The Harpenden Free Press had its office on Church Green, and was clearly well-attuned to the local businesses. Some dates have been added, together with street numbers where these are needed to help locate shops which have since disappeared.
Shortly after the turn of the century (1900), the young Mr and Mrs W E Bentley opened a grocer’s shop in the tiny front parlour of their thatched cottage – long since pulled down – on the site where Bower’s Parade was later built.
A few years later they moved across to 66 High Street, its curving entrance door being a local landmark until forcibly removed by a lorry last Christmas (December 1962).
Their three sons joined the business, and in 1937 its name was changed to WE Bentley and Sons Ltd. Further expansion followed – initially by the purchase of the private house next door, which provided an extension to the existing shop. The war interrupted further progress, but soon after VE Day – the sons all safely home – Bentleys bought J Salmons’s long-established grocery business opposite the Station Road Post Office.
Later, the sub-Post Offices at 105 Luton Road and at 107 Station Road were purchased from Chennels of Hemel Hempstead and Mr Harry Bingham respectively.
The latest move in Bentley’s expansion programme was only a couple of months ago, when ‘Bentley’s Self-Service’ was opened at the High Street shop.
Family Fish Shop
Familiar to High Street shoppers is the cheerful smile behind the bearded face of Mr R S Hammett (‘Bob’) who looks after the Harpenden shop of this well-known fish business which has been in operation for about 60 years.
It was soon after the turn of the century when Bob Hammett’s father, Mr D S Hammett, began making daily horse-and-cart trips from Luton where he already had a shop. Soon afterwards he had a stall in the forecourt of The George. Bob Hammett joined the business on leaving school and looked after the ‘winkle stall’. The present site at 36 High Street was acquired in 1929 and Bob Hammett took over the shop in 1946 after war service in the army.
Bob Hammett is well-known is other spheres. He was chairman of the Chamber of Trade for two years and before that served on the council (Harpenden Urban District Council, from 1956). His father, now aged 85, is practically retired from the successful business he created.
Friendly “Country” Seed Store
W T Smith & Son Ltd has lost none of its original character during the 60 years it has been at 60 High Street.
Mr William Smith, a farmer at Bower Heath, started the business at the bottom of Amenbury Lane, now the site of the stables. When he died during the First World War his son, Mr ‘Archie’ Smith took over. Archie was a well-known figure in Harpenden and since his death in 1959, the business has been carried on by his widow, Mrs J M Smith with the help of the manager Mr A C Drury.
70 Years of Daily Bread
One of the best known of local traders is Ackroyd’s whose bread has been consumed in and around Harpenden for nearly 70 years.
Thomas Ackroyd sold bread in Flamstead and came to Harpenden with a horse and cart. Later he started a bakery in Batford. When the Station Road site [at the corner of Victoria Road] was acquired during the First World War the Flamstead premises were closed.
The last few years has seen a steady expansion of the business of E Ackroyd & Son. The Southdown shop was opened during the Second World War, the Luton Road branch eight years ago (1955) and last December (1962) a shop in Wheathampstead was opened.
Bikes and Prams
The name of Rolt has for years been synonymous with bikes and toys in Harpenden. Half a century ago Mr Cecil Rolt started work with Chirneys cycle shop in Station Road. Mr Rolt ran that shop for Mr Chirney before finally buying the business in 1930 after it had moved to Leyton Road.
Thirteen years ago (1950) the cycle side of Read’s High Street business was taken over, on the retirement of Mr Read. Since then these premises have been Rolt’s main shop. The Leyton Road premises have been maintained as the repair shop. Head of the business today is Mr Alan Rolt, son of the founder, who joined his father soon after the war.
Rolt’s have also became specialists in prams and toys, and this side of the business is now slowly taking precedence, as motor vehicles have reduced the demand for bicycles. “There has been a revival in push-bikes the last year or two,” said Mr Alan Rolt, “largely because of the new style ‘Moulton’ machine.”
Mechanic Reg Wilkes has been with Rolt’s for 14 years, and John Roberts’ familiar figure has been seen in the High Street shop for 27 years, previously working with Mr Read.