Those Were The Good Old Days... Or Were They? (20 September 1974)
On rainy days – and at the time of writing we are having lots of them – there is nothing I like more than looking through old newspapers, especially “local rags”. By “old” I mean anything published more than 50 years ago. Maybe because I was 50 years at the trade, I find that they conjure up the life of their times better than any history book can do. Nor is it just the news that absorbs me; the advertisements are equally revealing.
The oldest newspaper in my possession is a copy of The Northampton Mercury for November 25, 1815 – just a few months after the Battle of Waterloo. It was given to me by the late Mr. William S. Billingham; former general manager of the Bletchley Co-operative Society, who was originally a Northampton man.
But I want to write here about more local things, and the earliest newspaper I have for this district is a copy of The Fenny Stratford Weekly Times and General District Advertiser of August 28, 1879. That newspaper later became the North Bucks Times and was its No. 2 issue, price one penny. It was published by T.C. Warren “at his Stationery Warehouse, New Road, Fenny Stratford” and comprises four broadsheet pages.
In a series of advertisements liberally bespattered about the paper we discover that Mr. Warren was much more than a mere newspaper publisher and general printer and stationer. From his “repositories” you could also buy lawn tennis sets, cricket goods of every kind, Berlin wool, crochet and knitting cotton, toys from a penny to five shillings, fancy goods, and beautiful oleographs at half the usual price. However did he find the time?
Then there is another Mr. Warren in New Road, a Mr. J.F. Warren, but the only goods he advertises are Venetian blinds.
And where is New Road? I can’t say for certain, but Denmark Street used to be called New Street.
There appears to have been a cut-price war on in the drapery trade. J. White, of the Aylesbury Street Drapery Bazaar, announces that owing to the great stagnation in the manufacturing districts he has been able to buy a large quantity of goods “at almost panic prices.” These include unbleached sheetings, which he offers at 1¾ d. to 3¼d a yard, and white calico at 2d to 2½d a yard. As agent for Kino’s, the noted London tailors, he advertises garments made to order within four days, including suits from £2. 2s.
Judging from my recent experiences, he wouldn’t get a letter to London and back in four days nowadays, let alone a detailed order for and delivery of a ‘satisfaction-guaranteed’ suit. But the price of the suit, representing at least three weeks’ wages for the average working man, seems high, even if it did also include a waistcoat.
- Hands, chemist and druggist, advocates “Hand’s Quinine and Iron Tonic” as a most effectual remedy for the cure of neuralgia, tic, (sic!), nervous debility, general weakness, loss of appetite, etc. at 1s. 1¼ a bottle.
Smith and Son, millers, Canal Wharf, are wholesale and retail coal and corn merchants, and also wholesale and retail wine and spirit merchants.
- & E. Holdom, brewers and maltsters, will supply ales and stouts in 5, 9, 18 or 36 gallon casks at 1s. to 1s. 6d. a gallon for ales, and from 4d a gallon for small beer to 1s. 8d. for double stout. (Cheers!)
- Green has an old-established boot and shoe warehouse in Aylesbury Street. Henry Kirby is a grocer, baker and provision merchant in High Street. W.E. Curtis, tailor, etc. has a good supply of patterns always on hand.
Charles Stuart, Bletchley Iron Works, makes all kinds of engines and boilers, gates, pallisades, etc. He also advertises for several engine fitters, turners and pattern makers, and a smith, but none need apply except accustomed to engineering. (He is the father of 15-year-old Akroyd, who is to be internationally famous).
- & A. Hockney, general furnishing and agricultural ironmongers, bellhangers, etc., sell full-size bedsteads from 11s. They also have for sale, cheap, three good bicycles, two 52-inch and one 50-inch. (The old “penny-farthings!”)
These were just the retail advertisers in the new local rag of 95 years ago.
I will leave the news to some other times. Except for this item:
“We have stumbled on a year’s weather somewhat like the present, which the expert Gilbert White has recorded, and for the benefit of our readers we give it in full:-
“’1768. Begins with a fortnight’s frost and snow; rainy during February. Cold and wet spring; wet season from the beginning of June to the end of harvest. Latter end of September foggy, without rain. All October and the first part of November, rainy; and thence to the end of the year alternate rains and frosts.’
“How cheering the prospect if the latter part of that year repeats itself!”
You could say that again in this year of progress, 1974.