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Childhood Memories of Craig's Dairy in Henley

Between Gladstone Terrace and Freemasons building on Reading Road, Henley there is a small parade of five or six shops and it is here that you will find 57 Reading Road where I spent much of my time as a child.


Robert Craig and Cedric Pettitt of Craig's Dairy which used to be along Reading Road in Henley.

Back in the 1950s to the mid-1960s it was then known as Craig's Dairy and this was where my Dad and Mum, Cedric and Dorren Pettit worked. Dad was a milkman and Mum the shop assistant but in truth they did anything they were asked to do, and did it willingly to help Mr Robert Craig who owned the dairy and who was extremely grateful for their help as his eyesight was deteriorating due to diabetes that was to eventually leave him blind. He had a faithful old golden Labrador called "Mack" who was a great playmate to me – I remember sitting on him and riding him down the passage – poor dog and how cruel now I look back on it!

In those days you walked into the shop doorway on a well worn step and turned left after a couple of feet into the shop itself. The counter was in front of you at the right angle to the road and took up about three-quarters the length of the shop. On the counter there were displays of Shippams Paste in a special rack, Oxo Cubes, Lyons Individual Fruit Pies and boxed Lyons Swiss Rolls and the book in which Mum wrote down the sales and orders. The till was a simple wooden affair that was kept under the counter. On the wall that faced you behind the counter was shelving with more groceries and two sliding glass doors that went from waist high to the ceiling. I remember boxes of Energen Rolls being kept on the top left hand side and boxes of cereal being stored here. Behind the counter facing the road was a small writing table and chair where I used to sit and draw. To the right of the sliding glass cabinet was a marble slab and this was where the Moonraker butter was kept along with others and the lard etc, underneath this the eggs were kept on large trays. On the floor under the eggs stood the crates of milk, gold, red and silver top – there was no refrigeration in the shop! You could also buy bottles of milk in half pints in those days. In front of the chimney breast was a Huntley & Palmers three tier stand which held either nine or twelve of the cubic foot biscuit tins containing loose biscuits. In the right hand chimney recess the bread was kept. Shelving with other groceries including cakes were stored on the return wall to the shop entrance. I used to love helping mum dress the window, we always stood boxes of cereal at the rear of the window display.

As you continued down the hallway at the bottom of the stairs in the dog leg was the telephone, Henley 358 was the dairy number. You then had the back room which was used as a storeroom. Further down the passageway was the Kitchen with an old brown earthenware sink. Upstairs above the shop was a big room at the front was a smaller one behind used also as storage rooms for stock. To the right going upstairs was a cozy small room where dad and the other milkman used to do there bookwork and write out there new round books.

Outside at the rear of the building was the toilet next to the kitchen and then I can remember a cold room being built to store the crates of milk. These metal crates were delivered daily and stacked along the shop front at least five crates high and Mr Craig would then wheel them down the passage way to the cold room despite being blind.

After the cold room came the dairy. This is where all the cream orders were made up. The Jersey cream arrived in gallon cans and we then decanted it into wax cream pits and put on the wax lids.

Yoghurts were not common in those days and were only plain ones in small glass jars. I can only remember delivering these to the nuns at Friar Park.

At the rear of the property a pear tree in the garden of a house in Queen Street overhung the yard and I remember trying to reach the fruit.

Originally in the dairy as you walked in was a huge galvanised sterilising unit in which the bottles were cleaned daily, this was of course in the days when we used to go and collect the milk in churns from Rotherfield Greys Farm in the late afternoon and wheel them up the passage. I cannot remember the actual bottling of the milk but can remember the machine for putting the milk tops on. This stood out in the yard after it was no longer in use.

Other shops in the parade at this time from Gladstone Terrace were Mr & Mrs Stan Day who ran the Newsagents and for who I later did a paper round, Philip Mays a Grocer, Hilsdons Greengrocers, Craig's Dairy then Dunlops which had a pet food shop on Craig's side, in which I had a Saturday job and on the other side it was a bit of a hardware shop that sold wooden boxes of plants that were displayed along the shop front and up the side in spring and summer. Dunlops also sold and delivered coal and this was stored up their yard. The freemasons building remained a bit of a mystery to me then as it still does today!

At the time Craig's Dairy was in business there were other dairies in Henley, Carringtons (Reading Road), Mathers (Reading Road) and Pierceys (Market Place).

Sadly Mr Craig died at the young age of 54. In March 1964, having been blind for six years. He left a widow Doris who continued with the business for a short time before selling it to Clifford's Dairies of Bracknell.

Article kindly provided by Linda Eggleton (nee Pettitt).

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