TitleShopping Down the Years - Centenary Chronicles 3
AbstractShopping Down the years

Birch, Layer Breton & Layer Marney Local History

Centenary Chronicles - No. 3.

Published in Parish News - May 1996

In this issue we look at shops. We might have had Harrod's in Birch Street, if we'd spent a bit more locally! Or a renowned wine merchant, if only we'd drunk a bit more! St Paul's Cathedral perhaps, if only we'd gone to church more regularly? History is a bit hazy on that one, but "Support local enterprise" is one clear message from our past.

Shopping Down the Years

In an age when shopping, for many of us, means preparing a list and going to Sainsbury's, the Co-op, or into Colchester, it is interesting to look back at village life before the advent of supermarkets and cars.

The late Mrs Eames, in her "Glimpses into the History of Three Villages", notes that in 1848 Birch had three shopkeepers, a miller, a butcher and a maltster who also kept "The Angel". In addition there were two shoemakers as well as the usual tradesmen found in an agricultural community - the wheelwright and the blacksmith. Layer Breton had one shopkeeper, a beer house and a cattle dealer. Layer Marney seems to have existed without a shop at that time but perhaps one of the two publicans, or the beer dealer, also dealt in non alcoholic goods.

Moving on to 1891, Birch had lost two millers but there were now two hawkers, at least three bakers, three grocers, one combined with farming, and one selling drapery, a general shopkeeper who was also a coachman and a postmaster. Layer Marney could boast a fish merchant and a baker/grocer.

The impression gained is of an area with low income families striving to survive and having to be largely self sufficient. Much produce was grown in the gardens and shopping expeditions, as we know them today, were relatively rare.

The best known shop in Birch was the butcher's owned by the Tiffin family for almost a hundred years. Even when the name changed it was to that of a son in law, Ralph Wright, before it passed to Perrins. By this time the slaughtering of cattle, behind the shop near the bakehouse, had ceased. Originally the cattle would arrive on a Sunday having been driven along the road from Colchester, or one or other of the local farms. The bakehouse, just in Layer Breton, appears in the local directory for the first time in 1890 when it was run by Humphrey Smith and later by his son, Cranstone, until it was taken over by Chas Bell & Sons in the late 1920s. It was run by Mr William Cattermull for the last 18 years prior to closure in 1983 after a hundred years of providing bread throughout the area.

The main shop, the grocer and draper, which sold everything, was run by Albert Studley and his family for almost 50 years from 1917. They also had a branch shop at Hardy's Green run by Mr and Mrs Foster. Prior to the Studleys the shop was owned by Alfred Shalders for about 30 years from 1886. In the main shop it was possible to be measured for a suit, buy drapery and haberdashery, and place a weekly order for groceries to be delivered to your door. When the butcher's shop closed meat was available through Studleys at a seperate counter, run by Mr Nigel Blower. Studleys ran a system whereby customers earned 6d (2p) in the £ dividend which had to be taken in goods. A loyalty bonus in the days when there was next to no competition!

While most of the trading took place in and around Birch Street there was also a shop opposite the Angel which sold sweets and cigarettes up to the Second World War. The first mention of an owner is a William Partner in 1882 but it had passed to John Ridgewell by 1890 and seems to have changed hands frequently over the years although the Nice family ran it for more than 20 years from 1902.

Other businesses came and went starting often in a front room - Johnson near Hollington's Row, or Mrs Hale (a Tiffin before she married) in the Street.

Before leaving Birch it is only fair to record that the licence of "The Angel" was held by the Goody family for over 80 years from the 1860s.

In Layer Breton "Edgie" Bond had a shop, half way down the hill on the left, which only closed in 1992 when he died. He was literally a one man band starting when he was 22. He built the premises with materials bought from local builder J Dennis, on the Heath. Initially he carried out cycle repairs (1929). By 1937 he was described as a general dealer and was making ice cream in a shed at the rear of the shop which he sold from a trade cycle complete with the "Stop me and Buy One" sign made famous by Walls. His mother previously had a small shop, on the opposite side of the road, where she sold sweets and fruit. During the War the shop was closed while "Edgie" was in the forces but on his return he was quickly into his stride again and would cycle to Kelvedon towing a trailer which he would load up with supplies before making the much harder ride home again. Never deterred by the weather, or advancing years, he was a well known local character who delivered round the neighbouring villages all manner of goods and even at one time Sunday newspapers. It was typical of the man that on the day that he had a stroke he had been mixing concrete, at the age of 86! Only months earlier he had been spotted on his roof turning the TV aerial to improve reception.

Before the reservoir was built there were two cottages just across the bridge over the Layer Brook and at one of these Mrs Taylor sold sweets and lemonade although one cannot think there was much in the way of passing traffic. Just beyond what was Glebe Farm (now Birch House) was a small poultry farm, from which one could buy eggs, run by Fred Bambridge.

Layer Marney lacked much in the way of shops according to the various directories but in 1862 the blacksmith, Jn Hutley, doubled as a shopkeeper. By 1899 James Wadley was trading as a baker and grocer and the premises, possibly in New Bridge, remained in the family at least until 1937. In 1933 Rd. Evans is shown as a confectioner at Smythes Green. This is possibly the forerunner of the Grey Parrot Cafe, now Mc Creadys Garage, which sold a few items of groceries. In the main villagers relied on deliveries by Bond, Studleys or shops in Tiptree.

Osborne's 'bus drivers also undertook shopping trips for villagers. They would collect orders for the Co-op in Colchester and, in due course, on a return trip deliver the goods to the customers! Did the Layer Marney 'bus service, Moore's of Kelvedon, perform a similar function?

Of course most of these businesses operated in the days before food and trading regulations, the most restrictive of which was rationing. Between 1939 and 1954 some items were rationed. In 1942 a persons ration of meat was 5p (2p) worth per week, 4oz of bacon, 6 oz of butter or margarine, 8 oz of sugar and 2 oz of tea. This did not leave any room for businesses to expand! Nevertheless we survived and so did many of the businesses only to founder with the coming of the supermarkets and door to door transport by car.

In addition to the shops there were the hawkers, Charlie Amos brought Sunday papers out from Colchester Station and collected rabbits which he then sold on the trip home! Watson had a hawker's round with a barrow and collected mushrooms and blackberries in season. No doubt there was a degree of bartering in such cases and the exchange of fruit or rabbits for goods by the hard pressed villagers. In pre war days Thurtle had a round with a van and suppplied groceries also from North Station. The local oil man was Charlie Brown from East Hill who sold soap, soap flakes and paraffin.

Milk and eggs were available from several farms and at what is now Birch Surgery, Eric Rootkin, and previous to him, John Sach, are particularly remembered by many.

To complete the picture it is appropriate to mention businesses which had a connection, or in one case its origin, in this area. In 1841 Glebe Farm, Layer Breton, (later The Nook and now Birch House) was occupied by William Wheeler, farmer, and his family. The family remained at the farm until Sarah died over 50 years later. They had many children one of whom, George was born in 1840. When he married, he and his wife Harriett Elizabeth moved to Stamps Farm. She was the niece of a John Lay who had interests in the wine trade and he was clearly taken with his niece's husband to the extent that they went into partnership and founded the very well known Colchester wine merchants - Lay and Wheeler. George's direct descendants are still directors of the company.

The local directory for 1898 shows that the Lord of the Manor of Layer Breton was Charles Digby Harrod. He had taken over a shop founded by his father in 1861 and expanded the business considerably. By 1889 the business had grown so much that it was floated as a limited company. Since that time it has undergone many changes and is rarely out of the headlines as - of course - it is The Shop in Knightsbridge - Harrods! When Charles died, in 1905, his property was sold by auction. Included in the sale in Colchester was the butcher's shop mentioned above, Heathcote, which sold for £280, Layer Breton Lodge (£1000) The Manor House (£500) and other land. The rights as Lord of the Manor were sold for £115 to Beaumont and Son.

PublishedMay 1996
SourceMersea Museum / Breton Heath