Monday, 29 June 2015

Chapter 10

In the late autumn of 1975, after all the Glastonbury Prints orders had been dispatched, our employees manfully donned boiler suits and began working on Number 10.

The shop of course had been properly fitted out by professionals and opened at the end of November (see last chapter), but the men now began putting up work benches etc. in the three rooms directly above the shop, ready for our move from 5A, while the girls painted everything including the three offices on the top floor.   (These became our flat after 1981).   I think some tidying up also took place in the Billiard Room at the rear of the property – it is a pity I haven’t photographs of the tanks etc. which had been painted on the walls when the Americans were here before D-Day in 1944.

Another couple of rooms opening off the long back passage on the first floor were made into the rest room and kitchen, the latter being a very narrow slip of a room which bore the words “Troop Office Keep Out” on the door.   The lavatory on the first floor landing was renovated by Eric Lukin’s father, 70 year old Bill Lukins.   For some reason the old ceiling had to be brought down, and here is the photo of Bill, covered with plaster.   It was always known as “Bill’s loo” after that.

There was of course another lavatory on the ground floor which served the employees working in the shop, which Boots must have converted from the old air raid shelter, leading off the stockroom.   We would have employed quite a few people in this building in our heyday, and I think there were more lavatories next to the rest room.

Except for the front shop and the stockroom, most of the ground floor was still unused.   There were four staircases leading up to the first floor with another steep twisting staircase going up to the top floor offices at the front of the building.   The main staircase led from the side door under the alleyway to the first floor landing.   If one walked from the stockroom on the ground floor into what must have been the old kitchen (extended into ground floor shop in about 1980), a tiny staircase led up inside a cupboard to a landing on the first floor where a door opened onto the “sandy passage” (from Beatrix Potter’s Mrs Tittlemouse), which led past the lavatories and rest room to the Billiard Room.   This door had been kept locked by Boots after the war – they just allowed the greater part of Number 10 to become virtually derelict.  

Half way down this passage there was a wooden staircase leading to another derelict room on the ground floor.   Lastly, there was a stone staircase from the Billiard Room down to the open alleyway (over which we owned the flying freehold), which housed the Ice House where we had found the Borough Council records and the Invasion Committee War Book, and the former entrance to the Abbey under the whalebone arch.   It is this part of the building which our daughter Ruth has developed into a flat on the first floor and her version of “Glastonbury Galleries” on the ground floor, next to the Assembly Rooms.

One always had to plan one’s route to various parts of the building and work out which staircase would be most appropriate.

Now it is January 1976 and we must brace ourselves for the spring trade shows.   We hadn’t yet moved everything from 5A of course, as the new workrooms weren’t ready, and the Old Ciderhouse continued to produce frames etc. as before.   Torquay in January as usual;  this was always a good rehearsal for the International Spring Fair, but we faced the unknown with opening in the National Exhibition Centre on Sunday 1 February – the first exhibition to be held in this new venue.   The Giftware and Hardware trades had booked this together, occupying halls 3 and 5 around the Piazza (that’s all there was in the beginning, before the expansion into the huge complex it is today).

On Friday January 30 my diary states “dogs to kennels” and on Saturday the comment reads “Go to Birmingham early”.   We seem to have booked one double room and 2 single rooms in the Standbridge Hotel, Sutton Coldfield, from Saturday January 31 to Wednesday February 4 –which were actually booked well ahead in February the previous year, as we had been warned of shortage of beds in reach of the NEC.   These would have been for John and myself, Tony Osmond and another member of staff – or perhaps for someone like our London agent John Reeder perhaps?

John had prepared detailed plans of our 10 ft square stand which I still have, together with the full scale plan of Hall 3.   There we are on Row K;  it looks as if there must have been around 458 stands altogether.   Sadly, I threw away the trade show catalogues each year when the next year came out.  The two cars were piled high with boxes of framed prints and other material, plus all our luggage of course.   I should add that we did not need to take stands to Birmingham (or to Torquay), because we could attach the pictures to the partition walls, whereas for Harrogate of course when we were in the passage of the Crown Hotel, we had to go provided.  

We drove north on the M5 - was the Avonmouth Bridge completed yet, so perhaps we didn’t need to go through Bristol?  However, the M42 was not yet built and we would have turned off before spaghetti junction and threaded our way east somehow to Solihull and then to the NEC.

Of course all the small exhibitors arrived about lunchtime on the Saturday morning, but TPS (Trade Promotion Services) hadn’t planned for this.   Huge queues of cars and vans piled up on the site, prevented from going any further by the chap in charge who blocked the road and waved us to a halt.    “You will have to go into the car park and carry your merchandise to the loading doors, as there is no more room nearer to the building”, he said, having verified these instructions from a telephone in his little cabin.

We happened to be at the front of the queue and no way could we carry all our stuff any distance – we hadn’t come prepared with sack trucks –so we refused to obey.   To our surprise, the chap wilted at our determination.   When we looked round, we could see why.   A long row of cars and vans, their owners standing in the road shaking their fists, were supporting us.   So we all drove on, parking on the muddy banks at the back of the building as no other space was provided.   After an hour or two, the lights went out in the hall and we were threatened by a loud speaker announcement:  “Unless you move your cars, the lights will not go on again”.

Somehow we must have managed to complete the stand according to John’s plans and retreated to our hotel for a well earned supper.

During the five days of the fair, we would have been supported by our sales agents with a rota set up beforehand, since of course they had to spend some time with all their suppliers who had stands at a particular trade show.   The agents would have a portfolio of six or more “principals” and would be paid on a commission basis for the orders emanating from their areas – even if they hadn’t actually visited the customer.   Ray & Sybil Curtis represented the West Country, but perhaps they didn’t come to Birmingham as they had been well covered by Torquay a few weeks earlier, but John Reeder, whom I have already mentioned, would have spent time with us, as well as Mona Russell, who covered Lancashire and Yorkshire.   Bertram Ellis had begun carrying our pictures in February 1973 around Scotland and the far north and was joined by his son Peter the following year, when they covered 99 customers including the Castle Shop, Inverary;  Fenwicks of Newcastle;  and Gosdens of Tyndrum.   The latter sold our pictures for several years - we would always stop at their visitor centre to top up with petrol and for a cup of tea towards the end of our long drive to Strontian for our summer holiday in Scotland, before tackling Rannoch Moor and Glen Coe.

Here is a copy of the sales account for the Ellises for April 1976 – it looks as if we had constructed these sheets about 3 years previously and I have carefully chosen one where no embarrassing unpaid accounts are listed!  The original form is printed on foolscap paper.   Our staunch young secretary, Linda Garland, would roll off copies of  these forms, using the roneo machine and a stencil which had been  cut on a typewriter – a very dirty job involving lots of ink.

The agents would have been consulted if new customers had approached us, as we had a policy of not opening an account too close to an existing  shop.   My criteria was about 10,000 population per account, which I would check with the help of a handbook – perhaps one produced by the RAC – which gave the size of the towns and villages across the UK.   The Spring Fair was also an important time when one was discovered by export customers;   Monsieur Dumont,  Paris, found us in this way, while the publicity in the trade press would have helped.    

The record of sales at the NEC shows that we took £6,474.69 worth of business from Sunday to Wednesday – there seems to be no record for the last day unfortunately.

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