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Megan’s Axbridge Part 3

Sturdy beggars from the pageant enter the Square revealing a very different looking King John’s Hunting Lodge in 1970

STRAWBERRY LINE TIMES Looking Back at old Axbridge PART 3: When a three course meal was 1/6d in the town hall, Irish workers caroused in the Old Angel, there were three pubs in the Square and there was a bicycle shop where the chemist is

Axbridge has always changed. From when it was just a Saxon bugh based around the stream that lows under the Square to the Norman French and later the Tudor wool merchants that gave the town its market charter.

Another view of the hunting lodge and Corner House – and a classic AA sign outside the Lamb Inn. Early 20th century is the best guess

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.

The motor car has taken over the Square. A bit of a free for all but at least the bus didn’t come through Jubilee Street as the High Street was the main road

She talked me through a walk up the High Street and West Street and back – but in this walk it is The Square that she recalls and the shops and businesses that she knew in her youth.

Beginning at the Cheddar side there was and is the Oakhouse Hotel which was a restaurant in the 1930s run by Bob Farley and Mr Barrington and was taken over by the British Army in the Second World War.

World War Two and Axbridge is a virtual garrison as troops prepare to invade France in 1944 to finish off Adolf Hitler – after all those 1/6d meals in the town hall

A coal merchant lived at the bottom of the Church Steps called Fred Pethers and he had a coal yard in Cheddar. The shop was also a chemist for a while around 20 years or more ago. If you check out old photos of the Church Steps you will notice there’s an extra house on the corner. Now gone with just a patch of gravel before you arrive up the steps at the Church Rooms. Hopefully someone will tell me what was in the house.

Moving anti clockwise Lloyds Bank that was also a building society at one time while a Mr Morely Ham, a second coal merchant lived at The Old Angel, now a private home. The Old Angel as it sounds was a pub for and dates to around 1550 and has been a shop (and some locals suggest a brothel in the 17th century) although no witnesses have come forward. It enjoyed a busy time in the 1930s when it was frequented by workers constructing the Cheddar Reservoir – many from the then Irish Free State. At the time it had a reputation for singing and late night carousing.

A favourite photo of the pageant showing all the shops along the Square in the back ground including the George Hotel

Next along the line was until the 2000s the Seasons Dress and Fashion shop which had previously been a general store and for a time the Co-operative store. When Phil Reaney moved from the butcher’s shop in the High Street it was for a while a butchers and delicatessen – and a much loved store to boot. Then it was a florist and recently has been the salon of Hair on the Square.

Next door with its yellow brick exterior was the George Inn now Ripley’s Antiques and Bistro. Sadly Axbridge is down to one pub and one hotel bar with the closure of the Crown In in St Mary Street. Next door is an estate agents which ajoins the Lamb Inn which is partly on the site of the Guild Hall now all but swallowed up by the Georgian hotel and inn with is 1830s frontage.

Do you remember when there were such things as banks? The pageant’s Hannah More scene passing Lloyds bank and a police box – as in Dr Who

Megan next takes us past the Corner House that has been used as a shop in the past and was the home of the former town crier Mrs Glover before becoming a café, then an art shop and finally a private house.

King John’s Hunting Lodge is of course the town’s most famous building and is now owned by the National Trust and is run as the town’s museum by the Axbridge and District Museum Trust. Despite its name it has nothing to do with King John (1199-1216) who had long been dead before it was built. Megan recalls it being an ironmonger’s store for a time, an also a café and a music shop. In the last war it was taken over by the British army and used as an office and billet for a time. It was Miss Ripley who bought it and restored it in part before leaving it to the National Trust.

Another pageant photo – but who recalls Alldays?

A few more notes on the hunting lodge: dating to at least 1500 and possibly earlier the building was originally three shops and a pub with living accommodation above. The king’s head carved on the corner of the exterior is likely to have been a symbol of just what it is when it was an ale house and nothing to do with its name sake. However King John wasn’t such a bad king as history suggests as he granted the town a charter and set it on its way to prosperity.

The Co-op is now the town’s main grocery shop but in previous years has been a Spa and a Local Plus store as well as the Axbridge Wine Vaults.

Jason Bryant taking the snap – and in the background is the former chemist

Everyone knows Suman at the Axbridge Chemist over the road but it has only been a pharmacy comparatively recently. Before it was the Spinning Wheel Restaurant for several years and also a gift shop. It is one of the town’s oldest buildings at its core despite its more modern make-over and dates to the early 15th century and has even been a bicycle shop in the past as well as Filers and Warners and also a grocery shop in the past.

Over the road is the Almshouse Tea Shop run by Nicky Frewin but was known as the Bistro before that and was a restaurant. Going back in time it was also an undertakers Megan said  called Swearse & Son. The almshouse was as it is called a named a place for the elderly to be housed before the birth of work houses, hospitals, geriatric wards or the modern care homes.

You can just about make out the art gallery on the Corner House in this 1980 pageant shot

Next door to the town hall Megan said there was a sweet shop. How ridiculous the town no longer has specialist confectioners, undertakers and wine vaults – let alone an iron mongers. Perhaps these retail establishments will return in the future as shopping habits change again.

The Town Hall completed in 1830 replace the Guild Hall and was a dining hall, a panier market, a court room and a council chamber – and still performs some of those roles. Megan can recall the building being used as a British Restaurant for troops and others involved in the war effort. A three course meal would set you back 1/6d in 1944. It is worth remembering that D-Day and Victory over the Nazis was partly fuelled by those meals in our own town hall.

The Bank House Cafe – now Enable – and also in view a BT phone box

Next time we travell up St Mary Street and down Moorland Street with Megan discovering more surprising businesses that are now very expensive private homes but were once shops, garages and even factories.

If any of these notes are incorrect or you have added information then do email me at harryfmottram@gmail.com so I can update the article.

For more features, reviews, news and views on a variety of subjects visit www.harrymottram.co.uk

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