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The High Street 60 years ago

Eric King (last of 4 parts)

This article appeared in Newsletter 99 (2001 May–June).

This is the fourth instalment (held over from last newsletter) of Eric King’s recollection of Glastonbury shops as they were around 1940. We started at the top near the Queen’s Head a year ago, walked down the south side of the High Street to the Abbey gatehouse, then came up through the Market Place as far as the church. We now complete the walk back to the top.   [Previous part]

   [The editor has attempted to insert names of present-day shops. Unfortunately for postmen and anyone else trying to locate them, so many shops — marked # — fail to display their street number on the outside.]

Behind the church, St John’s school was for boys (St Benedict’s was for girls). I still remember all the teachers with some affection; they include Mrs/Miss Scammel, Kidd, Hayes, Hunt, Chivers and Spittle and Mr Baker, Ford, Godfrey, Lucas, Whittaker, Young and Dobson.

   We now arrive at the paper shop. It was owned by the Gilbert family and was known as the Gazette Office. The weekly Central Somerset Gazette was produced here, with its printworks at the rear of the shop. [The paper was bought by Clares in Wells in the 1940s, but the words “Central Somerset Gazette office and printing works” were still visible on the wall facing the church until it was at last repainted in the 1990s. The Gilberts’ daughter, Mrs Doris Welsford, ran the Abbey bookstall for many years and still lives in the Street Road.] [Today, Direct Offset carries on the print tradition at the back; Peaches and Cream hair salon has part of the first floor; Whitehead News is in the shop at 27 High Street]

   St George’s Hall was used by the church. Choir practice was carried out here under the supervision of Gerald King and later by Sidney Masters. [#, Wholefood Store; flats above]

   The solicitors in those days really were Gould and Swayne. Mr Gould was a very tall and smart person who lived in Chilkwell Street. He was the town clerk and looked very impressive when he walked to his office down the High Street. Albert Hembury was a clerk who worked in the office, very well known in the town; he was known as the poor man’s solicitor. [Edwina, his widow, still lives in the High Street, further up.] [31, still soliciting as Gould and Swayne]

   After Archers Way we had a ladies’ and gents’ hairdressers and also a sweet shop and tobacconist. It was owned by the Sparks family, and later by Don Barber. Ken Moxham was a hairdresser; I recently met him in Street. During the war it was taken over by Don, a hairdresser from London. The parade in Archer’s Way had Larkworthy the grocer, a fish-and-chip shop and Rachel Churchill’s clothing shop. [#, Truckle of Cheese delicatessen; Robert Barton Trust and Information Plus (33) above. In Archers Way: Facets of Avalon silk and silver, Headlines hair salon, Taskforce Software]

     Next came London House, a large and impressive two-storey shop owned by Brooks selling dresses and millinery. It was pulled down in about 1936 for the new Post Office to be built. One or two firms went bankrupt over the building of this office, caused mainly by flooding in the basement. The telephone exchange was built at the same time behind the Post Office but the opening of the new exchange had to be delayed until after the war. [35: the Post Office does have a number!]

     The Glastonbury and Street Co-op was next. The original building was modernized just before the war. An overhead wire system conveyed the cash to the cash desk. Jack Dimmick was the manager for many years. Bert Marsh, who is at least 90 years old, worked in the shop. He now lives at Street. [#, Halletts pharmacy]

     Mr Bevis the dentist resided next door [#, Cooper and Tanner estate agents]. The next house was later used by Dr Malin Boyd for his practice [#, Beckets Inn].

      A small thatched shop [43] was next, selling sweets and the like. It had been a butcher’s shop in the past. Ted Vincent’s garage was next, serving petrol over the pavement. The garage and the thatched shop were both burnt down and both became the new Vincent’s garage. It was later taken over by Whites (whose garage eventually moved to Magdalene Street) and then by Woolworth’s. [#]

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     Beyond a couple of houses [#, Rose Cottage; #, Glastonbury Discount Centre], the next shop was run by a husband and wife, Jessie and George Sheppard. The wife sold wool and the husband greengrocery. It was an awkward shop to enter because of the rather steep stone step at the entrance. [51, Abbey Antiques]

Photo: Number 51 is now Abbey Antiques [photo taken in 1949].

     Next came Saunders, an ironmongery and china shop. This closed just before the war. Mrs King’s sweet shop was next. [53, Avalon Ladies Fashions, recently closed; 55, Hunab-Ku Portal Immortal; #, J&GC goldsmiths and silversmiths; 59, Satyamvidyan Centre for Integral Yoga Studies] After one or two houses came a grocery shop. It was opened by Mrs Melmouth and eventually became Westman’s cleaners. [61, Cheung Sing Chinese take-away]

     Mr Chamberlain, who was a painter and decorator and whose brother ran the furniture shop, had a small painting and decorating shop at his home.

     After several houses we arrive at Comfort’s cycle shop, mentioned in the first instalment. [71, former charity shop]

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   At the top of the High Street was the Glastonbury Arms [photo, taken in 1949], run by the Baulch family. It was later taken over by Eddie Baxter, an evacuee from London. The pub was demolished in the late 1960s to make way for the present health centre [its pharmacy, 73, is now Glastonbury Flower Shop]


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