The hardware shop at 22 Benedict Street, believed to be
Glastonbury’s oldest business, has changed hands as a going concern.
The only visible difference is that till receipts now say Miller’s
Hardware instead of “G. Miller & Son”.
Keith Miller, 77 on St George’s Day, retired on March
24 just before his date for heart surgery. The operation was a success and
he came home within days, but complications set in from an ulcer and he is
back in intensive care at Bristol Royal Infirmary, slowly improving.
The new owner is Steve Rowse. He too is a familiar face as a
Glastonbury trader: he ran the healthfood store in the High Street from 1989
Town’s oldest business: the Miller dynasty had iron in the blood
Keith Miller was the fourth generation of Millers to run the hardware
shop in Benedict Street. The founder was his great-grandfather, George
— in 1872, the year after his marriage to Sarah Ann Dickinson
(although an advertisement in the 1909 Homeland Handy Guides says it started
The couple purchased four old cottages in Benedict Street,
according to the 1931 newspaper report of their 60th wedding anniversary
— “picturesque thatched buildings, with walls six feet thick
built of Abbey stone” — and replaced them with the present brick
Later in life, they had nine children and lived at Glencoe
in Fishers Hill. George was a Temperance supporter, stood for Liberal MP,
and died in 1937 at the age of 86.
He owned one of the first cars in Glastonbury — a
photograph shows it with a chauffeur. He also had one of the town’s
first telephones. Old advertisements show the shop’s number as
Glastonbury 92. More and more digits were prefixed: it was Glastonbury 2292
for decades, became 32292 in the mid-70s, and the 92 is still there in
today’s 01458 83 2292.
“I met him when I was a nipper,” Keith said.
“He used to give me a penny — an old penny — and I had to
save a ha’penny of it. One time I spent the whole penny on two big
marbles, and that got me into trouble.”
George’s son Harold took over the shop, and in his
time there was also a scrap business: sheds extended behind the shop into
what is now the public carpark. George’s other two sons also had
hardware businesses: John (the eldest) at Keyford near Frome, and Willy
(Keith’s grandfather) at Shepton Mallet and then Street. And two of
his six daughters married into hardware families, at Bridport and Burnham.
Francie, the youngest, was prominent at St Benedict’s Church and in
the Red Cross.
About 1929 Keith’s father, George Jr, came to work for
his uncle Harold. The time came when he had either to leave or to buy the
business, so he went to Lloyds Bank, where he knew the manager well, and
borrowed £2,000. It took him until the war to pay it off. Meanwhile
the manager, who lived at Baltonsborough, spent his dinner hours sitting in
a chair at the shop to keep an eye on his investment.
Jack Miller, 13 years younger than
his brother George Jr, helped in the shop almost up till his death last
April at 94. Another brother, Mac, was a famous Frome footballer.
Keith, George Jr’s only child,
was born in 1930. He left school at 15 and worked at Clarks for four years,
helping in the shop and yard when his father was unwell. Coming fulltime
into the business with his father in the 1950s meant a cut in wages: from
£15 a week on piecework to £10 at the shop. George Jr died at
the age of 81.
Benedict Street used to be much busier,
Keith recalls. “People used to flock up from the railway station on
Tuesdays for the market. I remember my father saying we had to be prepared
for the trade.
“Of course when I came into it, he didn’t sell
anything but china, glass and lamps — and lots and lots of
chamberpots. Ladies would come in, see only me, and say: ‘Is your
mother here?’ That was still a big market in the 1950s.” He
recently turned up a receipt in his mother’s handwriting for an entire
dinner set, probably Staffordshire: £2 and 10 shillings.
The sheds behind the shop were the scene of Keith’s
most famous wartime exploit: hacksawing into a bullet he and a friend had
found in a German aircraft that crashed at Coxley. The cartridge exploded,
shrapnel whizzed past his ear (he was lucky), and his mother fainted cold
when she saw the blood.
The outbuildings stored lamps and wicks that arrived from
Czechoslovakia packed in straw. When Keith took over the business, he sold
off all that stock as a job lot to a woman from Shepton Mallet, and
diversified into electrical goods, kitchenware, ironmongery and paint.
At that time the High Street had two hardware shops (besides
A.W.G. Curtis & Son farther down Benedict Street, started by Gilbert
Curtis in 1924 and still thriving under Roderick and Anita). E.G. Wright was
opposite the post office until 1970. “Stan Palmer came to work for me
when it closed. He was a jolly good salesman: if someone came to buy paint,
he would always ask if they also needed sandpaper, white spirit, and all the
rest.” Checkley’s, which traded until around 1975 in the
premises now owned by Glastonbury Experience, stocked more ironmongery than
Millers at the time. When Keith branched out into tools, “Jack
Checkley didn’t like it very much.”
Keith also started selling fishing gear — rods, reels,
bait, maggots. “That saved our bacon in some lean years.” He was
also one of the first to sell DIY goods — timber, hardboard, plywood,
tools — and further introduced telephones and videos.
Among the Saturday boys who worked in Millers Hardware over
the years were David Titchener (now the photographer) and Max Thurgood,
besides Keith’s sons Matthew and Jonathan.
Will Keith miss the shop? “I certainly will, after 55
years. I walk up the town and people speak to me, and I scratch my head:
‘Who was that? They must have been in the shop.’”
Somehow Keith also found time over the years for two stints
as St Benedict’s churchwarden and to play bowls regularly in Street.
He looks forward to more relaxed bowls when he is out of hospital and no
longer has to watch the clock and worry about the shop.
The new owner
Steve Rowse, the new owner of Miller’s Hardware, lives in Roman Way. The hardware shop “is a fine business”, he said. “I don’t intend to change a thing, other than maybe a coat of paint.” Warren Chapman and Jamie Allen will carry on as staff.
Property development is Steve’s main business. He
plans to make two flats above and behind the shop after Keith and Mary move
to their new house in Tythe Street, on the Actis estate.
16 months later ...
Reprinted from Newsletter 126, dated 2008 August
Oldest shop shuts
John Brunsdon (Chairman’s notes)
It was sad to see Miller’s Hardware close in July after 128 years of trading. Keith Miller, the fourth generation, retired last year and sold the business to Steve Rowse (Newsletter 122).
Reprinted from Newsletter 137, dated 2012 July
Town gives thanks for the life of Keith Miller
St Benedict’s Church was full on June 28 for the funeral of Keith Miller, the retired owner of the family hardware shop that had traded for four generations. Keith died on June 15 at the age of 82.
The talk by his son Jonathan retold tales of Keith’s boyhood adventure in the workshop behind the store with a small bomb he found in a downed German plane, of his trademark Sunday rock cakes at home, of his unfailing consideration for customers, of off-duty fun and travels with the bowling club.
“Iron in the blood” — articles from Newsletters 122 and 126 in 2007–08 are reproduced on the website.
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