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U3A Writing: Village Shopping

...If my mother could manage it she would give me a penny to spend here. and what a rare treat it was! I always bought a pennyworth of Monkey nuts wrapped in a screw of newspaper, quite the best value in the shop, I thought, although one could buy an orange or a banana for the same price....

Doreen Bryant remembers village shopping expiditions of almost 75 years ago.

Shopping in Caldicot between the Wars was vastly different from what it is today but, of course, that could be said of everywhere. There are a great many more people and shops here now, but let us take a walk through Caldicot to see what was available in those far-off days.

My mother usually shopped on Saturday afternoons; I walked with her from Dewstow to Caldicot, then through the Village and returning home via Sandy Lane and across Mr Watts' and Mr Oakley's fields over which there were public footpaths.

Starting at the West End, the first shop was on the right-hand side of the road at the bottom of Pool Hill (there really was a pool there then) and was Livesey's the Greengrocers. If my mother could manage it she would give me a penny to spend here. and what a rare treat it was! I always bought a pennyworth of Monkey nuts wrapped in a screw of newspaper ~ quite the best value in the shop, I thought, although one could buy an orange or a banana for the same price.

At the top of the hill on the same side was Skewes' little shop. Mrs Skewes sold a limited range of provisions, sweets and cigarettes. My mother forbade us children to go into this shop, as she had quarrelled with Mrs Skewes some time previously, though I never knew what about. (My mother was very quick-tempered and outspoken, and the slightest remark which seemed to her to slur our family would cause her to be most aggressive.)

Behind Skewes was George Lewis, the Butcher; access to his small wooden premises was from The Avenue - then considered quite the smartest road in Caldicot. Mr Lewis later moved his business to the shop in Chepstow Road where BLD now have their premises.

Opposite Lewis were the petrol pumps and taxi service of Mr Williams. He had lost an arm in an accident, and everyone called him 'Wingy' - more out of affection than disrespect, I believe. And at the top of Station Road was Melrose Stores, which catered for all the local residents' grocery needs, and was a branch of Adams' shop in Chepstow Road.

Continuing through the Village, on the roadside in front of the Stow Guest House was Mrs Jones' shop. She sold haberdashery and ladies clothing.

Mentioning Stow Lodge reminds me that it and the adjoining house were built by the husband of a friend of my mother - Mr Preece. I suppose that because of this connection she was favoured by being given the job of scrubbing out the two houses before occupation, for which she was paid 9d each! It seems unbelievable now. but 1/6d (7p) was a tidy sum then.

Opposite Mrs Jones' shop, at the end of the terrace then known as Brick Row, was George Watkins' 'Cycles and Repairs'. This wasn't a very busy shop, and I only remember ever having seen one cycle in it, which hung from the ceiling. As my grandmother lived next door, I was familiar with the Watkins family and ran countless errands for them around the Village. Mr Watkins did not depend on his shop for his living, as he had other, agricultural, interests.

Further along the road, exactly opposite Gas Works Lane (now Norman Court leading to Mill Lane) was the shop of James the Saddler. (I don't recall his ever being called Mr James.) His shop had a very dark interior and was crammed full of things for sale - leather, tins of all kinds of polish, boots, boot laces, and everything that can be imagined to do with saddlery and what a glorious smell! I loved the shop, and would often pop in to say hello. James the Saddler's house adjoined the shop and was the first of the terrace of houses (all with long front gardens) which ran along the road to just beyond where The Good Measure is now.

Crossing the road, you came to Mr and Mrs Harris, the butchers and, adjoining them, the two Co-Operative Society Shops. Although I was so young, I did feel sorry for Mr and Mrs Harris, as they had lost their son in a motor-cycle accident. The Co-Op grocery department was run by Mr Jordan (who later became manager of the new, much larger, premises at the bottom of Pool Hill) and the Drapery shop was looked after by Miss Shorey. She fascinated me - she seemed so glamorous, surrounded as she was by such pretty things. Flimsy scarves, ribbons and the like and lovely little blue bottles of 'Evening in Paris' and 'Californian Poppy' scent, and other delights. She had a young man in Hong Kong who I heard much talk about, and I wondered where it was and whether it was further away than Newport!

On this side of the road a bit further on, although I can't now pinpoint the exact location, was the shop of Miss Elsie Lewis, which I believe sold greengrocery and flowers. I often heard people speculating as to how Elsie made a living, as her shop was not one of the better stocked.

Next door was Hill's the Bakers, one of the most popular businesses in Caldicot. In addition to the delivery round, one could buy bread and cakes at the bakery door, and I was often sent there for a pennyworth of yeast for my grandmother to float on a piece of toast in the big pan in which she was making wine. Housewives also took in their home-made cakes, especially at Christmas-time, for Mr Hill to bake.

To the right of the Methodist Chapel as you look at it was where Mr Cyril and Mrs Muriel Washbourne had their premises. It was a very popular and busy shop, and always full of stock. One made one's way across the forecourt, weaving through the bicycles for sale, into the shop itself. One could get most hardware items at Washbournes, and it was as reliable then as it is today. There were two other shops in a line: Mr Davis, groceries, fresh fruit and vegetables, and Mr Kent, the Butcher. There were no more shops on this side of the street until the beginning of Church Road.

Across the road. opposite Mr Kent's, was Mr and Mrs Porter's newsagents and tobacconists. They had a growing son, who became a well-known musician and played the church organ. Very sadly, Jack was the first Caldicot boy to be killed in the Second World War, and his name appears on the War Memorial.

Next to Porter's was Coles' large hardware shop, with a wide forecourt and side area, and the shop standing well back from the pavement. They had a paraffin lamp on the counter with a pretty claret-coloured glass shade. It was always alight and I thought it just about the loveliest thing in Caldicot.

Francis, the son of the business, used to deliver to our house every Friday evening and would bring the charged accumulator for the wireless, taking the used one away for delivery the following week. Sometimes Mother would have to buy a 'dry battery', which always caused much anguish because of the expense, but the real agony came when something called a 'grid bias' was needed. I have no idea what it was, but it was apparently vital for wireless reception, and its purchase was talked about over and over again.

The last shop on this side of the road was Dally's sweet shop. The entrance had a stable-type door through which passed legions of Caldicot's children. Words cannot describe the joy (rapture even) of being in this wonderful place. The available delights were laid out on the counter in front of the customers, and it took ages to make up one's mind about one's purchases. I was hardly tall enough to see the range of sweets available when I first went in, and to this very day I can remember the occasion, as I was on my way to my first day at school in September 1931. My spending money was a ha'penny a week, given on Monday morning, and one of the most difficult decisions of the week was what to buy with it. There was such a wide range to choose from: black treacle toffee, gob stoppers, sherbet dabs, liquorice boot laces, aniseed balls, etc. etc. All Caldicot children of my generation will remember Mr and Mrs Dally and their little shop with real affection.

Round the corner to the right in Chepstow Road was Dowles Shoe shop, not smart enough for us girls once we had almost reached our teens, and a little way further was Adams's, where the St David's Foundation shop is now. One side of the shop was Mr Adams' grocery department, and the other Mrs Adams' Ladies' and Children's Outfitting. Biscuits in tins were set out in front of the grocery counter. and there was cheese, bacon and butter above, ready to be cut to customers' requirements. We didn't buy much on our Saturday afternoon excursions, as one of Mr Adams' assistants would call home on a Monday to take down the order which was delivered a day or two later. The grocery department was very well stocked, and sold lovely, brightly- coloured sponge layer cake - which, sadly, we never bought as Mother baked her own cakes, which I didn't like very much.

All Mother's and my clothes came from Mrs Adams - I don't know where Father and the boys got theirs. If she did not have what was wanted in stock, it would be obtained within a few days. One enormous advantage of shopping with Mrs Adams was that one could have credit and pay small amounts off the 'book' when possible. The disadvantage was that clothes were often worn out or outgrown before they were paid for.

Coming into Church Road, the first shop on the right hand side was Penry Thomas, the pharmacist. This was another fascinating shop - all sorts and sizes of lovely glass jars and bottles containing highly coloured liquids; lots of soaps, face powders and creams, etc; and a complete range of patent medicine, including Californian Syrup of Figs, without which no growing family could have existed in those days! Mr Thomas dispensed his own prescriptions, and Mother would buy the 'green', 'red' or 'brown' one, depending on which part of the anatomy was affected. It should be remembered that visits to the doctor had to be paid for (I believe it was 2/6d a consultation) so Mr Thomas's medicine could more easily be afforded.

Next door, but not attached, was Miss Almond's. She sold haberdashery and a limited range of ladies' clothing. I never went into her shop - sadly, my Mother had quarrelled with her too and there was a family embargo. The shop next door was then unoccupied, but later Mr Chris Kent moved his butchers business there from Newport Road.

Crossing over Church Road, there were three shops. On the left, a very tiny one, not much more than a passage-way, occupied by Mrs Evans. She sold cottons and thread, darning wool, needles and pins, and so on. Next door was the Post Office, managed by Mrs Squibbs. I remember her in later years as someone who, during the early years of the War, became quite fearsome if it became necessary to draw any money out of one's Post Office Savings Bank book. Since there was never more than the smallest amount in mine, I found her attitude difficult to understand. Perhaps the very well-known Ministry of Information's 'Squanderbug' poster adorning the Post Office wall had something to do with it. The last shop in Church Road was a very well-patronised fish-and-chip shop owned by Mrs Price and subsequently, I believe, by Mr Davis - known to everyone as 'Fishy'.

Time to make our way home now, as we turn into Sandy Lane. It always took ages to walk through the Village, as everyone knew everyone, and frequent stops were made to exchange the latest news. However, there is still one more important Caldicot business we pass Mr Stell, the baker. Stell's is still where it located where it was all those years ago, but they didn't have a shop then. I'm sure, though, that the bakery was always open to callers wanting bread or cakes.

Writing this, I can hardly believe that things have changed so much. The War came, and our lives were changed for ever. The dole queues, such a feature of Caldicot then, disappeared, and my Father, who had been out of work since 1926. at last found employment at the RNPF at Dinham.

Over the years I have travelled the world and shopped in emporia as far apart as Harrod's in London, Bloomindales in New York, Grace's in Sydney and Gumm in Moscow. But nothing I bought in any of them gave me more pleasure than I would have obtained had I ever had two whole pennies to spend on a bar of Fry's 'Five Boys' chocolate at Mrs Dally's sweet shop.


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