Megan’s Axbridge Part 2 by Harry Mottram
In the first part of this series we walked up the left hand side of the High Street picking out the shops that Megan Baker could remember from her childhood – now nearly all private homes.
It was 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.
In the first part we walked up the left hand side of the High Street and now we move on up the road into West Street keeping to the left where we find the Old Post Office which was run by Arthur Lane and B Phelps before they moved to the PO to the Square. Next door to the Methodist Chapel was the Food Office during the Second World War and was later occupied by Simmons Mapping who as late as the 1990s employed quite a workforce.
Next up was Burch the Cobbler’s shop while the red brick house was which I think she meant the one at the top of the street and set back off the road now the former mayor’s home of Barbara Wells was built by Dorothy Newell’s dad. He had previously been the clerk to Axbridge Rural District Council. The council had offices in Choate House – the house next to Horn’s Lane which is now flats.
Next door is the house with two bay windows was Teek the Solicitors, now a town house. Further up on the same side, the right hand side, there was a model shop, and a grocery and a long time back before Megan’s time The Bell Inn which was later turned into a sweet shop.
I’m not totally sure of which businesses Megan meant were in some of the properties and so many of the houses have been modernised and stripped of their exterior signage and commercial trappings so there is some confusion in which house was which shop. Never mind, perhaps somebody may help with more notes.
In West Street numbers 11 (Sheridan House) and 13 date to the 17th century, Rockholme the tall 19th century house slightly dwarfs the other homes but look out for the Georgian fanlight and frontage of number 6 which dates to just before the French Revolution.
The house that Megan didn’t list was Compton House at the very top which is early 17th century built before the English Civil Wars but has had later additions. If you get a chance to visit do so – there is usually an outdoor theatre production in the gardens in the summer and other events indoors – and as you know is a guest house.
Numbers 22 and 24 are also of note as a mid 15th century wall painting was discovered at 24 in the 1950s depicting St Christopher which gives an idea of the age of the home and of the street. Number 22 is a 17th century property noted for the sculptured stonework around the door and windows. If you are wondering where this knowledge comes from then Sedgemoor District Council published a guide book to the town’s notable buildings a few years ago – so I’m afraid I’ve cheated as Megan didn’t include such notes!
I’ll cover the Axbridge Union Workhouse another time as Megan didn’t give me any thoughts on the famous institution or indeed the Methodist Chapel with its fine stained glass window and neat pews.
Back into the High Street going down on the left hand side towards the Square was the Red Lion pub, now the Roxy Cinema and the home of Gemma and Sebastian ‘Bash’ Lloyd, formerly the home of Juliet and David Maclay who now live in North Devon. Going down next door was The National Westminster Bank, and then two more doors down Oliver’s the Printers. Then there was Day’s the Undertakers who had a workshop in Cross and that house later became the Chemist for those who can recall that time – not so long ago in the 1990s.
Mrs Phillips ran a toy shop further down which Megan described as an Aladdin’s Cave as it had so much inside it and was later changed to an art gallery. Then we come to Chard’s the Butcher who also had a small slaughterhouse at the back. Megan said only one cow would enter at a time. What with a bank, an undertakers, a toy shop, pub and a slaughterhouse it reveals what an incredibly busy and vibrant street it was back in the 1930s up to the late 1960s while all the time it was a through road with lorries, buses and holiday traffic passing by. A bit like Banwell today in some ways.
Many will recall Scott’s newsagents which closed less than 20 years ago which also had toys and other gifts for sale – and Megan is sure it had been a newsagents ever since she could recall. Then we come to the Party Shop – now closed – but not that many years ago – and then Lanes the Ironmongers. The family also had the greengrocer shop opposite. The Party Shop you may notice has a wide garage door by it, well this was at one time – a garage with petrol pumps. Yes the High Street also had a petrol station – but then it was a busy main street as well.
Finally there’s the Old Drug Store now beautifully restored and looking very much the medieval building and is now a photographic studio and gallery. And so we come to the Corner House and onto the Square which we’ll cover next time.
If any of these notes are incorrect or you have added information then do email me at firstname.lastname@example.org so I can update the article.
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