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Changing Highbury

When I sat down to write my short story I had tossed around various subjects, for and against. One kept coming back time and time again. That was the way Highbury is with the shopping mall. This made me think back to the late 30's.

My first impression, being a towny, was that I had gone back in time. Every shopkeeper seemed to be a friend of the family, could ask after the health of Aunts, Uncles and Grandparents from way back, except, I felt, ME!!!

Mr. Jasper, the photographer, who used his garage as a studio, then Stotts the butcher - with sawdust on the floor - who used sawdust and a huge scrubbing brush to clean the butcher's block. Who remembers taking their TOM CATS to Stotts?

Next door the Miss Adkins home cookery - Yummy!! Not to mention Brown the chemist. Before the days of Plunket, we young mothers would have our babies weighed by a very obliging Mr. Brown, who also advised on feeding and childish ailments. I think we treated him as a father confessor, but he kept our secrets.

Next was the Iron Mongers - the forerunner of Hardware. We come then to the first of our grocer shops "Self Help". Frank Utting's fruit shop seemed to be there years before changing hands. Last one in the block was Mrs. Utting senior’s Haberdashery store. I'll always remember her dressed in black, sitting on a hard chair behind the counter.

Come walk back with me to cross over to Mr. Stringer’s jewellery shop. I still have a lovely brooch, which wasn't new then, that I bought from him.

Who is next? Of course, who else but the barber's shop - no fancy names then - Diddy Burfords who is still there working. Marvellous!!! Walter Worthington butcher came next, then on to the next grocer shop - Dowsings. Right on the windy corner round which was, and still is, the dairy right next to the fish shop.

Shall we cross over to the next block of shops, won't take long now, the name of the milliner in the little shop I recall was Mrs. Messenger in 1939. This was to be my first experience of the major event of the year, the Sugar Works Picnic. I needed a hat to be with it. I was Queen for a day. "Charlie Neal", do you know I don't think anyone called him "Mr."?

Oh, now to the best of the lot, the "Miss Clarks". Thinking back they must have been forerunners of today's high-pressure salesmen. NO ONE escaped. Just try to come out of that shop with a reel of cotton only. Boy, one had to buy the material as well, almost. There, next, our other grocer’s shop, "Blue and White" before it became Highbury Post Office.

Then, nothing - empty land up to three villas which, I must mention. The first occupied by the Salt family, middle one Nurse Gully of whom I'd only heard, she had long gone but the house was always called "Nurse Gullies". We rented the third one, seven shillings a week. We could have bought house and 3 acres of land for 650 pounds. The lot for 50 shillings deposit.

Guess what, we didn't have 50 shillings.

My mind boggles when I think what it is worth now.

- Kay Bland, August 1994


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