The Village Shops

In the first half of this century shopping meant either a trip into town for major purchases, generally by bus in those days before every family owned at least one car, or to the ‘shop around the corner’ for everyday necessities.  In Ecton the village shops, of which there were a surprising variety, could provide most of your daily needs.  In addition they were a centre of social life, where people could meet and swap the latest news and gossip - one area where supermarkets come a poor second.  All the more pity then that they are now, with one exception, remembered only by our older residents. 

That exception is ‘The Co-op’, a grocery and general store which was certainly in existence as long ago as 1874 when it was run by the Ecton Co-operative Society.  It leased the ‘Poor School’ building in 1878, after the new school was built and traded there for more than one hundred years during which time it was taken over by the Earls Barton Provident Co-operative Society.  In 1979 the Co-op took over the sub-post office but shopping habits were already changing and this additional business only served to postpone the inevitable; in 1985 it closed its doors for the last time.  For a short time Dorothy Patching’s little shop and sub-post office carried on in Franklin ’s Close but it too found the competition from the supermarkets impossible to withstand and Ecton’s last shop closed its doors in July 1989.

For the first half of this century the village had, at any one time, at least four shops, five tradesmen and two public houses.  In the early days the post office was run by Frank Johnson and afterwards his daughter May, in the cottage on the corner of High Street and West Street .  Henry Pinney recalls that May was responsible for accepting telegrams in a telephone kiosk inside the post office and would then offer the village children threepence or sixpence (depending on the distance) to deliver the telegrams.  Afterwards the post office was taken over by John Aveyard in his little general store in Blacksmiths Yard.  Just opposite there was a tobacconist and sweetshop kept by Billy Nicholls, who also used to go selling around Ecton, Great Billing and Cogenhoe with a hand truck.

In the row of houses opposite the Crescent was a newsagents shop run by Mr and Mrs Gibbons and next door lived the Copnalls.  Mrs Copnall ran a Christmas Club known as `the chocolate club’ by the village children, who paid in their pocket money and bought chocolates and sweets at Christmas time.

The village was able to support two bakers.  Jack Campion was at 12 High Street (now a house with its gate in West Street , still called `The Old Bakehouse’) and his bread was delivered by Harrold Garfield, a man with a lively sense of humour.  The other baker was Charles Tebby, whose bakery was on the corner of Barton Fields.  He also cured flitches of bacon & hams brought in by villagers who kept pigs.  Both bakers provided an important service for villagers, who could bring in their pastry, Sunday roasts and Yorkshire pudding to be cooked for a small charge.

The butchers shop and slaughterhouse were in the outbuildings behind Peartree Cottage in Church Way .  Early this century the butcher was the same John Field who was the minister of the Baptist Chapel over the road; after he gave up his horse and cart he did his deliveries in his old bull-nose Morris car and kept the meat in a box fitted to the ‘dickey seat’ at the back.

For many years until the mid-sixties milk was delivered by Les Middleton, initially by pony and cart but by the late thirties in a small motorvan ; his dairy was in some outbuildings at the `World’s End’ and he kept his cows in the adjacent field.  Les had taken over from Mr Bustin from Great Billing who used to ladle out milk from the churn on his horse-drawn float at each house; Mr Bustin’s sideline was repairing shoes.  Before this time milk could be collected at the back door of Manor Farm and Henry Pinney remembers Nellie Dicks serving it out at ‘tuppence-ha’penny’ a pint.

In addition to its two `pubs’ Ecton also had an outdoor off-license opposite Manor Farm in the house now called Bell Cottage.  It was run by Ellen Darker at the time of the First World War, later by George Richards and his wife and then by Bill and Dora Reynolds until it closed in 1970

There was also a watchmaker, jeweller and picture framer, David Penn, known to everyone as `Diddley Penn’ and famed for his bowler hat and gladstone bag.  He lived over his workshop in High Street and he also used to travel about doing clock repairs.  The village youngsters used to play him up in the perverse hope that he would chase them and Henry Penney remembers that sometimes he did. 

At the turn of the century Ecton even had its own tailors shop, George Darker’s, in West Street and a drapery shop in High Street run by Mrs Langley. 

Mobile shops have also been a familiar sight in the village - groceries, bread and fresh fish vans making regular visits fulfilled a useful service but even these are disappearing and the mobile library is now one of the few such services to be seen.  Louis Austin from Earls Barton is one who is still remembered for his cries of ‘fish or fruit’.  In the first half of the century there were also itinerant tinkers, chairmenders, knife grinders and peddlers such as the `cheapjack’ who would spread out his pots, pans and china on the grass at Barton Corner (now Barton Fields) once a year at Ecton Feast time.  Another traveller visited the village pushing a large cart with haberdashery, cottons and needles.  If your shoes needed repairing you could have them done by Sid Loveder, whose brother biked over from Earls Barton to collect and deliver them.  And late night shopping isn’t new; Mr Abbott’s grocery van would come from Earls Barton twice a week, early on Wednesdays but about ten o’clock on Saturday nights.

The only ‘shop’ to be found in the village now is the hairdressing salon off High Street, which was opened by Mary Beesley in 1973 and which, since 1985, has been run by Jayne Wiggins; it is described by one lady client as ‘the only gossip-shop left in the village’. 

Times have changed and Ecton’s villagers now have, within five minutes drive, a variety of shops and supermarkets selling everything they could possibly need every day of the week.  If you don’t have a car the Tesco bus will collect you and deliver you back to the village.  Soon it may not even be necessary to visit shops at all - television shopping with a home delivery service is one current experiment that could make shopping a luxury rather than a necessity.  Older residents are not necessarily convinced that the changes have been for the better - they remember the convenience of having a shop just around the corner, of the gossip and the contact with their friends and neighbours and of a time that has gone for ever.

Ecton Village Co-op in 'Poor School' building

Village Post Office

Les Middleton and his delivery van

Jayne Wiggins in her Hidressing Salon