Headington history: Shops

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Grocer’s at 39 New High Street

39 New High Street

Photographs reproduced by kind permission of Mary Freeman, granddaughter of Joseph & Amy Skey (above) and daughter of Ernest Skey (the boy pictured on the right below)

39 New High Street

This shop on the corner of New High Street and Bateman Street was one of the two main grocer’s shops in the High Street of New Headington village for nearly a hundred years, from the 1880s to the 1970s. It does not appear on the 1876 map of Headington, and first becomes apparent in the 1881 census.

In 1881 the shop was occupied by the young baker Joseph Cross, with his wife and child and two other bakers: his 18-year-old brother and an employee. The Cross family moved to a bigger baker’s shop in St Clements, and 39 New High Street was taken over by Edward Douglas (50), who in the 1891 census is listed there with his wife, four working sons aged 14 to 21, and a younger son and daughter. The shop had no private pump or well for a water supply, so his wife Mary evidently worked for someone else as a laundress, as she is ticked as an employee in the 1891 census. By 1895 Mrs Douglas was running the shop on her own.

By the time of the 1901 census this shop was occupied by a single man of 25, George R. Stephens.

From 1902 to 1914 Joseph Skey was the proprietor. He is shown in the above picture with his wife Amy and their only son Ernest (who later had a shop of his own in Windmill Road), together with a small friend. The sign above the shop reads “Skey’s Cash Grocery, Tobacco & General Supply Stores”, and at the time this picture was taken, in about 1905, it appears to have sold just about everything. Larger items such as buckets, baskets, brushes, and pails hang outside, and there is a baby bath in the upstairs window. The shop-front is plastered with advertisements for Bovril, Lipton’s Tea, Tower Tea, Colman’s Mustard, Colman’s Starch, and Reckitt’s Starch. The people of New Headington (who had to wait another ten years for a piped water supply, twenty years for gas, and even longer for electricity) are urged to “Use ‘Natural Daylight’ lamp oil”. The “specials” listed on the blackboard are “Finest preserving sugar” at 2½d per pound, hams at 5d-5½d per pound, and tomatoes at 5d and 7d per pound.

From 1915 to 1921 the shop was run by “Adams Brothers”, which in practice meant Sidney Adams and his sister Emma Jane, as their brother Frederick was serving in the First World War.

They were followed by Edwin Thomas Garner briefly in 1922, then Ernest Nash from 1923 to 1930, and George Webb from 1935 to 1947.

C.J. Nicholson bought the shop in 1947, and remained there until 1961: see his son's reminiscences.

39 New High StreetC. J. Nicholson outside his shop at 39 New High Street in the 1950s

J. F.L. Simms had the shop until 1973. It then closed, and was converted into flats in the early 1980s.

© Stephanie Jenkins

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