St Marychurch, Torquay, Devon, August 1959
I was browsing through the website of the St Marychurch and Babbacombe Local History Society when I came across someone’s reminiscences of Fore Street, where I had lived as a child. There were, from my memory, a couple of slight inaccuracies and I thought I would write my own short essay on my memories of the street to where, in July 1951, we moved from our home in Lancashire, where my parents had a lock-up shop in the town of Rochdale, to Devon. What follows is an edited version from parts or that essay.
51 Fore Street, c1951
We made the move in 1951 from the then heavily industrial north of England (with factory chimneys belching acrid smoke – this was before the Clean Air Act) because of my recent illness (pneumonia). My parents thought that living in Torbay would be more beneficial to my health, so we moved to where there would be fresh sea air.
Our shop, 51 Fore Street, was sandwiched between Bunce’s pram and toy shop and Cutmore’s chemist shop. It had been owned by the Misses Peters, two elderly spinsters. One had died and the remaining one was selling the business.
The two women didn’t get on with one another and they had divided the shop so that they could live totally separate lives. When we arrived there, there was a staircase from the shop to a room over the carriageway (this carriageway gave access to a row of cottages behind the shop) as well as there being another staircase from the hall to the bedrooms above the shop.
The photo above is one my father took soon after we arrived. I know black and white photos make places look much grimmer than today’s colour photography, but believe me, 1951 was pretty colourless whether in black and white on a photograph or in reality! The vogue for everything Retro, as if the 1950s were brightly coloured, is totally erroneous. I know. I was there.
The first thing my parents did was have the shop front painted, and then, a few years later, re-painted. Here is a photo of myself standing on the steps of the shop, c1958 (when I was 14.)
Margaret in front of her parents newsagent’s shop, c1958
Margaret, serving customers I her parents’ shop, c1958
What possessed my parents to buy this particular business, I have no idea, but it was in a deplorable state when we arrived there; the Misses Peters had had 17 cats and the first job was to eliminate the fleas. There was an open lavatory (a bench with a hold in the centre) in what passed for a ‘kitchen’ (which was no more than a scullery with sink and elderly gas cooker. It was all positively Dickensian.) There was also a lavatory upstairs, but no bathroom, and there were old wash stands in the bedroom. Wash stands, for younger readers, were tables usually with marble tops on which would be a basin and ewer (for the water) so one could wash in one’s bedroom, with a bucket beneath the wash stand for the ‘slops’, i.e. the used water after washing.
After eliminating the fleas, the first job was to install a bathroom upstairs (a pale green ‘modern’ suite) which was at one end of the then totally empty room above the carriageway; the ‘bathroom end’ overlooked the cottages at the back of the shop …
Cottages behind our shop, accessed via the carriageway (these cottages were demolished several years ago)
… and the opposite end of the room overlooked Fore Street, from which we had a view of the butcher’s shop, opposite …
F H Pryor, Butcher, this shop directly opposite our newsagent’s shop
It wasn’t long before a painter and decorator (Mr Pope) arrived to make the place habitable, a new gas cooker also arrived, and the lavatory in the kitchen was removed.
Before it had been a newsagent’s and tobacconist’s shop 51 Fore Street had been a grocer’s shop, and remnants of this trade were still in evidence: grey marble counter tops on one side of the shop which were removed, along with the staircase from the shop to what became our sitting room over the carriageway. The interior of the shop was painted in pleasing shades of pale grey and daffodil yellow.
In 1951, to put the year into context, in London there was the Festival of Britain, a celebration of all kinds of new things, mainly in the realms of technology. But elsewhere the people of this country were still suffering privations of rationing that had come in during World War 2, and even such things as painting and decorating materials were in short supply, or the quality was poor, and the choices limited. Sweets and tobacco were both on ration, so it wasn’t a case – living as I did in a shop which sold sweets and chocolates – simply of helping myself to the stock! I was taught from an early age that that was stealing.
Speaking of World War 2, on 30th Mary 1941, St Marychurch received a direct hit. It was a Sunday morning and many children and Sunday School teachers were killed. In 1952 The Bishop of Exeter set the keystone for the rebuilding of the church, and my father took the photos above and below of the procession through the village to the church (it was a very wet day.)St Marychurch, 1952
Until the church was rebuilt, services took place in the Village Hall behind the Church.
The villagers were a little suspicious of us at first because moving from Lancashire to Devon was then the equivalent of moving from the earth to the moon; people tended to remain where they were born in the 1950s, unless they emigrated to Australia or America, seeking “a better life.” Furthermore, the local people didn’t always understand our Lancashire accents and, indeed, I had elocution lessons at school to eliminate my accent.
Hampton Court School, a small private school, c1955 (this school was about 200 yards from where I lived in our shop
Abbey School as it is today
Similarly, my parents didn’t always understand what the villagers said, and when one of them asked after the health of “the little maid” my father quickly explained that we weren’t rich enough to employ a maid! “No, your little daughter,” came the response. My father had no idea that a little maid was a daughter to a Devonian. Clearly, we had a lot to learn!
Fore Street, St Marychurch, c1957, before this street became a pedestrianized precinct. The chapel is no longer there; in it’s place, shops with flats above
Today, this area is a very attractive precinct and it is perhaps hard for you to imagine that at the time this photograph was taken (by my father) that there was two-way traffic through this street, and double-decker buses would sometimes get stuck, so that one of them would have to mount the pavement in order to pass. Also notice the absence of cars. Not everyone had a car in the 1950s, it was considered quite a luxury if you did own one. My father had a small Austin A35 van.
Almost the same view today, with just the corner of Gilbert’s Pet & Garden shop on the immediate right an which you can see in the black and white photo
51 Fore Street as it is today, you can just see the opening to the carriageway with what had been our sitting room above
And another view of my parents’ shop on a sunnier day
My parents in their shop, c1959
I hope you have enjoyed this journey back in time, to when people went into a shop and asked for what they required rather than trundle around a supermarket with a trolley! By the time my parents sold their business in 1962 it had become the largest news business in the whole of Torbay.
Until next time