Recalls his apprenticeship in the stores of the legendary Barley P Porter.
It was in 1922 , when I was 14 years old, that I went to work for Barley Page Porter. I had just left school and asked him it I could be of any assistance. The shop was in the building which is now the Wine Lodge. He took me on at 4/- (shillings) a week: the hours were 8-7 p.m., 1 o'clock on Wednesdays, l0pm on Saturdays, after which I'd go to dance! You can't imagine it these days, can you? He also owned several cottages, and kept the one next door, which is now the pet shop, as a store, mainly for flour and animal feeds. We sold everything from a pin to an elephant, or so it seemed. There were five more storerooms upstairs, full of tea kettles, saucepans, chamber pots, everything you could possibly need. We sold shoes, trousers, jackets, and he measured for suits. There were only two real shops in the village, Barley Porter's and Broadwater's. There was nothing pre-packed then, and we spent a whole day a week weighing and packing tea, flour, rice, butter, margarine, everything.
There was quite a large staff, about seven of us in all. There were two women on the drapery and millinery counter; they actually made all the hats that were sold, and everyone wore hats, especially to church. The window had to be dressed every two weeks, you filled it up to display the stock, it was an advertisement really. There were two roundsmen with hawkers' licences, who could sell off the van as well as deliver and take orders. You can imagine what the farmers' butter looked like when it had started off at 10 in the morning and had been on the van till 6 at night! The days the roundsmen didn't go out they served in the shop. The vehicles were horse drawn; we had sheds in the yard for the horses, and sheds for the paraffin too.
He was a very good business man, unconventional in some ways! When the demand for one farmer's butter exceeded the supply, he simply had a marker made in Lynn which was like the marker of the popular butter and put it on another brand. The customers were still satisfied. One day a young man from the fen came for a pair of boots: he wanted the best. Barley Porter found him a pair in the right size at 15/11, changed the 1 to a 2, and offered them to him at the special price of 25/- as long as he promised to tell no one. He even made up verses for the handbills he distributed: (Other verses)
There was a woman and her daughter.
Came to visit the shop of Barley Porter,
He said "You'll find some nice things there",
And the bargains really made her stare.
Barley has clothes of every hue,
Serge is of the finest navy blue:
Sports coats, jumpers and stylish hose,
And the very best in underclothes.
The handbills were used to get people to the sales in the Coronation Hall (now the Snooker Hall) which he owned, and we also did sales out of the village, in places like Lakenheath. The tricks he got up to! We can't really put those down here.
Was he a good employer? He let me make progress on my own, although he watched while I weighed out my first bag of sugar to make sure I didn't give too much. He always called people "my old partner", and they seemed to like him. We had two big cellars, one for the butter and the cheese, to keep it fresh, and the other for the wine we sold mainly at Christmas at 2/11 a bottle. We also had a Whitbreads beer licence, and I think he used to drink the beer a bit. Occasionally he would give me a bag and send me to the Cock Inn and I'd have to ask them to"Put something in it for Mr Porter." He wouldn't be available for the rest of the day. The next day he'd say to me "Do you drink? Better not - I've ' just had a lovely cup of Bovril and it's much better." I must emphasise these occasions were few and far between. He was a real character. He retired eventually and went to live in Thetford and lasted well into his nineties.
Mr Hugh Vincent - Part Two (July 1993)
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