IN A previous article about shopping in Amersham-on-the-Hill (Nostalgia August 20, 2021), I advised that Amersham Museum was undertaking a project to research and share how local people shopped, consumed, and recycled before plastic packaging and pre-packaged food were commonplace.

I thought I would now update you with some of the stories we have gathered about how and where we used to shop, looking first at Station Parade, Hill Avenue and Oakfield Corner.

The development of the new town around the station was slow to begin and only really took off between the wars. Amersham-on-the-Hill looked very different before WWII and was much greener, as it was still semi- rural with Hill Avenue a mixture of shops and houses with gardens, hedges, and trees. The town centre was still made up of small fields and parcels of wasteland, including one where the current Post Office Sorting Office now stands and another on the site of the NatWest Bank. If you came out the station, the first business you would see in front of you was William Graham’s Station Garage. As well as selling petrol, this was the local dealer for Armstrong Siddeley luxury cars. Next door was Heavens, a sweet shop, tobacconists and newsagents, which supplied commuters with essentials for the journey up to town.

The early 20th century was of course a time when all ladies wore hats and there was a choice of milliners in Amersham-on-the-Hill. The Misses Peck at 1 Station Parade, just below the railway bridge on Station Road were ladies and children’s outfitters, and also sold hats. Later, Miss Finch’s millinery shop opened on Hill Avenue. Most people made their own clothes, so a drapery store was very important. Drapers Meads, and then Bennett & Phillip, which also sold corsets, were based at Station Parade as was the International Tea Company and Stores, a grocery store which had a branch in Old Amersham, and which later moved to Sycamore Road. Fresh items were bought daily before fridges became affordable in the 1960s, with goods wrapped in greaseproof or butcher’s paper. Errand boys on bikes would deliver the heavier items once a week. Shops employed more people to help customers and usually supplied chairs so that their customers could sit down whilst they chose their purchases. Shopping was a social occasion when all the shopkeepers were known by name, and most of the other customers too!

By 1935, at the bottom of the hill, there was Savage’s wet fish shop and the rather wonderfully named Achille Serre. This was a pioneering dyeing and dry-cleaning company founded in London in the 1870s by Parisian Achille Serre. At its peak the company had 400 branches, and the Amersham branch later moved to Sycamore Road where it stayed until the 1960s.

The Express Dairy was also on Hill Avenue and Mr Mitchell was the milkman who delivered daily. Opposite the station, raised up on stilts, on a scruffy bit of land belonging to the Station Hotel, was the office of the coal merchants Brentnall and Cleland.

Early shops on the right-hand of Hill Avenue walking up from the station, included Geary’s musical instruments, Dewhurst’s butchers shop (there in 1928) which later moved to Sycamore Road, another of the town’s many newsagents, tobacconists, and confectionary shops, Aldridges and Hinckley’s greengrocers, rather grandly titled the Chelsea Stores. Shoppers would arrive with their strong hessian bags and Mr Hinckley would weigh out the purchases and tip them directly into the bag.

Nancarrow, later Nancarrow & Temple was a well-known tailors, which arrived in the 1930s and was still there until the 2000s.There was also Bennetts shoe shop. Mrs Bennett always wore her hair in a style which was commonly known as “earphones”! This was when the hair was plaited, wound round, and pinned on either side, a bit like Princess Leila in Star Wars! Miss Prouty, who worked at Victor Moons, a ladies and gentleman’s outfitters at Oakfield Corner, had the same style until she cut her hair short and became very smartly dressed. Kathleen Graham’s was a café, cake shop and patisserie where the Frost partnership is today, and was an Amersham institution from the 1930s until the end of the 1950s. Tickets could be purchased here for the popular Saturday Dinner Dances at the Mill Stream Restaurant in the Old Town. The Co-operative Stores, containing a fishmongers, greengrocers and grocery counter (later The Entertainer and now Metro Lounge) opened next to Kathleen Graham after WWII and Haddock’s record shop brought in the teenagers from the late 1950s.

Around 1935 two landmark buildings were added to Hill Avenue, new offices for the estate agents Pretty & Ellis (now Robsons) and the new bank which is now NatWest. National & Provincial Bank moved opposite from the central shop in Arts & Crafts Oakfield Corner (now the Cancer Research shop) to this smart new building, which was just one storey when first built. The adjoining shops on Hill Avenue were built around the same time but most remained empty until after WWII.

Oakfield Corner used to be terribly smart and on Sunday afternoons everyone would come out in their cars for a drive, which few could drive well. There was no roundabout, just a sharp corner with no road signs, so this became an accident blackspot. Dr Johns and Mr Worrell, who both lived near Oakfield Corner, would sit in their gardens and when they heard the noise of a car crash would both rush out to see who could get there first to help!