Monday, 29 June 2015

Chapter 8 1975

I have reached 1975 and some exciting events are about to take place.   I have been looking at my office and home diaries for this year which, although they only contain “appointments”, are useful guides to what happens next.

Ruth is still boarding at Sidcot, while Rob attends Plymouth Technical College and Julie is at the Somerset College of Art, so there is lots of going backwards and forwards arranging their visits home in the holidays and trips to London to stay with John’s parents, Deena and Bry.   Everyone – including my in-laws – would have spent Christmas with us at Schehallion and now on Thursday 2 January I see that we hire a van from Abbey Garage (which used to occupy the site now Heritage Court in Magdalene Street) and start moving into the Old Ciderhouse, Back Lane.

Glastonbury Prints now occupies 4 rooms on the first floor at 5A High Street and we are preparing for the spring trade shows – John and I are off to the Torquay Gift Fair on Saturday 12 January “after putting Whisky and Soda into kennels”.   Have I mentioned our naughty beagles before?   As the old Rosetor Hotel was going to be demolished, our group of exhibitors under the umbrella of Sheriff Textiles has moved to the San Remo Hotel (see the leaflet which we would have posted to all our customers before Christmas).

Then on Saturday 1 February we leave for the International Gifts Fair, Blackpool, where, as before, we occupy a 10 ft square stand on the top floor of the “Talbot Hall” – the multi-storey car park swathed in waterproof material and adapted for this purpose.   As usual, the weather closes in as we drive north, but we manage to unload all our boxes of framed prints and carry them up the very steep and long flight of stairs.

This trade show (together with Torquay) was mainly organised by Trade Promotion Services (TPS), which was a commercial offshoot from the Giftware Association.   The secretary of TPS, Harry Polley, had discovered that we were Quakers, and visited our stand, pouring out his troubles.   Apparently Elkan Symons, who was the President of the Giftware Association, had taken the bold step – without consulting his membership – of booking the International Gift Fair next year in the National Exhibition Centre, Birmingham.   This was to be the opening event at the NEC, shared with the Hardware trade, and seemed a reasonable move to us considering the poor quality of places like the Talbot Hall where, in the loos, the water condensed off the ceilings and dripped on top of one … and John was so cold he wore his pyjamas underneath his suit.   But the members were furious.   They loved Blackpool, ;enjoying staying locally in the hotels and meeting up after the day’s show.   They did not want to move!

During the show we would have met lots of new customers including the odd export.   When were we first contacted by Monsieur Dumont of Paris?   And our agents will have taken turns in manning the stand as usual, advising us on whether we should open a new account with a certain shop in their area, making sure it did not compete with an existing customer.   I think I used to try and keep to one outlet in a town up to about 10,000 population.  We were arranging with a Mr Barnet to appear in his mail order magazine and at some point we became involved with “Made in Europe”, which included a complete Glastonbury Prints colour catalogue in their publication and we were able to buy copies of this insert for our own use (our first one in colour).  

Returning home with lots of orders ahead, I see that we are also becoming more involved with the National Federation of Self Employed, attending a meeting in the Johnson Hall, Yeovil on Wednesday 26 February, and three weeks later we catch a coach to London to participate in a demo regarding pensions and benefits for the self-employed “attended by 2,000 members” – see p 40 of “The Growth of a Business Pressure Group” published in 1999.   I don’t remember any details of this exploit however.

Probably early in March, walking back via the High Street and up Bove Town and Wick Hollow for lunch with John, who worked mostly at home producing new pictures for the range, while I would spend the day squeezed into our tiny office, which I shared with Tony and Vera Osmond, I noticed that sale boards had gone up outside the former Boots the chemist property.   Number 10 had been empty for a couple of years after Boots had moved to Street.   We had been looking vaguely for somewhere else in which to house the workshops and office presently occupying four rooms on the first floor at 5A.   We had even gone round Dr Boyd’s former house, 43 High Street (now Becketts Inn).   In order to obtain planning permission to manufacture goods in the High Street, one had to have a shop selling what was made. I felt that tourists would not make it up so far beyond St John’s Church, although the property had an attractive frontage which could have been developed as a retail outlet, together with a building in the garden which would have housed the workshops.

Anyway, I burst into our house after panting up Wick Hollow and the first words I spoke were: “Number 10 is up for sale”.  Things moved very fast after that.   On Friday 21 March at 4 o’clock we look round the property with local architect Alan Tilsley.   We must have visited our Nat West Bank manager, Mr. Bonner and arranged a loan for the purchase price.  Palmer & Snell were in charge of the sale which was to be a “closed bid”, which we had never come across before.   So with some trepidation we presented Roy Simpson with an envelope containing our bid of £12,500;  Roy took it with a smile, saying “I think it feels warm”. 

As you will see from the enclosed sale particulars, (Palmer,  Snell & Co) the property comprised over 3,000 square feet, with three floors fronting the high street and two floors reaching back to the Abbey wall and abutting the Assembly Rooms.   There was a “flying freehold” over the entrance to the alleyway from the pavement;  a right of way over the alleyway (which was owned by the Abbey Trustees as this had been one of the entrances to the Abbey  through the whalebone arch after the Abbey was purchased by the Diocese in 1907, until the gate was closed in the early 50’s), and another “flying freehold”.   Boots had bought the property from Barrett Brothers in 1939 and had only occupied the ground floor front shop;  the stock room, now occupied by the Pilgrim Centre;  and  perhaps they used the adjoining back room as storage (we expanded this shop area in the 80’s);  I think they must have used part of the first floor above the shop as their rest room.   The downstairs lavatory, which opened out of the stock room, had been created from an old air raid shelter (and has now been changed into a  tiny walled yard).  

The rest of the building was pretty well in ruins;  there was a hole in the roof of the second floor over the alleyway and the rain had caused another hole in the floor of the room below.  The rear of the property had been virtually boarded up since the end of the war.    Some American solders had been billeted in Glastonbury in 1944 before “D-Day” and had used the Assembly Rooms and the back of Number 10 – there was a connecting door between the two properties – for their leisure facilities.   There were tanks painted on the wall of the Billiard Room and “Troop Office – keep out” was just visible under the paint on a door leading to a tiny passage of a room.

The building was a labyrinth on different levels with unexpected staircases, wavy corridors (I used to call the main one on the first floor leading to the billiard room    “the sandy passage” after Beatrix Potter), uneven floors, steps, peculiar attics, and one of the back rooms housed a set of gents urinals left over from the war.  (see the valuation dated 10 October 1975 listing all the rooms).

Planning blight presently affected the last third of the property, together with the Assembly Rooms and the rear of all the buildings from Hanover Square, because the County Council proposed to extend Silver Street (plan herewith, produced by the County Surveyor, Taunton, April 1975). 

This of course was the reason for the low valuation.   We decided, with the aid of our builder Don Cribb, to put the roof in order, decorate the front, renovate the shop and leave the blighted bit alone.   However, planning blight may have been lifted soon after we acquired Number 10 because on Tuesday 12 August we are shown round the Assembly Rooms by Mr. Boggan from Somerset County Council, with the offer to purchase that property for £500.  

We did seriously consider this for our framing workshop instead of the Old Ciderhouse, but following a rather poor survey we withdrew and a group of townspeople stepped in and set up the Assembly Rooms Trust – see Bruce Garrard’s book “Free State”, launched on 6 June 2014.   However, we must have prevaricated over this for the next year or so because John used to go through the connecting door in the billiard room and practise setting up our trade stands in this space.  It must have been when we were preparing for Harrogate Gift Fair one evening in 1976, when I was upstairs in the offices on the top floor at the front of the building and at about 8 o’clock I felt a shiver down my spine.   Something strange had happened to John.   I should have gone to investigate.   An hour or so later he climbed the stairs and announced: “I was nearly killed by a huge piece of ceiling plaster – I could feel the wind as it whistled past my shoulder.”   We were told later that the ceiling was indeed unsafe.   

Planning permission for retail shop with workshops above was lodged with Mendip District Council on 2 May and in September we were granted “change of use of vacant shop to craft workshop and picture gallery”.  On June 3rd Mr. Henzel Thomas of CoSIRA (Council for Small Industries in Rural Areas) came and had a look (we later took out a mortgage with that organisation, see below).   Completion of the conveyance of the property is dated 4 July.   The summer was full of high hopes and excitement.   The builders did a marvellous job, while Eric Wilkins and his father fitted out the shop.   Don Cribb’s men found a charming love letter under the floorboards upstairs where some of the Americans might have been billeted just before D-Day;  it is dated May 1944 from “Ruby”, Fort Laramie. 

  (see the copy which I produced as a card some years later).   We framed the original letter, unfortunately sticking it to the backing board as we didn’t understand about archival storage in those days, and a few years ago I gave it to the Rural Life Museum. 

In between all these events we are attending more NFSE meetings, and visit Mr Judd, manager of Fred Keetch’s framing workshop in Taunton.  Later when the shop opened, we used to farm out our bespoke picture framing service to them, as we only mass produced a limited range of frames and mounts for Glastonbury Prints in the Old Ciderhouse.   We also visit our accountant at Woking again and I advertise in the Gazette for a “shop assistant”.  

John goes down to Bigwood & Staple and Bridgwater, who are printing a new range of pictures, and then on Saturday 19 July we are off to Harrogate Gift Fair.   My note says that we have 32 ft of wall space in the passage at the Crown Hotel.  We found this a very good position as buyers visiting more prestigious companies like Denby, who were in the room towards the end, had to go past us on their way.   

No sooner than we have returned from Harrogate Gift Fair on the following Friday, we have to pack our things for a fortnight’s holiday, leaving on Saturday 26 July, when it would take us 12 hours to drive 500 miles to Strontian including queuing for 2 hours for the Ballachuilish Ferry.   Glastonbury Prints would be closed too for what was known locally as the “factory fortnight”.  We observed Morlands and Clarks holidays as some of our staff had family members who worked for those companies and it made everything easier. 

These are some of the expenses and renovations which took place during the next few months:

Don Cribb & Co Ltd,(builders), 46a Northload Street, Glastonbury                  £5,000                                                       
Timber Decay Treatment, Farmborough, Nr Bath                                                    606
Eric Wilkins, (shop display), 96 Main Street, Walton                                           1,330
David Fear (electrical contractors), Bristol                                                            2,364
J. Barker & Son (plumber), 27 Northload Street, Glastonbury                              1,963
JTS Alarms, Bristol                                                                                                   418
K. Bancroft (carpets), 14 Benedict Street, Glastonbury                                            259
Paul, signwriters                                                                                                          23
Benches, shelves & fitments for workroom, inc. labour                                           824
Painting & decorating – undertaken by our own women employees
   and including 570 hours labour @ £1 hour                                                            775

Total recorded expenses                                                                                     £13,562

In addition of course one needs to add the ridiculously low purchase cost of £12,500  (because of planning blight and the poor condition of the remaining building), and legal expenses etc.   I think our CoSIRA mortgage was probably around £30,000. 

(before and after photos of Number 10)

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