St Paul's News

July/August 2003

Our attention falls, this month, on Denny Bottom.

It is an area that still attracts visitors fascinated by the distinctly individual character of its buildings. Some abutt the street or access footpath, others cling to the steep slopes of the natural indentation in the land, whilst a few at the bottom of the hollow are visible only to the keenest-eyed observer.

This picturesque scene of a densely populated area owes much of its origins to the purchase of small plots by numerous people in the 1840s to 1860s from Messrs Friend Pearless, Wightwick and widows David & Truseler. The new owners built houses and terraces of cottages and their residents needed food and other everyday requirements. Hence, probably by 1870, someone would have showed sufficient enterprise to commence trading from the front room- of their dwelling. Unfortunately, the records lack sufficient detail to identify when, where and by whom the first shop was opened.

The businesses in Apsley, Lower and Upper Streets will be dealt with on another occasion, leaving us to concentrate here on the main thoroughfare, Harmony Street.

No 9 was a Dairy from at least 1893 - owners being Martin, Whiting, Stokes and Sawyers. In 1908, the shop became a Greengrocer - lan Barnett, G Blackford, W M, J Lockyer. Then, during the Great War, Sam. Richardson and 1923, F J Piper until 1931. It would seem the business changed to General Stores with RH. Hollamby and, briefly, J Wilding until 1936, Chas Holmwond, who continued into the 1950s, if only selling sweets to children.

The property then reverted to residential use an echo of earlier events at No 10. For about a year in 1905, this had been a Butcher - F Austin - possibly the only such establishment in the neighbourhood. Where did the residents purchase their meat? How well was No 10 equipped as a butcher? Previously, it had been a boot repair shop for 20 years of Edwin Sefton!

Further down the street, No 16 is known to have been a Provisions Store in 1896 - T Harmes. This trade, together sometimes with greengrocery, was conducted by H Roffe, F Till and then R C Forward (1911-29) and E H Slowgrove (1931-36). The sub Post Office was housed at this General Store during Herbert M. Cotton's long tenure 1937-74. His successor, Parker, continued with General Store until 1982, then retail of wool and baby clothes for a couple of years before the property returned to residential use.

The premises opposite the Toad Rock Retreat, which have recently undergone major conversion to private residences, have a long history of General Stores. The sub Post Office was also located here, except for the period mentioned above. The first recorded shopkeeper is Walt Vernon, 1886-1910, during which period it is probable that bread was baked at the rear of the premises. Otherwise, again, there is no other known bakery in the neighbourhood. Following three quick changes of ownership up to 1914, A W Divall remained until 1924, followed by G F Sheath until 1933. This saw the arrival of Alf Morphett, who served the community for 40 years. Changes outside of the area probably account in the main for some five different owners in the past 20 years of the life of this shop.

It seems that the circle is complete. Once again, Harmony Street is totally residential. However, why not pause to reflect on the days at the beginning of the 20th Century when ladies in long flowing dresses carried wicker baskets of shopping in muddy streets that only occasionally witnessed a horse and cart, a cyclist or young lad wheeling his iron hoop - long before home refrigeration or today's ready-prepared foods!

Dennis Penfold
Rusthall Local History Group