Thursday, 18 April 2013

Chapter 5 1973

Following the Christmas break everything settled back into a routine.   After perhaps a year renting the room above the dentist, we moved the business into two rooms in the former health clinic known then as 5A High Street behind Frisby’s Shoe Shop (now 10 St John’s Square).  Mr Keith Trussler, Western Relining Services, was our landlord.   The 3 year lease is dated 9 March 1973 and consists of 4 huge heavy pages measuring  40 cms x 26 cms with 5 sides of typing plus a plan, stating that we were to pay £270/year rent.   It seems as if we had actually moved into the premises on 8 December.   Downstairs Mr Trussler ran his business, supplying motor parts.   Once a week, a rack of exhaust pipes would be delivered with great clanking noises and left leaning up against the building outside in the yard until he put them away.   Besides access from the car park, there was a passage through the door from the High Street next to Frisby’s Shoe Shop, now occupied by The Speaking Tree.  I think I usually walked down Wick Hollow to work, while John spent most days in our upstairs sitting room at “Schehallion”, drawing, occasionally coming down to the workshop to discuss production with John Chaffey and the handful of part timers we must have been employing by then.

John was designing his flower and bird prints to fit an oval mount.   He drew everything with a rotring pen on a piece of paper measuring 10 x 8 inches.   These were printed on larger sheets of paper and suitably trimmed afterwards by Bigwood & Staple, while miniature versions of the same designs were also produced (4 ½ x 3 ½ inches).   John had invented a “forma” which John Chaffey used to cut the oval mounts out of mount board  – sophisticated mount cutters had not been invented yet.   This consisted of  metal plates, prepared for us by someone in Walton I think, containing the oval apertures required.

The hand painters were issued with a painting instruction card, carefully worked out by John (remember, he was dyslexic), which was supplied to them by the painting supervisor every couple of weeks or so together with a dozen or two of the appropriate printed designs for them to colour.   They were paid piece work rates.   Mauveen West was the first painting supervisor and we called it the “milk round”;  she would visit the hand painters every couple of weeks, collect the painted prints and pay them accordingly. 

For awhile I still continued to drive to Worcester to collect the picture frames from Whitehouse, Willetts and Bennett.   By this time we had bought a trailer, and I used to go bump/bump/bump very slowly up the motorway, with lorries breathing down my neck, - was the speed limit 50 mph when towing a trailer?   When I stopped for lunch at Strensham Service Station, I would have to use the lorry park and was terrified of being caught out as no way could I reverse!   Even worse when I finally reached the frame makers -  their access was via a very narrow back alleyway and I dreaded meeting the British Road Services lorry head on.   Driving along the motorway I was reminded of the awful Dutch Elm disease which was on its way – later we lost a small elm on the edge of our drive at Schehallion in spite of attempts to inoculate.

Before we bought the trailer, I would make the journey in my Ford Escort Estate car, travelling via Bristol because the bridge carrying the M5 over the river Avon was not completed.   On one occasion, returning with a huge load of frames, I decided to weigh myself.   Morlands ran a public weighbridge on the main road outside O Block (somewhere near where the traffic lights are now).   Was it Derek Witcombe in charge?   I don’t remember how much I weighed, but the comment was “I hope you aren’t going very far with that lot.”   I didn’t dare admit that I had come all the way from Worcester and up over Dundry – about 70 miles – and that this was a regular occurrence every couple of months or so.

As already mentioned, I had taken on Vera as my secretary/book keeper in September 1972.   She continued working for a couple of mornings a week at home until we took over two more rooms at 5A for office and storeroom, and her husband Tony Osmond, who had previously worked for Clarks, became our manager.

Anyway, we are now off to our first professional trade show where we joined 17 other small exhibitors in the Rosetor Hotel, Torquay, from 4 – 11 January 1973.   This was a private venture by Sherriff & Williams;   I don’t remember how we became invited to exhibit with them.  The main Torquay Gift Fair took place at the Palace Hotel (where I had shared Bernard’s bedroom last year) and other venues across the town.   We attended the Rosetor in our little group for several years until the building was demolished.    

I should explain that manufacturers and importers of gifts also reached their customers by using sales agents as well as trade shows, while large companies, like Morlands, employed full time representatives.   Agents covered specific areas and worked on a sales commission basis (we paid them 10% of all sales coming from the area)  and who needed to carry several different products in order to earn a living.   Then there were the trade shows and the agent covering a particular area often helped to man our stand.   We joined the Giftware Association and their subsidiary, Trade Promotion Services (TPS) were contracted to erect the shell stands at selected venues across the country during the year.

Small producers like ourselves would rent a space – we usually occupied a stand measuring 10 x 10 feet.   The organisers of the shows would put up partitions enclosing different spaces to suit which were known as “shell stands”, consisting of three walled partitions about 7 feet high with the fourth side open to the walkway.   Some basic lighting was provided, together with floor covering, but any other additions were charged as extras or the proper contractors had to be used, otherwise there would have been a strike.   Later, Tony Osmond would hide his hammer or whatever and use it discretely!   But we were allowed to hang our pictures up somehow – could we bang in nails, or did we hang them from picture hooks?   We would provide a small table and perhaps a chair or stool.   In those days, we could stand all day.   The shows lasted usually from the Sunday to the Thursday, so we small exhibitors all arrived on Saturday to bring in the stuff and had to clear it up on Thursday evening, while the bigger companies of course took several days each end of the shows to build and unpack their sophisticated stands.
Our sales agents carried samples;  perhaps one framed print, plus some corner pieces of moulding and mount board in the different colours, so that the customer could choose their preferred combination.   They also carried a folder containing a coloured copy of each design with its reference number – see our catalogues – and we usually produced new designs for the spring and autumn season with new prices in January each year.    John made boxes for the agents’ samples, with a carrying handle and lined with sheepskin (of course!) which were used for the first few years until we invested in proper suitcases.   (I have kept one of these boxes!)

The shows we began to attend were:  the Torquay Gift Fair in January;  the International Gift Fair held in Blackpool in early February;  Harrogate Gift Fair in July (I think this was under a different management), and sometimes other small independent fairs such as Nottingham and even Glasgow on one occasion.  

The Glasgow Gift Fair, which must have been held in early spring, was situated in the Kelvin Hall.   Was this originally a bus depot or a sports hall?   Anyway, it was enormous, with high ceilings so all the heat was wasted, and as we were situated in the worst position by the enormous double doors at the back we were frozen.  We only had tables on which to display our wares.   Kiss-me-quick hats and other seaside memorabilia did much better on the front benches … On our return we were driving down through Cumbria in John’s lovely Morland’s Rover – this was probably the last year before he left the firm – and an RAC man was coming in the other direction and saluted us!   This tradition had ceased in 1963, so we were very privileged.

John often designed the layout of a trade stand beforehand with a rehearsal somewhere where he could emulate the three wall spaces, and Torquay was a good dummy run for the International Gift Fair a few weeks later.   There were no mobile phones in those days, or laptops or even electronic calculators, though no doubt larger companies did have more sophisticated equipment, so it was pads and pencils for taking down the orders.  Our first adding machine was brought home from Leighton Park boarding school by Rob one holidays.   The boys had a habit of raiding Reading rubbish dump and he found a large hand operated calculator, abandoned when VAT was introduced.   One cranked the handle and it printed out pounds, shillings and pence on a paper roll, so we just used the “£” slot and put the decimal place in by hand afterwards (orders weren’t very large so there were enough spaces in that section for both figures) .   This would have resided on the dining room table and was used by Vera to do our accounts;  it was too bulky to bring to the shows.

The first Spring Fair we attended at Blackpool was a nightmare.   We were in the Talbot Hall, which was actually a multi-storey car park swathed in something to keep out the rain.   But we must have been able to park not too far away, as I don’t remember any difficulty with unloading, although all our stuff had to be carried up two or three flights of narrow stairs, as of course we were relegated to the top floor with other small manufacturers.   There was the dreaded hoist system but we never attempted to use that.

The top floor was freezing – John wore his pyjamas under his suit – and the lavatories in this makeshift exhibition centre were pretty primitive;  the water condensed on the ceiling and dripped onto us as we perched on the loo.  Here we met our good friends and competitors, Peggy and Reg Bates with their firm “Peter Bates”, producing delightful black and white miniatures.   They lived at Somerton for many years with their production in a large barn next to the house – maybe the business has survived to this day – though both Reg and Peggy have passed away now.   We also met Peter Dufour who produced corn dollies under the trade name “Somerset House” in Cheddar.   It is a pity that I threw away our old trade show catalogues each year when the new one became available, as these would have been full of useful information….

Somehow we got to know Harry Polly, who was the secretary of TPS (Trade Promotion Services) – probably because he found out we were Quakers.   By the next year, the Giftware Association were discussing a proposal to move the “International Gift Fair” from Blackpool to the National Exhibition Centre, Birmingham, when it opened in 1976.   Some members were not pleased;  they enjoyed staying locally in hotels and meeting up with friends in the evenings and were perfectly happy with their stands.  They weren’t relegated to the top floor of the Talbot Hall of course.    

There were bitter arguments about this decision;  Harry would come upstairs and pour out his problems.   Knowing the fury that would be aroused, at some point the wily Chairman of the Giftware Association, Elkan Simons, had bypassed all argument with a fait accompli – he had already booked the NEC and the gift trade would be the first exhibition, together with the hardware trade, to be held in this new venture.   All the stands would be under one roof in a purpose built exhibition space and no longer would our export customers have to put up with the inadequate facilities of the “Talbot Hall”.   The great Leap Forward had begun, with Glastonbury Prints in tow.

It was accepted in the trade that producers and importers of gifts would guarantee exclusivity to one or two outlets in each conurbation within reason;  I think my criteria, later using a Whittaker’s Almanack which Rob gave us in 1976, was to allow one shop for a population of around 10,000.   For a small town like Glastonbury, this meant supplying Glastonbury Gifts & Crafts (now St Margaret’s Hospice shop) which at that time was run by Mr Tovey until Denis and Ena Allen took it over, together with the Unicorn Shop in Wells, which was run by Mrs Chapman, wife of Freddie, the owner of the Swan Hotel.   In Taunton, we supplied the County Stores and later the House of Fraser group.  We often left it to the agents to use their common sense in this matter.   When potential customers approached us at trade shows, we could look up the area in our card index of existing customers and check whether it would be appropriate to supply them.

In our prime in the mid 1970’s we produced 1,000 hand coloured pictures a week, framed or “mounted only”, supplying 500 shops across the country, as well as exporting prints to France, Austria, America, New Zealand and even to Japan.   Our agents listed in 1973 were:  Robert Cleary (Scotland – he found us at the Glasgow Show);  Ray & Sybil Curtis (they took over from Bernard’s protégées Phil and Dave and covered the West Country);  John Reeder (London area – I had a letter in June 2014 from his wife in the USA, where they went to live many years ago, and he has sadly died);  Mona Russell (who lived near Harrogate and covered the North of England);  and Philip Smith (who lived in Rochester, so perhaps he covered the Home Counties).

There were two trade magazines, which we patronised – The Gift Buyer International and Gifts Magazine – where we would place advertisements for our stands and trade shows and hopefully get write-ups for new ranges of prints.   After we opened our shop in 1975 I started writing articles a couple of times a year for Gifts Magazine, under the pseudonym “Trader”, telling stories about running a shop; I continued to do this for about 14 years I think.   After a couple of years my editor, Vhairi Cotter, said:  “At the risk of giving you a swelled head, we find from our survey that your article is the first thing that readers turn to when they receive the magazine”!   At least I was paid £100 a time for my double page spread …

I have a note dated March 1973 stating that we have 300 live customers and that Mr Sayers, our accountant, advised us to use the Kalamazoo (hand written) system for our accounts, which served us well for many years.   Kalamazoo had in fact been started by John’s Great Uncle Oliver Morland sometime between the wars, and went into liquidation over a decade ago I think.   We still had shares in the company at that time, which probably were left to us by John’s father, Bry, and lost about £17,000.   I remember during the Morlands days in the 60’s that Uncle Humphrey Morland expected to inherit more of these very profitable shares when Oliver Morland died, but most of the money was spent by his widow on building an old people’s home in Chideock “with copper embellishments”- much resented!

John and I visited Uncle Oliver and his wife Eileen several times in the early fifties, before Rob was born.   We would drive down in the motorbike and sidecar for lunch.   There were often pheasants in the middle of the road just past Somerton, so one day we were prepared – I was leaning out of the sidecar brandishing the pump and dealt the final blow after John had run it down.   Quickly, we stuffed into the boot of the sidecar and continued our journey.   I don’t think the term “road kill” had been invented in those days.   After our visit, Uncle Oliver came out to his parking space to wish us goodbye and remarked wryly:  “I see you already have your supper.”   To our consternation, our secret was revealed – tail feathers were protruding from the boot of the sidecar for all to see.

Harrogate Gift Fair in July was another matter.   It seems that Peter Dufour was taking our pictures to the show in 1973 and I have a list of samples and other information provided, dated 9 July 1973..   There were 3 boxes of made up pictures – 15 framed 10 x 8 birds @ £1.70 each plus VAT, and 20 miniature prints of birds @ £1.05 each plus VAT.   Also 4 miniature roses and 15 miniature silhouettes (so we must still have been selling these which, after the posters, were the first designs that John produced in 1970/71).  We provided 2 sample books and a note “new price lists are not yet printed but I hope to get them sent to you at Cheddar on Thursday”.  

In addition to the business of course, we still had to organise our children, fetching them from boarding school in the holidays (Julie and Ruth were both at Sidcot by now and Rob must have had another year to go at Leighton Park), putting them on trains to London to visit Deena and Bry (John’s parents), and looking after a very large garden.   We had an acre of land, about half of which was still apple orchard (lots of lovely Bramleys), and the other half was huge terraces, lawns, pond, retaining walls full of rock plants, large shrub border and veg garden and the beginning of a wood along the boundary with Bulwarks Lane which John had planted in the sixties.

It took John about 2 hours to mow all the lawns each week and he also had a larger machine with which to cut the long grass in the orchard in the summer.   However, in 1954 he had damaged his back, digging out some old apple trees from the plot when we first bought it (for £1,000 from Uncle Humphrey).   In those days doctors didn’t understand backs and it wasn’t until much later that John was able to go to a chiropractor – though he did not dare to tell our doctor at the time, as they weren’t accepted in the early sixties.   It was too late, the damage was done; and he often suffered a lot of back pain after such vigorous exercise, which was in addition to the migraines, poor John.

Along the lane were two pink horse chestnuts.   At some point I got fed up with the boys from Windmill Hill council housing estate who would damage the fence by climbing over to pick conkers, so I let it be known that they could queue up on the bench in Wick Hollow, opposite our drive.   I would let them into the garden, two at a time with 10 minutes on the tick-a-tock (the timer, which I perched on one of the walls below the house).   At the designated time, I would go out and ring my hand bell.  This worked well for many years.   I have given that bell to one of our sons in law.   I bought it at a West Pennard WI sale in the fifties perhaps, and it was made out of salvaged metal from a crashed WW2 German bomber.  About a decade ago I was shopping in Safeway – now Morrisons – in Glastonbury and a lady came up to me and said “Can I introduce you to my son, who was one of your conker boys?”

In the early years since we built the house (1955 with extension 1963) John had grown lots of vegetables and fruit and I have records from 1956 of bottling and jam making – the totals that year were:

40   2 lb kilner jars gooseberries
25   1 lb     “       “   blackcurrants
  2   1 lb     “       “   raspberries
19   2 lb     “       “   cherry plums (actually from Ynyswytryn garden, courtesy of     Uncle Humphrey and Aunt Gwladys)
21   lbs jam

By 1966 I had a freezer and I was not keeping such detailed records, but in 1973 I froze 13 lbs of gooseberries and some bags of plum puree.  It is a pity that I never recorded the vegetables however.   We did have some help from Salvadore Bucione, one of the Italian prisoners of war who had remained in England in 1945 at the end of the war.   He worked for Woodwards (plumbers) but must have come to us in the summer evenings or at weekends.   As we had a very large vegetable plot, he asked if he and his family could have a space and grow some garlic.   Garlic?   I had hardly ever heard of the stuff at that time.   Together with courgettes, we weren’t familiar with such exotic veg – certainly I never used it in my cooking.

Our garden was at its best in the spring.   I had never been successful with herbaceous borders; my mother, like her parents before her, had been a keen gardener.  However both our daughters are gardeners and our eldest daughter, Julie, has opened her garden at Congresbury under the National Garden Scheme for the last few years.

John built the first wall below the house in the late fifties, using dressed stone recycled from a couple of large pillars somewhere in Street.   One Saturday morning, Colonel Gould walked past along Bulwarks Lane with his dog.   Pointing his stick, he barked:  “Who built that?”   John bristled, but politely answered “I did.”   “Jolly good show”, was the reply.   Then after extending the house in the sixties, we terraced the sloping lawn and planted a shrub border, which came from John Scotts Nursery at Merriott in two seed boxes – they must have only been rooted cuttings in those days.  

See one of 5 pages of an invoice listing over 50 plants delivered on 12 December 1964 at a total cost of £20.12.6d. and which could have included the shrubs for that border.   Their catalogues contained drawings of plants by Robin Tanner.

Robin Tanner was an etcher and an HMI, together with my father and stepmother, before the war.   He was a Quaker, living near Chippenham, and he and his wife Heather often visited us when we lived in Chelsea in the late forties – he attempted to teach me (aged about 18) manuscript writing, not very successfully, though I used to produce reasonable notices for the shop later.   We have a framed letter from Robin in his beautiful writing, dated 14 January 1971 inviting us to lunch, when he showed John how he produced his beautiful etchings.   He used to buy old books, remove the unused pages and print on them.   Although I am sure John could have produced beautiful work that way, even after attending one of Bronwen Bradshaw’s courses at the Dove Centre, he never took it up.

To return to the garden, I spent hours after the walls were built, filling the holes (which I demanded should be left for that purpose) with rock plants and watering them assiduously with a teapot during the summer until they were established.   Nearly a decade later they were a blaze of colour, with spring flowering heathers along the top full of bees, and purple aubretia, pink and yellow rock roses, yellow alyssum saxtile and blue campanula tumbling out of the walls. 

 John planted a wood on the steepest ground, which fell away from our boundary along Bulwarks Lane and below the two existing pink conker trees.  He arranged for John Snow to cut down the large ash tree further along (this was before any conservation orders) as he thought it created too much shade; the heavy machinery damaged the road and nearly tipped over.

So from our windows in spring we could look across the pond and terraced lawn to the prunus autumnalis and magnolia stelata in the shrub border below, over the bramley apples flowering in the orchard to the town at the bottom of Bushy Coombe,  to Wearyall Hill, Street Road and beyond.   Everything was framed with trees – John’s growing woodland along Bulwarks Lane on the left, and trees bordering the top of Wick Hollow and the private road leading to Pam and Dick and Hum and Gladys’ houses on the right.   In spring and autumn we – and the Tor – were often in sunshine while the moor was covered in mist and Glastonbury was in a gloom; going shopping, one had to be prepared with a coat.   The sunsets were magnificent, and I always knew when to take in the washing because there was plenty of warning as the storms gathered from the west. 

In the last week of July 1973 we drove to Strontian with the three children.  However, once we got there we put Rob on a train.   He had arranged to travel round Scotland, staying for several days in b & b’s  – there is a note in the diary for Friday 27 July:  “meet Rob at Fort William”, presumably at the end of his trip.   We booked into Kilcamb Hotel, and explored the Ardamurchan Peninsular for the first time – on the recommendation of Vera Osmond as she and her husband had enjoyed a holiday on Morvern the year before.  This was when we visited Sanna beach.   As I have said earlier, it used to take us 12 hours to drive 500 miles from Glastonbury, including spending two hours queuing for the Ballachuilish Ferry before the bridge was built in 1976.   One did not need to queue for the Corran Ferry, which had a notice declaring “This is NOT Ballachuilish Ferry”, as people travelling down from Fort William often made this mistake.
The Corran Ferry in 1985

The bridge under construction at Ballachuilish

Years later when we used to spend our holidays on Skye, we discovered the Kylerhea Ferry.   This crossed the peninsular between the mainland and Skye at its narrowest point and meant turning off the main road at Sheil Bridge and climbing the magnificent Mam Ratagan Pass, before coming down to Glenelg.   On the first occasion as we caught sight of the old ferry, I said in a loud voice “This looks like the Ballachuilish Ferry.” and Donald John McLeod, who ran this as a private venture during the summer months, replied:  “This is the Ballachuilish Ferry.”   It was the last turntable ferry still working in Scotland. 

  However, in 1973 this was not our first visit to Scotland.  You may have noticed that we called our house “Schehallion” after that well-known Scottish mountain “Schiechallion” in Perthshire – I left out some of the more difficult spellings of the name.   When we first built the house in Glastonbury, access was from Bulwarks Lane and we called it “Wick Beech”, although my first choice had been “Bulwick” until a farming friend pointed out the rude connotation!   We extended the house and created a new drive into Wick Hollow in 1962/3 (though building work had to be halted during the Big Freeze).  

For our summer holidays in the sixties, we had put our car on the sleeper train at King’s Cross a couple of times, arriving once in Stirling and the other time in Perth, and staying on both occasions in the Bunrannoch Hotel, Kinloch Rannoch, near Pitlochry.    All five of us climbed Schehallion in gumboots in 1965, but I think we renamed our house after the first visit the previous year, when we had left Ruth behind with Deena and Bry.

We would have liked to retire to Strontian.   However, at the time we were considering this, their nearest general hospital was 100 miles away in Inverness, across the ferry and on a road with passing places, whereas here in Glastonbury we are only about 25 miles away from Taunton and even nearer to Yeovil or Bridgwater. (I think that the hospital at Fort William only dealt with mountain rescue casualities).    Also if we had moved so far north we would have missed family and friends.  And you can’t grow runner beans, as the season was too short, so we decided to stay put.     

This is the range sheet that we produced around 1980, which shows the hand coloured prints business just before we came unstuck the following year.   You will notice that we rebranded ourselves as "Glastonbury Galleries", which was the name of the shop we opened in 1975, instead of "Glastonbury Prints".

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