When John Sirgood arrived in Loxwood in 1850, he started a religious movement that would go on to change the village. He arrived at a time where the usual work for women was in service and for men it was farm labour.
Sirgood’s followers, The Dependant Brethren, were some of the poorest in society, but they lived as a community, pooling their resources and skills to improve everyone’s lives. To liberate women from the tyranny of service, women were encouraged to try commerce, and this would eventually lead to the parade of shops being established.
There is an apparent ‘true story’ that the first attempt at commerce was by one of the very poorest women in the area who baked six lard rolls, with great trepidation in case they didn’t sell because food was so scarce. Six lard rolls amounted to a significant investment for her, but in fact, the rolls sold straightaway, and this started a rush of demand and soon the Dependants were baking hundreds of rolls to feed the hungry farm workers throughout the village!
At the start of the 20th century the Combination Stores were significantly extended. The front of the building was brought forward to line up with the shops at the end, two new shops were added which took the building nearer the pond and then a great Steam Bakery continued the building around the back of the pond. The external elevations of the stores had diamond pattern brickwork possibly to signify the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria. Those changes increased the floor area which allowed for a far wider range of goods to be offered. The Aylward and Smith Co was formed to take the enterprise forward and that name became synonymous with Loxwood for the next 70 years. Aylward & Smith Co photographed the village in 1904 and sold the pictures as postcards in the stores. Their postcards were the first series of pictures of the village and they carry the Aylward and Smith Co name and branding into the present day.
In the early 1900s there was competition from other shops in the village, people didn’t travel far so the money stayed in the village. Diversification was needed and with the newly enlarged shop, the range of goods offered was impressive. Grocery, Bakery, Drapers, Ironmongers, Home Furnishings, Coal Merchant, Motor Car Depot, Motorcycles, Cycle Makers, Trailers, Horses and Traps for hire, a comprehensive range of goods even for a high street today!
From its inception the stores, were mostly managed by women and women were the salespeople, there were also assistants and ‘carmen’ drivers who initially had delivery carts and horses and then motor vehicles. The stores were so successful that over time they had practically cornered all trading activities in the village. There were also branches elsewhere at Warnham, Northchapel, Lord’s Hill, South Norwood, and Peckham. The brethren had owned and sold many of the farms and large houses in the villages, some multiple times.
After the Second World War, there was a gradual decline in the numbers of the brethren. The shops and farms were sold and the last enterprise to close was the Loxwood Combination Stores which finally stopped trading in the mid 1970’s.
The story of The Combination Stores will be available here later this year.
Spy Lane Chapel