Sunday, 28 May 2017

Remembering Skillman's ............. 108 years of selling ukeleles, nails and power drills to the discerning of Woolwich

Now when I was last on Woolwich High Street number 108 was an empty shop, and despite a coat of black paint the front still displayed the name of Skillman & Sons, which was where my friend Jean “always went ...... as they had all sorts of nails and things not found anywhere else.” 

Skilman's, 1977
And judging from conversations I have had recently so did many other people. It was one of those places where you could you get pretty much anything you wanted and was part of our history which I knew nothing about until I came across the story of the Skillman family and number 108 written by the granddaughter of Mr
Alfred Skillman who established the business in 1900*

It opened selling everything from second hand furniture, men’s suits, outdoor clothing, and musical instruments supplying harmonicas and ukeleles to the sailors docking in Woolwich. and later changing emphasis to tools and hardware.

The shop continued in business until 2002 but the closure of the Woolwich docks in the 1960s and the slow demise of the area as a major shopping centre coupled with the development of the “super store” made trading more difficult.

Skilman's in 2002
It is a familiar story where the small independent traders who knew their customers and could anticipate their needs have vanished from our high streets replaced by strings of estate agents, charity shops and coffee chains.

So I welcome the story of Mr Alfred Skillman and his family who served the needs of Woolwich for 108 years but rather than just cherry pick from the original piece I suggest you go and read their story which first appeared in 2002.*

It is a fascinating account which combines the facts of a family business with some wonderful anecdotes like the one of the drunks and the pianos, when Mr Skillman told his children to ‘close now before the drunks come out of the pubs and start spitting into our mouth organs and harmonicas.’”

And a thank you to Tricia who foist alerted me to this very personal account.

Pictures; Skillman’s in 1977 from the collection of Jean Gammons and again in 2002 courtesy of S C Skillman

*The Ironmongers Shop Opposite the Woolwich Ferry, from SC Skillman Blog,

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