Osborne’s Toymaster in Rushden High Street Northamptonshire has been a favourite with families since 1955, and Jim Osborne has built up a rich reservoir of memories.
He said: “I was 23 when I bought the shop and to begin with it was just me and my mother. We sold toys, models and sports goods and were more into the sports, but slowly we moved more towards the toys and models.
“When we started it was a family town, generations of families worked in the factories and the town shopped in the town.”
The range of toys Osborne’s stocks has got bigger as have the costs associated with running a business, although Mr Osborne can remember purchase tax, the predecessor of VAT, which reached about 50 per cent at one point.
Through the years, Mr Osborne remembers various crazes, from yo-yos to clackers, space hoppers to Rubik’s Cube and Mastermind, and said: “Modern crazes don’t last as long as they did but some things that were crazes, such as hoola hoops, are still popular.”
In his earlier years, the shop stayed open for longer, serving customers until 6pm. Mr Osborne said: “The men would come out of the factories and prop their bikes up on the kerb before coming in the shop. We always stayed open until about 8.30 on Christmas Eve because the factories didn’t pay the wages until midday. At Christmas we only closed for Christmas Day and Boxing Day and we’d also be closed for Good Friday and Easter Monday and Whit Monday.”
Another holiday tradition that is dying out is Factory Fortnight. Mr Osborne remembers the Friday afternoon before Factory Fortnight being busy as people stocked up with things for their holidays and then the town was very quiet, with some family shops closing as well. All the shops closed on Thursday afternoon, which was Rushden’s traditional half day.
In the 1950s and 60s Rushden High Street was home to a lot more family-owned shops. Mr Osborne said: “Lots of the shops had been there for a long time, there was Phillips, which was a third generation shop, Ross Neville, Tailby and Puttnum, Home and Colonial and two good wet fish shops. The Co-op was very important as well and had a food shop, fish and chip shop, clothing shop, funeral parlour and a painter and decorator’s.”
Mr Osborne also remembers the American servicemen from the base in Chelveston coming into the town, although they had their own shops on the base, some run by local retailers, including Jim Knight.
He said: “The base also had the only 10 pin bowling alley in the area and asked local organisations such as the Lions to organise leagues which then played their matches at the base’s alley. It was a way of generating goodwill.”
Other changes include an increase in the use of credit cards, and the end of toy rationing. The Meccano sales rep would visit the shop and tell Mr Osborne how many sets he could have for the year. To order supplies of other toys and models for the shop, Mr Osborne used to visit the national toy fairs, spending his honeymoon at a toy fair in Brighton.
At one time, Rushden had three cinemas, the Ritz, the Palace and the Royal, and Mr Osborne recalls people going once or twice a week. He said: “They would come out, buy fish and chips and go home on a real high.”
A change that is particularly relevant at the moment is in the way fireworks were sold. Mr Osborne said: “They were always sold loose and we had them in inividual boxes on the counter. The men would come in with their cigarettes in their mouths and I’d say: ‘For goodness sake, put your fag out.’
“They had great names like Little Demon and Boy Scout Rouser, and were made by Standard and Brocks, but now we sell Kimbolton fireworks. We also used to sell a lot of indoor fireworks. These days Halloween seems to be more popular than bonfire night.”
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