Lois East: Memories of Pitts Road postmistress
I moved into Pitts Road General Store in 1954 after getting married to my husband George East. George’s mother had been born in the Masons Arms pub and she was part of the large Goodall family who lived in Quarry, meaning George was very much a local boy.
The general store had previously run by Mrs Hampshire and at first we rented the shop premises and living accommodation from Mr Stone, a local builder. A few years later were able to purchase the property after Mr Stone died and the family decided to sell.
Right: Pitts Road Post Office in July 1963, with postmistress Lois East on the right
The Pitts Road General Store, c.1955
In 1954 Pitts Road general store was one of a number of shops operating in the local area. From my recollection I can think of at least ten others which were situated within a five-minute walk of Pitts Road.
Pitts Road – Directly opposite our shop, was Deard’s a general store situated on the corner with New Cross Road owned by Mr & Mrs Deard.
Quarry High Street- There were three shops on Quarry High Street. Lewis the butchers was housed in a single-storey building on the corner of Gladstone Road. Vallis the bakers operated from where Beecher’s violin shop is now. Just off the Quarry High Street, in what is now Chequers Place, was a fish & chip shop which I think was run by Mrs Kislingbury. In later years the shop was a bookies before being demolished in the 1980s to make way for two new houses.
Quarry Hollow – there was a general store located in a house opposite the entrance to School Place.
Quarry Post Office was in Beaumont Road not far from the Six Bells pub. The postmistress was Miss Cooper. The detached property had an enormous garden and was later demolished to make way for the construction of Cooper Place.
London Road – next to what is now the Sikh temple (formally Sharp & Howse) was Tinnings the newsagents. Adjoining Tinnings was Currill’s shoe repair shop. Next to these two shops was the Co-op grocery store. (This premises was later altered and enlarged to become Sharp & Howse plumbers, now the Sikh temple). Further along on the same side of the road was another small general store located in what for many years was a veterinary surgery next to Apiary cottage at 305 London Road. On the opposite side of the road, roughly where Colemans Hill is now, was a parade of shops facing the road. These included Powell’s transport café (owned by Mr & Mrs Powell) and another general store. Going towards Headington there was a butcher’s shop where Headington Barbers are now. On the opposite side of the road there was an off-licence located in the shop which is now Demop hairdressers.
Looking back now it’s amazing to think that so many small shops operated in such close proximity. But back then people shopped on a day-to-day basis. Fridges and freezers were a novelty, there weren’t many supermarkets (certainly not out-of-town superstores), and not all people had access to a car. Some of the shops were very small having originally been intended solely for residential use.
The Pitts Road General Store was a converted front room in a two-up two-down cottage. We couldn’t really take more than three customers at a time! My mother-in-law told me that the shop had originally been set up as a butcher’s in the 1920s. We sold mostly tinned and dried goods along with cigarettes and sweets. We did sell some cheese and bacon which I kept fresh in a small fridge. I ran the shop while George went out to work at Morris Motors car factory in Cowley. I think that all of the shops had their own loyal customer base. I had my regulars and there certainly weren’t any ‘prices wars’ going on. We did offer credit and many people would pay for their purchases at the end of the week or when their tally had reached the bottom of the page in the ledger. I never had any problems collecting the money. I opened six days a week. Monday–Friday from 8.30am–6pm (closed 1–2pm for lunch) while Saturdays were a half day shutting at 1pm. Trading laws meant we couldn’t open on Sundays, but that didn’t stop some people knocking on our back door asking for emergency items – more often than not cigarettes!! We bought a butcher’s bike with a basket from G.H. Williams in Headington and orders would often be delivered on a Saturday morning. Our business was successful although during the late 1950s shops around us did start to close as Headington expanded and smaller shops found it increasingly hard to compete on price.
In 1962 the Friends of Quarry approached me and asked I would consider taking on the Quarry Post Office although in actual fact I had already approached the GPO about the vacancy. The Post Office in Beaumont Road was closing because Miss Cooper had died and there was no one else in the family willing to continue the business in the family house. Miss Cooper had taken over from her mother, Mrs Cooper, who I believe received an award from the Post Office for long service. I only visited the Beaumont Road shop on a few occasions but I do remember the noisy bell which clanged as you opened the door. To my mind it was still ringing when you turned to go out! Around the house in Beaumont Road was an enormous garden (big enough to allow for the construction of the housing development there today) in which Miss Cooper kept ducks. It was not unusual for these creatures to waddle through the Post Office as you were being served. It was a real reminder that even in the 1950s it really wasn’t that long since Quarry had been a separate village on the edge of Oxford.
After I was appointed Postmistress a man from the GPO visited me in Pitts Road very day for a week to give me the appropriate training. We had to pay for all the conversion work in the shop. A glass wall was put up to separate the shop sales area from the post office and in the back room a safe had to be bolted to the floor with approved steel straps. For a time I operated the shop and the Post Office on my own but eventually employed my niece as a Saturday girl and a local woman Lily to help out during the week. I really enjoyed my time as postmistress. Headington Quarry back then was a very close-knit working-class community where everyone knew everyone else. People were very friendly and many families had deep roots in the area. There was a real sense of a distinct local identity and people had a fierce pride in coming from ‘The Quarry’.
George East outside Pitts Road Post Office, July 1963
In 1968 I gave up running the post office and general store to become a full-time mother. The shop continued to be a post office and shop until the mid-1980s when the shop closed.
Pitts Road Post Office, c.1983
After this the post office facility was moved to the convenience store on the corner of Gladstone and Trafford Road. The Pitts Road shop was run as a video rental store for a short period in the late 1980s. It then reopened as a hairdresser’s in the early 90s before being converted back into a house in 2013.
All photographs on this page kindly supplied by Maurice East, son of George & Lois East
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