Matthews’ village emporium of delights

Of all memories, recollections of shops are often the most vivid.

I particularly relish the memory of walking past Vye and Sons in Rochester High Street, then the International Stores. Coffee! Spices! Delicious.

Nearer home, however, we had another delightful shop — Matthews’ in Borstal. My thanks go to Sandra Church, who reminded me of its charms. She e-mails me: “I wonder if any of your readers could help me. In the late 1960s I worked in a grocery shop in Mount Road. It was called Matthews’. Two ladies ran it.

“Their mother lived in the bungalow next door and many a time she would give me breakfast as I hadn’t had time to eat. They were lovely people. We only had a cash drawer and a note pad to add up the purchases in those days. I used to bone the ham and slice it. There were foxes in the garden and Miss Matthews always used to say take the ham fat out to the foxes. It was a real pleasure working there. I wonder if anybody knows of any photographs of the shop as I keep telling my family it was my own little Arkwright’s of the day.”

I’m sure many Memories readers will have their own memories of this delightful shop. But first, here are mine.

Sorry, Sandra, but Matthews’ wasn’t entirely like Arkwright’s of Open All Hours f-f-f-ame. That was more of a general store with hardware. Matthews’ started as a dairy.

It was run by Ron Matthews, a nice chap with a moustache. Before the Second World War he kept a dairy herd — as had his father — in the field in Hill Road, just opposite where it turned into Mount Road. My father, as a boy, often helped him bring the cows in for milking.

Mr Matthews’s dairy was at the other end of Mount Road, opposite where it turned into Sir Evelyn Road up to the Borstal Institution. Helped by his mother, he started selling other items from the dairy, from a door at the back of the building. One of my earliest memories was being sent up there on an errand. It was a straight walk and my mother could stand at the gate and see that I didn’t stray.

Mr Matthews’s sister was called René and she had her own greengrocery round before the war, driving a Hillman. Later she served in the shop with Ron’s wife Mary.

René was lovely and always smiling (as she is, centre, in this picture). She knew everyone’s names, particularly the children.

They lived next door in a fairly modern home, which stood on enormous grounds, including an orchard where they specialised, I recall, in plums. Yes — everything was grown locally then.

Mr Matthews was rarely in the shop; his main business was selling fire extinguishers. He had been in the Auxiliary Fire Service in the war. Eventually, the store became self-service and the till was at the front. It shut in late 1970s. I think by that time Mr Matthews had died. The shop was demolished and Cowdrey Close built on the land.

The last time I saw Miss Matthews was in June 1980 when — as a reporter on the Chatham News — I was sent to cover a public meeting at Broom Hill, Strood. She recognised me, we had a long chat and she invited me to visit. I never did, and I regret it.

After publishing this piece in the News, I discovered Miss Matthews had moved to Queen Mother Court in Borstal Road (where I met the QM when she opened it, but that’s another story)  and — with an introduction from Rosemarie Gunstone (née Eldridge), who lived opposite the shop I gave her a call. She was incredibly bright and seemed very happy. She died in August 2008, well into her nineties.

What was your favourite shop? Please let me know here.

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3 Responses to Matthews’ village emporium of delights

  1. bridget hales says:

    Thank goodness someone else remembers this lovely shop; our Sunday walk was across Priestfields and around the prison, stopping at the shop for penny chews or maybe it was closed on Sundays; anyway that was back when it was called Mount Road, Borstal. My two favourite shops were Pullens in Baker Street and Bacon Stores in Clive Road. Does anyone remember them?

    • SteveR says:

      It still is called Mount Road, Borstal, isn’t it? I can also recall a Pullens – think it was in Sidney Road.

      • Jill Grant says:

        Hello Bridget!

        I remember you well from our Baker St/Albert Rd days – and I remember Mrs Pullen’s shop too. Glass jars of sweets and a big old black cat snoozing on the counter. My mum used to call the shop “The Shop at Sly Corner”as she said all the gossip emanated from there. Mrs Pullen would sell single cigarettes, matches and candles to us kids – I wonder if she knew what we wanted them for? (we’d smoke the fags and light our way up the Fort Clarence tunnels with the candles). It was a quaint little shop but I was a bit scared of Mrs P!

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