Memories of the 'old shop'

Trewin Brothers exterior 1971
JLP Archive Collection
Electrical department, basement, Queens Road.
JLP Archive Collection
Microwave ovens ready for demonstrating.
JLP Archive Collection
Managers 'dressed up' for the partners Christmas lunch included Denis Rastrick far right front.
From the private collection of Antony Gray

I moved to Watford from a bed-sit in Chiswick in 1958.  After Chiswick, Watford seemed almost Victorian, certainly very quiet.

Small and large goods
Much later I joined Trewin Brothers after seeing an advert in the Watford Observer, and became a Salesman in the Electrical department (small and large goods) and worked in the basement.  Doug Flint was the Department Manager.

In those days, food mixers, vacuum cleaners (Dyson came later) were sold along with cookers, washing machines, spin dryers etc.  However, the stock level in general seemed small.  Fortunately the selection became much larger in the following years.

We used to have great fun
Several of the washing machines were plumbed in so we had to remember to turn off the water before we left the department each night.  Once we used these washing machines to wash the Trewin Brothers football team shirts.  (I forget the colours.) Anyhow, someone who shall be nameless, washed the shirts on too high a temperature!  Needless to say, we didn’t get the shirts to wash again.

I also remember the first microwave ovens arriving in the department, we used to have great fun demonstrating them; putting a glass of water inside, switching on and seeing the water heat up.  Mind you, we had to switch them off quickly to avoid breaking the glass. These inventions are taken for granted now, but at the time they seemed quite incredible.

Selling staff were supplied with bill pads and on the completion of a sale would write out the details and hand the bill to the cashier. (Usually sales people sold, and cashiers took the payment.)

A deck chair on the flat roof
I recall the climb at break times, up the stairs to the top floor Partners dining room (from the basement, remember.)  Yes, I know there was a lift in the China and Glass department; but for some reason I usually climbed the stairs.

After tea or coffee, if it was a fine day, I had five minutes or so in a deck chair on the flat roof.  Not a roof garden but a place to have a chat with other partners in the fresh air.

Help was always at hand
Besides selling we had other duties of course.

The hassle of stock taking and auditing the endless sheets of goods.  Hardware, checking tins and tins of paint in the dungeons (the low underground passages where stock was kept.)  I had to duck being over six feet tall.  The smell of sewers and trying to avoid the rat bait.

However help was always at hand, Marion Hudson dealt with any of our queries.  I worked once or twice on a Sunday stock taking in Radio and Television.  Denis Rastrick was their manager.  The shop opened from Tuesday to Saturday as a five day week.

We sang Carols
Then there were the Christmas dinners, which still continue, I am glad to say. Partners were allowed to bring along a bottle of wine to share with others.  The managers always dressing up for the occasion and serving partners with the festive food.  Sometimes we sang Carols before going back to the shop floor.

On Christmas Eve, I used to bring a bottle or two of home made blackberry wine. The berries hand picked from my allotment. The wine was sometimes stronger than usual but nobody seemed to mind.  It washed down the sausage rolls nicely.
Happy days.  Happy Christmas!

‘Stan, pick up tha’ musket’
During the few weeks before Christmas many departments had a party at various locations.  The Noke Hotel or the Waterend Barn in St Albans were popular.

At one pub in Garston, I brought along to the party my old wind-up gramophone and a few old records; (78 rpm of course – black label, Columbia,) of Stanley Holloway; ‘Stan, pick up tha’ musket’, ‘The Lion and Albert’,and a pop classic ‘Busy Line’.

During the year we had Product Training evenings; held either at the shop or sometimes at the Watford Hilton.

Never Knowingly Undersold
The John Lewis Partnership looked then, as it still does, to be Never Knowingly Undersold.  In those far off days £1-00 [now £2-00] was paid into a partners’ salary for reporting a lower price (undersale) on an item of merchandise from a competitor.

During my lunch hour, after a quick sandwich, I would go off checking on the competition.  There were more electrical shops or electrical departments in Watford then and competing for sales kept the undersale ladies, and myself, quite busy.

Contributions to the Chronicle
I was a frequent contributor to the Chronicle with Christmas and Easter quizzes, ghost stories at Christmas as well as holiday articles.

I had a go at compiling a D-Day quiz which took a lot of researching also a quiz on food.  One of the questions was how to make a Caesar salad?  One of our literary partners knew the answer and he won the prize, a small hamper.  I think he deserved it.

I retired from Trewins in 1990 but continued to send contributions to the Chronicle in the new shop, now John Lewis Watford, at the Harlequin Centre for some time.  Although I am now a retired partner, I still feel part of the family.

Comments about this page

  • Good to read the comments on this page.

    Good memories of Graham Connew. My section manager with Fred England and Mr Pike Department Manager Furnishing Fabrics.

    Met Fred a few years back when he was DM Carpets Cribbs Causeway he was just off with Betty to Australia.

    It was good times at Trewins especially with Graham Connew, always the joker!

    By Graham Millard (30/11/2023)
  • Of course, I remember dear Ron Bettle.  We had many happy times.

    I have happy memories of Greatham Road and the old Trewins.  The video that David Morris took of the old store, moving to the new premises [in the Harlequin centre] and recalling Alan van der Pant’s retirement speech always amuses me.

    By Alice Hermann (25/08/2013)
  • Hello Marion [Hudson].  Remember me?   I worked with you, down in the basement, with Grace.  I transferred to Milton Keynes. Karen.

    By Karen Cole nee Benning (Sharkey) (19/08/2013)
  • The colour of the football shirts was orange, the shorts and  socks were green (sounds awful now !)   The team used to play in the Byron league (which was an inter-branch league) on a Sunday.  We had many exciting and tense games against the likes of Oxford Street and Brent Cross.   Wish I had some photos!

    By Graham Connew (09/08/2013)

    By Jo Bettle (14/08/2010)
  • Frank, although along time ago I will never forget that come wind, rain or shine you would always bound into the rest room to play pool, announce that you were up next (despite a number of ten pence pieces being on the table) and then proceed to open the window even if it was minus ten and a gale blowing, hence the nickname “Fresh air Frank”.  Happy days. Changed a bit nowdays, it costs 50p!

    By Andy Poupart (24/06/2009)
  • How well I remember the sales bills you mention Frank; but, do you remember the green folder they were in?  It contained a card showing discount figures should a Partner wish to make a purchase.  This card was half yellow and half red.  We had to work out the discount in our heads, no such luxuries as todays computers!

    By Marion Hudson (31/03/2008)
  • I enjoyed adding this page to the site. It brought some of my own memories back.

    I also worked with Denis Rastrick. He was by then DM of Furniture and also Toys and Gardening which was in Ebenezer House.

    I wonder who the nameless person is who ruined the football team kit? Anyone willing to tell? What was the colour?

    We seem to have gone full circle on the selling side. We now have banks of tills manned by cashiers to allow sales partners to concentrate on selling. Perhaps some of those old-fashioned ideas were right after all!

    Marion Hudson is still helping, with this memory store site. Thank you Marion.

    The Noke Hotel and Waterend Barn are still going strong.

    The monologues of Stanley Holloway are still available today on CDs. (You might find an old vinyl record at a car boot sale.)

    Caesar salad was invented in 1924 in Mexico by Caesar Cardini but it has only become popular here and on restaurant menus in recent years.

    By Jo Spence (29/03/2008)

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