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Ledbury Shopping In The Late 1930s PDF Print E-mail
Written by Pip Powell   
Thursday, 15 November 2007 20:52
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Ledbury Shopping In The Late 1930s
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I refer to an era before the advent of superstores, fast food merchants and ridiculous cryptic shop titles, and before half the premises in the main thoroughfare became restaurants, building societies and offices!

Pip Powell's Shop

To me, past housewifery and housekeeping was not only an occupation; it was an art, a science and a discipline.  The male side of the outfit provided the money, the housewife/ keeper ran the household.

Sophisticated electrical household equipment was rare and expensive.  The microwave was only a dream.

Pre-prepared and oven ready meals weren't even dreamt about.  Preparation, ingredients, timing, mixing were the science; the acquired arts.  So with laundry, cleaning and sterilisation.

There was the discipline entered into regarding shopping times.  Being involved in shopkeeping all my 77 years, I can claim a little authority.  All shops were required, by law, to close at 5:30pm.  Early closing in Ledbury was Thursday, 1:30pm.  No Sunday shopping at all except for newsagents and a restricted variety of goods.

Careful planning was needed on Bank Holidays, particularly Christmas, to ensure all provisions were at hand.  No last minute rush was possible, and shops remained shut the whole holiday.

Ledbury was always busy on market day every Tuesday.  Farmer's wives accompanied their husbands to town to do their weekly shop, and most did their workers' and workers' wives' shop too.

The other busy shopping day was Saturday.  Before working hours per week were radically reduced, the only shopping day for workers was Saturday and, for some, only Saturday afternoons.

All shops boasted the traditional shop-front: gleaming windows and neat displays.  Food staff didn't wear the twee uniforms worn today, but white, crisp aprons and jackets.  In each establishment staff and owners vied with each other to provide their courteous expertise.

Each morning the shop-front would be swept and cleaned and salted in the winter.

Winter Christmas shopping was a nostalgic experience.  Much more relaxed, hardly any traffic and the streets lit by gaslight - quite bright, but mellow - an exciting warm experience: the climax of the year!

There was the warm smell of roasting coffee that pervaded the High Street from Wilkes the grocer (now Spar).  Shopping at Burton's (now the gift shop) you saw a long line of Peak Frean biscuit tins with glass lids, and you could choose a biscuit and have it free.

At Bebbington's (now TSB) Harper Bebbington, the owner, was a bald, slim, upright gentleman with glasses and a permanent smile, breeches and gleaming boots and gaiters.  Always polite, never condenscendin, even to us kids who went there.  Outside his shop were always immaculately turned-down sacks of dog-biscuits, meal, grain and blocks of cattle-cake.  Every now and again Mr Harper would throw a handful of grain for hundreds of pigeons that rested and fluttered around the The Homend and Market House.

Almost next door was Harry Barnard's (Treacles).  Shopping there was fascinating, but would not be permitted now.  Surrounding the complete frame of the shop-front was always an amazing array of game: pheasants, partridge, geese, poultry...  you name it.  All drawn, but not plucked.  The choice was yours.

One half of Barnard's shop-front was dedicated to general groceries, the other to wet fish.  This side had shutters instead of a glass window.  Each day Mr Barnard would place a wooden crate on the pavement, draw out a large marble slab, upon which would be placed a splendid display of sea and freshwater fish and all sorts of marine edibles.  In warm weather he would pop out and sling a bucket of cold water to keep it fresh.  What price health and safety visitors?  No-one became ill.

Taylor's in the High Street was one of the two biggest shops in town.  Very high-class provisions, very posh and the only one in town with a van and two errand boys.

Gorin's of New Street was an intriguing family business.  They also ran a boxing club on the premises.  Before and after the Second World War, I remember, were a line of barrels on the pavement outside.  These contained rabbit skins, others blackberries.  Needy customers went rabbiting and sold the skins to Gorin's for 10d each, and in the season went picking wild blackberries which Mr Gorin would buy for 2d or 3d per pound.  There were very few handouts in those days.

Churchill's the butchers (now Gurney) killed their own beasts on the premises.  A large family of butchers and farmers, they were delightful people.

As well as the traditional established gents outfitters, in Church Street there lived a be-spoke traditional tailor, Mr Purney, who plied his trade in the time-worn way, cross-legged on his table.

Mr Gabb, in the years just before WWII and on a little further, was the baker where Frydays now operates.  Remember the shops closing for Christmas on Christmas Eve, if you'd forgotten it or underbought, Mr Gabb was your saviour.  He would bake early on Christmas mornings, take out the batch of bread to supply latecomers.  Also waiting in the alleyway would be several housewives with the Christmas beef (turkey in those days was expensive).  As Mr Gabb removed the bread from the red-hot oven, he would put the roasting pans of meat in.  As all this occurred Christmas morning, the meat was delightfully, thoroughly cooked in time for dinner.  Mr Gabb would charge a few pennies for this service.

Last Updated on Thursday, 04 March 2010 15:03
Comments (3)
Pip Powell - a great guy
3 Thursday, 25 February 2010 18:14
Steve Glennie-Smith
I first knew Pip Powell in 1976, the year I moved to Ledbury. Although I always have done my own bike repairs, he was always very helpful - nothing was too much trouble for him - ordering obscure parts, etc. I always respected his considerable knowledge of bicycle engineering and bike history in the pre-Shimano days. He was always willing to give customers (and window shoppers) the benefit of his knowledge - even to the point that it was often said - "Don't go to Pip's unless you've got an afternoon to spare." Yes - he could talk the hind legs off a donkey, but it was always interesting stuff. What that man didn't know about Ledbury wasn't worth knowing.

Thanks for re-running the article that appeared in the only (so far) printed version of the Portal. I just remember Bebbingtons - a delightfully quaint grocer's shop that closed a few months after I moved here.

Pip mentioned there were five cycle shops in Ledbury in his article. There were three until last November, when Pip had to close to go into hospital. I'm glad I was able to visit him in Ledbury Hospital about a month ago. Although he couldn't speak, owing to his throat operation, he had a pad of paper with him on which he wrote 'I'll be back'. Sadly this was not to be, and with the closing of Saddlebound Cycles last month, Ledbury is now down to just ONE bike shop - Clements at the bottom of Bank Crescent.

Update on Pip's funeral - it will be on Wednesday 10th March at 12:30 (NOT 2pm as advised earlier), at Ledbury Parish church.

Ledbury will be a lesser place for your passing, Pip. You were a great guy.
Pip Showed Me A Few Tricks
2 Thursday, 25 February 2010 14:22

What can I say about Pip Powell?  Well I didn’t know him for long but on the many occasions I did pop into his shop with annoying adjustments or minor repairs to my bike he always replied with a comment like “that’s not a problem” or “that’s easy” and with a fairly simple explanation he would talk me through the job at hand and send me home to do it myself.  I will always remember Pip as the friendly and helpful old boy sitting on his stoop playing with some bicycle part but always had time for a chat or put a bit of air in struggling mothers' pushchair tyres.  Cheers Pip!  Another local character that made Ledbury what it is will be sadly missed.

The Brawl and The Copper
1 Thursday, 25 February 2010 12:28
John Eager

Pip was a great story teller and had an amazing memory. When he wasn't working he'd rest up on those shop steps and watch Ledbury unfold from one generation to the next. I remember Pip telling me about a fight that broke out in the 1950s between some locals and travelling gypsies that had come into town to do the hops. It had started in the Horseshoe (where else?) and spilled out into the Homend. The way Pip described it the fight turned into a mass brawl that stretched right down the Homend. Pip told me how the local police officer (I forget his name, Pip had not of course) walked casually up the road through the melee. I remember Pip saying how puzzled he had been by why the fighters stopped as the copper walked through them. And then as the copper approached nearer, Pip could see what was happening. The copper was giving a low whack with his truncheon to each of the men who were fighting as he casually walked past them. He didn't even break sweat. Pip was amazed by how one policemen had broken up a mass drunken brawl so effectively. The richness of the telling by Pip put the story in my head like a video of the event. I hope my brief re-telling does it justice.