Saturday, 20 August 2016


The original Hitchin Woolworth store was built in 1930 at No. 7 High Street (Now Boots).  It was built on land that originally formed part of The Cock public house, which had been there since 1563, and was demolished to make room for its arrival. The rest of The Cock still stands at No. 8 High Street and is a grade II listed building.

F. W. Woolworth's first building in Hitchin. Pat Gadd

F. W. Woolworth was moved to No. 9 High Street (originally No. 7 and 8 High Street – which is a bit confusing) in 1965.

F. W. Woolworth and Co Ltd 1978 Pat Gadd

The history of the later Woolworth site is an interesting one.   From 1823-1961 it was the site of PERKS & LLEWELLYN – the lavender growers (originally Perks.)  They took up the premises in 1823 when the road now known as High Street was known as Cock Street.

Perks and Llewellyn. Pat Gadd

Some original lavender labels.
In 1790 Harry Perks established a pharmacy in Hitchin, but it was his son Edward a chemist, who, in 1823, laid the foundations for the future industry of planting lavender.
Edward Perks with his wife, Sarah, started their small perfumery business.  The business passed to his son Samuel in the 1940s.  In 1876, Samuel Perks went into partnership with Charles Llewellyn.  The shop was acquired by Richard Lewis by 1907. Eventually he was followed in the business by his daughter Miss Violet Lewis, who was a rained pharmacist.  She ran the business from 1930 to its closure in 1961, and demolition in 1964.

The shop’s interior was saved by Violet Lewis and she housed it in an annex in her house in Lucas Lane – and schools and groups would visit.  By 1990 the chemist shop was moved to Hitchin Museum and was officially opened in May of that year.  Following the closure of Hitchin Museum the shop will be erected at North Hertfordshire Museum in Brand Street when it opens later this year (2016).   Remaining objects, not put on display at the museum, will find a home at  Hitchin Lavender.

In Victorian times Perks & Llewellyn lavender products were used for all manner of things: 2 drops of pure lavender oil would have been taken on a lump of sugar to relieve symptoms of wind. Lavender Water would be put into ladies’ baths and gentlemen would shave with Perks Lavender Bloom Shaving and Toilet Soaps.

Behind the High Street shop, women and children would remove the stalks so that the flowers were ready for the still.  The accumulated smell of lavender was sometimes unbearable.
Boys were employed to climb in a still of lavender and trample it down, as it was being loaded for distillation.  Bees, drunk on the smell, would make the lives of the boys miserable, and it was common for the lads to get numerous stings.

The final of Violet Lewis’s lavender fields at the top of Lucas Lane was dug over and replaced with a cabbage field.  But the Lavender Farm is a great reminder of how important lavender was and still is to Hitchin.

In 1964 the old shop was demolished, and the new Woolworth was built on the site.

When F. W. WOOLWORTH opened in 1965, ghost stories followed.  Many members of staff and the public reported a very strong smell of lavender in the store.  There were also reports of a women dressed in Victorian clothes mounting a non-existent staircase diagonally across the store.  It is believed that there had been a staircase in the same place in Perk's & Llewellyn store.   Some named the spirit ‘The Lavender Lady’.   It was also alleged that two ladies in old fashioned clothes were seen to walk around the shop while the public did their shopping.
A manager of the store had a strange experience.  She was the last to leave and locked up and empty store.  Later her phone rang. When she answered there was nobody on the line, but she discovered the call was from the Hitchin shop.  On returning there was nobody there.

I don’t recall ever seeing a ghost, but I remember the original store clearly.   There was a restaurant at the back on the far right with tall stools, where you could sit along the serving counter.  At the front you could buy sweets. It was easy for children to stick their hands in and pinch a few (not that I ever did).  The shop assistants would stand in the middle of the counters, surrounded from each side.   Later, Woolworths was the place to buy records. I recall the record counter being at the front and the back of the store, at different times. 

An old employee was telling me the other day, that she had to take a test to work there.  She worked on the make-up counter, and said you needed to be able to add up the items people bought in your head.

In December 2008 the Hitchin store closed along with all the Woolworth stores nationwide, and in May 2011 the former F. W Woolworth’s was split into two stores.

Monday, 21 March 2016

Hermitage Road, Hitchin

Frederic Seebohm, who owned ‘The Hermitage’, a Victorian house facing Bancroft, donated part of his garden for the construction of ‘New Road’, which opened in 1875. The road linked Bancroft to Walsworth Road, and improved travel from the town centre to the railway station. 
            Seebohm built an underpass from the Hermitage gardens to his private woodland in Rawling’s Dells (Rawlings Dell was named because Windmill Hill was once Rawling’s Hill).  Rawling’s Dell later became Woodside Open Air Theatre.

            The footpath now between Hermitage Road and Portmill Lane, by the River Hiz, was once part of Seebohm’s Garden.  
            Later, the road was renamed Hermitage Road, and it was in the mid-1920s, that John Ray Ltd of Letchworth built shops, flats and offices there, including The Hermitage Cinema in 1932, and The Hermitage Halls which opened in 1925.
Around this time, box trees that were planted in King Edward IV’s day, and once part of The Hermitage’s garden, were removed.
The Hermitage Ballroom was successful in the 1960s under the management of Toni Avern of The Barron Knights, and Eric Clapton, Acker Bilk, Bob Monkhouse, Des O’Conner, The Searchers and The Cream were just some of the acts who appeared there. In the 1970s a Saturday morning disco called The Outlook Club was held there, and in 2007 it became the nightclub Remix.  Since 2011, it has been the restaurant Hermitage Rd & Co.
Sadly, not all buildings survived. The Hermitage Cinema disappeared in 1963 – the last performance being ‘Heavens Above’ with Peter Sellers in 1962, and P.H. Barker and Son, a timber merchant whose Tudor-style frontage was once a feature of the road, met its fate in 1962. The Post Office and Savings Bank was built on part of the yard’s site and opened on 12th February 1962 (moving from Brand Street), but was recently demolished to make way for a Premier Inn. 
Many shops have come and gone through the years. Some may recall Hidgcock, Peter Jones’, The Red Shoppe, Allam’s, Rumbellows, Caves Cafe and Braham and Co, to name a few.

Today, Hermitage Road is a busy thoroughfare, and boasts an array of thriving shops, cafes and restaurants.

Monday, 15 February 2016

No. 14 & 15 Market Place. George Spurr, Churchgate

In 1878 No. 14 Market Place was run by Joseph Perry a linen draper. 

George E Spurr went into partnership with Mr Perry between 1886 and 1890, and 14 Marketplace was known at this time as Perry & Spurr.  It was in 1899 it became known as George Spurr. 

In 1901 George E Spurr was 42 years of age and lived on the shop’s premises with his wife, Ethel, their 3 daughters and 5 sons. Three of their sons, Anthony George, Douglas Bateman and Walter Guiness, died in the WWI. Their names can be found on the Hitchin Grammar School WWI Memorial, which is a stained glass window in the Boys’ School Library, Grammar School Walk.

Next door to George Spurr, was No. 15 Market Place. It was a much larger shop and originally run by Campion Dawson, and known as Dawson.  From 1878 to 1899, the shop was run by his wife/widow. In 1899 the shop was described as ‘Market House’, and at this time Mrs Campion Dawson boasted that ‘their thoroughly practical assistants execute all orders’. Later the shop was run by Hannah Dawson, who I think must have been their daughter.  
Perry & Spurr next to Dawson.  (Pat Gadd-Thurstance)

In 1910 George Spurr bought Dawson, and his shop became a much larger department store that almost stretched the length of one side of The Market Place.

On 4th November 1960 George Spurrs reopened after extensive refurbishment.  

In 1965 it was taken over by a Welwyn Department Store (which I believe later became John Lewis). At some point in the history of the shop Spurr became Spurrs. I can't be sure when.

Although the front façade of George Spurrs was good on the eye, behind the shop frontage was a cluster of buildings that stretched almost to the river.  

George Spurrs closed just before its demolition. (Pat Gadd-Thurstance)
In 1972/3 the buildings were demolished to make way for Churchgate,  I don’t think anyone would disagree, that Churchgate was a huge disappointment when it was built. 

There has been talk for several years about transforming Churchgate. There has even been discussions on an independent cinema for Hitchin to be built on the site.

Saturday, 6 February 2016

Film of Hitchin Market in 1956

I couldn't resist linking this wonderful little film to my blog.  It's an amateur film taken of Hitchin Market in 1956.  I looked out for faces I knew, but sadly didn't see any.  But its worth a look. The 6D striped humbugs made me smile.

Click HERE to have a look.


History of The Angels (once The Angels Reply), Bedford Road, Hitchin

The public house The Angels Reply, on Bedford Road, Hitchin, had a grand makeover in 2014, and became known as The Angels.

The Angels, Bedford Road, Hitchin

The Angels Reply was built as a replacement for The Angel Vaults, a pub that stood in Sun Street (number 3) (formally Angel Street) until it was demolished in July 1956.  The date 1450 was embossed on the façade of the old inn, but it was most certainly older.

The Angel Vaults, Sun Street, Hitchin

When McMullens built The Angels Reply, they installed the old mirror which had been a feature in the bar of the Angel Vaults.

The Mirror taken from The Angel Vaults.

The Angels is built on the site of Nutleigh Grove House which was a building of considerable age.
The gate that led into Nutleigh Grove House via Bedford Road. Road is heading towards Ickleford. 

The Angels Facebook page:  HERE

Another nod to the former Angel Vaults is the recently opened Angel Vaults Inn in Sun Street, which was previously the Conservative Club.  The new Angel Vaults Inn is a Wetherspoon.  Their website can be found HERE

Monday, 18 January 2016

James Bay and Hitchin

James Bay’s an extremely successful singer-songwriter.   Best known for his singles ‘Hold Back the River’ and ‘Let it Go’ and his album ‘Chaos and Calm’.

In 2015 he won the BRIT’s Critics’ Choice Award.  Info on his other awards can be found HERE  and his official website can be found HERE

James Bay was brought up in Hitchin and went to the Hitchin Boys’ School – and is clearly proud of his home town of Hitchin as seen below.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

No. 26 Market Place, Hitchin, Hertfordshire

No. 26 Market Place (a grade II listed building) has been the home of Millets, an outdoor clothing and equipment store (previously situated at 35 Bucklesbury) since 2002.

The building from 1893-1901 was a grocers and Italian warehouse, my the name of MELIA & CO.   And from 1909-1933 it was LIPTON LTD - also a grocers.

Below both windows of the shop are the words 'The Book House', and the building was indeed 'The Book House' (a bookshop) between the years 1959-1965.   In 1965 Mr Eric T Moore bought 'The Book House' from Mr Donne-Smith, along with Mr Willman's picture framing business.  The shop was moved to 24 Bridge Street and renamed Eric T Moore's Book Shop. It is still there in 2015 under different ownership.