JOHN WEBB'S MEMORIES OF SHOPS AND BUSINESSES IN 1946
My memories of Benson started in 1946/7 when we moved to Sunnyside, which in those days did not have the recreation field. Nor did the village have street lighting apart from a couple in the High Street, one of which was on the wall of Franklin's Farm. The shops in those days were Slaughters Stores, High Street & Chamberlains Stores, Castle Square.
There were two butchers in High Street (Wm. Lee & the other I can't remember the name). Stan Blisset had the hairdressers next to Slaughters Stores. Tom Shotton was the postmaster. Bill Aldridge ran the greengrocers shop, opposite Crown Hotel, and was later taken over by Wm Turner. Gurneys Garage was a small unit in Chapel Lane. My stepfather, Stan Pether, was born in the house between the Post Office & the Crown Hotel, and was one of the local postmen for several years.
I recall Mrs Wharton running the cake/sweet shop in High Street and Eva Small ran a sweetshop in Brook Street next door to the pub. In those days I could tell you exactly who lived where, it was such a small community, and I got to know the people because of both the paper round and butcher rounds that I used to do for pocket money. Riverside cafe was owned & run by the Young family who also ran the small cafe on the riverside. I learnt to swim & dive in the river before it was turned into a boatyard. I have lots of happy memories of my years in Benson, seeing it grow, up to the time I left in 1974.
A memory shared by John Webb on Sep 19th, 2006.
Please click here to read an illustrated article by Peter Clarke about Benson's shops in days gone by.
The sweetshop keeper in the 1901 Census was a Mrs Toovey, wife of William Toovey, bricklayer, but there are several memories of other sweetshops in the village, such as Wharton's (above) in the High Street.
Wood's Grocers in Castle Square with Mr John Wood in the doorway. Man in apron is Sam Lawrence and boy is thought to be Tommy Selwood.
WOOD AND SONS GROCERS
“From 1907 till around 1928, Charles A. Wood & Sons delivered all provisions, including freshly-baked bread, by a horse-drawn van, to homes in Benson, Roke, Berrick and Ewelme six days a week. Paraffin oil and vinegar were dispensed directly into customers’ own cans and bottles. Sugar, biscuits, and most dry goods were stored in large containers, and sold by weight, then wrapped in twisted paper cones. Butter and lard was patted on marble slabs, and wrapped in grease-proof paper”.
The canvas-covered, horse-drawn van or vans were kept behind the Castle Inn, as were the horses (two per van). Presumably Woods & Sons didn’t have stabling. It was from Castle Yard in 1922, that the vans and horses had to be rescued from a fire.
Tommy Selwood worked at the Woods & Sons shop for about 4 or 5 years. He started in about 1918, when he was 14, as a general errand boy. His older brother was already working there.
Please click here to read more details about Wood and Sons
Scouts in Benson High Street in 1956. Nora Tom's sweetshop on the corner of Mill Lane in the background on the right. Tom's yard was behind the shop
This High Street shop was built around 1948 as a jewellers,run by Franklins. In 1962, it became a drugstore and ladies hairdressers, run by Taylors. About 1985, it became a DIY store, run by Perrys and now houses a shop and an estate agent.
Two old photographs showing the butcher's shop on the High Street, once owned by William Lee. There used to be outhouses and a barn behind the shop in the area now occupied by the Millstream car park.
An old photograph, taken before 1918, showing Smith's Grocery Stores, (now the butcher) on Benson High Street. This shop has served the people of Benson since 1830.
This house in the High Street was once a pub, called The Ship, then later it was a shop, run by Enid Brighting, before becoming a home.
The shop once included a slaughter house, stables and pigsties. Previous owners have included William Brooker, William Strainge, J Price, Richard Clark, Ralph Nash, Calnans and Smiths. The building is mainly 17th century.
Click the photograph for more information.
Photograph from the 1960s of shops in Chapel Lane, where there was once a Methodist Chapel, just visible in the background of the photograph below left.
Demolition of Franklin's College Farm barns in Benson High Street in 1962. Chapel Lane can be seen in the background
The new shops and bus shelter which replaced the barns.
DAVID LANE’S MEMORIES OF BENSON’S SHOPS AND BUSINESSES IN THE 1950'S
Benson High Street had very few shops and businesses in the 1950’s compared to a hundred years before. If you started at Castle Square, the two Inns were still there but there were no shops. Chamberlains Stores was the first shop in the High Street, on the left, and then round the corner was Mr. Wharton’s garage. The old Red Lion pub had been closed for some time and the RAF were now using it as temporary accommodation for forces families.
Across the road on the corner of Mill Lane was Toms’ sweet shop. To me as a young boy it seemed a rather strange shop, a dark and forbidding place. The sweets looked as though they had been in the glass case for years, but it was the only place to buy ‘Fisherman’s Friends.’ I remember Nora Toms, wearing very old-fashioned clothes, walking down to church on Sunday evening. Her two brothers, one walking on either side of the road, would go off to the river for an evening’s fishing. Apparently they had had an argument and didn’t talk to each other for years afterwards.
Past Mill Lane you came to Gerald Aldridge’s drapers shop, now Kingsford House; I was always fascinated by the pulley system that sent the customer’s money to the cashier and then brought the change back. The next shop was Mrs. Wharton’s bread and cake shop, where we often bought a ‘milk loaf’ and some cream horns. Two doors further on was Slaughters Stores, (“Visit Benson’s ‘London West End’ provision store,” as it said in the advert) another grocer’s shop, but which was somewhat smaller than Chamberlains.
Next-door to this was a small wooden building where Stan Blissett ran his gent’s hairdressers business; small boys, like Stephen and I, could get a crewcut for sixpence but, sometimes you had to wake Stan up first. This was also where parcels could be left to go by bus to any of the villages on its route between Oxford and Reading for a small fee. Earlier this shop had been used as a tobacconists and sweet shop by R. E. Pengilly. Mr. Blisset had originally used a small tin shed that used to stand next to Ken Passey’s house in Oxford Road.
A few doors along was the first of the two butcher’s shops and opposite the first one was F. J. Franklin the watchmaker and jeweller. The last shop on the right hand side, beyond the second butcher’s shop, was the post office; this was run by Mr. Shotton who also sold a wide selection of toys and stationery here, as well as tickets for Salters Steamers and South Midland Coaches. Across the road was the newsagents’ shop where we bought our ‘jamboree bags’ and chews for four a penny; this shop advertised ‘personal attention on all occasions,’ I think that statement could be taken the wrong way today. The last shop on this side was Mr. Taylor’s fruit and veg shop; Mrs. Taylor was a teacher at the village school.
There was another small fruit and veg shop, on the right hand side of Brook Street, when we first moved to Benson; the house is now called Wisteria Cottage I think. Then further up the street on the left hand side was Vera’s antiques and lastly, opposite Passey’s Yard, was where Mr. Pickin used a small barn as a showroom for his secondhand and antique furniture. As a small boy I once broke a hand carved ostrich egg, which now would be worth a good deal of money, while my mother talked to Mr. Pickin about a piece of furniture.
The part of Chamberlains stores seen by the customers was only a small portion of what was a very large building. There were three large rooms on the ground floor as well as five upstairs, plus a large cellar. Many years before, bread had been baked on the shop premises but was by now supplied from Chamberlains other shop in Wallingford. The old bread oven was still there, as where the huge galvanized bins that had been used to hold the flour. Wines, beers and soft drinks were kept cool in the cellar, and a large meat safe, where the bacon was kept, had been built in one of the back rooms where the outside door could be left open to create a draught.
Chamberlains shop was of course, like most shops counter service, and unlike today, had half-day closing on Wednesday afternoons and was closed all day Sunday. A customer had to ask for every item required, the assistant then went to fetch it, list all of the items in longhand and then add up the cost. The bill was then taken to the kiosk, where the cashier would check the figures before affixing a receipt to the bill and handing it, along with any change, back to the customer. All of this was done without the aid of calculators or electronic tills. It was quite possible to spend half an hour in the shop buying just half a dozen items.
Many goods were sold loose and had to be weighed; things like rice, dried fruit, biscuits and even tea, while coffee would be freshly roasted and ground. Cheese was delivered in sixty-pound round blocks, two to a wooden crate. It was necessary to peal off the waxed skin from the cheese, which was a favorite job of mine once I was strong enough to do it. As so many things were loose, customers could ask for very small quantities: two rich tea biscuits, two ounces of butter or, on a good day, even half a large loaf if there were no small ones left.
When I hear people talk today about hygiene in shops I have to smile because, if what I have heard is true, my father should have wiped out half the village with food poisoning, and Slaughters Stores would have dealt with the rest. Neither shop had a large cold-room, refrigeration was not up to much, there was little pre-packed food; shrink-wrapping did not exist, only greaseproof paper. During the summer it was impossible to keep flies off the bacon and this meant having to check for fly eggs and maggots on the meat. Once cleared off, the best treatment was a wash down with vinegar; this was also used when the bacon was dry and going green. We were obviously made of stronger stuff in those days, as I can’t remember spending my life in bed with an upset stomach. At least we didn’t still hang meat outside the front of the shop like the butchers used to at the beginning of the century.
Dad was a good provisions man; he always cooked the best ham and sold the best cheese and bacon. In later years, even the provisions man from a branch of International Stores used to come to Dad for his bacon. Although always very polite to customers, he wasn’t always pleased with their requests. I fondly remember on one occasion a lady came into the shop and wanted some rashers of oyster cut bacon sliced very thin. Dad went out the back to see if he had a suitable piece in the fridge and when he found some he slammed it into the bacon-slicer; “Like bloody net curtains,” he cursed, “blasted customers.” Then he re-entered the shop and asked if the bacon was all right, just as polite as always, then back outside to kick a couple of boxes across the yard. I suppose it was his way of letting off steam without the all-important customer knowing how he really felt on a bad day.