Bingham's Shop and Post Office
Station Road North
Mr Bingham was a quiet, friendly gentleman, invariably dressed in his brown twill coat-cum-overall, just like Ronnie Barker in TV’s Open All Hours*, his cap covering his grey hair and with a generous moustache which always fascinated me. Our family was registered with him for our rations during the war and we’d collect them regularly on the way to visit our Gran in Batford.
The shop, a quarter of its size today (The Happy Shopper), was, to a young child, a wonderland of every conceivable kind of provision, kitchen utensil and household need from little tablets of washing blue to butter and Brasso. Baskets, buckets and brushes hung like multi-shaped stalactites from hooks in the wooden ceiling above shelves packed with tins and jars overhanging rows of square tins of loose biscuits. These were the days when our meagre ration of sugar would be carefully weighed and shot expertly into a blue paper cone, deftly screwed to a close at the top. Bacon was sliced on an ancient but gleaming machine, and cheese cut with a taut wire which sliced through a chunk of cheddar or whatever, and disappeared mysteriously into a slot in the board on which the whole, round, rinded cheese stood. No plastic vacuum packs in those days! But the best of all for me, Mrs Bingham, a tall, bespectacled, brusque but kindly lady, would slice off a portion of butter with wooden ‘paddles’ from a huge block, weigh it, adjust the size as necessary and proceed to ‘paddle’ it into shape on a marble slab, finally depositing it firmly onto a sheet of greaseproof paper, beautifully shaped and patterned and totally untouched by hand. How I loved that magical performance – indeed, I decided that was what I’d do when I grew up!
Mrs Bingham presided over the Post Office Department behind a wire grill at the end of the counter surrounded by myriad forms, ink pads, stamps and other paraphernalia while Mr Bingham pottered around seeking out his customers’ requirements from the masses of items filling every corner, wall and ceiling space. I remember once my mother, a customer in her own childhood, wanted to introduce my brother and I to the art of top-spinning, and asked him if he had any tucked away somewhere, relics, maybe, from long ago. He thought a moment, disappeared into his back storeroom, another Alladin’s cave, and returned, believe it or not, with two wooden spinning tops, red and blue striped, with whips, just as she had had all those years before. Such was the extent of his stock! I have to confess, my mother proved to be as expert as ever, but we children never did master the art!
Yes, Bingham’s was a lovely place to be, full of mysterious objects, tantalising smells and delicious things to eat. Child friendly, with an off-ration biscuit if you were good and patient while Mum, did the shopping. Then, with loaded basket, off we’d go to Gran’s, across the meadows, which modern folk call the ‘park’, but which my mother and I still refer to as ‘Bingham’s Meadows’, to look for tiddlers as we crossed the ‘water-cress ditch’ bridge and then the wobbly ‘swing bridge’ as it was called then, (now replaced) over the River Lea, stamping and jumping to make it shake.
Happy days! Mr and Mrs Bingham will always have a special place in my memory.
* TV series – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_All_Hours