Village shops before the superstores (Part 1)
At a recent local History Group talk we discussed trading before the coming of superstores in the late 1970's. Our knowledge depends on memory, recording and what we are told. At best sometimes questionable.
Recorded history of Eton Wick is limited, and frequently incorporated with that of Eton. The Anglo Saxon name of 'Wyk' is suggestive of a supply area to a habitation; in this instance Eton. 'Wyk' we are told, meant the provider of necessities to that place - again Eton. This is itself a suggestion of early trading; albeit perhaps wood for fuel, barricades, buildings, and willow-withies for the fish traps, hurdles and fencing. Perhaps also fish, livestock and rye. This is my conjecture and not necessarily factual. Dr Judith Hunter's book 'The Story of a Village 1217 -1977' is the only work I know of that covers our general history. (Copies are still available from the History Group). Judith would have used some of the history written by the Rev Vicar John Shepherd eighty years earlier, titled 'Old Days of Eton Parish', although it essentially covered the College; its Chapel; the town and village churches and schools, with some thoughts on Common and Lammas.
There is the more recent 'Photographic History of Eton Wick and Eton' (2000) and the 100th Anniversary publications of the Eton Wick School (1988), and of the Methodist Chapel (1986), both by Judith Hunter; also the book recording Eton Wick war fatalities (2000) and John Denham's collection of 'Eton Wick 1939 - 1945'. These are single subject records however, but to my knowledge are the extent of our recorded history. There are a number of personal stories, never meant for publication but an invaluable source of knowledge. I have-several of these, including the memories of a local farmer; a London evacuee's time at Eton College, and her being bombed out from her Eton home in December 1940: an eye witness account of the Dorney Common anti-aircraft guns in action; the rescuing of post war squatter families from flooded huts on Dorney Common in 1947; the arrival of a gas depot in Alma Road 1929 and the story of Harry Chantler, our popular grocer and postmaster (1929 -1973).
The group talk on pre Superstores Eton Wick, commenced by saying that the village's first known shop was during the 1840's in one of the Harding Cottages, and owned by John Kirby. The original Harding Cottage was along Common Road, and it was probably during the early 19th Century that a terrace row of four or five more were built at the end of the long plot, and along the main road now the site of Clifton Lodge. It would not have been a shop by later standards, but almost certainly a front room adaptation, and probably sold some groceries, candles, paraffin, matches, soaps, pot menders etc. Canned foods were not an item in 1840.
Eton Wick's population at this time was barely 400, and most of the few cottages had very large plots providing room for chickens, perhaps a pig, goat, and even a cow. Residents along Common Road with its stream and ponds even kept ducks, and still they had substantial vegetable gardens and currant bushes. This self-sufficiency was no help to Mr Kirby's venture, and in due course he packed up. There were no allotments and would not be for another fifty years well after most of those large cottage plots had been sold and built on. That first known shop was very close to 'The Grapes' public house, and its demise gave the landlord, William Simmonds, the opportunity to sell groceries from his licensed premises. In fact I was once told that the pub sold milk well into the twentieth century. 'The Grapes' was renamed 'The Pickwick' in 1984 and became a restaurant in 2003.
Around 1870* John Kirby reappeared and again set up a shop and home, now at Ada Cottage (now 46 Eton Wick Road). This was only 50 — 60 metres west of Harding Cottages and 'The Grapes' and next to another public house 'The Three Horseshoes'. Both pubs have recently closed. John Kirby's new outlet at Ada Cottage in the early 1870's was destined to trade for over 100 years, with many owners and many uses, from grocery, post office, ironmongery, bakery, fishing tackle, fish and chips, millinery, war time tailoring, cycle parts, shoe repairs, interior decorating materials, and a printers. It retained a shop front appearance until the end of the 20th century, long after becoming solely residential again.
By 1876 John Kirby had died and Mr Thomas Lovell had taken over. With no opposition he expanded the business with the first Eton Wick bakery, first Post Office and an extensive range of galvanised buckets, baths and tubs added to the grocery. Tom's brother Fred meanwhile traded in drapery and footwear. Opportunely this coincided with extensive house building beyond Bell Lane in the new area of Boveney Newtown (in the Burnham Parish until 1934). Lovell's stores may well have been the only shop throughout the remaining 1800's. There were of course various vendors with their horse drawn carts. This included farmers with milk and eggs, bakery carts from Eton and coal merchants. Newtown development throughout the 1880 — 1890's produced two shops but I have no year of their opening. The first I believe was at Shakespeare Place and the other at Garrod Place and both were purely grocery stores. Some years later the Co-op opened a larger store replacing the Garrod Place beginning.
In 1902 Pratts of Eton obtained the Eton Wick old school site at 'The Walk' junction, where
they had the village's first purpose built shop known as Clifton Stores, erected for the purpose of retailing groceries and household necessities. Perhaps not at first a great success, it was transferred to Mr Harman in 1908, who after five years sold the business to Mr Anderson. It was 1913 and a year of changes. The Post Office moved from Ada Cottage to Clifton Stores. The council attached a fire ladder and reel of hose to the outside wall of Clifton Stores; presumably for general use in case of fire, while somebody cycled or ran to Eton, mustered the voluntary brigade, who with horse drawn pumps galloped to Eton Wick. The ladder was a feature until 1987, but the hose went earlier. Also in 1913 a brick mortuary was built off Common Road: at this time river bathing and consequent drownings were not uncommon. In 1907 a third retail shop was opened and this time for Royal Enfield Cycles, repairs and hire. Villager Ted Woolhouse opened the shop in the front room of a terrace house close to Lovell's Stores (now 56 Eton Wick Road. He did not live in the house, but it was rented out separately — minus a sitting room. Ted was reputedly Eton Wick's first car owner, having a De Dion purchased in 1907. Around 1910 Bill Hearn moved into a 'semi' at Wellman Cottages, just three houses from the cycle shop (now 62 Eton Wick Road) and much later known as Thames View Stores. Bill used the sitting room to sell and repair or manufacture leather harnesses, saddlery, bags etc. Ambitiously he had printed Eton Wick view postcards. Sadly Mrs Hearn died around 1913 and with his young family he moved to Victoria Road to pursue small engineering and eventually a taxi business.
The Wellman retail outlet became the third grocery shop along this stretch of road, being owned by Wiggins. Grahams and Barons: ending its days in the 1990's as an aquatic store. There was another shop along this road, at the end of St. Leonard's Place, by The Walk (now Taylors Court). This apparently came about at the end of the Great War, when farmer Harry Bunce helped set up the shop for a young Mrs Godwin, a recent widow of Charles Godwin, a Life Guard who was killed in France during a 1918 German air raid. Nellie Godwin married again, and as Mrs Slade left the shop and was at 'The Grapes' as publican for a while. The shop was extended, changed hands frequently, but the long serving Joan Taylor had a newsagent, tobacco and sweet shop throughout the 1930's — 1950's: There were now five shops along that road; two more in Alma Road; and, lastly another west of the Shepherds Hut, owned by George Mumford the village's first long serving butcher. It opened in the early 1920s. There were regular road vendors by the 1930s; including Mr Hendry from Windsor. who sold soaps, tubs, ironmongery etc., and my father who was Eton Wick's longest serving trades person. He started greengrocery in 1900 at age fifteen years and one way or another continued until he died in 1957. In the next issue we will see how all these businesses declined into oblivion with the post-war Council shop parade and finally the superstores.
Submitted by Frank Bond
The photo above shows Ada Cottage, Eton Wick Road - Lovell's shop late 1890s
Note * The Census for 1871 John Kirby at Ada Cottages with his occupation recorded as Grocer, ages 80.
This article was originally published in the Eton Wick Newsletter - Our Village and is republished with the kind permission of the Eton Wick Village Hall Committee. Click here to go to the Collection page.