Part 5 Village Life and Work

The Village Shop: past and present


Thurlow Village Stores, 1976 – 1992

Having been accepted as tenants by Thurlow Estates, we moved into Thurlow Village Stores late in May 1976. The shop was once named “London House”, presumably because of the post-run to the capital. It is very old, with small rooms, low ceilings with beams and uneven floors. A very low beam in the lower half of the shop, even with a notice of “Duck or Grouse”, has given innumerable people a nasty headache.

Since we had already been running a Co-op shop and Post Office it was work we knew, but we were both very enthusiastic to be our own bosses. We did a little reorganisation before opening up the shop, but we didn’t follow the trend of that time for self-service and remained counter-service. Shop hours started at 8 a.m. through to 6 p.m., but during the first half of our stay we had the mail arrive between 6 and 6.30 a.m., to be sorted then delivered by two post ladies, Mrs. Kath Crooks and Mrs. Townsend, followed by Mrs. Leatherland, Mrs. Nancy Smith, Mrs. Mary Atherton and Mrs. Rene Sergeant, a reliable relief.

We stocked all general grocery lines, gardening items, toys, stationery, plus paraffin and at a later time we had a wine and spirit licence. We had bread delivered daily and a call three times a week from a good greengrocer. Other than that we maintained the stock by cash-and-carry visits ­ twice, sometimes three times a week using Cambridge, Bury St. Edmunds and Ipswich, which stretched the days to much longer than just the shop hours.

We were supported so well by the Thurlows and Bradleys, and helped by passing trade, that it was quite active. We had the help of Mrs. Pat Smith on a part-time basis for several years, as honest and straightforward a person as you could ever meet.

Old-age pension days were mainly Monday and Thursday, and since older people are usually people of habit, if somebody didn’t appear within the usual time there would be some concern. Thursday afternoons Mrs. Prigg, who lived in the thatched cottage at the top of Little Thurlow Hill and was a daily customer, would coincide with Mrs. Louie Smith, Mrs. Ivy Paxman, plus others, and it was a great get-together. Another daily customer was “Judder” (Mr. George Jeffery), nearly always in before 9 o’clock with his usual greeting of “Hallo you old B…”, or “Hello my darling”.

We always used the first Sunday in December to decorate the windows for Christmas, which were also dressed suitably for other special occasions. (The building being so ‘Olde Worldy’, it lent itself to it.)

We were blocked in by snow for three days during the winter of 1979. Luckily we were well stocked up, because candles and paraffin were in great demand and our stock over-all had greatly diminished by the third day. The estate offered a tractor and trailer to replenish it, which we gladly used, but then the thaw set in. Although the snow was inconvenient, the village looked an absolute picture, especially when a customer from East Green arrived on horseback and tethered it to the rail against the steps. I also reflect on the times we had to mop up from the floor all the snow brought in on shoes.

One morning before 7 o’clock, my husband could see a man standing at the top of Crown Hill and thinking he was a lorry driver who was lost he opened the gates and asked if he needed help. The man enquired as to how to get to Hadleigh. My husband was then most surprised to see two more men appear, one pushing another on a bicycle who appeared unable to walk. They all clearly knew each other. They deposited the injured man on the shop steps, used the phone box opposite, then the two of them got on the bike and rode off. Within minutes a telephone call came from the prison to inform us that three prisoners had escaped and that we were not to challenge them. My husband’s reply was, “I’ve got one sitting on my doorstep and the other two are riding down the road on a bike”. The call was soon followed by a police car with two passengers, then an ambulance arrived for the third.

We participated in village activities, helping tidy up for the “Best Kept Village” competition which we won on two occasions. There were lots of laughs when we got together to scrub the bridge and one scrubbing brush fell into the water; like children we had to watch for it to come out the other side.

Two days before retirement I was faced with two youths asking for money from the till and one made me aware he had a kitchen knife up his sleeve. When I cried to my husband to “fetch the dog”, I’m sure they expected something like an alsatian to appear, so they scattered sweets all over the floor with a sweep of the arm and þew out of the shop.

We were given a wonderful surprise party by the village people when we retired and were presented with a cheque, an inscribed rose bowl and also a basket of flowers. We feel indebted to those same people for giving us so many happy memories of our sixteen years in Thurlow.

After the company I worked for went into voluntary liquidation I decided that while I was looking for alternative employment it might be a good idea to get involved in some voluntary work. Part of this work was to collect people from Thurlow and take them to the Haverhill Day Centre. This was when I first met Ivy Paxman who told me it was possible that Thurlow could be losing its village shop as Mr. and Mrs Fuller wanted to retire. Having lost my job I had said I wanted to do something completely different so since I had links with Thurlow and the surrounding area through my mother being born at Sowley Green and attending school here, and my being brought up at Weathercock Farm where my grandparents lived, I decided to make enquiries about taking over the shop from the Fullers.

My wife and I went to see Mr. and Mrs. Fuller (whom we affectionately know as Doug and Joyce now) who made us very welcome and gave us a good insight of what would be involved in running a Post Office and Village Stores. Out next step was to meet with Thurlow Estates who of course own the property. They were very keen to see the village shop survive and were very generous in granting us the lease, depending of course on our being accepted by the Post Office. Doug and Joyce were very helpful and allowed me to work with them in the shop to ‘learn the ropes’ before I took over and it was most unfortunate that they were confronted with three youths demanding money just three days before they retired.

I was asked about what changes I would make to the shop, but I have found that what worked for the Fullers for 16 years is still working for me. Numerous people comment on the uniqueness and antiquity of the place ­ like stepping back in time ­ together with the personal service ­ sadly village shops now are a ‘bit of a rare breed’.

We have met some lively, lovely and loyal people in our seven years here and sadly some who have now passed on ­ Peggy Argent, Judder and Gert, Marjorie Parsonson and Charlie Fountain, to name only a few ­ people who could tell rare tales about the village and its characters. We meet all different sorts of people from all walks of life and of course hear many tales. One has to be a good listener, but I have learnt that it is best to “hear all and say nothing”. I shall always remember a certain person from the village coming in and saying, “It’s sad that poor old Orris is gone then”. I returned with the reply, “If that is so he’s gone in the last ten minutes because he has just collected his pension”. It is funny how people hear half a tale and make up the rest.

The most distressing incident was when we had an armed robbery just before Christmas three years ago. Three masked men burst into the shop with guns and pinned us to the floor while they ransacked the Post Office, making off with a considerable amount of cash and stamps. We were also saddened to lose our barn and garages through fire ­ the barn used to be a granary and also housed the old post office sorting office ­ a little part of local history gone. We have enjoyed our seven years here providing a service to the community, being involved in village activities like the Parish Council and the churches and getting to know some very nice people, but of course it has to be said that in order for the Village Shops to survive in our rural communities they need to be supported by locals. So often it has been said after a shop has had to close, “If only we had supported it more”. USE IT OR LOSE IT ­ like the school and pub, the shop is an important centre of village life.

Joyce Fuller “behind the counter”