the back door. We would hop into the milk float and steal a ride along the Avenue and back, happy to think we were ‘driving’ though in fact Kitty knew every stopping place without prompting.

This is an extract from some memoirs Kathleen wrote for her children. Kathleen was the great-grand-daughter of Robert Webb, who in 1829 founded Webb’s Brush Factory.