The business of generations
Most of the shops and businesses on Village Road have now been transformed into private houses, but with great care for their status as listed buildings and for their history. In some cases these are the histories of families as much as buildings and businesses.
Albert Edwin Wiggins was "one of the best known and most popular residents of Denham.” So said the Uxbridge and West Drayton Gazette of Albert when he died.
Albert was the eldest son of Edwin Wiggins, the village tailor and postmaster. Albert too had been the postmaster for a while but he passed on this responsibility to Sidney Williams at the nearby Grocery and general store. Albert became the village newsagent at Roseneath next door to the Tudor Restaurant. The business was to stay in his family into the present millenium.
Albert married Annie Austen in Wealdstone in 1896. Their daughter, Gladys May was born in August 1897. Gladys was evidently a woman of some spirit. On 1st June 1918 just two months after its formation and giving her address as Roseneath, Gladys joined the Women’s Royal Air Force to work at Denham airfield for the remainder of the First World War. The war lasted five more months. The WRAF was disbanded in 1920. Gladys came to be described as a woman of "cheery optimism" who entered "with zest" into village activities. She was one of the original members of the "ladies choir" at St. Mary's and was associated with the Women's Institute.
Albert incidentally also found time to be the village "cryer", the local voice of the news in earlier times and a natural role for the man who was the village newsagent. Albert appeared in full cryer's regalia when the ancient village fair was revived in 1925. He can be seen here standing next to his daughter Gladys and his two year old granddaughter Valerie.
Gladys had found a husband very close by. In 1920 she married naval petty officer George Evans from the Old Bakery just across the road from Roseneath. George who served on HMS Hercules was resplendent at his wedding in his naval uniform. In 1923 their daughter Valerie was born to Roseneath and it was to be her home throughout her long life.
Sadly Valerie was just 7 when tragedy struck. Gladys died after a two year illness in 1931. But Valerie persisted and became very much part of the village community. In 1932 Valerie was one of the bride's seven attendants “daintily attired in blue chiffon velvet and carrying posies of pale pink asters, with wreaths of pink rosebuds and forget me nots” at the wedding of Charles Seymour and Mary Bronsdon. At an "organisation of ladies" in 1934, "Valerie and a young lady who played a gentleman’s part, put on a graceful show of dancing an old English minuet to great appreciation and applause." As a pupil at the village school, Valerie excelled that same year winning prizes in needlework and knitting.
After Albert Wiggins died in 1937 his son in law George Evans kept the newsagent's business going at Roseneath. He was followed by Valerie who continued in business until into her 80s. Valerie's shop had become more of a village institution than just a shop. It is said that Madelene Paton for example insisted that one of her neighbours should buy a daily paper from Valerie even though the family had a paper delivered to their home from another local newsagent and he would have a paper at his office in London.
Valerie died on 29th June 2014 just 19 days after her 91st birthday. A plaque on the wall of St. Mary's churchyard identifies her as the "Village Newsagent". That simple tribute does no more than hint at four generation of business in the village community stretching back over 140 years.
Valerie's newsagent and sweet shop at Roseneath is now one of the two Spinning Wheel Cottages. This interesting pair of two storey cottages are angled as they turn the bend on the south side of Village Road. Built of red and grey brick. In summer the front was once almost totally covered by a massive Virginia Creeper.
When the film makers took over the centre of the village for a few days in 2021 to film scenes for the musical version of Roald Dahl's Matilda, the property we know as Antiquities was transformed into an antique shop. It was of course once Sidney Stevens' butcher's shop but for a while after the butcher's shop closed it was a real antique shop the business of Sally Forster. Kate Ashbrook recalls that Sally “sold nice junk and I loved working for her until I went away to university. I especially remember Chica, a neat little brown donkey that Sally walked”.
Kate also remembers that there was a bit of a rivalry between her shop and the better-quality antiques and fine furnishings shop run by Margaret Elmes. That was the business which in 1971 took over the bow fronted premises of the post office and general store of Sidney Williams. The Harrow Observer of 16 April 1971 reported on the opening. "In addition to English 18th and 19th century furniture, pottery and porcelain, general antiques were available as well. The gallery opening featured an exhibition of paintings and drawings by Diana Low that would be on display for a month." Mrs. Elmes lived with her husband Patrick, a retired doctor in Mull Cottage. Julia Weston remembers them both as active in the Denham Village Garden Club.
In 1988 Margaret Elmes' shop became the Denham Gallery as an outlet for Ashton Interiors a business founded by Beverley Ashton. Beverley and her staff worked there on domestic interiors, but also later branched out into supplying estate agents, country house hotels, and several projects abroad.
The Old Bakery
The Old Bakery is certainly old and at least part of it was a bakery and a baker's shop. Though partially reconstructed in the 1950s, the core of the building is believed to be the oldest surviving construction in the village. Once long ago the site of the home of the local sheriff/magistrate, the Old Bakery we know now comprised, in Charles Evans' time as a baker, three cottages and Charles' shop.
Charles Thomas Evans learned his trade working as an assistant baker to Charles Hunt in Eltham. By 1891 he had his own business as a baker and confectioner on Elthorne Road in Uxbridge. By 1901 he was established in business in Denham where he lived with his wife Amelia and their six children one of whom, George Frederick, was later to marry Gladys Wiggins. Ten years and two more children later in 1911, Charles was still in the bakery business in Denham describing himself as a "master baker". His wife and four of his children over the age of 14 (including George Frederick) were all assisting in the business whilst Caroline, Stanley, Emily and Reg were still in school.
But the war years followed and clearly things changed for the Evans family. George went off to join the navy in 1913 and by 1921, though still living in Denham, the other members of the family were no longer in the bakery business. Charles himself and one of his sons were employed labourers, one daughter was in domestic service, another a shop assistant and Reg had become a railway porter for the Great Western and Great Central Railway.
None of the census records of these times identify the Evans family home by the name The Old Bakery, nor is a property mentioned by that name in any newspaper reports of the period. However the property was evidently the home of bakers back to at least 1861 and perhaps for many decades before. Though the date of its naming is unclear, it certainly deserves to be called The Old Bakery.
A farming village could not be without a blacksmith and a forge for the farming implements and horseshoes. As with the bakery, there is no doubt where the forge was. The names of The Old Forge and Forge Cottage make that clear. Charles William Baker was the blacksmith and farrier. He came to Denham from Essex in 1898 a couple of years after his marriage to Lavinia Burgess, an innkeeper's daughter from Milton Keynes then just a rural village, not the "new city" built in the late 1960s. It was in Denham that Walter John, Charles and Lavinia's first son was born in June 1899.
Back in Hatfield Peverel in Essex both Charles and his father had been agricultural labourers, but Charles then followed the path taken by his brother Henry to become a blacksmith. Having acquired Arthur Peddle's business and establishing himself in Denham, Charles Baker and his family clearly prospered. When Charles Baker died suddenly in March 1934 his funeral attracted the village dignitaries, Lady Braithwaite, Mrs. Morten and the Gilbeys from The Lea with Mr. Carter representing the Bowling Club and Mr. Sanders for the Billiards Club. Charles was described as a man "of pleasant personality" who had won many friends throughout the district.
On Charles' death his eldest son Walter took on the business and added to it that of a garage proprietor. The family owned not only the Forge Cottages, but also the aptly name Blacksmiths Cottage and the rooms his own family did not occupy were let to tenants - including a small separate dwelling at the rear of Forge Cottage and a small cottage which now forms part of Blacksmiths and which in 1939 bore only the unoriginal name "Roadside Cottage".
Walter's enterprise in responding to the popularity of motor vehicles was a great success. In time The Old Forge passed to his daughter and her husband. The forge then gave way to the garage business to which the celebrities of film and theatre came to fill their petrol tanks after visiting the Mills family when they lived at Misbourne Cottage next door. It was another longstanding family business responding to changing times.
Not all the village commerce was conducted from the Village Road shops. John remembers his paper round daring to rival Valerie Evans' shop. “I also had a paper round, every morning before school, cycling to New Denham to collect the papers then cycling back to deliver all. Sunday was the worst day when the papers were twice the size and most had magazines in them. I also had to collect the money that was owed so the delivery took up most of the morning”.
Gwen Horney remembers how her father bought vegetables and sold them around the village from his horse and cart. Her sister Iris (though everybody called her "Johnie") adds to that recollection. It's a story we have told before but one worth retelling here. "My favourite memory of helping my father deliver fruit and vegetables around the village was one Christmas Day just after the war. At that time, no one could get oranges but on that particular Christmas morning my father managed to get lots of oranges and bananas. I went with him to deliver one orange and one banana to every house on the Oxford Road and in the Village. The bells were ringing and it was snowing as we visited each home with our horse and cart piled high with the fruit. Everyone was so pleased to see us and I went home with a pocketful of coins from grateful villagers."
Movie star lettings
Denham Studios today is a housing complex. In the late 1930s, there really were film studios there. They were the enterprise of Alexander Korda then the resident of Hills House with his wife , the actress Merle Oberon. They were, in Korda's vision, to be Britain's Hollywood and for a while, they seemed to be achieving his objective, but sadly war and circumstance intervened. Though successful the studios could not develop as Korda hoped. However during the heyday of the film industry in Denham letting properties and taking in lodgers became a thriving business for many residents on Village Road. The 1939 Register compiled as an alternative to a formal census in anticipation of wartime needs showed many residents involved in the film business as technicians writers, costume designers etc. Fayrstede, now a home, was originally a contiguous group of four cottages, called Misbourne Cottages. These cottages were owned by the studio and rented to film stars here on location for their work on upcoming films. Readers here can join in a little star spotting in this photo taken at the studios in 1936. Korda himself is top left
Shopping times change
Though the shops have gone from Village Road, shops are of course still part of our wider Denham community - on Station Parade and Denham Green for example - but shopping is of course now far less the community social event as it was once for our predecessors. Our demands and expectations have changed. Transportation to the stores offering a far wider range of goods than our predecessors expected is now easier – although perhaps not always faster.
But strangely COVID 19 has brought about a return of one form of local shopping - the delivery van. Many residents have been encouraged to have groceries and other supplies delivered rather than tackle the risks of infection and the discomforts of mask wearing. In one small respect, we seem to be reverting to those earlier days of which Gwen Horney reminds us when decades ago “our milk, bread and meat were all delivered”.
In the meantime, with your families and friends, do enjoy and patronise the pubs and other businesses still here in our community.
Terry Skelton's History of Denham
Wikimedia Commons Images
Interviews with local residents
British Newspaper Archives
Discovery - The National Archives
Interviews with local residents