Visiting Traders by Barbara Wilshere

Barbara Wilshere shows how self-sufficient village used to be in writing of her memories of


As well as having grocers’ shops and bakers in the village during the 1920’s and ‘30’s, we also had quite several visiting salesmen.

There were two butchers. George Palmer, from Shillington, who came in a van on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and a Mr Clark who came from Henlow twice a week. It seems that they had their own customers, for we always bought our meat from George Palmer. On Wednesdays we bought pudding beef and offal which was very cheap. On Saturdays we bought our Sunday joint. My mother went out to the van which was parked on the road near the gate of our house in Davis Crescent .The van had doors at the back which, when opened, revealed meat hanging from the sides. A pair of scales stood on the base of the van, together with some big choppers and knives beside a chopping board.

Besides the butchers, we also had travelling grocers. One of these was Eddie Reynolds who was my mother’s cousin and who had a shop in Walsworth. He usually arrived at our house in time for a teatime cup of tea. There was also a wizened little man with glasses who was known in our family as ‘Gandhi’. We did not know him by any other name.

Then there was Bill Pearmain. He came on Thursday afternoons in a large green van with solid tyres. The inside was partitioned off so that all his groceries fitted neatly on to shelves. The special thing about Bill was the fact that he also carried a large drum of paraffin oil in the van, the smell of which permeated everything. This drum had a tap which could be turned on to fill people’s oil receptacles from the outside. Because of this and the fact that he came to the backdoor, knocked, and called out “’ile-man”, this is what we christened him. He would be given his order, which he returned with, and always left five toffees on the kitchen table. (There were five of us in the family – mother, father and we three children). One of these toffees was always a treacle toffee and there was a scramble for any of the others. None of us liked treacle toffees!

Wally Daisher, also from Shillington, came on Saturday mornings. I think he stayed in one place in the village, and we went out to him to buy his speciality, which was black puddings. Many people in the village had them with bacon, etc for Saturday dinner. He made them himself.

An order-man came from Moss’s, Halseys and the International Stores, all shops in Hitchin. They came to take the orders and then the goods were delivered by van later in the week. They cycled from Hitchin out into the villages. My favourite roundsman was Gerald Brolia. His parents had a cafe where Stapletons tyre shop is now situated in Paynes Park. They were Italians who had settled in Hitchin and opened the cafe next to the cattle market in Hitchin. No doubt they did a good trade on market days. They also made ice-cream.   In the summer Gerald would come to Pirton pushing a large box on a tricycle frame. In the box was ice-cream, presumably surrounded by ice since the ice-cream was always cold and solid. There was a round lid on the top of the box, which he lifted up, from which he sold the ice-cream. He rang his bell as he came along and we went out to catch him as he came by, with a cup and a penny. Our penny bought a large amount – but, if you had 2d. – then you really had a cupful! You could have a cornet or a  wafer,  but I  loved to eat it with a spoon from my cup. It was the nicest tasting ice-cream I have ever had. It was home-made and probably the recipe was a family one brought from Italy.

Then there were the bakers. There were four different families, all living in the village and presumably all making a living selling bread in the village. There were the Walker Brothers – Ted and Reg who lived in Royal Oak Lane (now no. 22). Only recently their bakehouse, was pulled down. Joe Walker lived on Great Green (where Norah Evans and family now live)

Walkers bakery on Great Green(long Barn)

and Bob Walker his brother, lived at the corner of Royal Oak Lane and Holwell Road (now the home of Andy & Helen Hofton).

Walkers Bakery Holwell Rd. Bob Walker was known as the midnight baker as his son Bertie Bob was alway so so late delivering bread to Hitchin on his bike. 14 old bikes were found in the garden when it was renovated.

The last was Frank Ashton who lived at The Knoll in Shillington Road. They all had horses and carts and carried the loaves in large wicker baskets. They travelled to Hitchin as well and had steady customer there, too.

Hedley Ashton delivering bread to Shillington and Pirton

Although we did fetch our milk from Fred Weeden at Cromwell Farm at one time, Tom Lake had a pony and trap and went round the village with his two large cans of milk fitted in the trap, whilst he carried a small can to individual houses. In his can hung his measures on large hooks. They were a gill, half-pint, and pint measures, which he dipped into the milk. He would pour the milk into your receptacle and then always put in a few extra drops. These dippers fascinated me, and I never grew tired of seeing him use them.

This is an earlier milk delivery by Tom Lake. Phyllis Weedon delivered milk to the village from Rectory Farm. You brought out a jug and it was filled from the churn on the cart.

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