I’m bored of Parkinson’s. Let’s talk about something else.
Perhaps she was disorientated by being on the first floor. They hadn’t been long in the rented accommodation where Harriet Neate was now living with her son Harry, his wife Millie and their children Violet (nearly eight) and Arthur (a toddler). For most of her life, she’d lived in the ground floor accommodation attached to the Beer Shop which was the family business. Perhaps she’d got up in the night and lost track of where she was. For whatever reason, in April 1934, at the age of seventy four, Harriet fell down the stairs and died. The timing could hardly have been worse.
The previous year, a snooker-hall friend of Harry’s had given him a tip off. At the time, Harry and his family lived with his mother at 20/21 Industry Terrace in Brixton where they had the Beer Shop; owned by Harriet but run by Harry. Next door to them, on the corner of Industry Terrace, was The Volunteer Pub ran by Charrington’s brewery. Nowadays the pub would be called ‘bijou’ but in those days was just plain small.
Through his job as a reporter on the South London Press. Harry’s friend had heard that Charrington’s were in trouble with their licence for this pub. The Volunteer was popular but, with it being so small, the customers used to take their drinks outside to have while sitting on their barrows in Brixton Market – and this broke the licensing laws.
The ideal solution for Charrington’s would be to buy out Harriet’s premises and then extend their pub, though it was noted at the Brewster Sessions (where the licensing was discussed) that the Beer Shop surrounding The Volunteer was owned by ‘a cantankerous old lady’ who was unlikely to negotiate.
That was my great-grandmother – which is probably where I get it from.
Forewarned by his friend, Harry was able to negotiate a very good price – four thousand pounds – to sell their home and shop to Charrington’s. More than double what it was worth!
With this in the bank, they had looked at a number of premises for a new shop and home, settling on 5 Courland Grove in Clapham, which the estate agent had told them had lots of potential for an energetic young man looking to build a thriving business. They were just about to put down the deposit when Harriet had her accident.
Here’s an extract from Harriet’s will, made four years earlier. You need to know that Harry’s full name – which is used here – was actually ‘Septimus Henry’.
So, Harriet is saying that her property – the shop – and its contents and thirty pounds should go to Harry. The rest of her estate was to be divided between his four siblings: Olive, Charlie, Archie and Bob.
But at the time of Harriet’s death, the shop in Industry Terrace had been sold but the purchase of 5 Courland Grove had not yet been finalised. So, as far as Harry’s brothers were concerned, he was only entitled to thirty pounds and the rest of the estate, including the income from the sale of the Beer Shop in Industry Terrace, should go to them.
It’s difficult at this distance to understand how Harry’s brothers could even contemplate leaving Harry and his family without a home or income. Luckily, Harry had on his side the force of nature that was Aunt Olive.
A family meeting was called at which Harry’s solicitor, Mr Penrose, stated that negotiations to buy Courland Grove were so far advanced, it was clearly what Harriet had wanted. With Olive arguing in Harry’s favour, the brothers eventually conceded – the purchase of the shop could go ahead but they would not give him money for stock.
And what good would a beer shop be without beer?
Luckily for Harry, Olive had daughters. The oldest, Mary, was just about to set up home with her fiancé, Den. They lent Harry the money that they had been saving up to get married so that he could stock his new off-licence and grocery, which was christened The Little Wonder. He was later able to repay them with the deposit for a house.
Here Harry, Millie and young Arthur are outside the Little Wonder. The picture was taken by an American soldier during the War. But that’s another story.
The Volunteer pub was bought by Charrington’s. Here’s what it looked like after its refurbishment in 1934.
Pa remembers visiting it with his dad, Harry. After a few drinks, they went to inspect the plumbing. ‘Do you realise,’ said my Grandad, ‘that we’re doing this in the middle of our old kitchen?’
What on earth would Granny Neate have said?