Former Advertiser reporter remembers Ruby McBean and her Churchover palace of delights

Ruby McBean’s shop was at the top end of Church Street, Churchover.Ruby McBean’s shop was at the top end of Church Street, Churchover.
Ruby McBean’s shop was at the top end of Church Street, Churchover.
Former Rugby Advertiser reporter John Phillpott remembers the redoubtable Ruby McBean and her palace of delights…

Ah, yes. Ruby McBean… a vision of motherly benevolence and once lord – or rather lady, should I say – of all she surveyed.

Her domain was the converted front room that served as her off-licence and stores at the top of Church Street, Churchover.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

From the sherbet dabs jar on the easterly side, to the bottles of pale ale and cider on the western fringes, this was indeed her bailiwick.

Her shop was a palace of delights, a place where we sons and daughters of the 1950s would often visit in the days before supermarkets, running errands for our mothers.

“And make sure you bring back the change!” was so often the command.

Not that we always did, of course. For quite often, a penny chew or gobstopper might be hiding in that hessian bag under the packets of lard and Robin starch, cartons of Omo and Daz washing powder, and the ever-present tin of Ideal milk.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Let me digress for just a moment. Did you ever eat a condensed milk sandwich? Sorry about that.

The title of my book Beef Cubes and Burdock: Memories of a 1950s

Country Childhood refers to my partiality for Oxo cubes washed down with dandelion and burdock pop.

And it wasn’t just me, either – my pal Mick Lucas had a similar addiction to those savoury little morsels resplendent in their coats of silver and red.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Does this sound strange, inconceivable, even? Yes, quite possibly so, and this may well explain why Mrs McBean eventually became highly suspicious of our constant purchases of the aforesaid cubes.

One day, she confronted us, and issued a stark warning about what would inevitably be our fate if we continued on this culinary course.

With a face seemingly set in cement, she said: “I know all these Oxo cubes have not been bought for your mothers. No one could possibly use the amount that you two are buying.

“I know you’re eating them. Be warned, all that salt will dry up your blood. And with no blood left in your bodies, your hearts will stop. Do you want that to happen?”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Well, I must say that this scientific revelation stopped our respective gallops.

We already knew that it was fatal to swallow bubblegum – it would wrap round your lungs and kill you – while doing the same with chewing gum would have a similar effect, only in that eventuality the gum encircled the stomach in the manner of a constricting snake such as a reticulated python.

But the result would be the same. And surely, we were too young to die?

Nevertheless, being north Warwickshire desperados, we persisted in our fiction, and Mrs McBean finally relented.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

And once out of the shop, we high-tailed it back to our hideout in the hollow tree where our bounty could be consumed without detection.

Another favourite of ours was the stick of rhubarb and a bag of sugar.

You took a bite out of the stalk, dipped it in the bag, and out it came, a veritable delicacy.

Admittedly, it was not as tasty as Oxo cubes, and often ended giving you guts ache, probably because there is a toxic component in raw rhubarb.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Mind you, it was no worse that scrumped green apples, and nothing could deter our occasional foray into someone else’s orchard.

Then there were the seasonal treats, such as chewing keck stalks. I mentioned this to a Worcestershire person the other day, and they had no idea what I meant by ‘keck.’ I had to explain to them that in God’s chosen county, ‘keck’ was cow parsley.

I ask you. How much more difficult can it be for a missionary in such heathen climes?

Mrs McBean was married to a jovial chap known as Jock. She was related to Churchover’s Suttons, at one time a dominant family in the village, along with the Hirons and Clowes clans.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Frank Sutton and Harry Hirons were related, both of whom were killed in the First World War, on the Somme and at Passchendaele, respectively.

Like so many soldiers in that conflict, their bodies were never found.

Harry’s name appears on a panel in the wall at Tyne Cot cemetery, near Ypres, and Frank is recorded on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme.

I have visited both sites on many occasions, always reflecting that these young men must have enjoyed similar childhoods to mine, only 60 years earlier.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The words of Rugby poet Rupert Brooke’s The Soldier also run through my head. If I should die, think only this of me, that there’s some corner of a foreign field that is for ever England…

But back to Mrs McBean’s shop, with its Ansells sign blowing in that merciless north-easterly wind whipping in off the Watling Street.

This formidable lady passed away quite some time ago, and her shop is now a private house. And as far as I know, the Suttons of Churchover are now to be found mainly in the churchyard of Holy Trinity, although there is a deep pool on the River Swift named after them… gone, but like Ruby McBean, not forgotten.

Beef Cubes and Burdock is published by Austin Macauley and can be bought in bookshops or on the internet.