The demise of the village shop

Carpet Bowls

Another two finals in the carpet bowling season took place in the Village Hall last Tuesday evening – the Open Singles and the Pairs.

In the Singles Mary Brebner, competing in her second final in two weeks, began very well against the holder, Clark Simpson, winning five of the first seven ends to move confidently into a four shot lead, 6-2, before Clark’s count of three at the eighth end stemmed the tide and prevented the game from running away from him altogether.

Still, the interruption to Mary’s progress was only temporary as, with a succession of perfectly weighted touchers and mounting singles, she continued to hold the advantage, 9-5 after eleven and 11-7 after fifteen, before two successive counts of three gave Clark the lead for the first time, 13-11.

Mary’s double at the next put both finalists in the graveyard and it was Clark who escaped first with a single followed by another and then a double, 17-13. Mary was back in the frame with a single at the twenty second but with a count of three at the twenty third Clark was in pole position and his single at the twenty fourth was enough to give him the victory.

This was an engrossing contest which never failed to hold the attention. The finalists were well matched and shared the ends equally and, while Mary was generally the more accurate on the night, it was Clark’s ability to score more heavily when given the opportunity that enabled him to retain the trophy.

After a short break it was on to the 11-end final of the Pairs which saw Jenny Beedie and Pat Wisbey on the carpet against Clark Simpson and Gordon McCombie. There was nothing between the pairs in the early stages and after six ends Clark and Gordon led by a single shot, 4-3, but the turning point came in the next end when a count of four put them in a commanding position.

Jenny and Pat recovered with a single and, despite their chances being virtually gone when they lost a single followed by a two, 4-11, Pat determinedly hung on by burning the last end and, although she and Jenny did win the replayed end with a single it was not nearly enough to prevent Clark Simpson and Gordon McCombie from becoming the Pairs champions for 2010-11.

Mearns Coastal Parish

In continuing to lead the congregation along the road to Easter in Johnshaven Church on Sunday morning, the Minister, the Rev Colin Dempster, explained in detail the significance of the Last Supper and said that God’s righteousness is our salvation through his son Jesus Christ who died on the Cross for the forgiveness of all our sins. The organist was Mrs Helen Doig.

This Sunday, April 17 Palm Sunday services will be held in Johnshaven Church at 10 a.m. and St Cyrus Church at 11.30 a.m. and on Maundy Thursday, April 21 there will be an Easter Walk around St Cyrus at 6.30. p.m. followed by Holy Communion and Supper in the Church at 7.30 p.m.

A Good Friday Service will be held in St Cyrus Church on April 22 at 11 a.m. and an Easter Sunday Family Service in Johnshaven Church at 11 a.m. followed by refreshments and time for fellowship.

Bowling Club

Just a reminder to members of the Bowling Club and any potential new members that the official opening of the green and the annual match between the President’s and Vice-President’s teams will take place this Sunday at 2 p.m.

Mill of Benholm

The Mill of Benholm Project, which gained a new lease of life with the injection of new blood at an EGM in October last year, are proposing, in a desire to create an atmosphere of community ownership and involvement, to hold monthly members’ evenings in the Mill Tearoom and grounds. The initial meeting tonight, Friday, will be an informal cheese and wine occasion but the format of future meetings will be decided by the members themselves.

In a different vein, children are invited to join the “Benholm Buddies” at the Mill on Saturday, April 23 between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. for all kinds of “egg-citing” activities, including an Easter Egg trail, bonnet competition, art, crafts and much more. There will be face painting by Marsha and two special performances at 11 a.m. and 12 noon by Kidgloves Puppets.

Tickets may be bought in advance at the Mill or paid for on the day. Further information on the Mill of Benholm is available on its website

Time and Tide

The increasing presence of the supermarket and its effect on the “High Street” never seems to be out of the news for very long these days whether it be Stonehaven where, for example, there is a perceived lack of consumer choice due to the dominance of one company or Montrose where there is a distinct possibility that another will be added to the existing three.

There was a time, of course, when people had no alternative other than to use their local shops and in Johnshaven this presented no great problem since, walking through the village 50 or 60 years ago you would have passed by at least one shop on virtually every street and, astonishingly for such a small community, Johnshaven in the period immediately after the Second World War, could boast two butchers, two bakers, four tailors, two dressmakers, two shoemakers, a fishmonger, a milliner, a Post Office and no fewer than eight grocers/general merchants and, into the last of those categories fell Hugh Nicol’s and MacKenzie’s, although other generations would have known those establishments by different names.

Indeed, the first recorded owner of “Nicol’s” is that of Alex Caird in 1882 at a time when the brewery at the top of Milne’s Wynd was still thriving and there was probably enough activity in and around the shop to keep him busy enough.

Mr Caird continued in business until the 1920s when he was succeeded by James Fraser and then, briefly in the 1930s, Mrs Agnes Craig operated a tearoom in part of the premises, perhaps the only time that the village has enjoyed the benefit of such an amenity, and when she moved on Joseph Goodall ran the grocer’s before he transferred to Ballogie on Deeside.

But then there was to be a big change in the nature of the business following the retiral of the Postmistress, Isabella Jolly.

Operating from the former Brewery House since 1907 Bella, as she was affectionately known by all, franked her last letter in 1947 and so her position had to be filled. That person was Hugh Nicol who arrived from Collieston in Aberdeenshire to run the Post Office in addition to the grocer’s shop until he relinquished the post and sold the premises in 1960 and, despite the expectation that the shop would reopen under new ownership, it never did and its conversion to living accommodation soon afterwards was really the first hint that times would never be the same again for the small independent village trader.

Although the history of MacKenzie’s did not follow quite the same path of that of Nicol’s, their fates were inextricably linked for, just as the removal of the Post Office from 7 Milne’s Wynd spelt the end for Nicol’s, it ensured the future of MacKenzie’s which had occupied 11 and 12 Castle Street at least since a Montrose general dealer, Frank Anderson, received a title deed for the property in 1898.

There were three short-term occupants after him until the arrival of MacKenzie from Inverness in 1935. Coming from such a distant part, there was always an air of mystery surrounding MacKenzie, for that was always what he was called: never Mr, or a first name, just “MacKenzie.”

A strikingly tall bachelor with a liking for shirt sleeve order even on the coldest of winter days and treasurer of the Wairds Park committee for several years, William MacKenzie owned the general merchant’s for 25 years before retiring in 1960, significantly the same year as Hugh Nicol.

Significantly, because, with the closure of the business at 7 Milne’s Wynd, a new location once again had to be found for the Post Office and it was to “MacKenzie’s” it went with its purchase by David Logan in 1960 and there it remained through a further four owners until Peter and Lorna Heap bought the Haven Stores in 1985 and the Post Office was relocated there.

That was not altogether the end of MacKenzie’s, as it was restructured internally and for a brief period in 1986 housed a home bakery. It was no longer, though, one of Johnshaven’s principal shops.

Stroll through the village today and you will see no lack of evidence of Johnshaven’s once vibrant “High Street” and, although the proliferation of supermarkets may well have speeded up the demise of the village shop, the decline was setting in even as its popularity was at its peak.

Growing prosperity after the post war years of austerity, increase in car ownership and improved public transport was already making Montrose and Stonehaven increasingly appealing as shopping venues and even Aberdeen and Dundee were well within range.

The closure of Nicol’s and MacKenzie’s was indicative of a general and unremitting trend which continued until there was, only one shop – the Johnshaven Stores - left. But we’ll keep its story for another day, shall we?