Thursday, 14 January 2016

The lost shops of Queen's Road, New Cross….. more stories from Chris Taylor

In the 1950s, there was a parade of shops along Queen's Road, east and west of its junction then existing with Dennett's Road (which ran southwards, parallel with Lausanne Road).  

Hair tonic advert from the 1950s
Mostly, they were family-run or independent businesses serving regular shoppers from the neighbourhood.

I'll describe the shops as far as I remember from visits with my mother, or later when I myself was a young boy 'running round the corner' from Lausanne Road on a lone errand.  Every shopper took their own shopping bag or basket since shops didn't provide plastic bags (they hadn't been invented).  However, the grocer could find a cardboard box for a larger order and the greengrocer used brown paper bags, plucked off a pack which hung from a nail, especially for tomatoes, fruit and the like.

1. Shops west of Dennett's Road

From the crossroads of Lausanne Road with Queen's Road and Pomeroy Street, walking eastwards, there was a terrace of several large Victorian houses, with long front paths, somewhat elevated from the level of the pavement, remains my impression.

Queens Road, from Lausanne Road to the Fire Station, 1953
The first shop was a dry cleaners with a plain wooden counter and bare floorboards.  I particularly noticed that this shopkeeper pressed very firmly and deliberately with a biro (ballpoint pen) so that his stylish cursive handwriting remained clear on the carbon copy in his ticket or receipt book.  This gentleman informed me that Lausanne was a city in Switzerland and he pronounced it Low-zanne (not Law-sayne, as most locals tended to say).

Next door was a grocer's shop run by a lady called Daisy, so it was known as “Daisy's”.  Owing to Sunday trading laws, on “the day of rest” shops closed or opening hours were restricted and sales of certain items were prohibited.  Woe betide if you needed a toilet roll on the Sabbath: it had to be sold clandestinely (to a trusted customer) and wrapped in newspaper to hide it from the eyes of Big Brother who might be spying in the streets (!)

Lausanne Road east to Dennett's Road, 1953
Mr and Mrs Gregson ran the chemist shop (today's 'pharmacy').  They dispensed the prescriptions of doctors (Dr Purcell's surgery was in Queen's Road), sold over-the-counter medications, toiletries, perfumes (like “Soir de Paris” by Bourjois,) and all the rest of it.  To me at that age, much of the shop seemed occupied by a massive dark wooden counter and matching tall cabinets fitted with glass, on which stood shapely flasks with big stoppers.  A Victorian legacy I suspect, judging by the pharmacy one can see in the slightly obscure medical galleries at the Science Museum, South Kensington.

It may have been just outside Gregson's where the bus stop was formerly located, notably for double-decker route 36 running to Rye Lane, a key south-east London shopping street at that time, with the attraction of Jones & Higgins department store and multifarious retailers.

Silmos Lollies, advert from the 195s
Then there was Larrett's, the butcher's. Mr Larrett was the governor and 'Little' Albert his hard-working assistant.  On a Saturday morning, housewives (for so it was then) queued for ages on the sawdust-covered floorboards, to buy the family's Sunday joint for roasting, weekly wage packets having been received on the Friday.

To rhyme with Larrett's, Garrett's, next door, was a newsagent, tobacconist and confectionery shop.  On a Saturday evening, people eagerly awaited the arrival of the so-called “pink” newspaper which contained the 'classified' football results for checking pools coupons if you were not checking the readout on the 'wireless'.  News stories of the decade that stood out for me were the launch (October 1957) of the Soviet's artificial satellite “Sputnik” and, the following month, the loss of the space dog “Laika”.  Fantasies from “The Eagle” comic and the Space Age were starting to align.

And so to the corner.  A new-fangled establishment, a Launderette with large plate glass windows, was installed on the north west corner of Dennett's Road with Queen's Road.  Inside were dozens of large front-loading Bendix washing machines with rows of fixed seats in front.  The washing cycle needed to be monitored so that, at the lighting of an indicator, you would open the flap in the top and pour in a measure of powdered detergent.  Curiously, some people's washing sudsed up more than others.  Service washes by an attendant were also available at extra cost.  For many, it was a regular Saturday morning chore, but easier than washing, rinsing and wringing by hand as few had machines at home.  And there were tumble driers.

According to Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, in 1957, we'd “never had it so good”.  The modern age was evolving in the post-war decade, but the sea-change of the Swingin' Sixties had yet to burst upon us.

Dennett's Road east to the Fire Station, 1953
2. Shops east of Dennett's Road

The shops in this parade stood back from the pavement, so may have been converted from residential properties with their front gardens paved or covered over.

On the north eastern corner of Dennett's Road with Queen's Road was Hargreaves, the greengrocer.  Each shopper announced their requirements, such 3lb of King Edward's – big ones (for roasting) please; a cauliflower, etc, and the shop-staff picked out, weighed the produce and loaded it into the bag you'd brought along with you.  Sixty years on, we've reinvented the conventional shopping bag owing to the environmental damage caused by decades of too many plastic bags.  Progress.

Attan's (or Atten's?), a grocer's shop had glass counters either side of a central aisle for the customers.  Large tins of biscuits ranged along the front of one counter; many biscuits were dispensed loose in a paper bag. We had Commonwealth butter from New Zealand.

In this parade, was a small General Post Office (GPO).  Outside, there was a coin-slot machine which regurgitated postage stamps in vertical strips.  As a budding schoolboy philatelist, I was excited to discover that this machine had became stocked with graphite-lined varieties and I squirrelled away several examples hoping they'd have a premium value one day.  In a feeble attempt at saving pocket money, I had a savings account book with about one shilling and sixpence (1s/6d) on deposit.

Further east, Mr and Mrs Barnes had their own confectioner's and tobacconist shop, later extended to toys stored in a converted back room.  Formerly, I heard, Mr Barnes had been a racing driver.  Before they gave up the shop, they kindly treated me to an ice show in Brighton and we three (on the bench seat) hurtled down the A23 in Mr Barnes' small but stylish Nash Metropolitan, which was some ride.

New Cross Fire Station, 2015
Finally, by a kind of yard, a hardware shop sold general household goods and paraffin by the gallon (you took along a jerry can).  Brands were Esso Blue or Aladdin Pink to fuel the indoor paraffin heaters that people resorted to in place of coal fires.  The Clean Air Act 1956 brought in smokeless zones to lessen the smogs (smoky fogs) which had crippled traffic flows and human lungs alike.   In such smogs ('pea-soupers') you could barely make out the next lamppost or the house across the street.

By way of context, a little further to the east, 266 Queen's Road, SE14, is the ornate building of the long-established New Cross Fire Station (1894).

Apart from the new Launderette, none of these shops was self-service; supermarkets were only just beginning to be set up.  Shoppers queued patiently to be served individually by the shopkeeper or assistant in each type of shop.  They called out their lists item by item as the shopkeeper gathered each product from their stock and placed it on the counter. Typically, the items were totted up in the head or pencilled on your shopping list or a paper bag with the total rung up on the massive cash registers, in pounds, shillings and pence (£.s.d.).  You paid in cash, cheques were unusual and credit cards non-existent.

Text © Chris Taylor, 2016

Pictures; Pictures; detail of Queen's Road, 1953, historical map extract courtesy of Southwark Council at Historical map extract courtesy of Southwark Council at
 with mapping provided by Landmark Information Group, adverts from the 1950s from the collection of Andrew Simpson,  and New Cross Fire Station, from the collection of Chris Taylor


No comments:

Post a Comment