Joan's Observations On Ambleside Shops of the Past

My excursion into the history of the shops of Ambleside has taken me down avenues I never intended to explore. As more and more properties have become outdoor shops and coffee shops I began to realise how boring they have become compared with the shops of my childhood memories. I found that I could name all the shops as they were in the late 20's and early 30's, in fact pre second world war days. Not only could I remember the shops but also I could name of the shop owners. We children could be sent off by our mothers with small lists and money to do the messages. The shop owners and assistants knew us all and our parents, they put the goods in our baskets, wrapped the change in our lists and off home we would go. Ambleside still has many friendly shop assistants but the atmosphere is different, if I could put a finger on it I would have to say the family feeling has on the whole disappeared but that has probably come about with the growth of the village.

Outdoor shops were virtually unknown before the war, people went climbing in hobnailed boots, tweedy clothing and cumbersome waterproofs, we young ones just had our ordinary clothing, if the weather was inclement we left the hills alone, we could not have afforded to buy the items of clothing on sale today. As I can remember the first shop to stock only outdoor clothing was Frank Davies at the top of Compston about 1950 soon after the war, now I dare not think how many we have. In earlier days the shops were more varied, we could buy almost anything we needed, food, clothing, furniture, household linen etc.

My investigations have let me trace the history of some of the shops before I was born, it has developed into a bit of a detective story. I have been able discover where some of the shops were relocated. "Tinny" Martin opened in Compston Rd in 1922, previously it was in Church St in the shop now Gregg's. In 1898 T.B Atkinson's had already moved from Compston Rd to Lake Rd.

In the early 1900's shops did not have fancy names, usually just the name of the owner followed by the type of shop e.g. John Short Greengrocer or John Stables Shoe Shop or Mackereth's Draper, but some had strange descriptions for village shops, we had Edmund Fleming Souvenir Emporium (this was eventually Hicklings), there was M.E. Lawson Fancy Repository it sold ladies and childrens wear embroidery silks and wools, I am almost certain it was the shop in the corner on Lake Rd now The Picnic Box (you see what I mean about fancy names) Several grocers advertised themselves as tea and coffee dealers and some as Italian Warehouse men why? Wool and embroidery and children's wear shops were almost exclusively owned by spinster ladies, I wonder if this was as a result of so many young men lost in the Great War and it was acceptable for single ladies to run this type of business. I don't really know but this journey into the past has fired my imagination.

Shop facades have been changed, some shops have amalgamated two into one, an exception is the Ambleside Jewellers and Hannah Robinson's, prior to 1910 these two shops were one, Walton's confectioners, by the time I remember it Walton's had moved across the road to the site of the present Greggs and their shop became Dawson Gill's jewellers and Hunters saddlers. When Waltons had the big property it boasted Japanese Tea Rooms, how avante garde that must have been Dawson Gill had started in Compston Rd then moved to the corner of King St and Kelsick Rd, but the final move to Lake Rd must have been the last.

Many of the shop\keepers were characters, who of the older generation will ever forget Bruce Squires Fishing tackle, souvenirs and postcards sited in Central Buildings. A large gentleman who wore knickerbockers, belt slung low below a big belly and a dickey bow tie, well spoken with a booming voice. He was only polite to customers who were buying fishing tackle and could be very rude to tourists. I remember going in with Bill when he was buying something for fishing, Mr Squires was waxing eloquently on his favourite subject when a poor visitor approached him with a pot ornament in her hand he drew himself to full height and in his best put down voice said "Not for sale" and took it off her, in other words, "Don't interrupt when I am talking fishing".

This is proving to be an interesting study and I am sure will be ongoing. Most of it has come from my personal memory, if anyone reading this knows anything different or can add any information from the past I would like to know. I am interested in the social history of Ambleside.