Bernard Osborn was born and brought up in Aston Abbotts. Although he emigrated to Cublington when he married Valerie he continued to run Osborn’s shop in Aston Abbotts until it closed in 2005.This interview by Phil Spooner gives an insight into how it use to be in Aston Abbotts. It first appeared in the Aston Abbotts Chronicle in Autumn 2000. when Osborn’s shop was still very much open.Bernard passed away on September 18th 2014 at the age of 87. He will be very much missed by his friends in Aston Abbotts.
“When a village shop or a Post Office closes, it is the end of a village,” says Bernard Osborn, who has worked in the village shop opposite the Bull and Butcher since he first helped his mum and dad as a small boy. “My mother and father started the shop here in Aston when they were married. They moved to the Old Forge, then they moved down here. It would have been 1926.“My father’s family were engineers. They used to do the old steam engines, and he was the odd one out - they wanted him to go in to the engineering business and he rebelled and went into the grocery trade. Mother, she loved the shop. Like a lot of the people years ago, they pottered. They didn’t kill themselves with work, but they were going gently all the time. They did things in their own time.”He grins as he remembers the innocent mischief the village children got up to in those pre-war days. “We used to turn gates upside-down. All these rows of houses had wooden gates and you could lift them off, turn them upside down so when the poor old dears come out in the morning the latch was down the bottom. You know, nothing really bad, but naughty.“Fireworks night was always a good night. Penny bangers on the doorstep sort of thing. Chased round the village. Of course during the war there were no fireworks, but some bright boy who should be nameless was given some Little Giant powder and some fuse [for blowing up tree stumps] and he made fireworks. They went off with a lovely bang!”But Miss Childersley, the schoolteacher, had power over her young charges. “Poor old Chilly… she used to walk across the Green and if it she saw us she would say ‘Boys! Boys!’ and we would disappear. That was the way.”On Sundays there was always chapel for the young Bernard. “First thing in the morning you’re all dressed up in your best. Sunday-school in the morning and you were allowed to go for walks afterwards with the your suit on. Then there would be afternoon chapel. Then in the evening at 6 o’clock. We used to watch the clock... you know 5 to 7 and you’d think ‘Cor Blimey’ - and some of those preachers would go on to half past! And the old fellows would say ‘Good service tonight’. Things have changed haven’t they? It was one continuous stream going up to Church and Chapel. Sunday evenings in the summer when it was warm there’d be no end of people walking along the main road in the evening, all dressed up.”With the war came inevitable changes in village life. “The early part of the war my father did the Post Office. They hadn’t got a postman so the Head Postmaster rang him up and said could he undertake deliveries. For years I delivered the mail round Aston. That was on the carrier bike - a big wheel one. Then we lashed out on a little wheel one with a big basket and I took the lady who used to live up at Longmoor home in that basket more than once! You had to make sure you were sitting on the saddle before she got in there otherwise you went arse upwards.“Of course wartime and just after the war, we were very busy here. Village shops were busy - that was the heyday of them - because people could not go in to town and that. We used to sellan awful lot of stuff in those days. During the war we were
registered for cooking fat, but a producer at Prestwood produced pigs and we had lard all during the war, which was a rarity.”After the war Bernard did National Service in the Air Force and laughs as he remembers how he gained rapid promotion. “I did a short time at Bletchley and had a rapid posting from there to Group Headquarters, because there had been an orgy! There was this goings-on in the Signals section, so they had a grand clear out and posted a load of officers from Bletchley to take charge over there.” Unlike some, Bernard enjoyed his compulsory Service. “I did very well in the Air Force and they wanted me to stop in. They offered me a post straight away in Japan, but my one aim was to come out and that was one of the silliest things I’ve ever done you know, come back here! It was kind of expected of you, wasn’t it, to move back into the family business.”Not long afterwards Bernard married Valerie, the sweetheart he had written to during his National Service “I think I’d known her since before the war. Her grandmother used to live down the Royal Oak, but her family home is London - Hampstead. We’ve been married 46 years.”Living in Cublington since his marriage, Bernard has continued to run the shop, seeing the growth of the supermarkets and changes in village lifestyle gradually erode the business. “Things have changed. The amount of deliveries and stuff we used to have in, possibly six boxes of butter a week, things like that. But today… I just can’t sell it within the sell-by date. It’s just had to go like so many other things. Is he saddened by the decline in trade? “Well yes, to a point. You think you’ve got the right product, the price is right, but people still don’t bother. Then once in a while people come in and they say ‘I didn’t know you stocked so and so’, or ‘You’re cheaper than Tesco’s’ and things like that, but they still won’t use the village shop now. Years ago we used to carry an awful lot more stuff. It’s quantity again. A box of bananas is 28 pounds - I just couldn’t sell it.“Little shops like this.... It’s things like the rates and so on, which are crippling. You’re penalised for giving a service… Truthfully, money-wise, I’ve propped this up for years.” But Bernard isn’t bitter, he just recognises that the trade for his village shop has gone forever, “Oh no, no. It won’t come back!“Well I’ve got to the point now where one of these days I shall say ‘Sod it!’ and that’s it. I mean the amount of stock and that I carry.... It’s the old story, the more you sell the more you can stock. So one of these days I shall say enough is enough and sling it in.”“Truthfully I shouldn’t be here, but it’s become a hobby. It becomes a way of life you know. I come over here at 8 o’clock in the morning and that gets me out in the morning, whereas if I was at home all day long I’d drive Valerie around the twist wouldn’t I?”
Osborn’s shop closed in 2005. You can still see its sign at the right hand end of The Old Cottage.
Bernard (left) serves Colin Higgs on the last trading day of Osborns shop