From 'The Lenton Listener' Issue 45
April - May 1987
The Smiths of Lenton
Nothing they say lasts for ever. But the occupants of No.53 Abbey Street so far seem to be disproving that statement. For a member of the Smith family has been in charge of the shop for every one of the seventy-five years since it first opened.
The shop is one of four which make up the Johnson Buildings erected by Frank William Johnson in 1912, who in the same year rebuilt the Abbey Tavern and then renamed it after himself. The first occupants of No.53 were William and Emily Smith. William had trained as a barber and so understandably the shop began as a gentleman's hairdressers with the sale of newspapers as a profitable side-line (a common practise among barbers in those days). Some years later William took over a barber's shop in Beeston and shifted operations there. The Smiths continued to live at No.53 and Emily kept on the newspaper business. Later on their daughter Clarice (shown on the right) resumed the shop's connection with the cutting of hair when for a number of years she ran a ladies hairdressing salon in an upstairs room. The main bulk of Emily's profits came from the sale of newspapers, cigarettes and confectionery, but she also had the odd side-line. Like many other shops in those days she offered to recharge accumulator batteries for use in wirelesses. Umbrellas could be repaired and as William was quite adept at clock repairs he would agree to look at anyone's timepiece that wasn't working properly. William also sold fishing rods at his Beeston barbershop and some of these found their way to Abbey Street. Even in those days shopkeepers weren't averse to a little diversification.
Just after the end of the Second World War William Smith died and Emily began to suffer ill health. As a result their son, Joe, and his wife Doris took over the shop. To begin with Joe kept on his job delivering films to local cinemas for FTS (Film Transport Services) then based on Triumph Road but Joe and Doris soon built up the business sufficiently to enable Joe to devote himself full-time to the shop.
David and Brenda Smith - 1987
Over the years Joe and Doris employed a number of paper boys but undoubtedly the most dissatisfied with the job was their son, David. He never wanted to work for his parents and in fact got a job as a delivery boy for Farrands, a grocers on Willoughby Street. After training as a motor mechanic, a number of jobs followed including pork pie maker, insurance agent and foundry worker. Then in the mid-1960s David's father died. Doris didn't want to keep the shop going on her own, so David and his wife, Brenda, decided to take over. This meant David giving up a job at Plessey, leaving their house at Bramcote and bringing their two young children, Mark and Jane, to live above the shop.
As with many such shops you only needed half a dozen customers in No.53 and it felt positively overcrowded. In the late 1970s David and Brenda took the decision to enlarge the shop and knocked through into the room at the back. In earlier years the Abbey Street area had supported a number of 'general' shops, but gradually these went out of business. When in 1980 the Co-op opposite closed down David and Brenda decided to stock a few lines of groceries. This has now been augmented by fruit and veg and, since the cafe at No.51 changed into an Asian restaurant, a range of cooked foods and sandwiches has also been available. A year or so ago David took a leaf out of his father's book and became involved in film distribution, though in David's case the films come in cassettes and are for the home video market. With all these new lines on sale 'newsagent' hardly seems an adequate classification to describe the Smiths' endeavours. The trade apparently refers to shops such as No.53 as 'convenience shops' but can you imagine saying 'I'm just popping out to the conveniences'?