Until fifty or so years ago every village, and even one as small as a hamlet, could boast of having its own shop. Since then the increasing mobility of people due to car-ownership has led to the steady decline in the number of village shops.

Origins of these shops

For centuries past people living in the countryside away from the towns and cities would have been dependent on itinerant tradesmen for household items they could not obtain locally. Up until the eighteenth century these travellers were known as “chapmen”, terms such as pedlar, hawker or tallyman then being used. These tradesmen would generally travel from one town to another, so as to be in each on their market and fair-days, stopping off at villages as they went.

Probate records (eg wills) indicate that village shops were first established in the late sixteenth century, initially located in market towns, then in larger villages. By the early 1800s there were few villages where retail trades were not present. These were mostly shopkeepers selling general grocery and a wide range of household goods.

The main reason for this growth in the number of local shops was improvements in transport. Turnpike roads, canals and ultimately railways allowed not only people to travel around more easily, but also manufactured products and items from overseas like tea to be more readily distributed.

The village of Flackwell Heath

Flackwell Heath is a good example of the development of the village shop. Originally it was comprised of three distinct hamlets:

Flackwell Heath itself, which is now a conservation area with several retail outlets.

To the west, towards High Wycombe, the hamlet of Heath End

To the east, towards Wooburn, another hamlet, North End Woods, the shop there now being a hairdressers

In Heath End the shop no longer exists, although it did not close until 1989. It was known as Dolly Walker’s shop.

The shop was purchased in 1924 by parents Arthur and Hilda Walker and passed on to Dorothy in 1926. She was always known as ‘Dolly’, so the shop became affectionately known as ‘Dolly Walkers’. Situated in Heath End Road, it was much more than just a haberdashery, being also a general store for groceries, china, paraffin, confectionery and many other things. It was similar to Arkwright’s shop featured in the TV series Open All Hours. Flackwell Heath residents remember it with fondness, especially as it was then the only shop in the village which was open on a Sunday.

Food hygiene was not a high priority for Dolly. Her big black and white cat often slept on the shop counter and when moved aside to serve food, it might relocate to the middle of the cheese display or the top of the bacon slicer. Dolly wore fingerless woollen gloves to handle food and would reach inside the sweet jars to separate stuck sweets before serving them to children. There was no refrigerator, so milk and other perishables were purchased as seen. The corridors behind the shop were always stacked high with old newspapers. A present day Health and Safety Inspector would probably have closed the shop down.

Choosing and buying sweets was a particular pleasure for the many children who went into the shop. They were made to wait on a stool in the corner whilst Dolly prepared the order. Blackjacks and fruit salads were favourites of the children. All orders were jotted down on old scraps of paper using the tiny sharp pencil she always kept tucked behind her ear.

Dolly was married and lived in the house next door to the shop. She played the organ in the local church where she had to sit on a pile of books to reach the keys as she was so short. She was a very feisty lady and some customers found her quite frightening. Despite this she was a much loved character and an ex-Flackwell Heath resident made the recent observation: ‘The central, commercial, social and emotional hub of Flackwell Heath was Dolly Walker and her shop’.

The shop closed in 1989 after Dolly’s death and was demolished in the 1990’s to make way for new homes. Any contents of value saved at closure were put into storage and eventually sold at auction in 2018.


I would like to feature more stories about local village shops. If you remember one in your village please send as much information as you can, plus photographs, to me at the Bucks Free Press, or email deweymiked@aol.com, or phone 01494 755070.


I am grateful to John Gurney to allow me to include his article on Dolly Walker’s shop, which first appeared in the magazine of the Chepping Wycombe Parish Council.