|PARAFFIN, WALL-PAPER AND A SHORT BACK & SIDES
Corner of high Street and Cromwell way (73 High Street), until the late 1950’s this was Ted Titmuss’ ironmongers shop
Until the late 1950’s there were six shops in Pirton, five of which were within a stone’s throw of the village pond. Imagine the junction where Cromwell Way now leads off from the High Street – no Cromwell Way, just a track between the gardens of the houses on either corner; both gardens later to lose some land when Cromwell Way and Bunyan Close were built. The rough track between these two corner houses led to a gate and beyond the gate were the meadows belonging to Fred Weeden of Cromwell Cottage.
On the other corner stood the ironmongers and multi-purpose shop belonging to Ted Titmuss. This is now the home of Val Guess and Roger Blackburn, no. 73 High Street. Imagine it as Ted’s ironmongers – in other words take away the present front porch and side extension, but add to it most of the pair of houses just in Cromwell Way (Nos. 69 & 71 High Street). Until the mid 1920’s it had been one of the many village pubs, ‘The Blacksmith’s Arms’ run by Frank (Baccy) Titmuss. The name of the pub almost certainly grew from the blacksmiths just a few yards further along High Street (next to Harold Massam’s house). This had been a pub since around 1830, run by the Odell and Chamberlain families. The pub sold a number of items including cigarettes (presumably accounting for the owner’s nickname of ‘Baccy’ Titmuss) and when the premises passed to Frank’s son, Ted Titmuss, Ted decided to convert it into a shop, mainly ironmongery.
Here the ironmongers-cum-general-store remained from 1927 until Ruth Titmuss finally sold it in 1964. It finally closed down a couple of years later. For forty years Ted and his wife Ruth served the village. There can hardly be a villager who lived in Pirton at that time who does not still have something from the Hardware Stores. Irene Burton from Danefield still has a grater that she and Roy bought when they first set up home in the village just after the war. For Ted sold almost everything that you can associate with an ‘old-fashioned’ hardware shop. And his catch phrase was : ‘If I haven’t got what you want today, I’ll have it for you tomorrow’.
With the shop door opening onto High Street (same place as present inner door to no. 73) one entered into an array of domestic, work and do-it-yourself items. Part of the premises were for keeping stock, part the home of Ted, Ruth and daughter Vera. Running from the corner premises to the house which is now no. 69 High Street (although it seems in Cromwell Way!) was the place to get one’s haircut or have a shave. This was a side-line that Ted had inherited from his father. Barrie Simmons of Davis Crescent, like many other people who lived in the village at the time, recalls it so well. ‘Oh yes, I can clearly remember going into the rather dark room and sitting on the board which Ted rested on the arms of the chair when a youngster came in. A haircut then cost 3d.” So most long-time inhabitants of the village remember going to him to be ‘tidied up’. Vera Farey recalls going for a ‘semi-shingle’ cut and saying to him, “That’s enough, don’t cut off any more. But he often did – just a little”.
Most village ‘worthies’ seemed to have had nicknames, many for reasons that are lost in the mists of time. Frank Titmuss had been known as ‘Ted Darkie’. Irene Burton remembers that Ted, Frank’s son and the owner of the Hardware Stores from the 1920’s, was fondly known by many as ‘La-di-da’ from his delightful habit of singing this catchphrase as he went to a shelf to get the customer’s purchases. Both he and his wife always worked in the shop, no assistants were employed for Ted and Ruth did the lot themselves. Cigarettes and a few sweets were sold there but, as their daughter Vera Thrussell, now living at nearby no. 61 High Street, recalled recently, ‘Those were the days when you did not try to compete with other shops nearby. There was a kind of agreement as to who sold what.’ No doubt this was part of the community spirit which contrasts with the ‘cut-throat’ business in towns that we see so much of in present times.
Vera still has a ledger belonging to her father in 1964; indeed the last ledger used before he sold the shop. In the ledger are the names of some of his major village customers, names like:
Milner Davis of 28 High Street, Claude Farey of 5 Royal Oak Lane, Laurie Franklin of Walnut Tree Farm, E Hallworth of 49 High Street, J Thrussell of The Orchard, Little Lane, Philip Walker of Royal Oak Lane & F. Weeden of Cromwell Farm.
A glance at some of the items supplied to one of these in July 1964 gives a measure of the range of items stocked in the hardware shop: Broom head, 4/6d (22p). 2 foot rule, 5/11d (30p). 2 toilet rolls 2/6d (12p). Fly spray 3/9d (18p). Distemper brush 8/0d (40p). A sickle 9/6d (48p). Paraffin lantern 19/6d (98p). 2 tiles 7/0d (35p). Cycle bell 2/0d (10p). Plane £1.15s.0d (£1.75)
Almost every home in Pirton used paint from the shop and relied on Ted for almost all items for decorating their house. There was a great supply of wallpaper pattern books which customers would come in, take home to consider and then return to order from Ted. Vera also recalls another much sought after item from the shop. ‘A lot more villagers used to have allotments in those days. Of course, that was in the days when the present recreation ground was allotments; my father used to loan out a seed drill for them to use. 3d. a time it was to borrow it.’ Ted showed further versatility by mending bicycles.
The first years at the shop was at a time before mains water had come to the village. “We used to use the well that is now in Val Guess’ garden. Then when mains water came to the village (in 1935) there was just a standpipe which supplied communal water to those around. We would all go to the tap with our bowls and buckets…that continued for some time before water was put in to each house.
Thus the shop served the village for nearly forty years. Ted died in 1959 and Ruth decided to sell up five years later, in 1964. She moved to nearby 3 Walnut Tree Road. The shop was still doing well enough, but this was a time when more and more people were beginning to go to nearby towns to shop, when rural shops were closing on almost a daily basis. Harold Massam who still lives in the house next door but one to Ted and Ruth’s old shop, remembers a Mr. Peter Davies taking over the shop; ‘ a tall fellow with a stout wife’. Under its new owner the shop continued for just two or three years. It was then converted into a private house where Patricia & John Simpson, now in Nigeria, lived. A photograph of Ruth, who lived to be ninety-nine, at the smart door of the shop with the shop window advertising Aspro and Singers A1 Light tobacco remains a treasured part of Vera’s memories.