Long established family shopkeepers are difficult to find in towns today. But in Brentford, if you wander around the Victorian terraced back streets, a small handful of them still open their doors for business every day – a tradition that dates back generations.
Greengrocer, Bill Daubney, aged 65, is one whose name has been above his shop in Brook Road South for the last 46 years, and could conjure up an entire panorama of Brentford as fresh as his vegetables.
Bill produced two oval gilt framed portraits of his parents, “I only found them the other day” he said. He recalled that the pictures cost 24 shillings each. “My mother paid 6d a week for them” he said.
Bill, his parents and seven brothers and sisters , lived in a small cottage in Albany Road, one street away from where he works now.
His father was a greengrocer, and his grandfather worked in the fish trade. Both were born and bred in Brentford.
“First I had a small barrow, then dad bought me a pony and cart. He bought the pony from Barnet Fair for £5,” said Bill. “I used to go all around the area selling vegetables, plants, roots, anything.
By the time Bill was 16 years old, his father died and he was left with the responsibility of providing the 3s 6d rent each week.
Shopping hours were virtually unrestricted between the two world wars. “You would get traders selling cherries and strawberries at ten o’clock at night in the summer; all from small trollies,” said Bill.
Sunday afternoon was also a great time for trading and the Daubney family had a special permit (which exists today) to sell oranges, apples, pears, and peanuts across the river outside Kew Gardens.
Loaded up with fruit, the Daubneys would cross the Thames on the old ferry boat from Ferry Lane. Sadly, fruit sellers outside the botanic gardens have been supplanted by ice-cream vans and hot-dog stalls.
Working so hard seemed to give residents particular energy to savour what social life they had. Bill remembers many a knees up down the Albany Arms and Waterman’s Arms at Christmas time.
The there was the occasional trip to Kent for hop picking. “That was the only holiday we could afford” he said.
“Brentford was like a village; everybody knew everyone else. At Christmas time we would fetch the neighbours round for a knees-up, then the next day we would go round to their house.”
After more than half a century in the trade, Bill is thinking of retiring. “But I couldn’t sell the shop” he said.
And another vivid part of his past went out of his life recently when Bill sold his cart which had been kept for years in the back yard.