AMBRIDGES IRONMONGERS AND HARDWARE SHOP - 483  HIGH ROAD TOTTENHAM

David Callan – Johannesburg South Africa

 


ERNEST CHARLES AMBRIDGE OUTSIDE HIS SHOP AT 483 HIGH ROAD TOTTENHAM IN THE EARLY 1900’S

 

My name is David Callan and I live in Johannesburg, South Africa.
I was googling the business of my Great Grandfather on my Mothers Mothers side when I came across an article on your Tottenham website by Stan Wood. What interested me was his first job at 14 years old at E.C Ambridge Ironmongers in Tottenham High Road.

Ernest Charles Ambridge was my Great Grandfather who started the Ironmongers at 483 High Road, Tottenham, but as he passed away in 1911 and is buried at the Tottenham Old Church next to Bruce Castle, I assume Stan Wood worked for my Great Uncle Frances Stanley Joseph Ambridge who took the business over and turned it into a Wholesale Ironmongers. It ran until 1955 when Frances passed away and the business was sequestrated.

My Grandmother Jessie May Ambridge grew up at 18 Drayton Road, Bruce Grove, Tottenham. She married Percy Vere Ernest Fruin in 1912 and they emigrated to East London, South Africa in the same Year. He grew up at 141 Felixstowe Road, Tottenham. Percy’s Father Alfred James Fruin was a Superintendent at H. M. Bonded Vaults.

 

Stan Wood had written a most detailed description of his early work experiences at E.C Ambridge and company from just prior to WW2 and the hardships and deprivations experienced by the people of Tottenham throughout the war. The following are a small number of extracts taken from Stan Wood’s memories that capture some of the events and working practices that help build a mental picture of this once prominent business along Tottenham High Road:

  • • E.C Ambridge & Son had been established for over sixty years. The shop was on the left hand side of Tottenham High Road, not far from Bruce Grove corner and almost opposite Woolworths. The owner Mr Ambridge, who was the son of the founder, was both very religious and demanded strict discipline in the running of the business.
    • I worked for ‘E.C Ambridge’ (Ironmongers – Tools –Radio – Hardware etc ) and we stocked over 100,000 lines. We were well known throughout London and we had a famous motto displayed in neon lights above the shop in Tottenham High Road. Our motto was ‘Everything from a tinned tack to a steam engine’. We were situated next door to ‘Easterns’ Furniture shop and opposite ‘Endeans’ the leather shop. It truly was a wonderful place to work and to learn !
    • Ambridge’s had customers throughout London and had a sound reputation for the extensive supplies they held and the quality of their customer service. The work conditions pre-war were quite harsh and our opening hours were from 8.30am to 8.00pm daily with a half days closing at 1.00pm on Thursdays.
    • The staff were all required to wear Brown storecoats, collars and ties and be smart in appearance at all times
    • Mr Ambridge was a very good signwriter and throughout the shop there was hand painted notices reminding staff to keep the area tidy. ‘Switch off this light’ – ‘Close this Door’ – ‘No smoking anywhere on these premises’. Even in the staff toilet there was a notice that read ‘There are libraries and Bedrooms but this place has not been designed for either’
    • No bad language was ever tolerated in the shop and if the boss heard even the smallest bad word there would be trouble and probably the sack. We dealt with hundreds of customers in the course of the week and it was important that everyone was dealt with efficiently and with our every help.
    • Besides the Manager we also employed a qualified Locksmith and a Radio repairman, a Van driver and four senior assistants on the counter. To ensure the correct person was available to deal with customers we had a bell system and the number of rings denoted who was required immediately in the shop.
    • We had two long counters going the length of the shop broken by the Cash Office. The first counter specialised in General ironmongery, tools, hardware and paints. The second counter handled electrical appliances. This included a complete range of fittings as well as radio sets and spares. We also had radiograms, record players and televisions too!
    • I followed on learning the complete tool trade as we stocked the entire range of tools for all trades. The Engineer – Plumber – Decorator – Gas Fitter – Heating Engineer –Tinmans tools – Blacksmiths tools and of course carpenters and Joiners.
    • We had a stock of five television sets all with 9” (Nine inch) screens. At that time they cost £50 each (approx 12 weeks of the average wage). We had a television working every afternoon in 1938 for about two hours. That was about the maximum time each day. Each day it was the same short comedy sketch and later on it did get a little better before of course it ceased until after the war.
    • Besides all of the Radios and equipment etc we took in each week over 100 accumulators for charging. These were both small and large in size and were made of glass with a wire carrying handle. Customers would bring them in on Wednesdays and collect them on Saturdays in time for the weekend.
    • 1939 – THE THREAT OF WAR: The year of 1939 is a year none of us will forget! Although the world news had been bad for somewhile, we started the year hoping for better news, particularly after the return of Mr Chamberlain from Munich with the promise of ‘Peace in our time’, and we thought war could be avoided after all.
    • So at the start of 1939 although we were still at peace, unfortunately all the signs of war were about us. There were continuous talk of what might be and the plans for evacuation of the children. And of course the prospect of conscription for military service and the issue of gas masks and air-raid shelters too.
    • We had a small van for deliveries and we had three delivery slots each day anywhere in North London. The van was full on every journey plus a roof rack and we made no charge for delivery no matter how small the order.
    • I can never remember anyone taking time off sick as you would have to be really ill before the war to stay out even for one day. Once again you worried about your job. Shop boys like me could often get another job but the older married staff had to be very careful, as they knew jobs were in short supply.
    • So 1939 continued with more and more worries for everyone. I can recall that the local authority instructed us to go to the Blind School next to Tottenham Bus garage to collect and be fitted with our gas masks. In April 1939, the residents of Tottenham were told to prepare for the delivery of the Anderson Air-Raid shelters. These were later delivered to every household over many weeks. They were free to low income families and others had to pay a special fee
    • We also had large stocks of torches and batteries and we were told by ‘Ever Ready’ that there would later be an acute shortage of all types of batteries. Many items were already getting in short supply as many manufacturers changed their production lines to the most important items and also to service government contracts.
    • After the issue of gas masks we were told what to do around the house to prepare for any possible gas attacks. People were told to seal around windows and doors etc, and we at Ambridge’s were offered all type of different items that would be needed in the event of air-raids etc
    • At Ambridge’s we had to hold large stocks of gas mantles. We, like thousands of others only had gas Lighting at home and of course only battery operated wireless sets. Gas Mantles were very fragile and you had to always have a few spare ones.
    • What wonderful training Ambridge’s was for me both then and for my future too? There’s no doubt whatsoever that the knowledge I gained saw me through my entire successful working life and to final directorship with two companies.

 

David Callan has sent to us a fine collection of photographs that have survived in South Africa and capture some scenes of the local area and events that his family once enjoyed. He explains that he has quite a few photos from the early 1900’s of scenes in and around Tottenham as his Grandfathers one brother was a professional photographer and travelled around England on a motorbike with sidecar taking photos.



Central Association of Volunteer Training Corps
- a voluntary system of enlistment and many men still held to the Victorian principle that it was the task
 of professional troops to fight a war whilst voluntary militias provided for home defence- Early ‘Home Guard’ of which E.C Ambridge was probably a member. C 1914


WHITE HART LANE TOTTENHAM c1907

HIGH CROSS TOTTENHAM c1906

TOTTENHAM HIGH ROAD c1906

TOTTENHAM HIGH ROAD - LOOKING NORTH TOWARDS BRUCE GROVE  c1906

STONEBRIDGE LOCK TOTTENHAM - c1905

BRUCE CASTLE PARK TOTTENHAM c1908

CHRISTMAS CARD TO FAMILY IN SOUTH AFRICA - 1912

WINTER IN TOTTENHAM - c1907


HAPPY NEW YEAR CARD TO FAMILY IN SOUTH AFRICA  

BACKGROUND IMAGE - BRUCE GROVE c1900

This photographs would have been taken very close to the Ambridge store - looking north towards Bruce Grove

Article prepared by Alan Swain - Using notes and photographs by David Callan and memories of Stan Wood

July 2019