RECOLLECTIONS OF BUCKDEN FROM THE 1950’S - FLO COOMBER

With thanks to Angie Bruce

Opposite The Green, Flo Coomber’s was the first in a terrace of three cottages. Weather permitting and during an absence of customers, Flo could be found outside, leaning against her boundary wall, calling out to passers-by and shouting details of her best buys to youngsters….”Plums today. Tell your Mum!” That wall was particularly helpful to Flo because she only had one good leg; the other ended in a stump and was cocooned in a motley selection of bandages.

Beside her front door were crates containing salad items, vegetables and orchard fruit, even walnuts. ‘Serve yourself!’ The produce was mostly of local origin and today would’ve probably been marketed as ‘organic’! ‘Open all hours’, it was only Louis Seaman’s visit, cycling up from Offord to undertake the annual stock-take (on a Sunday), that interrupted business.

Right - Village Green – 1  1950’s – view west looking towards Hunts End . Flo’s cottage is just out of view to the right. The gap in the low wall on the extreme right, was the access to the terrace of three cottages of which Flo’s was the one this end. It was this supporting wall that Flo was often visible behind, calling out to passers-by and potential customers (Bob Baxter).

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Flo ran her shop from her front room.  Enter the doorway and turn sharp left or you would find yourself in a painful encounter with her chiffonier. Pan around the room and see the couch, where the dog slumbered. It was black, and could’ve been mistaken for a rag-rug! (Rumour had it that dog was none too particular where it cocked its leg!). Take in the haphazard display of boxed chocolates, tins of biscuits, bottles of Corona and Tizer. Centre stage was a colourful selection of sweets, behind which Flo, encased in her ‘wraparound pinny’, seated herself, utilising the light from the adjacent window in order to oversee business.

Left - Village Green 2 –1955 – View east across the Village Green. The thatched cottage was the home of Lucy Franklin until it was demolished (late 50’s early 60s) and Lucy moved into the South’s Almshouses (C A Linton).

 

With her selection of sweets, many sold in multiples to the penny (that’s 1d!), Flo’s was popular with village kids.  This was in spite of quite widespread parental opposition, the reasons for which, as youngsters, we were largely impervious to; while proximity to the school simply served to amplify the shop’s magnetism. These were days when children made their own way to and from school and so were free of helicopter parents, who might otherwise scupper any purchasing plans. 

Business was further bolstered by her Christmas club. Contributors could set aside 6d or more weekly, from summer onwards, with a view to saving-up for a bit of a splurge on some of Flo’s specials at Christmas…..  jigsaws, board games, a tin of Tartan shortbread or Bluebird toffees.

Right - Flo and Lucy 1 – 1920’s Flo Coomber (née Brace)  and Lucy Franklin in their younger days! (Shirley Brown).

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Flo was a habitual smoker, with each fag glued to her lips until the final embers dropped into her lap. The open fire augmented the smoky haze. These being days many decades before the advent of Dettox and the like, hygiene was not a high priority.  There was a token fly-paper suspended from the ceiling, but this was invariably encrusted with a lace-like layer of wings and legs! Flo’s hands had more the look of the farm labourer than of someone handling edibles. The many sweets….liquorice sticks and Catherine Wheels, chocolate tools and Flying Saucers, that were free of a protective wrapper,  faced prolonged exposure to the ambient dust and smoke as well as to the intermittent exhalations of Flo’s hacking cough! Perhaps worse, as you deliberated over your choice of sweets, they would each in turn be swept up into Flo’s bare hands.  It was not until your selection was completed that those sweets, finally, reached the safety of a small paper bag.

Left - Flo (on the right) at her front door, alongside Lucy Franklin. (1950’s) Lucy was a great friend of Flo’s and near neighbour. They both saw out their final days as residents of the almshouses on Church Street (Shirley Brown).