A plum spot on the Great North Road meant that the small market town of Baldock in Hertfordshire became an ideal staging post for people journeying north from London. From the 17th century onwards it was chock-a-block with coaching inns, stables, maltings and breweries. Amongst the pubs (which are still plentiful) some interesting historic shops can be spotted.
Tailor’s Shop, 7 High Street
John Phillips (1835-1910) had opened a tailor’s shop on Baldock High Street by 1866, when he was listed in the Post Office Directory. This beautiful late Victorian shopfront – surely the finest in the town – may have been installed when his son, also named John Phillips (1864-1929), entered partnership with his father. Its outline appears on the 1898 OS map.
Phillips’ shopfront projects (or encroaches) into the street. The windows hold expensive sheets of plate-glass with curved corners framed by slender, decorative colonnettes. Lettering on the glass door identifies the shop as: ‘Tailors and Outfitters’. Although the family lived at the property, one of the upstairs rooms was set aside as a tailoring workshop.
In 1930 the shop was sold to a Mr Anderson of Baldock for £1,570. Now it is a branch of Day’s, a local bakery chain founded in the nearby village of Ashwell in the 18th century.
Two Stationers’ Shops, 18-20 Whitehorse Street
This pair of houses on Whitehorse Street was gentrified by the addition of a neat brick façade in the mid-Victorian period. In the 1870s No. 20 belonged to a retired solicitor, Charles S. Cautherley (d.1877). After Cautherley came James Brown (1844-1928) and his family.
Brown was a man of parts. As well as being the local Postmaster, he was a solicitor’s clerk, a local councillor and a stationer. His shop served as Baldock’s Post Office. On 1 January 1882 Brown expanded his interests by taking over a business previously conducted on the High Street by a ‘stationer, book and music seller, printer and bookbinder’ named Samuel Thody.
When a new Post Office opened on Whitehorse Street in 1910, Brown retired as Postmaster but kept his shop going. Edwardian photographs reveal that the double property (Nos. 18-20) had just one shopfront (now No. 20B) instead of the present three. A window occupied the position of the middle shopfront (No. 20A), with a bay window and the main entrance to No. 18 on its right. Brown’s shop must have occupied the present-day No. 20B, which probably dates from the 1870s.
Brown’s unmarried daughter Bertha, a music teacher, lived on at No. 20 after her father’s death. The old shop at No. 20B became a hairdresser’s, run by a Miss E. Rose (1939), and later by Harry Derrick (1942).
Intriguingly, by 1939 a new newsagent’s and stationer’s shop – perhaps the successor to Brown’s business – had opened in No. 18. This belonged to Francis G. T. Reed (1878-1944) and his wife, Henrietta (1886-1967, neé Combley). Francis had started out as a journalist but became a newsagent – selling rather than reporting the news. But the shop was in Henrietta’s name and until recently the name ‘H. Reed’ was displayed diagonally across the glass of the door.
The exquisite glass fascia of Reed’s shop survives behind the modern signboard for ‘The Makeup Studio’. It must date from around 1930 despite its Victorian appearance.
Its medieval style – often cultivated by newsagents and booksellers – was echoed in the griffin-like beasts on Henrietta’s glass door, now sadly lost.
Grocer’s Shop, 26 Church Street
Today Church Street (originally Norton Street) is a quiet residential street, congested with parked cars. In the 19th century many of its small houses contained thriving family businesses.
Bearing testament to this is the lovely shopfront of No. 26, now incorporated into a house. Neighbouring businesses included a butcher, a greengrocer and ‘The Eight Bells’ public house.
From the size and style of its arched windows, this shopfront may date from the 1850s or, perhaps, 1860s.
Documents reveal that it belonged to a series of grocers: James Scott (1871); James’s widow, Eliza Scott (1881); George Sherwood (1891) and George Cox (1901; 1911). In 1939 it was known as Harry’s Stores. Today it appears to light somebody’s front room!