Ray Heather and Steve c.2013
JPS Orange Shop Front
Chesham High Street
Shelving in the shop – Sellotape anyone?
Graham Woodward who joined David Rowley soon after Chiltern office Efficiency started in 1976
David Rowley who started Chiltern Office Efficiency in 1976
Original Shop Counter
Chesham Market Square showing Town Bookshop before it became Chiltern Office Efficiency (1965-1976)
David Rowley with a typewriter –
the Word processor of the day
In September, Ray joined as shop manager. The shop was still busy, but the stationery market place was changing, as computers and the internet became the norm in most homes and offices. However, the shop adapted as buying patterns changed, type-writer ribbons (which previously filled a walk in cupboard) were severely reduced. Rolls of fax paper, carbon paper and even pen sales slowed, as new products such as floppy disks and computer cartridges appeared, filling many of the shelves.
The biggest cause for concern however, was the decline in business accounts. Being serviced from JPS head office in Oxfordshire, had alienated many of the local businesses pushing them to buy from larger national stationery companies.
The shop front also changed from the sombre blue to a bright and controversial orange.
Chiltern Office Efficiency was started in around 1973 at a small shop on White Hill, by David Rowley. During the first day David managed just to sell one item – a ballpoint pen costing just 5p to the costumer. Mr. Rowley admitted later: “that [the pen] only went to a friend who came in to wish me well!” However Graham Woodward joined David in 1974 as sales director. The business then moved to 7 Market Square in October 1976. Later in 1986 the annual sales were nearly half a million pounds. This was due to the superb partnership of these two dedicated men, taking voluntary 50 percent cut in salaries and working 60 to 70 hour weeks.
In 1993 COE celebrated 20 years of trading. The Bucks Examiner ran a half page advert, featuring a photograph of the nine current staff. The accompanying editorial proudly stated that “more than 700 companies are served by COE, delivering as far as Edinburgh and Bristol!”
Clearly by this time the commercial business had grown considerably, nevertheless, the shop in Chesham remained an important feature of the company.
However, in 1995 things were about to change… Graham decided to sell the business.
The purchase was completed in the Summer, and the new business was amalgamated with JPS Office Supplies, a commercial business only dealer, who was looking to expand from the Thames Valley into the Chilterns.
The Town Bookshop was managed by Mr. Mike R Daniels from The Mirror Group (a company from Norwich). The Shop was completely refurbished, with no limit of expense. A cutting from the Bucks Examiner at the time mentions a huge photograph of Market Square, which was, located inside the shop, paid for by the owners; this still exists and is currently kept at the Chesham Museum.
The upper floors were also refurbished at great expense, in popular colours schemes of the time. Overt orange carpets, a garish pale pink bathroom and an avocado coloured kitchen.
The Town Bookshop opened for business in approximately 1965. Continuing its newspaper deliveries, but also developed into the Commercial Stationery business and Books for Schools.Mike also saw the need for a bookshop in the town, and grew this side of the business. Interestingly he arranged signing sessions for local authors, best known being Val Biro of the “Gumdrop” series of books.
In 1936 Harold and Nip Blundell first visited the pretty village of Chesham nestling in the Chiltern Hills, whilst Harold was playing against Chesham United. As luck would have it the couple spotted an advertisement for the sale of a newsagent/bookshop for sale in the Market Place. In 1936 scraping together their savings and pooling them with Harold’s brother Eddie’s they managed to buy the Shop. The two young couples, Nip and Harold, Eddie and his wife, Mary, lived on the two floors above the shop. Thanks to Eddie’s extra income as a skilled carpenter they balanced the books and managed to draw wages of £1.00 for each couple!
Thankfully, the bookshop thrived and gradually built a fine reputation as a source of quality reading matter as well as a newsagents and stationers.
Harold, a popular local figure, helped found the Rotary Club of Chesham together with other local businessmen. He went on to become President in 1958.
Such was Harold’s dedication to the business and his customers that when the harsh winter of 1963 prevented him from driving down Eskdale Avenue at 5.00am to collect the papers from the station, he took to tobogganing down White Hill to collect them instead! The business continued to thrive throughout the fifties and sixties. The Blundells looked at buying other shops in nearby towns but decided that they were content with running one multi-faceted business.
Harold had always promised himself that he would retire at 58 yrs. old. This he nearly did, selling the shop in 1965. However, he retained the printing works, at the rear of the premises, and had it virtually doubled in size to enable him to continue printing letterheads, posters, cheque books and pamphlets.
Some recent information has come to hand. The family were George and Lydia and the family moved to Chesham just before the First World War, with their sons George and Norman. George and Lydia returned to Surrey after selling the business, and he died in 1939. The family lived above the shop, the only photograph being taken in 1932. It can be dated by the newspaper billboard for Gandhi’s hunger strike which happened in 1932. The woman in the middle of the photo is Nora Podbury, she was still alive in 2000.
G.J. & A Smith started life in 108 Church Street Chesham around April 1890, they are mentioned in an article by John Rose Howard of Newtown Baptist Church in the “The Chesham Examiner” of that date.
They were George and Arthur Smith. Arthur later became a missionary to Nigeria but died in his first year of Black Water Fever. The shop was soon located to 3 Market Square in 1894. But then relocated again to no.7 which had been the Post office. Now named Smith Brothers the business was run by George and another brother, Herbert. They also ran a printing works from Station Road.
Chesham was photographed in 1897 by Francis Frith and there are many photographs of the shop from this date. They described in an information leaflet (illustrated below) as Bookseller, Stationer, Newsagent, Music Sellers, Publishers and Circulating Library. Local Souvenirs and publications were a speciality.
The business was still Smith Brothers in a Frith print from 1921.