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Bel Austin looks back at past shopping days on Isle of Sheppey


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When contemporaries with a mutual love of Sheppey get together, the talk inevitably is about the way things used to be.

They don’t always agree because the memory plays tricks but the general consensus is “it was better in our day.”

Businesses and shops like Featherstones would always enter a float in the Sheerness carnival
Businesses and shops like Featherstones would always enter a float in the Sheerness carnival

June Luxon, of St George’s Avenue, Sheerness, is a lady of mature years who has many scrapbooks filled with cuttings of events and is a copious note-taker of changes with a view to one day compiling a book.

She has always been involved in the community as a member of the Sheppey Organ Club, secretary of the RNLI, darts player and all-round organiser.

When Covid put paid to group activities, she filled three foolscap pages with handwritten facts about faces and places so many of us have forgotten. And it is good we have people like June to keep records of trivia which were once a way of life.

How else would young people know how we had to hook an acid-filled accumulator to a battery wireless to listen to a radio programme? Or hold a lit match to a fragile gas mantle to light a room?

Or learn how to stand back after lighting a temperamental geyser over a bath to heat the water if, of course, we had a bathroom. Or hand-fill a stone copper with water, light a fire beneath to boil the weekly wash and iron it dry with flat irons heated on a range?

Rita Watson and Sylvia Clifford with Reg Creed. Picture: Sylvia Clifford
Rita Watson and Sylvia Clifford with Reg Creed. Picture: Sylvia Clifford
Mabel Gaisford in the doorway of her shop in Broadway, Sheerness, in the 1920s
Mabel Gaisford in the doorway of her shop in Broadway, Sheerness, in the 1920s

As for shops, how would they know we once had stores which were purveyors to royalty; shops like Lipton, Pearks, Maypole, Home and Colonial and International.

Yes, there was a time when the town was buzzing. Even corner shops prospered along with pubs and clubs.

For her latest trip down Memory Lane, June checked out the advertisements which appeared in a supplement of the Sheerness Times Guardian on May 6, 2010.

How could we have forgotten Matthews Stores, suppliers of cycles and baby carriages at 174/176 High Street, or Molly Drew’s wallpaper shop above which two full-size men appeared to stride across the roof with an ad for Hall’s distemper?

There was Reads at 4-6 Russell Street where a TV could be rented for nine shillings and ninepence a week; WH Baron in Sheerness and Queenborough where we could buy the latest records and Twinlocks factory in New Road which offered “clean, well paid jobs for local men and women”.

Maidstone & District bus workers
Maidstone & District bus workers
George Humphrey Bakers, Blue Town, in 1915
George Humphrey Bakers, Blue Town, in 1915

Nokes Garage’s showroom had Ford Anglias for £415. And how about George Humphrey’s bakery and tea room and the legendary meat pies?

Can you imagine going into a shop these days, being seated at the counter while an assistant sliced bacon to the desired thickness, cut cheese with a wire, patted butter into shape with wooden paddles or weighed sugar into blue paper bags? Often an errand boy would deliver, or madam trotted off with a filled basket or paper carrier bag.

And, of course, there was good old Woolworths which sold just about everything and was busy all day long.

Maidstone and District buses seemed to be running around all day with a never-ending queue at the bus station.

Maidstone & District bus workers
Maidstone & District bus workers

Remember the tiny sweet kiosk outside the railway station? And the records played in a booth at Bakers, Goulden and Johnson?

Read more: All the latest news from Sheppey

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