Wednesday, 30 October 2013

The Felsham Shop 1900 to 1940

At the beginning of the 20th century the Felsham shop was situated at the northern end of Upper Green in a house that can still be seen today. The postcard photograph shows that it had a glass-fronted extension going the whole length of the house and slightly to the side.  The photo is undated but was probably taken around 1930.

The name over the door is W H Ince.  Walter Herbert Ince became a shopkeeper in Felsham some time between 1904 and 1908 probably soon after he married in 1905.  He bought the shop from George Godbold. Mr Ince was still trading in 1929 and the shop stayed in the hands of his family at least until the outbreak of the World War II. 

The Census for 1911 throws some light on Walter Ince’s household.  He himself is described as a “Grocer and Draper and Sub Postmaster” of 41 years of age.  He was married and his wife was called Rose and she was 29 years of age.  He had two daughters and one son at this time aged 4, 2 and 1 month. 

His household included a General Domestic Servant (Lily Dyer, aged 17 from Shimpling), a Drapers Assistant (Susie Stiff, aged 25 from Rattlesden), and a Grocer’s Assistant (Allan Sturgeon, aged 15 from Hartest).  In addition to these shop assistants, Walter Ince employed a Grocer’s Porter called Rowland Squirrel, a 27 year old single man who lived with his parents at Castle Cottage, and a Post Office Clerk called Violet Hubbard, aged 21, who was daughter to James Hubbard, the Felsham blacksmith who had his forge immediately opposite Walter Ince’s shop.

Thus, the Felsham shop provided employment for at least six people and must have been a fairly busy and successful establishment.  In 1908, Kelly’ Directory describes the shopkeeper as “sub postmaster, grocer, draper, boot & shoe dealer, clothier, & agent for Huntley and Palmer’s biscuits.”  It would appear that the Felsham shop offered the villagers everything under the sun.  It could be aptly described as a “department store in miniature.”

The interior of the shop was probably divided in two with a grocery counter on one side and a drapery counter piled high with different fabrics on the other.  It is interesting to note that Mr Ince stocked factory made footwear which must have irked the elderly Mr William Last who was Felsham’s last boot and shoe maker and who also lived and worked on Upper Green.  The shop window probably displayed shoes and boots alongside fabrics, hats and clothes.

 The Post Office counter was an important adjunct to the shop’s business.  Kelly’s directory for 1916 tells us that “letters arrive from Bury St

Edmunds at 7.50 a.m. and 2.25 p.m.; dispatched weekdays at 10 a.m. & 5.40 p.m.; Sundays at 11 a.m.  

Sorting and delivery would need to be organised perhaps along the lines described in “Lark Rise to Candleford”.
One cold winter morning, when snow was on the ground and the ponds were iced over, Laura, in mittens and a scarf, was sorting the early morning mail and wishing that Zillah would hurry with the cup of tea she usually brought her at that time. The hanging oil lamp above her head had scarcely had time to thaw the atmosphere, and the one uniformed postman at a side bench, sorting his letters for delivery, stopped to thump his chest with his arms and exclaim that he’d be jiggered, but it was a fact that on such mornings as this there was bound to be a letter for every house, even for those which did not have one once in a blue moon. ‘Does it on purpose, I s’pose,’ he grumbled.

 As the 20th century progressed, Violet Hubbard, the Felsham Post Office Clerk would need to get used to new tasks such as the payment of old age pensions and similar official business.  Income from the Post Office contract was rising but just as valuable was the fact that people coming in for a few stamps, to send a telegram, or to collect a pension were likely to be tempted to make other purchases while they happened to be in the shop.

 What sort of jobs were carried out by Rowland Squirrel, the grocer’s poerter?  Many local villages Cockfield and Thorpe Morieux had coal dealers or merchants.  Perhaps, Mr Ince’s shop dealt in coal too and perhaps one of the porter’s jobs was to deliver it.  He certainly would have been expected to move all the heavy items in the shop and he may have had additional responsibilities to do with carting items from the wholesalers back to Felsham. 

 At the beginning of the 20th century the village shops began to sell packaged goods which eliminated much of the work that had traditionally been part of the grocer’s life, such as cutting up, weighing and bagging.  Some things such as rice and dried fruit were still sold loose.  Sugar was still weighed out into the blue bags, coffee had to be ground, and bacon sliced.  Even here though, there were changes.  Bacon-slicing machines, installed by many village shops in the 1920s and 1930s, made a considerable difference to the counter assistant’s work. 

Mr Ince’s shop sold most things but local people would still need to go to market in Bury or Stowmarket for much of their fresh fruit and vegetables.  Even so, the shop probably sold items that stored easily such as potatoes and onions.

Where did villagers get their milk from before 1940?  Was it supplied by a local farmer or did the shop keep some for sale?  It is unlikely that the shop was able to refrigerate milk. 

The shop may have sold bread even though there was a baker in the village.  Kelly’s Directory for 1916 mentions a baker called Frederick Gowers.  It is possible that the shop sold some liquor but Felsham had its beer shop a few doors  down towards the Cockfield Road at the Live and Let Live, and there was, of course, the Six Bells Public House. 

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