The Magazine of Lenton Local History Society

Lenton Times Issue 8 - May 1993

Eric's Store

Photograph courtesy of Nottingham Local Studies LibrarySee in Lightbox

Denham & Boden's Willoughby Street shop with evident signs
nearby that the demolition men have already begun their task.
Photograph courtesy of Nottingham Local Studies Library.

In the first half of the 1960s the City Council carried out a general clearance of properties in the Willoughby Street area. Down came all the houses, shops and pubs, and most of the industrial premises that had been built in the early nineteenth century to be replaced by the five tower blocks, the complex of maisonettes, two new pubs, a school, the Thomas Helwys Baptist Church and the Willoughby Shopping Centre. A handful of traders from the old Willoughby Street shops were among those who moved into this latter development. The ensuing years have seen that original handful diminish in number until there is now just one left. The shop in question is 'Eric's Store' run by Eric and Jean Denham and below we recall the story of the Denhams' 34 years trading in the New Lenton area.

Eric Denham, who hails from Arnold, was stationed at Hucknall for the duration of his national service in the R.A.F. While there, Eric not only gained the acquaintance of his future wife, Jean, a local girl from Bulwell, but also met fellow conscript, Dennis Boden. In 1951, on completion of their two years’ service, Eric and Dennis both decided to get jobs with Salmesbury Engineering, a Lancashire firm of aircraft engineers. Sent all over the country and contracted out to a number of different aircraft manufacturers Dennis worked as an engine fitter Eric as an airframe fitter. Rather than face the constant problem of finding suitable rented accommodation Eric and wife Jean preferred to occupy a large caravan which went with them from place to place. This life suited them both but then in the late 1950s the contracts began to dry up. Moreover the Denhams' eldest child was approaching five years of age and this nomadic existence wasn't likely to help her schooling. So the decision was taken by the Denhams and Dennis Boden to look for a more stationary way of earning their living.

Photograph courtesy of Nottingham Local Studies LibrarySee in Lightbox

Close-up of No.16 Willoughby Street. Photograph courtesy of
Nottingham Local Studies Library.

The alternative career decided upon was as shopkeeper and the Denhams and Dennis Boden settled on a grocers/greengrocers at Nos. 16A-18 Willoughby Street directly opposite the Nag's Head public house. Formerly run by Harold Birch the shop had now passed into other hands and the business had been allowed to run down. Talk of possible demolition for the Willoughby Street area was in the air in 1959 when the Denham/Boden partnership took on the shop but nothing definite had yet been announced. The shop was double fronted with vacant living accommodation above one unit. This was occupied by the Denham family while Dennis Boden lived elsewhere. Together Eric and Dennis built up the business and when the opportunity arose even acquired No. 14 next door. Mr. Whaley had given up running his hardware shop there and instead they converted it into a store for their newly established wholesale potato business. By then the days of the Willoughby Street area were strictly numbered. The Council's intention to clear the properties had been announced, some of the buildings had already been demolished and it was simply a question of time before Denham & Boden's shop joined them on the rubble heap. Their premises were in fact among the very last to come down. In part this was because the Council was having problems finding Denham & Boden alternative premises. Eventually a shop on the Derby Road situated between Billy Hill's newsagency and the Savoy Cinema was agreed on. The Denhams were then rehoused out at Aspley and in late 1964/early 1965 Denham & Boden's new shop opened for business.

Despite the gradual disappearance of the surrounding population business had remained fairly buoyant right up to the end of their time on Willoughby Street. Transferring operations to Derby Road now had the advantage that Denham & Boden became well placed to benefit from passing trade. But all involved acknowledged that the move was strictly a temporary measure. The three properties on the Derby Road from the Savoy up to the junction with Willoughby Street were earmarked by the Council for demolition and Denham & Boden had already expressed their interest in taking one of the units in the new Willoughby Shopping Centre soon to be under construction.

Photograph courtesy of Nottingham Local Studies LibrarySee in Lightbox

An exterior view of the shop in 1968 when it operated under the
'Mace' flag. Photograph courtesy of Nottingham Local Studies Library.

Major plans were being prepared for this new shop. Eric Denham and Dennis Boden signed up to become 'Mace' grocers which meant they agreed to buy all or most of their grocery items from the Mace distributors and in exchange would receive the firm's expertise in deciding which lines they should stock plus the opportunity to tap into a range of special offers designed to attract in the customers. The great day came in autumn 1968 when the new shop was ready to open. The shelves were stocked high with provisions and Eric and Dennis eagerly awaited their customers. But the customers didn't arrive; that is to say they didn't turn up in any great numbers. It was quickly realised that the shop was far from ideally placed. Situated as it is at the top of Church Street the Shopping Centre has never really been able to attract any passing trade and for the first year or so there wasn't even any direct access to it from the Drives. Only when the Council decided to demolish one of the houses on Allington Avenue and use the site to construct a cut-through could Lenton Sands residents get to the shops with any degree of ease. An additional problem for Denham & Boden was that they were in direct competition with the Co-op which had chosen to shift operations to the Shopping Centre from their outlet on Lenton Boulevard. This wasn't the only instance of 'double booking' as Billy Hill and Harry Wells found themselves both competing for sales of newspapers and confectionery. In retrospect it would have been far better for the traders if the whole shopping centre had been positioned alongside the Derby Road or alternatively one half by Derby Road and the other across on the Park Road end. That way they would all have gained from passing trade while the second alternative at least had the merit that rival businesses could have been sited well away from each other.

Their first year of trading in the Willoughby Shopping Centre left Eric Denham and Dennis Boden in a state of crisis. Takings were well down on previous years and they had no real expectation that they were going to improve in the near future. If this was indeed the case then the shop wasn't capable of supporting them both. Dennis Boden resolved to seek alternative employment and this he found with the G.P.O. Eric and Jean Denham agreed to soldier on and so in 1969 the partnership with Dennis Boden was dissolved. Trading as Mace grocers hadn't proved the success they had hoped it would be and this arrangement also ceased about this time. Thereafter the shop became 'Eric's Store' and the Denhams obtained all their own grocery lines from local wholesalers.

Trade gradually picked up although it never really matched the old days of Willoughby Street or the brief sojourn at Derby Road. In 1978 Mr. Lennox, who operated a hardware, toys and fancy goods business next door to Eric's Store, gave up the tenancy of the shop and Jean decided to take it over, continue with the same range of lines but trade as 'Step Inside Jeans'. This remained a permanent fixture until last August when the shop was closed, it never did fantastic business and as a consequence in recent years the shop was only staffed on Fridays and Saturdays, although customers were always able to pop into Eric's store and get someone to open up if required. Increases in rent, business tax and other overheads caused the Denhams to retrench and the shop unit now remains empty.

Photograph by Paul BexonSee in Lightbox

A present day shot of Eric and Jean at
their shop. Photo by Paul Bexon.

In 1975 Eric‘s Store acquired a liquor licence which added another dimension to the range of goods on sale. ln 1977 Nurdin & Peacock opened a cash and carry warehouse on Lenton Industrial Estate which offered a much better range of goods than the existing local outlets Eric Denham soon began to obtain his grocery lines from them and has subsequently adopted their promotional image of the 'Happy Shopper'. As for the greengrocery this has remained in the hands of Whitakers of Hucknall. They used to supply Eric at his first shop and still retain the contract. Now, however, they deliver the produce to the Denhams‘ home in Aspley and Eric then brings it on to the shop in his van. On Saturdays Whitakers arrive very early in the morning and so they put the fruit and vegetables directly into Eric's van which obviates his need to rise at some unearthly hour.

Sadly the Denhams have had their sleep disturbed on far too many occasions while they have been in their present shop, it has suffered a spate of break-ins which has entailed considerable expense replacing windows, installing alarms, a steel reinforced back door and grilles on the front of the property. For some two and half years Eric and Jean also had to exercise continual vigilance every time it rained. The properties above the shops all used to possess flat roofs and the one above the Denhams leaked very badly. Despite attention from the Council the problem persisted and gradually got worse. The rain water would come through the roof of the upstairs property and carry on down into the shop. Buckets and other remedial measures were enlisted whenever rain was forecast but even with forewarning considerable mopping up was usually required. No doubt it was a disconcerting experience for customers to watch this water coming through the ceiling during opening hours. The problem only ceased about four years ago when the Council finally admitted defeat and erected new pitched roofs on all the upstairs properties. When you add in the trouble caused by shoplifting, not to mention the fear for one`s safety each time an offender is apprehended, you would he right to imagine that Eric and Jean Denham anticipated they were going to enjoy a less stressful time here in Lenton than has actually been the case. Certainly they are both looking forward to retirement when there will be a greater opportunity to spend time with their four children and more especially their eight grandchildren. They plan to begin this retirement in 1995 but fully acknowledge that when it does happen it will be quite a wrench and they will undoubtedly miss all their many loyal and valued customers. Until then the Denhams and their assistants, Barbara, Janet, Lynda, Sandra and Tracey, will endeavour to serve the New Lenton area and continue to provide an extensive stock, as competitively priced as they can manage.

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