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Going shopping in Beaminster a hundred years ago

Jenny Cuthbert paints a picture of how the people of Beaminster acquired life’s essentials between about 1880 and 1915

The staff of Pine’s the grocer in about 1910.  Alfred Pine sits foursquare in his gaiters in the middle of the front row with his son, Reg (Thomas Reginald), on his left.

Today the centre of Beaminster looks much as it did over a hundred years ago. Then, as now, shops were mainly located in the Square (also called Fore Place) and in Hogshill Street (then White Hart Street). There were small premises selling a variety of goods in the nearby streets – Church Street, St Mary Well Street, East Street and North Street and at Prout Bridge. Although it is not always possible to identify the exact locations of shops from the trade directories of the period, many of the buildings are little altered and are identifiable in photographs of the period. In 1880 the Market House stood where cars now park in the Square. It was a two- storey building with the Market Inn at one end and, under its five hamstone arches, the ‘flesh shambles’. Eventually falling into disrepair, it was demolished in 1886.

Beaminster’s shopkeepers supplied a population of about 1750 inhabitants with dairy products, beer, books, greengroceries, wines and spirits, coal, furniture, stationery, toys, sweets, ‘fancy goods’, china and glass. There were dressmakers, milliners, tailors, glovemakers, boot and shoemakers, saddlers and watchmakers. All manner of trades catered for the repair and maintenance of homes and chattels and provided for local agricultural and commercial requirements. But it was the baker, the butcher and the grocer who fed the townsfolk. The ironmonger supplied their household goods and the chemist dealt with their – and their animals’ – ailments. The draper’s shop and the shoe mercer kept them clothed and shod.

In a speech to the ‘Tradesmen’s and Agricultural Dinner’ in 1908 the ironmonger Charles Toleman said that the town was ‘a long way from anywhere’ and ‘the tradespeople had to depend a good deal on each other for business…so well supported by their friends and the farmers it was a pleasure to do business in the town.’ As transport was limited, townsfolk would seldom have shopped away from the town and were a somewhat captive market!

Hogshill Street in about the 1890s

For the retailer, days were long. It was usual for the shopkeeper, his shop assistant or apprentice to rise at 6 am to clean and set out the stock before breakfast. Shops stayed open until 10 pm, closing earlier on Saturdays at 8 or 9, but drapers and grocers often did their briskest trade after 7 o’clock in the evening! By 1911 Beaminster had introduced early closing on Wednesday afternoons and shop hours were also shorter.

The trade directories from 1880 to 1915 reveal a remarkable number of grocers in the town. As well as grocers’ shops there were people describing themselves as shopkeepers. Some were probably very small concerns run from the front room of the proprietor’s home and offering a small selection of basic provisions and household goods. The most prominent grocery was Pine’s, which traded in Beaminster from 1780 to 1987. The shop was moved from the Market House to new premises in Fleet Street in 1844 and stocked a wide range of loose and packaged grocery provisions, chocolate and cocoa products, as well as wines and spirits, laundry and other household goods. Canned fish from Canada and fish and meat from Australia and America were always available; they were made even more convenient by the invention of the tin opener in America in 1858! Alfred Pine ran the shop in 1880, succeeded by Thomas Reginald Pine in the early 1900s.

The Hine family were grocers and druggists in the town for nearly 135 years. The windows of the chemist’s shop were easily recognisable with their display of large glass bottles filled with brightly coloured liquids. Beneath these the chemist’s own remedies would be arranged alongside patent medicines, toiletries and articles for use in the sick-room. In 1868 Alfred Hine followed his father, Richard, at his pharmacy on the corner of North Street and Fleet Street. In 1880 he moved to small premises on the opposite side of the Square, which now form part of the Co-op. Richard Hine, chemist, photographer and the author of A History of Beaminster, took over the shop on his father’s death.

Toleman’s shops were on opposite corners of Hogshill Street.  The one on the right was the ironmongers.

Bakers prepared, baked and sold their goods all on the same premises. Flour came from the local mills. Bread deliveries from hand-carts and horse-drawn carts – and later from bicycles – were made to outlying areas but the majority of sales were made over the counter. Beaminster had many bakers and confectioners. George Roberts was a master baker and grocer. He traded in St Mary Well Street from about 1889, as did confectioner William John Gibbs, who moved to Prout Bridge by 1898. He encouraged the tourist trade by advertising his refreshment rooms for visitors and cyclists. Charlie Moores, a member of the family famous for making the Dorset Knob biscuit, baked at Stoke Abbott and set up Moores bakery shop in Church Street in the early 1900s. William Edgar Reader was a grocer, baker and miller on the corner of Shadrack Street from 1903.

In 1891 nineteen Beaminster men between the ages of fifteen and fifty-nine worked in the butchery trade. The vast majority of meat would have been local animals slaughtered on the premises and meat products were mainly made by the butcher himself. The skills of buying, cutting and pricing were important and it was essential that the butcher could supply meat to suit the different tastes and pockets of all his customers in the town. The firm of Frampton & Son can be traced back to at least 1842 when Giles Frampton was a butcher in Fleet Street. In 1880 the shop in the Square was being run by Giles Frampton Jnr. A butcher’s shop is still trading as Frampton & Son in the same premises today. In 1898 Benjamin Froome, who had a butcher’s shop in Hogshill Street, advertised himself as ‘wholesale butcher and exporter of live and dead stock; all kinds of pickled hams, tongues, bacon, corned beef &c’. John Henry Bugler was apprenticed to Benjamin Froome in about 1873 and later had his own butcher’s shop in Church Street with grazing fields on both sides of Tunnel Road. Alfred Gibbs, a butcher and cattle dealer at Newtown from 1907, had his own slaughterhouse, too, and in 1911 Hine Bros, who were butchers in North Street, proudly announced themselves ‘the only cold storage proprietors & pure ice makers in the district’.

Henry Crocker and Arthur E. Reynolds were the largest of the Beaminster drapers. In 1885 Crocker’s shop was a large general outfitters which sold men’s, women’s and children’s garments, fabrics and haberdashery, accessories, millinery and footwear. In 1880 Edwin Coombs was a draper at London House in Hogshill Street and by 1895 his shop had been taken over by Reynolds, who had another branch in East Street, Bridport, and advertised every week on the front page of the Bridport News at the turn of the century.

The Square has always been the hub of the town, with shops on all sides.  This photograph pre-dates the erection of the ‘Julia’ in 1906.

The boot and shoe maker still provided footwear but shoe shops developed as factory-made shoes became common, also stocking boot-buttons, button-hooks, shoe-horns and laces cut to the required length from long leather strips. The firm of T.N. Chard and Son was founded in Crewkerne in 1840. Thomas Norman Chard was trading as a bootmaker in Hogshill Street from 1889. At the turn of the century Mr Edwards was Chard’s shop manager. He lived above the shop in accommodation comprising six large rooms and three big attic rooms. The outside of the shop was lit by two huge gas lights and inside there was an ornate Victorian stove for heating. This shop continued trading as one of a chain of eight shops until the late 1960s. The building is now home to Larcombe’s hardware shop.

The firm of A & E Toleman was a significant name in Beaminster. Anthony Toleman was a plumber in the 1830s and by 1855 Anthony and Edward Toleman had become ironmongers as well. They had two large premises in the Square. Their ironmonger’s shop stood on the corner of Hogshill Street and Fleet Street. They stocked an enormous variety of goods and materials and the customer could buy almost any household or hardware product from a deck chair to a pound of nails, from a patent water cooler to a billhook, from a bar of soap to an oil lamp. Now a newsagent’s, the decorative shop front with cast iron pillars and tracery still dominates the corner site. The premises on the opposite corner of Hogshill Street, now a public house, Pickwick’s, was home to their other business as bellhangers, locksmiths, painters, plumbers, tin plate workers, agricultural agents, and later sanitary engineers.

Today Beaminster still goes shopping. The shops may have changed, but the variety they provide for residents and visitors is at least as great as it was a hundred years ago.

Henry Crocker’s drapery and outfitters stood on the Square

[This article is based on Beaminster Museum’s recent exhibition, ‘When Beaminster Went Shopping: 1880-1915′. Jenny Cuthbert is the Collections Curator.]

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