4 – The High Wych village shops

As I write these words, in February 2014, High Wych has only one shop and no post office. This was not always so. At the time of the 1841 census George Patmore of High Wych described himself as a grocer and beer retailer. Patmore was based at what is now the Rising Sun pub. By the 1851 census Jane Smith, wife of Joseph Smith, the blacksmith was also registered as a grocer. Another name that I found mentioned is that of William Ward who in 1891 and 1901 was referred to as a hawker and a shopkeeper.

The Wards and the Smiths coexisted for a while. Father And son, “Daddy” and “Duchy”, ran a horse drawn delivery service for groceries and other goods to outlining villages over a wide radius. The story goes that having been refreshed at several hostelries en route, the driver would fall asleep after his last call and leave the horse to find his own way home. Duchy, William Jr that is, married Emily Smith one of the ten children of Charles Smith the last High Wych Blacksmith. It was said to be a marriage of mutual convenience. “He wanted a house keeper, she wanted a shop”.

There was also a dairy which was based at Bakers Farm and of course a bakery headed by Baker White who some may still remember. Groceries were also sold by the Tyser sisters, who had followed Patmore in the Rising Sun, in the last quarter of the 19th century. Steve Prior thinks the shop was a single story extension on the left hand side of the building accessed by the left hand door. The business probably stopped trading by 1929. Fishmongers also called round.

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Daddy and Duch Ward

The original shop, as is shown on two of the photographs below, was situated in what is now number 7 Half Moon Cottages. The Post Office was also situated there. For most of the time it was managed by one and the same person: Emily Smith who became Emily Ward and upon Duchy’s death and her subsequent marriage to Arthur Lindsell became Mrs. Lindsell. She stayed in charge until 1963 when Bill and Kath Springham took over. They ran the “Cottage Stores” until the early seventies.

hw undated High Wych Bakery & Mr White the baker small    hw 56 or so Emily Lindsell002small

Early 1900s – on the left: “baker white”                                    Emily Lindsell in the 1950s

For most of us though the Village Shop is connected with the name Camp. When In 1952 Mr. Lindsell, the sub post master died, his widow, Mrs. Lindsell, preferred to continue the business just as a sweet shop. For a period afterwards the Post Office then operated from the Village Hall on a part time basis. In 1953 William and Mary Camp purchased a strip of land adjacent to their “Dovedale”. Bungalow. Originally it was known as “The Willows” owing to the row of willow trees along its length.

hw 55or so-  fred puncher & j stevens small   hw 65 springham shop 4 a

 1955: Fred Puncher and J. Stevens and their dairy van   –   1965: the Springham’s Cottage Stores

 Shortly afterwards the Camps applied to the Post Office for a licence. In April 1954 Mary started  serving customers from the front door of the bungalow. At first, the Camp’s daughters believe,  it was only 2 days a week as it had been in the village hall.  While this was going on, planning permission was obtained and a small building was constructed on the strip of land that they had purchased.  The building was in fact no more than one quarter of the size of the present building, maybe even smaller than that. 

Right from the beginning it was an enormous success.  The people of the village were so pleased to have a shop and post office again that they queued up to buy there.  Soon it was realised that the tiny building was not going to be big enough for either the stock required or the customers, so only a year later William and Mary started to think about how they could expand the shop to meet the need.  It was probably a couple of years before they managed to acquire the funds, but they then doubled the size of the shop.

High Wych Village Shop was a true family business. As soon as they were old enough daughters Heather and Rosalyn started helping out. Aged 16 and 15 they even took over for a week enabling Mum and Dad to go on holiday.  On Friday nights the whole family sat down to do the books.

Those were the days before supermarkets, when most people still did not have cars. Many villagers really did most of their shopping with the Camps. Cheese and meat was cut to order and the skill was to try and get it as near the required amount as possible as it was really hard to work out how much it should cost if it was slightly under or over. HW resident Jean Pedder (now 83) remembers buying ham at Christmas time and how the meat slicer was used.  

Interesting people came to the shop. Miss Morris would wait outside astride her horse. One had to go out to collect her shopping list and return with the items – plus a packet of polo mints for the horse. A certain gentleman had such dirty hands one was loathe to take his money.  Miss Valentine Fane in her old Humber car full of cardboard boxes would call to post strange smelling parcels possibly containing pheasants that had been well hung!  An elderly lady more than once came for her pension in her nighty. Heather or Rosalyn were then asked to take her safely home to High Wych Lane. Italian immigrants working at Actons and not having a good command of English came by with letters and forms which William had to read out.

hw 65 Trevor Helmer in front of Camps shop square

1965: Trevor Helmer in  front of the shop

The store provided many house hold items, provisions, frozen foods, vegetables and, in late October, early November even fireworks. The sale of sanitary towels posed particular problems in the early days. Firstly, ladies would always wait for a female to serve them. Then, the items were  kept out of view, so Heather or Rosalyn had to go ‘out the back’ to ask their dad where they were, then wait for him to wrap them in a brown paper bag for the girls to take discreetly back to the customer.

In 1963 a Sainsbury supermarket was opened in Harlow. That shop and others like it took away a lot of custom. Still the shop continued to thrive and  in 1975 it was even extended again with the frontage being doubled. Two years later, in 1977 William Camp closed the shop and Bert Thorpe became the tenant. In the nineties Mike Ellis took over.

The Camp daughters continue their tale:

For many years prices were very stable and you could ask Dad the price of anything in the shop and he would know it.  Later when inflation began to be a problem, prices changed so quickly that he could no longer do that.  I can also remember the first time someone stole something from the shop.  It had never happened before, and then one day a box of pens went missing.  At first Dad couldn’t work out what had happened as it was unheard of for people to steal.  Unfortunately, after that it happened quite often and we had to be on our guard so people didn’t have the opportunity to steal.”

I remember 3 burglaries always the thieves were after cigarettes, always they happened at night. The first time they successfully broke in through the front door, no bars in those days. The next time they made the mistake of taking some Cadbury’s cream eggs on their way out, then calling at Dixon’s garage on the way passed and dropping some out of the car onto the forecourt this was seen by Roy Dixon on his way home from a late night party and guessing where they had got them he called the police and they were caught. The last I remember was after the grills were fitted and they unsuccessfully attempted to break in via the roof.”

By the time Bert Thorpe and Mike Ellis had taken over, thefts, burglaries and even hold ups had occurred a number of times.  One such occasion happened in 2003 and my own neighbor, the late Ede Lomax was involved.  The robber demanded money and it is thought he waved a gun about. Mike, who had been held up once before, told the man he would give him the money. Ede,76 at the time and made of sterner stuff told Mike he should refuse upon which she herself got threatened. Her reaction: “All right then, shoot me if you must”.  The robber got away with the money and Ede, Mike and a child who was also there, with just a fright.

hw 93 l eft to right Ann Thorpe his  daughter. Vera Thorpe his wife. Bert Thorpe. Mary Jackson, June David.1993: Bert Thorpe, his wife and daughter plus Mary Jackson and June David in front of the shop.

When In 2010 Mike Ellis sold the business on to Diogo Fernandes, all seemed normal. Diogo, sometimes assisted by part timers worked in the shop whilst Rob Ambrose, his employee, worked behind the counter at the post office. Business wasn’t roaring but it ticked along. Until one day in February 2012 when the postal authorities came around for an audit and discovered a shortfall of close to £ 40.000. Rob held up his hands and confessed to having defrauded the GPO of that amount. The Post Office subsequently closed the branch and took away the license from Diogo in whose name it was registered.

H and E Observer 2003 1106 ede lomax ao held up at shop2003: Mike Ellis and Ede Lomax are held up.

Months of confusion followed. The Post Office maintained officially that they wanted to keep their High Wych branch open but somehow seemed to hold the licensee responsible. Diogo, now being left with a business without the beneficial effect of a sub post office on the premise decided to close and found himself “a regular job”. A petition to the postal authorities remained without success. For a few weeks it seemed as if High Wych would have neither a post office nor a shop.  

H and E Observer 2012 1101 rob ambrose in court small

Still, on Monday 11th June, High Wych shop opens its doors once again. Diogo’s dad. Assis, a retired city worker hailing from Goa had taken over the reins. The shop was restocked. Assis also applied for the post office license, but this proved difficult. The postal authorities just seemed to set the bar that little bit too high. Payment was to be on commission, not through a salary. It was even suggested the post office open on a Sunday. It made you wonder whether they were really interested in ensuring good postal services in our village. Letters to the local paper, nor intervention by councilors such as Mike Carver or Roger Beeching seemed to help. In November 2012 the case against Rob Ambrose finally came to court. He received a six months suspended sentence.

Assis Fernandes meanwhile, was (and is)  serious about the shop. He bought the freehold of the shop from the Camp daughters. In February 2013 a number of us were invited for a grand opening. The Fernandes family, Assis and his son Alex are here to stay. They now own the lease. “Let’s lend them our support Roger Beeching wrote a year ago.” It seems to have worked. As its stands at the time of writing the Post Office will not come back to the shop and instead is considering offering a part time service from the green room at the Memorial Hall. Despite all that the shop is doing well.  Father and son Fernandes are doing well. High Wych village stores are thriving once again.

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2013: Assis Fernades behind the counter of his shop.

Information for this article was drawn from the writings of the late John Sapsford as well as from Andrew Elsdon, Assis and Alex Fernandes, Den Lomax Lily Mynott, Jean Pedder, Steve Prior, Rosalyn Reed, Heather Smith and Eric Willison. Help was also given by the staff at HALS, Hertfordshire Archive and Library Services.

3 – Susan, Sid, Steve and Gary: tales of the Rising Sun.

Let me tell you about the Rising Sun, our only remaining village pub. How old is that hostelry? My honest answer is that I do not know. An indenture or document of sale on show at in the pub is dated 1864. County archives have similar documents dated 1827 and 1847. One name mentioned there is that of John Patmore of High Wych another, Daniel Brown of Ware. The latter has a connection with the White Heart Inn, original home of the “Great Bed of Ware” now on show at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

In the 1860s the Tyser family took up residence in the Rising Sun. They described themselves as beer retailers and bakers, a very common combination. The Kelly directories mention James Tyser in 1862 and 1869, Joseph Tyser in  1874, 1878 and 1890, William Tyser in 1895 and finally from 1902 onwards until at least 1919 Susan Tyser. In the 1920s “Baker White” was in charge He may have been the last one to combine bakery with beer retailing. In 1929 William Oakley and his family moved in whilst Fred White remained as baker. In 1943, 14 years later Iris Oakley married Sid Puncher.

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A picture of the Rising Sun from the early fifties. 

That name, Sid Puncher will of course be familiar to many.  Originally he worked for his father’s coal merchants business, occasionally making his cart available to people who were moving house. Upon his marriage to Iris he moved into the Rising Sun. When in 1957 on William Oakley’s death the licence passed to Iris Sid started spending more and more time at the pub particularly helping out with the heavy work of handling the casks. For many years though he carried on doing other jobs such as gardening at the Manor of Groves and driving a school bus for handicapped children. Strange though it seems, Sid Puncher himself never held the licence. Until their retirement in 1987 the licence was held by Iris.

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Iris and Sid in their glory days

By the early 1970s the Rising Sun was one of only a handful of pubs in East Herts and West Essex still serving real ale and the only one to serve it by gravity dispense. I myself can still remember seeing Sid Puncher bend down for every single pint! People travelled for miles to sample his beautifully kept best bitter. So it was no wonder that CAMRA, the campaign for real ale started its local branch in High Wych Village Hall directly opposite the Rising Sun.  Chris Bruton, CAMRA’s national chairman at the time came down for the occasion and Sid provided three firkins of ale which all went.

Sid’s reputation as a character was well deserved. Steve Prior, who took over in 1987 tells me “Sid in later years never turned the outside lights of the pub on. That would only encourage passing trade as they would be people he didn’t know. It was probably more to do with the electric bill as he was renowned for being careful”

Once when the Brewery surveyor was doing an inspection of the premises he asked Sid about the lack of washing facilities as there was no toilet/basin upstairs and just a butler sink by the back door. Sid told him he washed standing at the sink and the draught from the back door dried him off.

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Sid behind the bar – looking around the corner: son John

A few years after taking over the pub Steve was replacing one of the floors upstairs and came down for a lunchtime pint. Sid was in the bar and asked him what he was up to. He then explained that many years previous he had dropped a half crown in the bedroom and it had gone beneath the floorboards. Steve  said he’d keep an eye out. “Sure enough I later found it exactly where he said it would be. I never did give it back and still have it stashed away somewhere.”

A final Sid story from Steve: “After Mrs. Oliver (the village police man’s wife) died I was round at the police house by the school with her son going through some of Jack Oliver’s old bits and pieces. Later when I saw Sid he asked me if we had come across the rabbit nets Jack had confiscated from Sid when he had caught him poaching. That must have been decades previous but he had never forgotten. I think he figured Jack had been using them himself for all those years.”

Steve did make some minor changes to the Rising Sun after Sid Puncher left. The little tables for instance on which the casks rested were heightened so that the barman did not have to bend down so low for every pint.

Nowadays Gary Cunningham, stands behind the taps at the Rising Sun. The interior has changed quite a lot since Sid’s days. One thing however has not changed: the quality of the beer. I can personally vouch for that.  Meanwhile, Sid’s (as it is still called by many) while still features in CAMRA’s Good Beer Guide.

On the 2th March 2013 our very own Rising Sun was once again voted CAMRA’s Pub of the year. Brendon Sothcott, that organisation’s branch chairman, came down for the presentation and noted that there were no less than seven different beers on tap. “Amongst the nearly 200 pubs in the areas, there were several outstanding ones but the Rising Sun has once again won the contest by a clear margin”. Twice before the Rising Sun has won the honour, once under the old regime and once in 2009. A happy Gary Cunningham told “Pints of View” CAMRA’s newsletter that he was putting in a kitchen so that “we can do food to compliment the beer, not to turn the place into  a smart restaurant”.

The above article is partially based on Tom Coppack  “Loss of a local legend” published by CAMRA and “the Local” an article from the Herts & Essex Observer from the early eighties.  Articles and photographs were supplied by Celia Puncher (Sid and Iris’s daughter) and as mentioned, the editors of “Pints of View”. Stephen Prior provided those wonderful stories.

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The Rising Sun today


1 – Introduction – The 1965 WI scrapbook

The idea for these articles came about after having seen the exhibition at the school in 2011 to commemorate their 150th anniversary. An excellent book was published on the occasion and I thank Mandy West and Lorraine Winser for their efforts and their encouragement. Then, in early 2012 I was allowed to look at a scrapbook from 1965. That scrapbook was produced by members of the HW Women’s Institute on the occasion of their golden jubilee. It provides a fascinating view on how we lived nearly 50 years ago.

In 1965 the population of our Parish stood at 629 and there were 253 rated properties. There were two pubs, now there is only one. There were two shops. Likewise, there now is only one. The two largest houses, then as now, were the Manor of Groves, now a hotel and the Grange, originally the vicarage; in 1965, the home of the Wentworth Stanley family and still a private residence. Helmer & Dyer, the builders, Dixon’s Garage and Andrew’s Heating provided local employment. There was no street lighting. A proposal to install 15 lights was put forward but not decided upon as only four members of the Parish Council attended the relevant meeting.

The scrapbook tells of meetings of the WI of course, of the Young Wives Group and of other organisations. One such was the “Silver Lining Club”, the flourishing over sixties organisation which has since folded and which organised monthly meetings, outings and holidays for its members. There are pictures and reports of weddings and births, of fairs organised by the school and the scouts of the harvest supper. On the “dark side” burglaries at the Manor of Groves and at Crumps Farm are mentioned.   

 Most impressively in 1965 High Wych did once again win the best kept village of Hertfordshire competition. Our village scored 100 points, the highest possible number of marks.

Leafing through the scrapbook makes one feel more than a little bit nostalgic,sad even at the loss of community spirit and togetherness. Nowadays it seems we are but another commuter village for people who work elsewhere and whose social life has little to do with our immediate neighbours. Luckily we still have our church, our school, our one shop, our one pub and our memorial hall not to mention organisations such as the Garden Club and the WI.

hw 65 scrapbook page 019 school 2 25 hw 65 scrapbook page 020 school  caree taker Mr. Beale & cleaner Mrs. Bird 25

School children at play  – Mrs. Bird (school cleaner) with Mr. Beale the caretaker

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The village green in 1965

hw 65 scrapbook page 006 Arnold the painter  (from H&D) at work on memorial Hall 50   hw 65 scrapbook page 031 silver lining club leaving for bognor small

Arnold the painter takes a break from painting the village hall – The Silver Lining Club leaves for Bognor.

hw 65 scrapbook page 014 february  guides - Gladys Wood 25 cropped   hw 65 scrapbook page 013 january scouts 2 25

Gladys Wood in her guides uniform – Cubs with Akela. 

Thanks to the Parish Council for letting us borrow the scrapbook, contents of which have now been completely scanned in. The scrapbook itself is now on view at the school.