Former Advertiser reporter recalls the glorious heydays of some of Rugby's best-loved shops

Now here’s a familiar scene for Rugbeians everywhere...Now here’s a familiar scene for Rugbeians everywhere...
Now here’s a familiar scene for Rugbeians everywhere...
Former Advertiser reporter John Phillpott recalls the glorious heydays of some of Rugby’s best-loved shops…

It was for the usual reason that my mother realised I’d started smoking… she smelled tobacco on my breath.

I’d been a secret smoker for some time, after having been initiated into the dark art by another reporter on the Rugby Advertiser.

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Not wanting to run the gauntlet of parental disapproval, I had concealed the fact from my mother and father. But now the game was most certainly up.

However, once it became apparent that I had succumbed to the pernicious weed, the reality was accepted, albeit reluctantly.

And it was also not long before my mother became an accomplice to what was rapidly starting to be a slavish devotion to the habit.

This was because she worked for the company that was, in its heyday, Rugby’s premier outlet for all things to do with Sir Walter Raleigh’s leafy legacy.

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I wonder. Do you remember Lennon Brothers’ shop in Railway Terrace, with the tinted window loudly and proudly proclaiming that this company was the purveyor of ‘fine cigars’?

I seem to recall that this was not the only branch of Lennon Bros in Rugby. But it was the one that I knew best, since my mother and her good friend Mrs Walsh used to work there, presumably doing the accounts.

Her boss was a Mr Phillips – I never learnt adults’ first names back then, for you will no doubt recall that social etiquette in those days did not encourage familiarity with whippersnappers.

Anyway, Mr Phillips was an English gentleman sort of chap, like so many bosses in those days. Proprietor John Lennon also cut a gentlemanly figure, who often liked to jest that he didn’t play a guitar and sing, unlike his increasingly famous namesake who, by late 1963, was one of the best known people on Earth.

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It was not long before I started to enjoy the fringe benefits of my mother’s job. A lot of people may not know this, but like food products, tobacco has a sell-by date.

Once it’s past this, tobacco becomes stale, and is not fit for sale. Because of this, many of these reject smokes ended up with me, my mother having for long given up any hope that her stupid son would ever see sense and give up the gaspers.

It would be more than 20 years before the penny dropped, and I realised that smoking really wasn’t a good idea, both for health and wealth reasons.

Before the advent of supermarkets, specialist shops abounded in towns like Rugby. Sam Robbins is a name that will definitely resonate with many Memory Lane readers.

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Then there was Lennards’ shoe shop on the corner of Regent Street, facing the Clocktower.

This was where your mother would take you towards the end of the summer holidays on that much detested expedition to buy a new pair of shoes for the autumn term.

How I hated that, especially as she’d turn down your request for a pair of chisel toes, explaining – without providing any evidence whatsoever – that such footwear would almost certainly be in contravention of Lawrence Sheriff School regulations.

Never mind. For I knew full well that just around the corner was Breen’s shop, where you could buy black polo necks, Beatle jackets, cycling shirts, and all the other manifestations of the latest gear.

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So, with money earned at weekends working on Joe Towers’ farm, I could indulge myself as much as I wanted, out of sight from prying, parental eyes.

Mind you, there was one shop that the parents of all the boys at Lawrence Sheriff were encouraged to patronise. And that was Salter’s, in those days the officially approved outlet for all things sartorial.

I remember that some of the boys at the school wore cheaper, and therefore inferior, blazers because their parents weren’t all that well off.

And shockingly, at least by today’s standards, some masters were not averse to mocking and humiliating a boy, who through no fault of his own, slightly stood out from all the rest.

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Another Rugby shop that I remember well was Grey’s, which dealt in sport and other recreational items. I can see Mr Grey now, walking the floor like a latter day Captain Peacock in Are You Being Served? being unhesitatingly helpful to any customer who had caught his eye.

Nowadays, the number of specialist shops in provincial towns has gone into a steep decline, forced out by the advent of supermarkets that now seem to sell everything under the sun.

Along with that extinction has also followed the personal touch, customer care, and the kind of professional knowledge that would so often enhance the old-style shopping expedition, making it an event rather than a chore.

Not that any of this occurred to me back in the late summer of 1963 as I resentfully sat on the stool at Lennards shop, with my mother’s eyes searching the shelves for the most insufferably sensible shoes known to exist on the planet.

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But at least there was the future joy of enjoying a reject fag, courtesy of Lennon’s shop down in Railway Terrace…

John Phillpott’s books Beef Cubes and Burdock and Go and Make the Tea, Boy! are about the days of his childhood and youth spent in and around the Rugby area.

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