SHOPPING 50 YEARS AGO
When I spent my fortnight’s holiday in Southwold every August for over 10 years, we had cottages in the heart of the town most years. This meant that nearly every day was spent partly on the beach and partly in the town, shopping. Not shopping for large or expensive purchases, just a penny here and sixpence there. Bearing in mind the age I was, tobacconists and off licences had limited appeal although I do recall one with a sheepish looking puppy pictured in the window and the phrase ‘You can’t beat a little Henessey’. Ladies hat shops had no appeal at all. Most shops had some attraction to me however. Secondhand bookshops were increasingly interesting to me as I grew older (and Southwold then had one). Mrs Miniver’s, the tea rooms in the High Street served lovely cream teas and Jenkins’ the stationer’s had coloured pencils and the like. Mr Quantrill’s fishmonger’s shop in Trinity Street had an open window full of such things as crabs, plaice and mackerel; these latter fish fascinated me because my mother would never buy them despite their attractive colourful sheen. She was of the opinion that they went off too soon. It is regrettable, because I now think the fish among the most delicious.
There was also in Southwold a shop selling amber, although this may have begun slightly later than 1960. The amber shop is about the only one of the shops I have mentioned that is still there, and in the same place. I was told you could also pick amber off the beach if you were lucky, but in spite of searching diligently I never found any. The Baltic is the place to find that fossilised resin. I found quite a lot of carnelians though, those rosy red translucent semi-precious gemstones. When the sun is low across the beach they glow.
There was a barber in East Street who sold handmade model yachts as a summer sideline, and a greengrocer with piles of fragrant tangerines and oranges, the odd one done up in tissue paper. The best shops were those that sold ice cream, either Lyons or Walls (they were the only two). I preferred Lyons, but I wasn’t fussy. There don’t seem to be many ice cream shops now and no shops selling model yachts.
In the 1950s there was a shop in the High Street of Southwold about half way down, and to the right as you enter the town. It sold a distinctive collection of goods. I cannot now remember the whole stock, or even a fraction of it, but I seem to recall a large range of what I would refer to as ‘soft hardware’ – twine and baskets, for example. The shop was kept by an elderly spinster, Miss Hurr by name. Hurr was a surname almost restricted to Southwold, but very common within the town. The local historian William A. Dutt, writing in his 1901 book Highways and Byways in East Anglia said of Southwold: ” …I ramble down to the beach, and watch the little ‘longshore boats, in which the fishermen – most of them, it seems to me, Hurrs – are putting out into Sole Bay.” Miss Hurr’s shop had on the doorpost an enamel sign for Elliman’s Embrocation. Actually there were two; for some reason the sign was in duplicate.
I had never heard of Elliman’s Embrocation at the time. It was obviously for rubbing on horses, because a shiny looking brown horse featured largely on the advertisement. The sign was obviously Edwardian; and Elliman’s Embrocation was very much an Edwardian product. As the motor car took over from the horse the use of mixtures and potions for rubbing on the animals’ hides fell away. Nonetheless Elliman’s Embrocation is still available (£3.45 for 100 ml), though it is now used for human backache rather than horses. The mixture of turpentine and acetic acid was invented by a draper in Slough in 1845 and Elliman’s remained a family firm until 1961.
Certainly I never saw any Elliman’s Embrocation among the stock of soft hardware in Miss Hurr’s shop. Time had moved on I suppose, leaving only the enamel sign. Anyway as a youngster with no horse (or even a pony) and no backache either what need did I have for embrocation? I was more interested in the kites, buckets and spades which were among the more relevant articles of her stock-in-trade. I was going to say that Miss Hurr’s shop must have gone by 1960, but I see that it lingered on for another 8 or 9 years.
See my earlier posts on Stanley Aldrich, model yacht maker of Southwold and Jack O’ Lantern’s coffee shop (Aug 7, Nov 22 & Dec 16 2011). I hope to return to memories of Southwold in the middle years of last century in due course.
For those interested in traders in this part of Suffolk I have recently come across a website on the history of businesses in Southwold. Click here to visit Southwold & Son, over a century of Southwold shops. This link will take you to the Hurr’s shop.
JOSEPH MASON firstname.lastname@example.org