Derrick Richardson, beekeeper & former owner of Walkern Stores, took part in the Walkern Memories: 935 Years project and exhibition, having his memories of Walkern recorded by Janet Woodall and his photo taken by local photographer Rod Shone, on 15 April 2007. This transcription first appeared in the October 2008 issue of the Walkern Journal.
“Walkern in 1946 was a self sufficient agricultural village, the nearest factories being in Stevenage which had a population of about 3000. My wife Margaret, Mrs Roakes ? called Dorry ? and I, ran the Walkern grocery store for 30 years, milk round for 29 years and Post office for 41 years. Walkern had 34 businesses providing for every daily need, although clothing, luxury items and entertainment were to be had in Stevenage and Hitchin to which we had an infrequent bus service.
Walkern PO and Stores was situated on the corner of Froghall Lane and the High Street, and was originally just one room and a cellar. We had no refrigeration, so bacon, cheese, butter and lard were kept on marble slabs covered in muslin. By expanding into the house, within two years we had a refrigerated display counter and a walk-in cold room.
In 1961 we moved across the road to the new shop: our customers turned up and worked nearly all day to help us move. We didn?t need any removal van. They just turned up. They were taking things off the shelves, putting them in a tin bath and taking them across the road!
There were three types of customer: those who paid cash for every purchase; those who paid weekly for all purchases ? they were entered into their own, personal book; and those who paid monthly by the same method. It was very rare for a customer not to pay on time, and in 30 years I could count the number of bad debts on the fingers of one hand.
Home deliveries were made daily. A customer sent in their order, and it was delivered the next day without charge. In some case it was arranged for us to pay ourselves by taking the money from a purse in a sideboard drawer. Back doors were very rarely locked.
Before the National Health Service came into being, the local shops provided aspirin, iodine, bandages, cotton wool, Germaline, Wintergreen Ointment, Union Jack Paste (for chilblains), Carter?s Little Liver Pills (these were most effective, for they turned your urine green), also Syrup of Figs, dried senapods, and a baby?s gripewater that was later banned nationally as it is a highly addictive drug ? opium!
Shopkeepers tried not to sell the same items as other shops, but if they did, the prices were the same as competition was on quality and not price.
In the shop we had two very loyal assistants, Mrs F Canning and Mrs S Canning, who between them gave over 50 years of service to the shop. The milk round had 7 day deliveries for the first 15 years, 6 days a week, and despite some very bad weather we never missed a day. The two milkmen, the first one was Jack Brooks and the second one was Doug Tofts, between them delivered the milk for 32 years. The Post Office assistant, Mrs Margaret Hart, worked for us for more than 10 years.
The mail was brought from Stevenage at 7 o?clock in the morning and 2 O?clock in the afternoon, then it needed sorting and delivering. The postmen, in consecutive order were, Mabel O?Brien, George Dennis, Olive Savage and Keith Young, covering more than 45 years of postal deliveries between them. All on push bikes.
We were also a telegraph office, from 8 in the morning until 6 at night, 8 O?clock until midday on Sunday. There weren?t very many, but we had to be open for them. Originally, there were very few telephones, so any emergency was covered by telegram. The telegram on a Sunday was usually very bad news, mostly concerning death, and was always delivered either by myself or by my wife. A lot of people were horrified to see us walking up their garden path on a Sunday morning?
Derrick Richardson has kindly compiled a list of ?Walkern Characters?, circa 1946. Please do contact Janet Woodall