Thursday, 18 April 2013

Chapter 9 1975 continued

When I go down to the office at 5A on the morning of Friday 5 September, I find everyone in a great state of excitement.   “Tony has found some bottles hidden away in a cupboard at Number 10”.   Our manager had been checking up the shop fitting arrangements and decided that he would investigate a cupboard under the stairs.   Finding that the last few feet in the toe of this cupboard had been boarded off, he prized this open too and there they were, eleven half gallon jars of brandy and gin which must have been squirreled away by one of the Barrett brothers who owned the property before the war.
Photo of Tony Osmond by Brian Walker for Central Somerset Gazette 11/09/1975

Most of the corks had rotted and the contents had evaporated;  what was left of the gin tasted terrible but the dregs of brandy were delicious.   I only have two (empty) bottles left and their labels are now illegible, but we put one or two bottles back into the cupboard with copies of the publicity, boarding it up again for posterity behind the shop fitments.   I  recently gave the one with the best label to the Rural Life Museum.       “Why don’t you write to Gilbey Vintners and tell them about the bottles,” said Tony, so I did, with swift reaction.   We were visited by Mr. Brierley (Gilbey’s area manager) and a member of the Vintner’s Company as a result during the autumn.   As we had no reception area at 5A and there was no room in the tiny office, we had to entertain these illustrious guests in the corridor, where we stood sipping brandy from our coffee mugs.   We donated two bottles for their museum at Tring and they provided us with all the sherry for our huge opening parties in November - and we were able to buy the wine at trade price, so it was a reasonable deal.

Number 10 High Street, together with Number 8, had comprised The White Hart Inn Coaching Inn from 1650 to 1850, when it had been converted into shops and the Assembly Rooms had been built on the former stables.   The small side window fronting onto the High Street had been where one took the post – and presumably collected any which had been delivered to Glastonbury that day.   A General Directory dated 1840 states that coaches from Bath and Bridgwater travelled daily, calling in at The White Hart Inn in Glastonbury.

In 1685, 6 rebels were hung from the inn sign following the Monmouth Rebellion, one of whom was John’s six times great grandfather Thomas Bryant, a Quaker from Greinton   A snuff box, now in the Blake Museum in Bridgwater, was presented to the Duke of Monmouth to Thomas Bryant of Greinton Gate Farm, after he sheltered in “a poor shepherd’s dwelling”on the night before the Battle of Sedgemoor..   John’s father, Bry, had produced a Morland family tree a few years previously, going back to the late 16C when he still lived in London and could visit Friends’ House, where all the Quaker records are kept, so he was able to extract this information.  

Apparently the smell of the rotting corpses put off the customers in the White Hart and they all went across to the George & Pilgrim instead.   When Somerset celebrated the Pitchfork Rebellion in 1985, we organised another “hanging” with the assistance of the Civil War Society and a very good dummy, made by Sue Palmer of the Assembly Rooms;  John painted the White Hart sign and some of us dressed up for the occasion.   This figure was so realistic that a lady taking her children to school the next day came into the shop and complained that it frightened the children, so we had to take it down!   (see photo which includes Jim Bobbett, our Town Crier in the 70’s, with John Brunsdon and myself dressed appropriately.)

To return to Barrett Brothers, Adrian Pearce’s mother, who was related to that family, very kindly gave us copies of some lovely ephemera concerning their shop, which the family had occupied from 1898 until they sold it to Boots the Chemist in 1939.   There had certainly been a restaurant on the first floor above the shop and I think they must have used the billiard room at the rear as well, since one of the advertisements states “Spacious Room for Schools and Picnic Parties, to seat 400.”  

Funnily enough they also owned Number 7 High Street, both of which properties opened as gift shops within a few months of each other.   We opened our gift shop in November 1975, but Michou and Martin Godfrey had already opened Gothic Image at Number 7 in August. (Some years later, Jamie and Frances George took over the shop and they still run it today).   I said to Michou:  “When people come into my shop and look astonished, I send them across the road.”   Michou replied:  “We do the same.”   I used to say that we ran the alternative alternative shop.

Ruth reminds me that she was with us when we prized open the locked door of the “Ice House”, which was situated in the open alleyway beneath the billiard room, and found that it contained collapsed shelves containing rotting records, which we found out later had been lodged there by the old Glastonbury Borough Council whose rating office was above the Gas Showrooms at Number 8.   Amongst these was the Glastonbury Invasion Committee War Book, prepared by the Home Guard about thirty years earlier, some time during the later stages of the war  – unfortunately it is undated.   I have given the original copy to the Antiquarian Society Library.  

It is a marvellous social history with names of many people who were familiar to me when we first came to live here in 1952.   It listed 3 cars which would have been available in an emergency, one belonging to Mr Meyers, headmaster of Millfield School and another to Mrs. Pinnegar, our doctor’s wife.  And there were 3 tractors, one of which belonged to Henry Tinney’s father at Cradlebridge Farm;  Henry told us at the time we found this document that he still had that old tractor.   There were also piles of old invoices, together with two bills for drinks provided by HP Colmer, Avalon Restaurant, 10 High Street for the Coronation Luncheon (£23.0.7p) and Tea (£15.1.6d) held on May 18 1937 (see the invoice).   By the mid 1930’s a son-in-law of the Barretts had taken over the business, hence the change of name to Colmer.

The rear of Number 10 was purchased by our youngest daughter, Ruth, in 1992.  Together with Elizabeth Chaffey, she ran “Glastonbury Framing” there for a few years.  When the Chaffeys retired and moved to Crete in 2004, Ruth took over the framing business.   In 1998 when we had closed the shop and sold the front part of the property, she used our trading name “Glastonbury Galleries”.

During this exciting year, we also continued with family acitivities, fetching the children from school or college;  attending NFSE meetings;  visiting friends – there are lots of appointments with people in the diary, many of whom I cannot recall.   There are meetings about Glastonbury’s Twinning with Bretenoux and we are visited by Sergeant Cook on 8th September with advice on security for the shop.  The next day we discuss the possibility of taking over the Assembly Rooms with our staff at the Old Ciderhouse.   A couple of weeks later we are visited by Mr Leo Garvin, our landlord and his companion Mrs. Beirholm. 

Michael Watts of Clifton Studios in Bristol design our advertisements in local and gift trade newspapers and John goes fishing with old friends Frank Campbell (our dentist) and Vigo Weidemann.   It looks as if we are also meeting artists whose work we propose to display in the shop, including Paul Branson and Michael Cooper.   We have even joined the Bristol Chamber of Commerce in order to tap into their advice on exporting John’s pictures.

My job in the office was probably dealing with the sales agents, sometimes visiting them in their areas across the country;  twice a year, at the beginning of the new season, I would write “Dear Customer” letters to all the shops we supplied – 500 of them by the end of the 70’s.   Vera Osmond’s job was keeping a record of the accounts while her husband Tony, who was our manager, oversaw the workshops and made sure that supplies of raw materials were in hand.   John was mostly working at home (though he did visit 5A and the Old Ciderhouse at regular intervals), producing new drawings.   He would take these to Radstock Reproductions who transferred them to printing plates, which John would arrange to deliver to Bigwood & Staple in Bridgwater.

John was also training new hand painters, presumably at home – later he would undertake this in the Billiard Room at the rear of Number 10.   Natasha Smith started as painting supervisor in December 1974 and her hourly pay by the time we made Glastonbury Prints employees redundant was £1.68.   (The girls in the framing department earned £1.13 per hour and Vera £2.29, while Tony was earning £3.62 in the end.) 

All three of our children have contributed to the business over the years.   Julie designed two ranges for G.Prints;  first of all the black and white “Idle Fancies” and then the hand coloured “Animal Friends.”   She also helped in the shop at Christmas on at least one occasion and both girls would accompany us to trade shows (principally Harrogate in the summer holidays).   Rob with his technical ability began by bringing back our first adding machine from Reading Dump and then when we expanded the shop in the 80’s, he installed three security cameras.

Returning to the autumn of 1975, we were introduced to Eric Lewin, who worked for Clarks on shop display.   He came to Number 10 one evening and dressed our windows ready for the opening of the shop on Saturday November 1st.   He continued to dress our windows on a regular basis for about 10 years, creating lovely displays especially for occasions like Easter, the Glastonbury Carnival and Christmas.   I can’t remember how often, but we would also have changed things around ourselves every week or two as well.  Later, Ruth gradually took over the mantle after she came to work for us as our manageress in 1983.   In 1986 she won a national window dressing competition and the prize was a fortnight’s holiday in Japan.   Mother went too.

I remember we sold a china tea set from the window display during that first week of opening and then what on earth could we put in its place?   We didn’t have another one!   My budget for buying gifts for our new shop at the Harrogate Gift Fair was only £2,000, when I probably bought a little Royal Worcester China, some Dartington Glass, maybe some Caithness Glass, Woods of Windsor and Crabtree and Evelyn, and Camden Graphics cards among other products.   About a decade later we had over 80 suppliers.  

Eric had recommended buying display stands from a small business in Ashcott, which we needed for our windows and for the alcoves against one of the walls.  For further display in the shop we invested in a couple of large cabinets and perhaps two card racks, while the table which housed the second hand till and a pile of tissue paper was covered with a velvet cloth.   Next to the till was a telephone, one of several installed throughout the building;  the others were in the workshop and the offices which were above the shop, and one was in the billiard room at the back.   I remember the GPO engineer complaining that the latter was 70 or so feet from the connecting box!   This also served as an internal communication system.

In those days there was no Sunday Trading and we also observed early closing on Wednesday afternoon.   Tuesday was always busy, as it was market day – the farmers would bring in their livestock to the pens which occupied land beyond what is now St John’s Car Park, very often driving the animals through the streets. while the wives would come into the town to do their shopping.   One lady from Crannel Farm was always smartly dressed with hat and gloves.   A certain farmer would come in smelling strongly of stale milk and worse and we had to ventilate the shop after he had gone.

We took on Pat Grinter, wife of John  (who was in charge of the Old Ciderhouse) as our manageress and employed a “Saturday girl”.   These usually stayed with us for a couple of years from age 16 to 18 before moving on to higher education – we once even employed a “Saturday boy”.  I didn’t work regularly in the shop during the week as I was based in my office, but I was always on call if required.   A few years after we opened, I happened to be behind the counter standing in for Pat, and a customer commented:  “Has the shop changed hands then?”   On another occasion I happened to serve Kate Adie, the well known BBC reporter.   She produced a gold credit card and I wasn’t quite sure how to deal with this, as I had never handled one before.  In those days one used a machine to impress the card onto a paper receipt and then we had to ring up, in front of the customer, and obtain a confirmatory number.   I decided that this wasn’t necessary.  Her purchase went through without question.

We decided to hold two opening parties for friends in the week before the shop opened, assisted by our staff (did we buy in the refreshments from somewhere – remember that Gilbeys helped us out with wine and sherry).  I have recorded that 43 people came on the evening of Tuesday 28 November and over 60 on Thursday.   At that stage, renovations had not been completed and there was no electricity on the top floor, but we allowed small groups of people to explore with torches and candles and even venture into the Assembly Rooms through the connecting door in the Billiard Room..   The shop opened on Saturday 1 December.

Vernon Smart was PRO of Clarks.   Over a decade earlier when I was PRO of Strode Theatre, helping John  Lowe the manager when the theatre first opened in 1963, Vernon was giving us advice about publicity.   On one occasion it was arranged that we would meet him in a room behind the Bear Hotel, which was teetotal in those days.   He brought a Gladstone bag, from which he produced three wine glasses and a bottle and we sat sipping wine while we discussed business.   Cousins Sarah and Roger Clark would have turned in their grave!   Unfortunately I didn’t know at the time that he was something of an alcoholic.

He was a good friend nevertheless;  when we bought Boots he gave me a china bedpan (which I still have) and made suggestions about our opening party invitations which are in the form of a prescription as you can see.   I had also invited the Managing Director of Boots and here is his witty reply.   And Jean Pike’s lovely poem. 

We hold a dinner/dance for our staff in Friday 5th December in the Star Hotel, Wells, which included the hand painters.   It was our 24th wedding anniversary on the 14th  .   (but no mention in the diary of a celebration).  G.Prints close for a week over Christmas, though  the shop would only have closed on Christmas and Boxing Day.   On Sunday 28th December we and the three children go to stay with Deena and Bry (John’s parents) in Hampstead for three days and go to “The Nutcracker” in the Royal Festival Hall.  

There is a note in the diary to say that I musn’t forget Meals on Wheels on 6th January.   And the dates for the Torquay and Birmingham Trade Shows next year are noted – this will be the first exhibition to be held in the newly completed National Exhibition Centre.

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