“I’ve only ever worked on Watlington High Street in my whole life”
I was born in Hythe, in Kent in the late 50s, and we moved to Ashford when I was four. I went to Primary School there. When I was ten my dad got a job in Reading, so that’s how come I am here! I had my last year of Primary School in Watlington. It was a bit of a culture shock, coming from quite a large town to Watlington, which was very much smaller then than it is now. It had a very vibrant High Street, and everybody knew everybody else and everybody was related! But it was nice once I settled down. I like living here and knowing everyone. It’s a nice, friendly place, and that has never changed. I recommend living here to people!
Mr. Walsh was the Headmaster at Watlington Primary School when I was there. It was very small, like a cottage school really. Then I went to Icknield, and Mr. Hill was the Headmaster. I enjoyed maths, and technological drawing. But because I was a girl, after the first two years, I wasn’t allowed to do it. I would have loved to have become a cartographer, but I had to do Home Economics and Sewing. Thankfully things have changed since then.
I still have a lot of friends from Icknield. They’ve mostly moved away, but they pop up from time to time in The Undercroft and say hello.
At the age of fourteen I got a Saturday job, working for Frank Nixey in the Bakery, which is where the Tutu shop is now. Where Age Concern is now was the bakehouse. Then at the age of sixteen I left school, and got a job working for Frank, learning secretarial duties and making tea! That’s what you had to do! But it was very beneficial, learning book-keeping, which I still do now.
I got married to my first husband, Dave, in 1980 and had two children, Emma and Carl. In 1984 the bakery closed for good. I did book keeping from home when the children were small. In 1985 following a very personal family tragedy, Dave’s three teenaged daughters, Sandra, Nicky and Teresa, came to live with us. There were some very hard times ahead then, but thankfully it all worked out in the end, and all three of Dave’s daughters are now happily settled with families of their own.
Then, I got a job in the Spar shop which is where the Granary Café is now, doing accounts and working in the shop. It was then that I realised that I actually prefer the shop work as I love the people contact, and the chit chat.
In the early 1990s I joined the P.T.A. at Watlington Primary School when it was still on the old site, and Janet Vaughan was Head Teacher. I was on the committee for 3 years eventually becoming joint Chair. I really enjoyed my time on the P.T.A. with all the fundraising, making new friends and contacts, and learning something about the teaching profession.
The Spar shop closed in the early ‘90s and I then worked for Peter Hutchins at The Granary Fruit & Veg shop opposite, and later for Alan Wilson when he opened a bakery where the sandwich shop is now. In 1998, Peter Hutchins suddenly closed the Fruit & Veg shop, and Alan decided to start selling fruit and veg in the undercroft of the Town Hall. A few months later, I took it over and gave it the obvious name – The Undercroft. I have been doing it ever since!
I wanted to do something different right from the beginning. I didn’t want produce in packets, I wanted a display, for people to see what they are getting. I wanted it to be fresh, I wanted it to be local. I wanted to give my lovely customers fresh, local, seasonal produce.
The Undercroft takes all my time. I’ve got plans to learn to dance when I retire! But for now, I like walking our dogs in the Chilterns, and spending time with family. Emma still lives in Watlington with her husband and their son Zack, who is four, and Carl lives in Thame with his wife and their little boy Archie, who’s three. The Undercroft is my social life!
I live in Stanton St John now with my husband Paul – he is the horticultural manager at Rectory Farm, and supplies the raspberries, strawberries, and asparagus. My mother still lives in Watlington.
Watlington is still lovely. The High Street is much busier than it was ten years ago, more people are coming in from outside to do their shopping here. It’s quite unusual to have a High Street full of independent shops, which are run for the benefit of the customers. We try to offer a friendly, personal service, which you don’t get anywhere else. Shops like the Granary Deli draws people in, as does Tutu Delicious, and Calnan’s butchers. The Orange Bakery really has made a difference. The lighting shop Bella Luce looks attractive and makes people stop, then there’s The Italian Handbag shop, and our lovely charity shop. All these things together is what attracts people in.
I feel at home in Watlington. I know so many people here. Although I now live in Stanton St John, I come back here – it keeps me in touch with everyone.
Watlington Folk is a documentary project by photographer Nicola Schafer. Watlington is blessed with pretty buildings and beautiful countryside, however it is the people who live here that truly make the place. This project aims to capture that through a series of portraits of the people who live here together with their “Watlington Story”. For more information, please contact Nicola through her website http://www.nicolaschafer.co.uk