A walk through part of Axbridge with the memories of shops and businesses of the late Megan Baker by Harry Mottram
Axbridge has always changed. From the Saxon bugh when old English was spoken by the residents as they sharpened swords to fight the Danes, to the 21st century when their inheritors texted each other and posted videos of what they were having for dinner, the town has never stood still.
When I was researching the post Victorian era of the town for the 2000 pageant I wanted to include aspects of the 20th century social history to bring the production up to date. Megan Baker (1922-2007) was very helpful in providing anecdotal notes on some of the shops and businesses she could remember reaching back to her childhood in the late 1920s. The only caution I would give is not all memories are exact so some of these memories may not chime exactly with everyone but I am sure 99% are correct.
Megan lived her final years in the flats on Houlgate Way and had been in the town almost all of her life taking part as an enthusiastic member of the Axbridge Players in the 1950s and 1960s. She was a leading figure in the social life of the town for decades with a strong presence in the Guides, the youth club and the Church and thus would have been familiar with all aspects of Axbridge.
She talked me through a walk up the High Street and West Street and back – as well as Moorland Street and the Square picking out the properties and what businesses had previously in her memory had occupied the now mainly residential homes. First of all we walked up the left hand side of the High Street.
Beginning at the bottom of the High Street where Acutabove is now there was an electrical shop and later a dress hop, then a café and a store called Class Creations. Next door at number was a sweet shop before it became a greengrocers while the butcher’s next again (now homes) had been there ever since she could recall. Number 9 dates to pre 1500 and is as old as King John’s Hunting Lodge or even older in its core construction. Its famous 16th century door with its Elizabethan carved dragons over the door and celebrated by the poet Sir John Betjeman is still there of course. About 20 years ago there were extensive rooms to the rear of the property used for the meat trade which had at one time been one of the largest centres of the industry in Somerset with cold rooms and later large freezers.
The traditional looking homes complete with courtyard on Old Church Road to the rear of the former butchers replace the outhouses used by the butcher and the former freezer centre. Back to the High Street and next going up on the left was a shoe shop in the 1930s before becoming a clothes shop and after the war a hairdressers a clothes shop and then a hairdressers as Kelibe – becoming an accountant’s after Kelly moved to Spain.
I’m unsure now as to which buildings these were in – Raymond Court or St Jude’s amongst the candidates. St Jude’s was for a time around 20 years ago a fine art gallery while back in the 1990s the greengrocers was still in business. Raymond’s Court has a chunky 17th century door and has a passage that affords access to a row of cottages to the rear – accessed from Old Church Road – which the local historian John Page believes may have marked an edge to the original pre-Tudor Square.
There is a 1940s photo doing the rounds of the fish and chip shop at the next property showing a classic car parked outside while the driver had presumably dashed inside to buy a fish and chip supper wrapped in newspaper. A print of the scene hangs on the wall of Tom Nugent’s barbers over the road. Today parking there might cause a traffic jam but then despite it being a main road, cars were much smaller. The chippy later became a craft shop. Next door was Jack Todd’s drapery store which held on into the 1970s before finally becoming a private home. Jack Todd was a single man who left a large amount of money to the town when he died as the Jack Todd fund which has helped out many a local charity. He was the mayor and a long standing town councillor as well and his memory continues with the name of the changing rooms on the Furlong Field. Wags will remind residents of his sense of humour. When the D fell off his shop sign Drapist he didn’t immediately replace it allowing it to describe a very different activity.
Next door is and still is The Old Manor House (dating to the 17th century at least) a three storey Georgian fronted town house (added in 1804) with a well preserved Victorian living room and an unusual roof-top belvedere fish scale style slate roof and a wind vane dating to 1752. The tower was according to locals built so the ladies of the house could retreat there to gain from its light for their needlework and afford views of the hill and on occasion the hunt. It was open to the public until around 20 years ago was unusual due to its unchanged interiors.
We now move up the High Street on the left hand side with Megan where she listed Lane’s the Grocer, a baker’s store (with baking taking place in a property in Cheddar Road) and then a chemist. Near the top of the High Street was Mayer’s General Store and Grocery which later became a hair salon managed by Marianne Mayer. Finally before West Street was Bill Salway’s shoe repair shop – another business now gone leaving the town all the poorer.
That’s the end of part one of this series – next time we’ll travel up West Street on the left hand side before returning to the Square passing believe it or not a slaughterhouse – and an undertakers.
If any of these notes are incorrect or you have added information then do email me at email@example.com so I can update the article.
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