IN THE early 1900s plans were produced for a terrace of houses close to Albert Park.

An integral part of the architect’s plan was the inclusion of a small shop. Situated on the corner of Spring Road and Exbourne Road, this was probably the first purpose-built corner shop in Abingdon and became well-known in town as a branch of Rant and Tombs after the business merger in 1924 between George Rant and A E Tombs.

By 1930 the partnership had 10 shops in Abingdon and district, including a second shop on the corner of Oxford Road and St John’s Road. The sub-post office and general store, better known as West End Post Office, was a well-used asset in the area.

Country-wide rationalisation of post office services brought about its demise and closure in 2008. A corner situation was a favoured position ensuring the premises maximum visibility. The western corner of the High Street and the Market Pace was once occupied by the Home and Colonial Stores, a brand founded in 1883.

The shop had a distinctive frontage with large gold lettering and decorative small panes above the plate glass windows.

Posing in front of a window piled high with provisions, the staff in this 1930s photograph are wearing the typical long white aprons of the period. This was an age before pre-packed and conveniences foods, when dry ingredients were all weighed out. Older readers will remember sugar being weighed into strong blue paper bags and the particular aroma associated with a grocer’s shop.

On the corner of Victoria Road and Edward Street George Argyle, who had started out as a dairy boy, set up his own business selling milk. His wife Ellen filtered milk collected from a nearby farmer and measured it out into pint containers. The rest was sold directly from a churn on the back of a cart. Ellen also made butter and cream. George sold his business in 1903 but his name lived on throughout numerous changes in ownership. The business was bought by James Candy who farmed and ran a dairy at Northcourt and became the Argyle and Candy Dairy.

Grocery and provisions shops were once numerous in Abingdon. Backus, on the corner of Lombard Street and West St Helen Street, advertised specially blended ‘Dewdrop Tea’ and ‘Expectation Coffee, Ground from the Finest Oriental Beans’. In the 1950s Cullen’s had three branches in town.

It was not only grocers’ shops which were to be found in these positions. Gibbens the Saddlers straddled the corner of Bath Street and Broad Street until the 1960s. The leather would have been locally sourced from Abingdon’s tanneries. The Gibbens family had a long association with the Abingdon Volunteer Fire Brigade. Horses were not restricted to farm work but pulled delivery carts in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Shepherd and Simpson occupied a large Victorian Gothic building on the corner of Bridge Street and Market Place. Their advertising slogan in the 1941 Who’s Who was ‘A Service not merely a Shop’. This was a quality outfitters and tailors offering the well-to-do residents of Abingdon national labels such as Burberry and Jaeger. This position has been occupied by a succession of menswear shops and is currently a branch of ‘Fat Face’. At the opposite end of the scale was Mrs Wheeler’s small drapery shop on the corner of Mayott’s Road and Ock Street. After his marriage in 1928 her son Wilfred and his wife Florence took over the running of the shop which closed in 1969 chalking-up almost 50 years in business.

When faced with rising competition from supermarket chains, many small shops resorted to longer opening times. The small confectioner’s cum tobacconist’s shop in Bridge Street could always be relied on for staples such as milk or bread after the supermarkets had closed as it catered for the summer boat trade on the Thames. Such shops provided a personal service to their local areas for generations.