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Abbey School, formerly Hampton Court School

From Lancashire to Devon

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, formerly Hampton Court School

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

About Margaret Powling

Margaret Powling
Margaret’s main interests are her husband and family, her friends, her home, her garden, writing, literature, architecture, décor, social history, photography, historic houses and gardens, and towns, villages and the countryside. She writes about the things she enjoys: flowers, scent, fine soap, monthly style magazines, and other such small indulgences, such as afternoon tea or simply enjoying her summerhouse with a book. She invites you to enjoy this virtual visit to South Devon, England.

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  1. I so enjoyed reading this Margaret. Treasured memories! How wonderful the shop is still trading as a newsagents? My grandfather emigrated from Lancashire to London in the 1920s, I guess looking for work during the depression. He even built his own motorbike for the journey and helped my own father build his motorbike 20 years later. (One of the last treasured conversations I had with my father recounted the building of the motorbike!) He found work as an engineer with the newly developing electricity supply industry. But my husband’s grandfather had a shop in West Street in Chichester. He was a tailor and breeches maker and the shop front and accommodation above is still there and a few weeks ago as we were walking along West Street we came across a local guide showing the Georgian architecture of ‘our’ shop front to a walking tour group. We have a lovely photo taken in 1915 of my grandfather-in-law aged four and dressed exactly like Christopher Robin standing with his father in front of the shop.

    • Margaret Powling

      Such family memories are to be treasured, aren’t they, Sarah? How wonderful you have been able to see the shop front with your grandfather-in-law standing in front. I’m amazed at how old-fashioned the clothes from even the 1950s now look, when I was a child. Yes, people like your father were often incredibly ingenious and could make things like motor bikes. It was often a case of having to, as to buy them new would have been far too expensive. Yes, our old shop is still trading as a newsagent’s and the butcher’s shop is still a butcher’s shop, and the bakery next to the butcher’s is still a bakery, and the chemist is also a chemist. But many other businesses in what is now the Precinct have changed, of course, over time.

  2. You must have felt like, well, a child in a sweet shop, living next door to a toy shop. I wonder if the shop has continued to trade as a newsagents right the way through from your parent’s time to today. I had to chuckle at the confusion over the local lingo, my mum had the same problem when she moved to Yorkshire in the 1950’s. Lovely to look back on these childhood and teenage memories with you.

    • Margaret Powling

      Yes, it was lovely living in a sweet shop, Jo. My friend envied me, but I envied them a ‘proper’ home with a garden as we only had a back yard. And for Americans reading this, a yard here is literally often just that, a yard (3ft, 36ins) in either direction, or just a bit larger, and made of concrete of paving slabs, it’s most certainly not a garden with grass and flowers.) Yes, the shop has traded as a newsagent’s shop in all the years since we left, and is still a newsagent’s. I have been in the shop and explained to the proprietor that I once lived there and pointed to the place in the ceiling where the stairs out of the shop entered the room above the carriageway, but she wasn’t a bit interested, I felt I was wasting my breath. I even told her that the greetings card stands that were still there had been bought by my father, but again, not a glimmer of interest. Well, that’s folk for you!
      We loved the locals who had such lovely Devonshire accents, and I can certainly mimic those today, or lapse back into my Lancastrian voice, or speak Received Pronunciation. That’s what Elocution lessons did for me. Indeed, the shampoo girl at my hairdresser’s didn’t know what Elocution lessons were when I happened to mention that I’d had them as a child; oh dear, that made me feel very old!
      Strangely enough, I never went into the toy shop next door. In those days children seldom had toys unless it was a birthday or Christmas – none of these ‘educational’ toys bought all year round as a child develops. And I had all the books and magazines and comics, not to mention newspapers, at my disposal. It was a very lovely childhood, even given that we had stock for the shop piled up everywhere in the ‘house’.

  3. Eloise. (thisissixty.blog)

    What an interesting memoir, Margaret, with some lovely anecdotes.
    How rude, and sad, that the woman in the current newsagents had no interest in your story, or indeed in the history of her shop. In her place, I’d have been asking lots of questions and been thrilled that someone with first hand knowledge had taken the time to tell me about it.

    • Margaret Powling
      Margaret Powling

      Yes, I couldn’t imagine how someone could be so disinterested, Eloise, either, but this woman was. I would love to see what the living accommodation is like today, but of course, I couldn’t ask! There were four bedrooms upstairs, one for Mum and Dad, one for me, one for my Granddad and one for my mother’s bachelor brother. Only one bathroom, with a separate lavatory next to it, and walk-in linen cupboard, and a sitting room upstairs, very small by today’s standards as it was only as wide as the carriageway. Downstairs, the hall behind the shop, a living room and kitchen which was more, as I say, scullery than kitchen. Even when cleaned up it only had a sink and draining board, a cooker, a metal table, and a cupboard in which we kept the food. No fridge in those days, food had to be bought fresh each day, but living in a street with loads of food shops, this wasn’t a problem. And in the 1950s people were used to milk and butter going off in the summer. In winter they didn’t as houses were so cold in pre-centrally heated times!

  4. fascinating story of your childhood, Margaret. No wonder you are such a prolific writer and reader!! I love the 1950s photos. Sometimes when I meet up with my teenage best friend, in the area where we lived at the time, I am fascinated how the areas where the homes were, has not changed so much since the 1960s, when we were teens. But then I am always amazed at how the shopping areas have grown. Who buys all the things from all the shops everywhere, I wonder? I also often wonder if children today could understand what it was like to eke out your coins to buy a small ice-cream or a tiny bag of sweets. In New Zealand, lots of people drone on and on about the ‘good old days’. But, so many families in the 1950s were still recovering from the war, although of course not to the extent that Great Britain was. Hardly any cars, bus service was not great, and that left staying at home or walking. I was interested about your comment about black and white in the 1950s. NZ has a lot of sun!! No matter what decade …. lol.

    • Margaret Powling
      Margaret Powling

      I’m so glad you enjoyed my story of my childhood, moving from Lancashire to Devon. I’ve just written a further post, continuing this story, Ratnamurti, and I hope you will enjoy that, too. Yes, it’s little wonder I became a writer and reader, although I was very slow to learn to read. I have, however, made up for that since then! But you are right, there were few cars around in the 1950s and not everything was better in the “good old days”. Food is certainly better today, even with all the junk food that proliferates – but then, we don’t have to stuff our faces with it, do we?

      • chuckle… no, we don’t have to stuff our faces!!! I also loved your descriptions of the work involved setting up ‘home’ above the shop. So many would never realise just what others have had to do to create a life.

        • Margaret Powling
          Margaret Powling

          I loved my bedroom at our shop, Ratnamurti. When I was about 12 my mother allowed me to choose the wallpaper for it and I did something quite radical in those days: I choose a wallpaper with a lovely sage green background and covered with small leaves in autumn colours, but I wanted this on the ceiling and down as far as the picture rail! On the walls I chose a basket-weave paper in creams, to complement the green, as I knew I was going to be given a green carpet that my Uncle had brought with him from Lancashire, a fairly new one that was going to be cut to fit my room. So the cream walls would be sandwiched between a sage green carpet and sage green-with-leaves ceiling, and between the ceiling and the walls, the picture rail (for most houses had those at that time) would be painted a very pastel blue, as would the rest of the wood work. I worked it all our for myself and the decorator whom Mum engaged to do the work scratched his chin, as they are wont to do, when she showed him my choice, and made some sort of comment about the madness of children being allowed to choose.
          However, when it was completed the room looked wonderful, he had to admit that it looked really good! I then had new curtains with a pale blue background, and matching curtains to go around my kidney-shaped dressing table. I really loved my room and spent hours in there, it was my sanctuary from all the stock of the shop, which was piled in the hall and in every available corner, but not in my room. The desk we have in our hall was also in my room, I’ve had it since I was 12 years old. I also have the large globe that I was given for Christmas when I was about eight, and that is now in our guest room.

  5. Eloise. (thisissixty.blog)

    When I was a very young child we had A pantry with a marble slab to keep food cool, and a meat safe -a little mesh fronted wooden cupboard where the meat was stored. Milk bottles were immersed in a bucket of cold water. Like your mother, mine shopped daily. Then we got a fridge and it seemed terribly posh!

    • Margaret Powling
      Margaret Powling

      How I’d love a pantry today, with a marble slap, Eloise! My mother in law had a meat safe, too! I presume the mesh was to keep the flies off the meat. And yes, milk bottles went into cold water. Indeed, when I married in 1964 we didn’t have a fridge until the following summer! And then it was a neighbour’s old one which we bought for £7. And we didn’t have a washing machine for FOUR YEARS after we married, they were frightfully expensive in the 1960s compared with what people were earning. When we first had it installed, it was an automatic, we put two chairs in front of it and watched a complete wash/spin cycle! Truly! Well, after having to wash everything by hand, including the bedding, it was an absolute treat to see the washing emerge from the machine, washed, rinsed and spun out ready to go on the washing line (a tumble dryer didn’t arrive for many years after that!)

  6. What a beautiful article, Margaret. Thank you so much for sharing such a huge part of your family history with us.

    The photos are beautiful. You are so lucky to have those, especially the photo of your parents in the shop.

    I’m amazed the current owner of the newsagency wasn’t interested in the history of her store. I would have close for the day and kept you captive until you’d told me everything !! And such a shame that you didn’t get to sticky beak upstairs to see the living areas now. Some people are such killjoys.

    ps As an aside, I met a young traveller the other day who said he was from Devon. To which I said ‘oh the land of clotted cream and beautiful bays’. He was very impressed that I knew of clotted cream and how beautiful your area is, so I must thank you for helping me sound like something of an ‘expert’ ha ha. We talked for some time about his travels and he said that Australians were more knowledgeable of the rest of the world than some others. I suggested it was because Australians are exposed to so much television and movies from the UK and USA. Mind you, he was probably just being polite 😉

    • Margaret Powling
      Margaret Powling

      Oh, Lara, that is wonderful – that you met someone from Devon and you could drop “clotted cream” and the “bays” into the conversation, just like that! No, I don’t think he was merely being polite, perhaps Australians do know more of the rest of the world because of all the UK and USA progs they watch. What is lacking on our TV is any news from South America (unless some country has staged a coup or there is an earthquake or something) and Canada (apart from the election of their young Prime Minister, Trudeau, I can’t remember when there was last anything about Canada on our TV screens.)
      Yes, it was a bit of a let-down when the person who now owns what was my parents’ shop struck such a negative attitude to knowing about my time there and what it was like then. It wasn’t as if the shop was full of customers, either. It was empty apart from my husband and myself; I wouldn’t have engaged her – or attempted to – in conversation had she been busy.
      Glad you liked the photos.

  7. Another wonderful post Margaret, thank you.
    You write beautifully and describe things so well that I am transported back in time.
    Lovely piece of nostalgia.
    Pam in TX.xx

    • Margaret Powling

      I’m delighted you have enjoyed this piece, Pam! Moving from Devon to Lancashire in the 1950s was a big culture change for our family, but it was certainly the ‘right’ move. My parents loved Devon, especially the village where we lived. It was a lovely childhood for which I am very grateful.

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