Ramblings 6. For several years at work I used to receive regular calls from a well known telephone directory. “Next year you won’t be listed if you don’t pay to advertise,” I would be told, to which I would reply, “it will be a very small book then,” assuming it to be a hollow threat. Eventually, of course, it was more than just a hollow threat, and it is indeed a very small book nowadays! Long before any of the surviving directories were introduced in the UK, there was “Kelly’s Directory”. A useful tool in their day, surviving copies now offer a valuable snapshot of the past.
Let’s look back 100 years to the 1915 Kelly’s Directory of Sussex, to see what the business landscape of Midhurst looked like over a century ago. It is very much a tale of local shopping for everyday needs, with six butchers, two fishmongers, three fruiterers and three grocers. There are also indications of a less throwaway society, with five tailors.
Several establishments offered services that are now niche or obsolete, with a boot maker, a carriage builder, a coach painter, a leather seller, a blacksmith, two saddlers and a taxidermist. In the days before car ownership was commonplace, there were five bicycle sellers, but only one petrol seller.
In some ways the town was more poorly served than today, with only two hairdressers (both male), and one “coffee tavern”. Very few companies have survived the intervening 100 years. The only ones from the entire listing that I recognise as still being in the town today are Barclays Bank, the Angel Hotel and the Spread Eagle Hotel, plus a couple of pubs. The retail landscape appears to have been more evenly spread throughout the town. To take the main three shopping streets, there were about the same number of listings in North Street as Rumbolds Hill, but West Street actually offered the biggest range and quantity of shops.
The directory mentions that Wednesday is the early closing day in the town, a tradition that still exists amongst a few businesses to this day. Details are also given for the postal service, with three delivery rounds per day, and collections from the post office a staggering eight times every weekday, the last of the day being at 9.15pm. How times have changed!
The article above was first printed in Envoy, the magazine of Midhurst Parish Church. I am an occasional contributor to Envoy and I am including a selection of my previous articles on this blog to allow them to reach more readers who might be interested in the topics.