Some weeks ago I was shown some postcards of the Rainham Mark area. Having spent most of my teenage years living at 140 Hawthorne Avenue memories of this familiar place in the 1940s and 50s came back into focus. ln the war years and immediately afterwards the collection of shops at Rainham Mark were like a mini High street. The Beehive Stores, run by an elderly couple, stood on the comer of Caldew Avenue and the A2. This was a little goldmine that sold anything that didn’t need a ration book. Vegetables spilled from sacks and battered boxes on the floor whilst an old flypaper dangled from the light fitting above. Next door was Highlys, the butchers, where queues of hatted wicker basket carrying housewives formed when off the ration offal was available. Nearby was Mr Beards Post Office, he also sold writing paper, ink, coloured pencils and Gloy glue. Mr Beard had the most impeccable copperplate handwriting, no matter how long the queue if he was not satisfied with the way he had written a form whilst seated on his high stool like a character from Dickens with his trusted dip pen he would throw it away and start again.

Between the post office and the butchers was Rainham Marks wartime equivalent to B&Q. Miss Bunton’s open fronted shed style shop sold everything in the hardware trade from brooms and brushes to hinges, paint, distemper, creosote, pegs, washing lines, garden spades and forks plus nails and screws sold by the pennyworth and wrapped in newspaper. One essential also provided at this emporium was re-charging accumulators which were used to power wireless sets which could not be plugged into power sockets but relied on these heavy appliances about the size of a modern car battery. I can still see Miss Bunyon in her ladies style, faded blue, bib and brace boiler suit, hessian apron and woollen hat.

The chippy just towards Gillingham is perhaps the only shop which has survived for well over sixty years, however it has lost its ‘bring your own newspaper’ sign. The Vets was on the opposite side of the A2 at the side of a neat bungalow. Down Hawthorne Avenue is Ashley Road which links to Pump Lane. l can’t remember with any accuracy what the row of shops were but just after the war the newsagents on the corner was called Milligans. I delivered papers for them, my round being the whole of Begonia Avenue to where it ended in a cabbage field long before Twydall Green shopping centre was built.

Most households had their papers, magazines and comics delivered through the letterbox. I recall quite clearly receiving seven and sixpence a week (37p in todays money). I’m informed £25 is the going rate today. In the middle of the row of Ashley Road shops was Coopers the grocers and at the end Miss Chapman’s greengrocers. She ran the shop with her brother George, a D Day veteran who in winter always wore his army great coat. Giving up the paper round I then worked for Miss Chapman and George. On Friday evenings after school I did local deliveries on the shop bike and boiled the beetroot (much to my mothers disgust due to the smell).

On Saturdays starting at 6.00am with another lad from Pump Lane and George we loaded the ex-army Fordson open truck with a canvas cab ready for the green grocery round through Twydall, Eastcourt, Woodlands and Lower Gillingham, all for the sum of £1. The bonus of  this job was that l learnt to drive this old army truck. Seven years later as a National Serviceman RASC  driver I was driving an identical truck in Suez ~ this time legally. Happy days.

John K. Austin




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