The school ‘tuck shop’ on the Wells Road

Paul with his grandfather.

It’s always good to hand over a bit of space for someone else to tell a tale.

Paul Polden is going to take us on a trip down “Memory Lane” though – in this case – it’s more down the Wells Road.

He writes: “You may recall that a few months back I mentioned to you that I had a bit of nostalgia of my times growing up in my grandfather’s shop in lower Wells Road in Bath.

 This shop doubled as the Tuck Shop for Oldfield Boys School and also was seen as the hub of the once vibrant community which I promised I would share with you.

The article attached was originally written several years back by me for a school magazine but during this most recent lockdown I have now had time to rework it.

The Bath Council at the time ripped out the heart of the local community in the 60s when they demolished most of the surrounding houses and businesses, completing the task that the Luftwaffe failed to do twenty years or so earlier.

All the houses and shops in the same row up to number 12 were also demolished and if you take a trip up there sometime you can clearly see what remains now in contrast to what it was formerly like in the photo I have sent you.

As a footnote, number 12 became unstable after the Council knocked down the adjacent houses. They dumped several tonnes of ballast next to the the house to try to shore it up.

The property became damp and unsafe and eventually after not admitting liability for the instability they had caused gave my father £5000 for it in the 90s and rehoused him and my gran in a Council house in another part of Bath. They subsequently sold the shop on and it has since been renovated and turned into a house.”

Thanks for that Paul and here’s your article for many others to enjoy l am sure.

A glass of Sarsaparilla, a cheese roll and a No.6 – a trip down memory lane.

The shop window has long since been removed and the name over it has faded towards obscurity but Reg Polden’s shop at 12 Lower Wells Road will surely linger in the memory of many Oldfield ‘old boys’.  This shop was so close to the school it was able to provide a unique ‘tuck shop’ service to both staff and pupils.

Reg Polden was my grandfather.  He lived and worked in an age prior to modern-day regulation and he was therefore able to carry out several “specialisms” under one roof as a greengrocer, purveyor of sweets, tobacco products, soft drinks and a variety of tasty cold snacks while carrying on the business of a hairdresser.  The ultimate ‘one stop shop’.  It was possible to call in to number 12 to buy some spuds, a snack, a drink, a smoke and have your hair cut at the same time.

Reg had a rich history in his own right.  He served his hairdressing apprenticeship at Newports which was a well-established hairdressing establishment at the time and at the end of it he was conscripted into the first division of the British Army during WW1. He ended up being a NCO attached to the Black Watch from 1915 – 1918 when his Division became depleted during the conflict. 

He saw active service in the trenches and like so many soldiers of his time he did not dwell on his experiences. He was an ARP Warden during the 2nd World War and there are documented records of him and his colleagues rescuing people from bombed out buildings during the Bath Blitz.

My grandfather opened his own hairdressing salon in Wells Road in 1920.  From then on he provided a valuable service to the permanent residents of Wells Road, nearby Stothert and Pitt, and to the migratory population of children from Oldfield Boys School who passed through over successive generations for over 60 years.  

The perils of earning his living so close to the school took its toll on Reg over the years.  We could argue that some children today may possibly be mischievous and cheeky but in the 60s when I went to the school we were no angels either, despite the relatively harsh disciplinary regime at Oldfield Boys School. 

There were no signs on Reg’s tuck shop door as there might be these days, demanding that “no more than two children enter the shop at any one time” or “all bags to be left outside”.  At Reg Polden’s there was a huge invasion of ravenous boys every lunchtime and then again immediately after school, sometimes to a despairing Reg.

  His reaction, at the point where he became overwhelmed by the melee was affectionately known as ‘doing a Reg’.  An outpouring at the top of his voice for the children to “kindly vacate the shop” or words to that effect!! There was more than one way of ‘getting your hair off’ in his shop!!!

As far as hairstyles are concerned, there were fewer opportunities to follow celebrity culture in those days.  There was seemingly one cut at Reg’s!  The ‘Masher Mills’. This was a short back and sides cut affectionately named after the nickname of the Deputy Head of the Oldfield school.  Reg would shape this cut as close to the scalp as possible in order to appease the demands of ‘him who was to be obeyed’ –  Mr Mills. 

I remember with some trepidation the hair checks at the end of each Technical Drawing lesson where it was clear that if “Masher” could see any hair touching your collar then a haircut was ordered.

The shop was a draw for the Oldfield boys.  From the new intake each September, wearing their pristine white shirts and ties, short trousers, caps and blazers they found their way there to sample the delights of its offerings to those young men leaving as they celebrated the conclusion of their time at Oldfield with a soft drink and roll before the ceremonial throwing of their caps into the River Avon.  

Sarsparilla was a popular drink during the sixties and competed with Ice Cream Soda, Cherryade, Limeade, Orangeade, Ginger Beer and Lemonade at Reg’s.  These soft drinks were sold in tuppenny, threepenny and sixpenny glasses. 

We were boys who knew how to live within our means.  My grandmother used to support Reg by preparing a variety of filled crusty rolls and also made toffee apples and bread pudding to sell in the shop and they sold like ‘hot cakes’.  

For some older boys who were of age there was an overwhelming urge to have a cigarette whilst out of school, hence the request by them for a No 6.  This was not to be confused with a numbered haircut, but one of a packet of John Player No 6 King Sized cigarettes.  

The thought of “a smoke” also brings to mind some of the confectionary sold at the time. The ‘firemens’ hoses’, those long red strips of liquorice which were very popular.   Wagon wheels, large round chocolate coated marshmallow biscuits with their distinctive yellow wrappers and the picture of the cowboy wagon, both stand out in my memory as confectionary of the time.

 My grandfather, no doubt “did a Reg” for more than sixty years and never left the shop in Wells Road until his passing.  He died in 1985 after a short illness at the age of 90.  My grandmother lived on to the grand old age of 105 and remained an active member of Manvers Street Baptist Church almost up to her passing. 

The shop was their lives and also the hub of the close knit community in Wells Road before the bulldozers moved in in the 60s completing the task that Hitler failed to achieve twenty years earlier in the name of progress.  Number 12 was also my home for the first 20 odd years of my life too and I have very fond memories of the characters who frequented the shop.

There will probably also be a nostalgic tale or two of my grandfather’s shop tucked into the childhood memories of Oldfield Boys, and to those who knew him from the local community at the time to whom he served.”

What a fantastic story Paul. Thank you for sharing your grandfather’s story with Bath Newseum.

Someone who enjoyed reading this has been Charles Plummer. He writes:

“It was great to read the piece about Reg in Bath Newseum. 


Paul may be interested to know that my band – The Funtans – wrote and recorded a song about his grandfather Reg a few years ago.

You can access the track ‘Reg’ via
https://open.spotify.com/track/2VJkeyjF9fHLffsnSI7n9R?si=BdawbiQIQjKcgqfcc60Q-g


Jim Cumpson, our harmonica player, used to frequent the shop as a boy, and wrote the words as an affectionate tribute.”