18 July 2016

Willoughton

Back in the late fifties and early sixties, very few families owned cars. Though my East Yorkshire village had a population of just three hundred and fifty, there were several shops. Mrs Austwick had a little sweet shop, Mr Peers ran one of three grocery shops, Mr Lofthouse was the local butcher and Mrs Rosling ran the post office. People shopped locally in those days. They didn't drive to faraway hypermarkets to fill their boots with bulging carrier bags.

Nowadays, because of housing developments, my old village has a population of 2,500 but only one shop and there are more cars than you can count. Like villagers all over the country, people seem happy to travel several miles to buy their essentials. How things have changed.

Anyway, on Saturday I was walking in a rural part of Lincolnshire between Gainsborough and Lincoln. The walk took in four lovely and peaceful villages - Harpswell, Hemswell, Blyborough and Willoughton. Once their raison d'etre was agriculture and associated trades but today's inhabitants undoubtedly include a lot of "incoming" commuters and retirees.

It was a warm morning and by the time I reached Willoughton I was feeling quite thirsty. Magically, there before me, in the centre of the village, appeared Willoughton Post Office  with the family name "Moore" above the door. It was 12.20 but thankfully a notice about opening hours told me that it closed at 12.30 on Saturdays.

I pressed the brass latch on the door and went inside. It was like stepping back in time. Back to the very early sixties. In front of me was the glass-fronted post office section and to the  left and right wooden counters with shelves behind. The air was filled with a potpourri of aromas - bacon and stationery, cheese and furniture polish. A bell had rung when I opened the door and a timid woman in a floral apron soon appeared from the living area behind the shop.

She seemed wary of me - a six foot stranger in size eleven boots with tousled hair and a camera - as if she expected a hold-up or something. She had no fresh milk and no sandwiches so I grabbed a "Mars" bar and asked if she had any cans of pop. Warily, she put her hand in the chiller cabinet and pulled out a lone can of "Diet Coke". Who had she been saving it for?

Willoughton is well off the beaten track and I can't see that post office and general store being open much longer. It is a wonder that it has survived for so long. Once it would have been a bustling, vital facility with the bell above the door ringing regularly but now it has the air of a museum about it - like a window into a very different England  - one that evaporated many years back. 

19 comments:

  1. I like the sound of your little East Yorkshire village of the Fifties and Sixties with its low population. I much prefer a place like that than the hustle and bustle of overcrowded busy cities and regional towns. I'll take the former any day of the week.

    And I like the little general store/post office. Sadly, though, as you say, its days are numbered.

    Nice post, Yorkie. :)

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    1. For a moment I thought I was in a time warp and when I stepped out of the post office there'd be a carthorse pulling a haywain... and Australia would still be an outpost of The British Empire and there'd be no mobile phones or Islamic State mad men.

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    2. How sweet it would be...

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  2. Charming post! You really do write well, which statement I make based not on your choice of words but on your ability to invoke wonderful pictures in your readers' minds.

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    1. You are so kind Bob. Thank you.

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  3. It's so funny that she apparently receives so few customers that she was SCARED of you.

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    1. You would also be scared of me Steve. I have a brooding presence like Heathcliff in "Wuthering Heights".

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  4. What a delightful little village YP. That's just the sort of shop that the BBC love to use - like something out of "Last of the Summer Wine".
    Sounds an ideal retirement place - but you'd need a car to get to some decent shops. Doubt there is a bus service?

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    1. Actually there is a bus service! I saw one coming along the lane from Blyborough - bound for Lincoln which is fifteen miles away.

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  5. I wish I could spend a couple of weeks joining you on your walks. I feel I could get to know the real England that way.

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    1. That's a nice thing to say Jennifer. Don't tell Gregg and I'll not tell Shirley. We can stop for a drink in "The Stirrup Inn" or maybe "The Black Horse".

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  6. Sadly this seems to be the fate of so many of our little shops - mainly through supermarkets and the competition regarding prices, and also the advent of on line delivery.

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  7. One by one all these village shops are disappearing. A sad reflection of modern life.

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  8. I wish ours had come back i miss it.......that shop front is divine

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  9. I still dream of England being like this.
    My grandma owned a confectioner's shop, fresh bread, cakes and meat and potato pies...
    On one side of the shop she sold her baked goods, and on the other side she had a sweet shop, and a few grocery items on the shelves. Coffee, tea, sugar, bottles of pop, and the essential Woodbines.
    I was the server after school, I was paid in custard tarts and Woody's :)
    Those were the days, quaint little shop fronts, and village atmospheres, all within a few steps of each other.
    Lovely post Mr. Yorkie.
    ~Jo

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  10. Museum was a good term to use for this little business. One wonders how it stayed open this long. I thought it was going to have a cool beer for you.

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  11. I was almost there with you when reading your description of the shop and the woman in the floral apron!
    You are probably right and the shop won't exist for many more years. It's a shame but as long as people are not willing to support local businesses but flock to the mega-supermarkets where they can fill their huge shopping carts with cheap convenience food and everything else they think they need, the little shops don't have much chance for survival.
    Every now and then, though, one can't help thinking the little shops (= their owners) are a bit to blame, too. For instance, when a few years ago my sister and I were on a day trip on Yorkshire, waiting for a bus that would stop once every two hours at a remote village, we were very cold and had nowhere to go but the shop near the bus stop. We went in and asked for hot drinks and if we would maybe allowed to wait inside for the bus (it really WAS cold and nasty out there), but the woman wanted to close the shop NOW and only very grudgingly prepared two plastic cups of tea (which we paid of course) and then made us leave. She wasn't ready to even extend her opening times (closing at 5.00 - when most people are not even back home yet to do their shopping) for 15 minutes.

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  12. Aw, this reminds me of the little general store/post office in our village before it closed. Mrs. K lived in the back and we bought candy for a penny. Thank you for sharing. It seems to strike a chord with many of your readers. For all our modern, busy lifestyle, it seems we all still long for the simplicity that once was.

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  13. I wonder how many little glimpses of the past are still left in this world, in little faded towns and out-of-the-way places? I still imagine big white farmhouses with moms and grandmas in well-worn aprons fixing big chicken dinners for farm hands and children. Reality, with a phone in every hand and tatoos on every arm, just doesn't have the same warm appeal.

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