While browsing websites featuring St Marychurch, I came across the excellent and evocative piece written by Jim and Mary Gill, written in 2016, and I would very much like to add my own reminiscences to that of my time in St Marychurch.
We arrived in the village in July 1951. My parents had had a newsagents’ shop in Toad Lane, Rochdale, Lancashire, but because of my recent illness (pneumonia) they thought living in Torbay would be more beneficial to my health, so we moved to where there would be fresh sea air.
I was enrolled as a pupil at the then Hampton Court School where Miss James was the headmistress (she lived there with her parents, the elderly Mr and Mrs James; Mrs James being a dead ringer for Queen Mary, the grandmother of our present Queen.)
Our shop, 51 Fore Street, situated between Bunce’s pram and toy shop on one side and Cutmore’s chemist shop on the other, had been owned by the Misses Peters, two elderly spinsters. One had died and the one that was left was selling the business. The two women didn’t get on with one another and had divided the shop so that they could live separately. When we arrived at the shop, there was a staircase from the shop to a room over the carriage way as well as a staircase from the hall, behind the shop.
What possessed my parents to buy this particular business, I have no idea, but it was in a deplorable state; the two women had had 17 cats and the first job was to eliminate the fleas. There was an open lavatory in what passed for a ‘kitchen’, no more than a scullery with sink and elderly (and unsafe) gas cooker. There was also a lavatory upstairs, but no bathroom, and wash stands in the bedroom. Wash stands, for younger readers, were tables with usually marble tops on which would be a basin and ewer, with a bucket beneath for the ‘slops’, i.e. the used water for washing.
After eliminating the fleas, the first job was to install a modern bathroom upstairs (a pale green modern suite) which was at one end of the room above the carriageway – the ‘bathroom end’ overlooked the cottages at the back of the shop (these are no longer there; they were demolished several years ago) and the other end of the room overlooked Fore Street, from which we had a view of the butcher’s shop and, behind it, the spire of the RC Church.
It wasn’t long before a painter and decorator (Mr Pope) arrived to make the place habitable, a new gas cooker also arrived, and the lavatory in the kitchen was removed. Before it had been a newsagents and tobacconist’s shop 51 Fore Street had been a grocer’s shop, and remnants of this trade were still in evidence: grey marble counter tops at the side of the shop adjoining Bunce’s toy shop. These were removed, along with the staircase from the shop to what became our sitting room over the carriageway, and the interior of the shop was painted in pleasing shades of pale grey and daffodil yellow.
Please bear in mind that all this was taking place not long after the end of WW2 and building materials were still in short supply. The exterior of the shop was painted, removing – if I remember correctly, for I was only seven years old at the time – black paint, and giving the outside a new coat of maroon and cream paint, and a sign writer inscribed my parent’s trade name above the shop, Gays (with, in smaller writing: F G and G Sidlow). They had traded under the name of Gays before, and of course, in the 1950s ‘gay’ didn’t have the alternative meaning it has today. Many customers referred to my parents as Mr and Mrs Gay although their name was Sidlow.
After my parents had been in the shop for a few years my father ordered three smart new greetings card stands, and two of them are still in the shop today more than 60 years later. Things were then built to last. There was also a small circulating library, the Allied Library, just four shelves of books, mainly light romance, thrillers and western (known as “cowboy books” in those days, and which were very popular.)
There was very little trade at first – not surprisingly as there was little stock when my parents took over the shop – but before long the local people began to come to our shop to buy their newspapers, tobacco (then still on ration) and sweets and chocolates (ditto.) Indeed, my parents sold all kinds of things, not just newspapers, magazines, sweets and cigarettes: from razor blades and Amami setting lotion to Pond’s Vanishing Cream and Harley Bond writing paper, it was an Aladdin’s cave of items.
The locals were a little suspicious of us at first because moving from Lancashire to Devon was the equivalent of moving from the earth to the moon in those days; people tended to remain where they were born. Furthermore, they didn’t always understand our Lancashire accents and, indeed, I had elocution lessons at school to eliminate my ‘Coronation Street’ accent. Also, my parents didn’t always understand what the villagers said, and when one of them asked after the health of “the little maid” my father quickly explained that “we weren’t rich enough to employ a maid!” “No, your little daughter,” was the response. My father had no idea that a little maid was a daughter to a Devonian. Clearly, we had a lot to learn!
And so, the business grew and by the time my parents sold in April 1962 it was the largest newspaper business in the Bay, with around 14 newsboys in both St Marychurch and in Torquay.
I can remember many of the shops in Fore Street, and I query what Jim and Mary Gill have said about the shop on the corner of Rowley Road. Yes, Drowers was on the corner closest to the Links Hotel, but on the opposite corner where the Happy Apple now is, there was a butcher’s shop the name of which escapes me. I can clearly remember it as the doorway was set at an angle, i.e. across the corner of the premises.
Next door was the fruit and vegetable shop belonging to Arthur and Cathy Clow (brother and sister.) Next was a small antiques/junk shop run by a Mrs Heapie (not sure of the spelling, it might have been Heapy.) It was from Mrs Heapy that my mother bought for me a lovely desk and chair at which I used to do my homework (and I still have this in our hall.) Then Hockin’s sweet shop, then Mr and Mrs Percy Renshaw’s shop (another grocer’s shop, but all I can remember them selling was tea, their own homemade jam, flour, sugar, and biscuits which were in tins along the edge of the counter; you asked for how many you wanted and they were weighed for you and put into a paper bag, unlike the hygienically wrapped packets you buy today.)
Next to Mr and Mrs Renshaw’s shop was Bunce’s (pram and toys), then our shop was followed by Cutmore’s the chemist. Next was the Iolanthe café (owned by a couple called Millward; their daughter Broncie – or some such name – was at school with me). Next was Joyce’s hairdresser and jewellery (owned by Mr and Mrs Francis) and then, before the Foxland’s Walk was Leach’s Dairy, with the dairy behind the shop where there are now pretty, modern cottages.
After Foxland’s Walk (then the entrance to the dairy) was Hanson’s furniture shop, and Biddick & Avery, the television and radio shop, and Miss Philips’s shoe shop (currently having a closing down sale.) The shop which today sells clothes (the name of which I do not know) and which has an array of socks and so forth in ‘bins’ on the pavement, was then the International Stores and, again, begging to differ from the Gills’ account, what is now the Silver Goose café was Skinner’s bakery. The shop that is now the Bazaar was once a grocer’s shop, but the name of this escapes me even though I distinctly remember going with my mother to buy groceries there; there would be, as in most such shops in those days, a bentwood chair by the counter for elderly folk to rest while they asked for their sugar and tea. At the end of the row of shops and before the lane leading to the fields and walks around the cliffs where we would stroll with our Corgi dog, Sherry, was the Midland Bank.
If we now walk over to the other side of the Precinct and return up Fore Street, there was, of course, the lovely Hampton Court Hotel, with smart revolving doors, this beautiful building sadly demolished to make way for what is now the Co-op. Next, was the Manor public house and off licence, the landlady was Sally Price and her husband, Reggie. Along this stretch of Fore Street there was Mr Stenport (not sure of the spelling of his name; I think he was a Polish emigre) a tailor – he made some golfing skirts for my mother, as sports’ wear was unheard of in those days, and you wore to golf whatever you were most comfortable wearing, and trousers were not acceptable for women in those days – and close by was Jowett’s, a stationer’s and bookshop (now the Oxfam shop, I think.)
Further up the street was the fish shop where we would sometimes have fish and chips of a summer’s evening after my parents returned after a round of golf at Torquay Golf Club, and Mrs Frearson’s, the fireplace shop. During our time in St Marychurch this became a hairdresser’s shop, owned and run by Jean Jones and named for her daughter, Maison Cheryl. It is still a hairdresser’s shop (opposite The Coffee House).
Kiddy’s, the newsagents, was on the corner of St Margarets Road and then Gilbert’s, the pet shop. The chapel was still there in those days, and then a block of flats with, on the ground floor, Miss Lamble’s baby wear shop (where the clock and watch shop is today.)
Next, the butcher’s shop which is now Lloyd Maunder and which was and still is directly opposite my parent’s shop. It was then owned by Freddy Pryor, a big cheese in the village in those days, with his name over the shop: F.H.Pryor. His wife, Mabel, would sit in the little kiosk that butcher’s and some grocer’s shops then had, where you would pay her for your meat.
When his daughter, Anne, married and her reception was at the rather lovely Links Hotel (a very smart hotel in those days, I might add!) Freddy Pryor arranged for a red carpet to be placed across the road from the Lych Gate of the church to the Links Hotel. All traffic was stopped to allow the bridal party to cross the road.
Next to Pryor’s was Mottas, the bakery and cake shop (and which is still run thus.) Following these two shops were a few private houses before, further up, there was the fur shop which (I think) was owned by a Miss (or a Mrs Ferrer) – can you imagine a shop selling fur coats in the village today? Mink, Musquash, Fox? No, neither can I. But this was the 1950s – some changes are definitely for the better.
Along this stretch of Fore Street, my memory is a little hazy regarding in which order the shops came, but there was Mr Blackmore’s, another grocer (we were well catered for in the food department in St Marychurch!) and a wool shop owned by Barbara Hoy, and on the corner of Priory Road was The Bookmark, another book shop selling (if I remember correctly) both new and 2nd hand books.
In Priory Road was Avon House, owned by Mr and Mrs Holman, a B&B. Between Priory Road and Church Road was Mayne’s, yet another grocer’s shop – during our time in the village this became The Silver Pixie, an antiques’ and collectables shop. On the corner of Fore Street with Church Road was Stoneman’s television shop. Stoneman was the builder in Torbay at the time (he built the houses in Rock End near Daddyhole Plain as well as some in the Maidencombe end of Watcombe) but his St Marychurch shop sold televisions, radiograms and records – the new LPs and the older 78 rpms. It was from this shop that I bought The Shadows first LP.
Gould’s fruit and vegetable shop was next to Drower’s ironmongers shop (in the direction of the Links Hotel) and then Callard’s, the baker’s shop. Past the Links Hotel was Chris Sizer, yet another fruit and vegetable shop, and also a pet shop owned and run by Mrs Horsefall. She was known as “the dog lady” as she bred Corgis and that is where my parents acquired the most bad-tempered-ankle-nipping dog in the world, our Corgi, Sherry.
There were one or two other businesses along this part of Fore Street, one of them being Lakeman’s, a draper’s shop (‘draper’ is a word that has vanished from our 21st century vocabulary!) and on the corner of Petitor Road was a café, I think the proprietors were called Addison. On the opposite side of Petitor Road, right on the corner and next to the Crown and Sceptre Inn, was a gent’s outfitters, again the name of which escapes me.
Right. That’s the upper part of Fore Street as far as I can recall. Now come with me down the street to Hampton Court School, now the Abbey School, which I attended for a few years until a Mr Lewis (ex-Army band master) took over and things at the school went, as they say today, pear-shaped. I then left this school and attended Cary Park School (owned and run by Mrs Kelly, a retired Grammar School English teacher) which is now The Lorens Health Studio in Cary Park
In those dim and distant days before the St Marychurch bypass, there were two houses adjoining the school, Little Hampton and Hampton Dene. One of them was demolished to make way for the bypass. Beyond the school, heading towards Babbacombe, in the widest part of St Marychurch, i.e. beyond Chilcote Memorial (and under the Tudorbethan upper storeys which look much the same today as in the 1950s) was first Mrs Fulcher’s baby wear and wool shop; then Lisette’s, the ladies’ gown shop (‘gown’ is another relic of our past vocabulary) owned by Mrs Audrey Geen, with her hairdresser’s shop at the back. She opened this during our time at our shop.
Next to Lisette’s was the Post Office, still such a business, owned by Mr and Mrs Thompson. Next door, a doorway led to premises (above the ground floor shops) of a wholesaler from where my parents bought tobacco for their shop (I think!) and then came The Tudor Café and Tudor Cinema and, finally, Barclays Bank.
Opposite, by the pelican crossing, now John Lake’s estate agent, was Harry Frank’s chemist’s shop; next, the National Provincial Savings Bank, and then another chemist shop, this time owned by ‘Bob’ Shilling. There was also a photographic business along that parade of shops, Sean Hickey, before you came to Lloyd’s Bank (now the TSB) on the corner, opposite the Chilcote Memorial.
I hope that this has filled in some gaps in people’s memories of St Marychurch from the 1950s. It was a very happy time for me, but a very hard-working time for my parents. They left to become hoteliers in Paignton (a hotel on the sea front) which was even harder work than running a newsagents shop, but they didn’t know this at the time, of course!
Margaret Powling (nee Sidlow)
21st August 2017
Margaret has her own blog and occasionally writes an article or two for the Herald Express.