Fifty years ago only the partners at Swindells accountants in Uckfield had telephones, and calls made to and from them had to go through an operator.
In those days too employees had to be able to do sums in their heads because calculators were in their infancy.
Peter Gale remembers the times well because he is the longest serving member of staff at the firm and is now celebrating half a century of working there.
Gale and Woolgar
He joined Swindells and Gentry, as it was then, when he was 16. He hadn’t had a burning desire to become an accountant it was just that his father – the Gale in Gale and Woolgar jewellers – worked with an accountant and a bank manager and asked both to give his son an interview.
The teenager was offered jobs at both places but chose Swindells and Gentry where the original partners, Bertram Swindells and Roy Gentry, still worked. Mr Gentry was the resident Seaford partner.
Peter didn’t have all the exams needed and so followed a correspondence course before being indentured as an articled clerk and beginning his chartered accountancy exams. He still has the original articles.
Five years later in 1972 he qualified and stayed with the firm becoming a partner in 1975.
In the early days of Peter’s employment Swindells, then based in Uckfield High Street, worked with small businesses, retailers, builders and a considerable number of farmers.
Farmers typically had 20 to 30 cows and 20 to 30 acres of land and made a subsistence living but over the years, as farming generations passed on, these have, for the most part, been sold to become country houses with land rather than working farms.
Agriculture and rural economy clients still form a large work sector for Swindells as a smaller number of much larger units, many of which are specialist, including a number of vineyards.
The firm continues to work in almost all business sectors, from start-ups to corporate clients of all shapes and sizes. It also embraces specialist business taxation and planning.
Peter noted retailing had changed dramatically over the years. Nearly all the independent businesses he can name on a photograph from the late 1950s have gone. There were few big name retailers in town in those days.
Swindells and Gentry started in Uckfield in the 1930s and when Peter joined there were eight members of staff in town and two partners Bertram Swindells and Terry Baker. Now there are more than 30.
The company has faced challenges over the years. The first Peter remembers is when Bertram Swindells died in 1982. He had been working towards retirement but it was still a shock to lose a partner.
High Street fire
Then there was the fire in Uckfield High Street in September 2012 which ripped through roof voids damaging two charity shops Sense, The British Heart Foundation and Halifax, Natural Nails and the working hub at Swindells where 25 people were based.
The fire was on a Sunday night and by the Wednesday the Swindells IT system was up and running again with new servers and based at their Seaford office.
By the following Monday 25 computers had been replaced.
Swindells was already negotiating, at the time of the fire, to move to its present premises on the Bellbrook Estate and exactly a year after the fire the firm settled in to Atlantic House, 8 Bell Lane.
Peter, a former member of Uckfield Rotary Club, who has been a governor at Uckfield Community Technology College, a past Uckfield Chamber of Commerce president and once a long-running treasurer for that organisation, is still enjoying his job at Swindells and plans to continue working for as long as he is able to make a useful contribution to the business.
Outside work he enjoys his garden and his family. He is married to Jo and has three grown up children Hannah, Oliver and Alistair, and four grandchildren Georgia, aged 11, Olivia, nine, Freya, six and Arlo, two months.
Memories of Uckfield shops in the late 1950s
Peter Gale can list many shops in Uckfield during the late 1950s and he keeps the old photograph of the High Street, which can be seen above, as a screensaver on his computer.
To help you get your bearings, at the bottom right, you will see a building that is now occupied by SpecSavers.
The building sticking out at the bottom left of the picture was Tyhursts builders merchants. They had a big yard behind the building.
Where you can see a gap in the middle of the High Street on the right, Swindells and Gentry was set back from it. In front of the accountants was Tylers off-licence.
The building to the right of the gap has since been demolished. Next to that is the building now occupied by Carvills.
From the bottom of the High Street upwards on the right Peter remembers two or three shops from George Moss being a drapers, a luggage shop (now Grapevine), the toy shop Rockabye, a bakery, a men’s outfitter, the building now occupied by Carvills, two buildings now gone, one was Gorringe, one was a dentist’s, a gap where Swindells was, Tylers off-licence, TSB Bank.
Then on the other side of the entrance to Olives Yard were Cartwrights, Uckfield Press (where Costa is now), a milliner’s shop, Watsons (a jeweller’s where Peter’s father Lew once worked).
Then came the Midland Bank, and where Millets is now was once an International Stores.
One shop away from what is now All Sorts was Barfords menswear while All Sorts was an electricity and gas showroom.
On the opposite side of Grange Road was Barfords main shop which included ladies clothing.
Going up the hill, in the building most recently occupied by the Fun Net Cafe, was Home and Colonial Stores, then there was Oddie and Whitby, a pharmacy, then Paynes off-licence and grocer’s store. After that was Cartwrights fish shop.
Next came Toogood’s jewellers (where Lew Gale worked before going to Watsons) and in the building now occupied by the Picture House Restaurant was Clark’s ironmongers.
The Cinque Ports Club was a pub and across Hempstead Road was Thurston’s butchers.
Where the chippy is further up the road used to be a stationer’s, Taylors, and where the cycle shop is now, was a saddlery.
On the other side of the road in the Pepper Dining premises was Wildes (a ‘posh’ grocery shop). Peter can’t remember what was in the shop now occupied by the Diane Hut Gallery.
In the Professional Hair Design shop was a haberdashers, Elliotts.
The Maidens Head was a smart hotel. Next came a greengrocer’s (which became the first premises of Gale and Woolgar – it is currently empty but was most recently occupied by Fross Wedding Collections), then on the corner was Winters, a TV and radio shop.
Coming down the hill, across Church Street, where there is now a 60s development, used to be a car showroom called Chandlers which sold Fords. There were other shops too but Peter can’t remember their names.
Then came the cinema, the town hall and the Westminster Bank where Pizza Express is now. (The Westminster Bank merged with the National Provincial to become the NatWest).
Then there was the Post Office and an open yard with a retail dairy at the end of it. Then there were two cottages behind white rails.
Next came a vacant lot where the NatWest is now. The National Provincial was where Gale and Woolgar is now.
Further down the High street were Eaves cycle shop and Nicolsons greengrocer’s. Eventually came Woolworth’s, now WH Smith, and Boots, where Pippins restaurant is now.
Then were was Dyers bookshop and another wet fish shop.
Tyhursts builders merchants came next (sticking out at the bottom left of the old photograph), then there was the bus station and a big open area with a cafe, and a Drill Hall with the Cardale Memorial outside.
Next were the Holly Bush cafe, Bridge Cottage and the railway station.
Below George Moss on the right was a pub, The Bell, now Waitrose, Freeman Foreman was Evans radio shop, then there was a ladies’ outfitter, hardware shop and French and Thurlow garage.
In Newtown Peter remembers Weeks Bakery, a noteable business just below the United Reformed Church, and across the road was Bannisters furniture shop where Applegate dental practice is now.
In those days Framfield Road was a very good shopping centre too.
If you can fill in any more gaps on the late 1950s shopping scene please email firstname.lastname@example.org and we will add them to this story.
Richard Cosstick says in an email to Uckfield News:
I enjoyed the piece about our town from Peter Gale, you asked for help re missing shops etc.
I started work in Carvills Furnishings Ltd. owned and run by Mr. G.W. Bridger with one of his brothers in September 1959 and remember most of the shops in the town then.
Below Carvills, was Frank Price Mens Outfitters (very high quality) later became James Hall same trade.
Golden West Bakery next down the hill. (used to get our lunch-break cakes here, as sold day-old cakes half price.)
Rockabye the toys and babies shop came next.
Tobacco and Sports shop next sold all types of tobacco, pipes and sporting goods etc.
Bakers followed, small department store sold school uniforms and general outfitters.
Dewhurst the Butchers.
The Bell Public House.
Dadswells the Mens Hairdressers. ( very high speed hairdressing here and very short close back and sides.)
Evans, the Radio shop.
C. H. Rouse Ladies clothes shop. (Mrs Rouse owned this shop for many years until her retirement)
Grays the Optician.
The Colour Centre, Paints and Wallpapers etc.
Mence Smiths (Sold household items, brooms, mops, dustbins etc. (Remember that smell of the wood floor.)
Flynns the Dry Cleaners.
French & Thurlows Garage, later owned and run by Mrs Bailey of Tyhursts.
Then it was open ground with just a Pill Box before the Toilets and the Railway Crossing.
The town was so different then, as was life, wages were very low for most and for a chap like me starting out in life, I was paid under £3 a week for the first year and at the time felt hard done by, but the trade I learnt was my trade for life and I was in it until I retired in 2010. (I stayed at Carvills for 20 years, it was a great shop to work in, very high class interior decor work, including carpets, curtains (handmade in Carvills own workshop) furniture and upholstery to name a few.
Work was carried out in many of the large houses around, but also in outlying towns and villages, as far away as, and including, London. One had the pleasure to help some famous people of the time and never knew who might walk in that door!
I think I could name the shops on the other side of the road, as well, but ones missed by Peter I think were, Carvills, their other shop called Carvills Fifteen as at No. 15 Central Parade, below them Ellis and Frisby who became Parade Radio, also Boots, a Drycleaners and Belmans the Wool shop just above Ellmers the Fishmonger.
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