If you lived in Watford in the late 1800s, you would have been spoilt for choice when it came to food shopping. There were many shopkeepers who spent their days ordering stocks of goods, keeping their premises spotless, ensuring their window displays were well arranged and striving to please their customers.

Of these, Enoch Garment was one.

Born in 1848 in St Albans, he became a butcher’s boy then, at 24, began trading on his own account on Holywell Hill. At 25 he married Ruth Cook. A few years later he moved to Watford; to 103 St Albans Road, near the junction with Langley Road, where he and Ruth and their then four children lived above the premises.

Watford Observer: Enoch Garment's shop, 109 St. Albans Road, fourth shop from the junction with Langley Road. Source: Watford in 1891Enoch Garment's shop, 109 St. Albans Road, fourth shop from the junction with Langley Road. Source: Watford in 1891

His family grew and, with seven children to feed, he moved a few doors away, to 109 St Albans Road; the fourth shop from the Langley Road corner, again settling his family above the shop. His eldest son, Samuel, became his assistant.

Enoch was not only a knowledgeable grocer and provision merchant; he was also an experienced tea dealer. By 1891, his Watford Tea Emporium was famed for ‘the cup which cheers’. He took the greatest care to preserve the leaves’ ‘fine fragrance and strength’. His 2/- (10p) tea was of ‘very special value and a universal favourite’. He aimed to keep both flavour and strength as uniform as the time of year would allow.

He also ground and roasted coffee beans on the premises and was proud of ‘the aromatic properties of pure, fresh roasted coffee which pervaded the establishment’.

Watford Observer: Enoch Garment's shop behind the horse and cart, 1906Enoch Garment's shop behind the horse and cart, 1906

As for groceries, he sold nutritious Epps’, Van Houten’s, Cadbury’s and Fry’s cocoas; Huntley & Palmer and Peak Frean biscuits; Mellin’s Food, an American modified milk for infants and invalids; Scottish oatmeal; Bovril; custard powder; tinned fish; meat and top branded preserves; pickles; sauces; spices and sugars. His provision department offered home cured hams; Wiltshire Bacon; fresh eggs and dairy products; Dorset, Aylesbury and other butters; and Cheddar and Canadian cheese.

You could have shopped at 109 St Albans Road, fully confident that Enoch Garment would provide top products, good value and personal service.

Enoch died in September 1918 and, as a widow, Ruth struggled with her health. By January 1921, at 72 years of age, she was suffering from a permanent disability and was declared a pauper. She was sent to Watford’s Workhouse and died before the end of that year. Life could be really tough in Watford, even in the 20th century.

Watford Observer: Kempton Bros. shop, 115 High Street, on the Queens Road corner, circa early 1900s. Courtesy of Anne AdamsonKempton Bros. shop, 115 High Street, on the Queens Road corner, circa early 1900s. Courtesy of Anne Adamson

A little under half-an-hour’s walk away was Kempton Bros., a family grocery business that Thomas Kempton and his wife Elizabeth took over around the early 1870s.

Located at 115 High Street, the premises were in a fine position with an excellent frontage, on the corner of High Street and Queens Road and facing the London and County Bank on the King Street corner. The latter still stands proud, but 115, together with a huge swathe of Victorian shops in Queens Road, were demolished some years ago.

Established in the late 18th century, Kempton Bros. had a long history and a good reputation. Not only were the window displays kept clean and bright ‘to tempt the casual customer’; the lengthy interior was fully utilised and the extensive stores at the rear of the shop held a large reserve stock.

Watford Observer: Thomas Tyerman Kempton, his wife Elizabeth Hyom and their family, circa late 1800s. Courtesy of Anne AdamsonThomas Tyerman Kempton, his wife Elizabeth Hyom and their family, circa late 1800s. Courtesy of Anne Adamson

Like Enoch Garment, Thomas Kempton was also a tea dealer, aided by the reduction in duty and ‘the competitive spirit abroad’. His teas, reported as likely to lay claim to ‘the title of unrivalled’, were new season’s growths from India, China and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). His coffees came from ‘the best plantations’ and were roasted and ground in the shop.

Thomas Kempton also stocked cocoas, sugars, dried fruits, Italian warehouse goods, biscuits and tinned and bottled goods of the finest brands. His provision department sold the best English and American hams and bacon as well as Canadian and continental cheeses and fresh butter. He dealt extensively in wines and spirits, ales and stouts. He was also the local agent for H.R. Thomas, whose wines and spirits he stocked in large quantities, together with Bass’s ale, Guinness’s stout and Ind Coope’s ale and stout.

The business thrived but Thomas Kempton died in 1904 at 55 years of age, leaving eight children, with 51-year-old Elizabeth in charge of the shop. Elizabeth continued running the business, living above the shop with three daughters and two sons. Her daughter Margery helped as bookkeeper and her youngest son, Henry, assisted in the shop.

As the years progressed, Elizabeth retired to Carey Place, a stone’s throw away, and lived with her daughter Bertha, a school mistress. Compared to Ruth Garment, she was fortunate with her health and lived to the ripe old age of 95, passing away in 1948.

These parallel stories of two local traders, one who established his own grocery business and another who inherited a family business, focus on the efforts independent shop keepers went to in order to attract and secure custom. In the days before telephones, mass motor transport and supermarkets, their earnestness and hard work can only be admired from what is another world.

  • Lesley Dunlop is the daughter of the late Ted Parrish, a well-known local historian and documentary filmmaker. He wrote 96 nostalgic articles for the ‘Evening Post-Echo’ in 1982-83 which have since been published in ‘Echoes of Old Watford, Bushey & Oxhey’, available at www.pastdayspublishing.com and Bushey Museum. Lesley is currently working on ‘Two Lives, Two World Wars’, a companion volume that explores her father’s and grandfather’s lives and war experiences, in which Watford, Bushey and Oxhey’s history will take to the stage once again.