PIPE’S SHOP, CHURCH STREET, BUCKDEN

(1945 to 1996)

With thanks to Angie Bruce

Sylvia and Sidney Pipe married in 1940 and lived in rented rooms in Cambridge. Sid had failed his medical for the forces but due to his flourishing abilities with radio was seconded to P.Y.E. of Cambridge for the duration of the war, playing his part in the development of radar. Sylvia worked in the P.Y.E. factory, alongside other women, assembling radio communication equipment especially for tanks.  She found the factory work an eye-opener and was more than a little shocked by what some of her fellow workers were prepared to offer American soldiers, in exchange for a pair of stockings! 


With peacetime came new possibilities. Sid’s involvement with P.Y.E. conferred eligibility to develop an electrical franchise. The couple were looking for prospective premises when they visited Buckden in 1945.  They saw potential in the striking building at 49 Church Street. Although occupied by a rather run-down, general store in the hands of a Mr Chivers,  they could envisage their own new general and electrical store and so duly took on the lease.


Right. The striking building at 49 Church Street was once the Village Reading Room. 

(St Neots Museum)

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The arrival of ‘The Pipes’ raised interest and activity in the village. The shop was soon smartened up and Sid became the go-to person for technical advice; supplying ready-charged accumulators; shotgun cartridges for pigeon-scaring and a large range of handy tools and fixings. Sid was energetic and determined to build up the electrical side of the business. 


With rationing still very much a part of daily life, most Buckden residents were registered with ‘Milner’s’ or ‘Bowtells’. These two stores enjoyed the lion’s share of local trade. It was evident Sylvia needed to direct some energy to the grocery side of the business in order to attract custom away from these long-established competitors. Fortunately, behind the scene Sylvia had the help and back-room support of her parents (Mr & Mrs Gill) who lived on the premises too.

Left.  Sid and Sylvia with Baby Colin  (C Pipe)

 
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Sylvia had a quiet, lady-like countenance and a natural aptitude for customer service, long before training in such matters was considered. She always smiled and treated all her customers the same, whether they were regulars or not, and never neglected to enquire as to the health of other family members. She also produced fabulous home-cooked ham. 


The customer base expanded so Sid’s best man, Gerald Finch was offered employment. The long-awaited blessing of parenthood followed, with the arrival of Colin in 1956. With behind the scenes help from the Gills, and Gerald manning the grocery counter and undertaking deliveries to neighbouring villages, life settled into a happy routine and the business prospered.


TV ownership expanded speedily. Sid found himself supplying, installing and repairing teles and erecting tv aerials. He was also called upon to fix some of the new electrical domestic appliances that were beginning to find their way into village homes; toasters, vacuum cleaners, fridges and washing machines. Sid could fix them all!

Above.  Christmas 1995  (C. Pipe)

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Over the road the Hinsby’s were beginning to find their corner shop ‘too much’ in their declining years. Sid duly took on the lease in 1962, employing local girls, first ‘Chrissie’ Gale and after she left to get married, Jane Milner. 


Following the death of Mr Hinsby in 1973 the Pipes were finally able to purchase the freehold for their property.  Colin joined the business after leaving school and broadened the range of stock for sale by introducing bedding plants and garden supplies. Colin had green fingers and his handiwork further expanded the shop’s market range.

Above.  Within the store, Christmas 1995 (C Pipe).

 
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The shop window displays were renowned locally - an attractive focal point - especially at Christmas. Gifts of all descriptions were amassed for the window-shopper to stop and wonder at.  Christmas trees also adorned the shop front, where the bedding plants were displayed during the summer.  With the signature row of coloured lights above, this sight simply couldn’t fail to raise one’s spirits.


Mrs Pipe continued to supply her home-cooked ham, popular throughout the village. The home produce section expanded with Kath Milner’s home-baked Cornish Pasties, sausage rolls, and in season Christmas cakes, mince pies and marmalade. Although the shop was open daily from 8.30 to 6pm, closing only for lunch hour and on Sunday afternoons, such was the conviviality and patience of the Pipes that they found themselves at the mercy of out-of-hours customers knocking on their back door -even on a Christmas Day!

Above.   Within the store, Christmas 1995 (C Pipe).

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The family bungalow in Church Street, started in 1970, was finally completed and ready for occupation in 1980.   There were some benefits to be gained from living away from the shop. Sadly, it wasn’t long after that Sid’s health began to decline. The electrical side of the business closed in 1981 and Sid died in 1984. 


The shop continued to prosper and an off-licence was obtained. Plans were drawn up to expand the shop floor and modernise the premises. The work was completed in December 1985.  Sylvia did not embrace the new automated till with unalloyed enthusiasm. When it came to totalling the bill she’d had years of practice with a scrap of paper and a biro. She avoided new protocol where possible, sharing a surreptitious and knowing smile with customers and whispering ‘Don’t tell Colin’! 


With the closure of Milner’s shop in 1986 additional customers stepped over the threshold. Business was thriving and felt secure, but not for very long. The big supermarkets in surrounding towns were beginning to have an impact. More villagers were choosing to shop at Tesco, only using the local stores for convenience items. By the mid 1990’s the shop lacked sufficient custom to sustain it. Having thrived for 50 years its doors closed for the final time in February 1996. 

Above.  Taken on the final trading day - February 1996.  From left to right: Sally Collins,  Colin Pipe, Jane Page

(nee Milner) and Sylvia Pipe.