The Village Stores has held a central role in Wilstone village life for over 120 years. Early photographs show a large white building (known as 34 Tring Road) as a bakery and post office, run by George Hanwell in 1898. It is thought to have replaced a near derelict thatched building, typical of houses in the area at that time.
The main shop and post office had the same large display windows and central door as you still see today and now houses the business of Michael Armson Antiques.
Fred and Elaine Scriven bought the property in the 1960s and lived there with Fred’s mother while they ran the shop and post office. In due course, they had two daughters. Fred decided to modernise and expand the shop by building an extension down the side of the building. His mother-in-law then lived in Garden Cottage, behind the shop. In the 1970s, Fred built an ‘A’ frame house in the grounds at the back which the family moved into while they leased out the business.
Throughout the 1970s, the Post Office lease was transferred every two years, until in 1979 a retired printer, John Kesby took it on and with the help of a retired sub postmaster, ran the shop with his wife. Unfortunately, a combination of lack of retail experience and the recession caused the business to fail and it closed suddenly and without warning. The Kesbys left abruptly, abandoning the remains of the stock to moulder. The buildings had been badly neglected over the years and the property was put on the market in 1991 to be sold ‘as seen’.
Michael Armson purchased the property in 1992 as premises for his already well established antiques business. A great deal of renovation work was required. Whilst this work was in progress, Michael became aware that people were missing their local grocery store and post office and wished for it to be reinstated. With the help of his partner Diane Halfpenny, Michael decided to set up a six month trial to see if a grocery and post office, running alongside his antiques business, might be viable, with the idea that once that side of the business was established, it could be leased out.
The initial six month trial lasted for eleven years! Diane re-trained as a post mistress and set up the Village Stores. It was hard work running the business, working seven days a week with limited time off but it proved very rewarding in terms of serving the community. The financial rewards were not great but the appreciation and loyalty of local people helped spur on the couple’s determination to make the Village Stores a thriving and central part of the community.
By 2003, Diane (now Mrs Armson) decided that the trial had lasted long enough. Jenni Corsby took over as tenant for the next five years. Sadly, during this period the Post Office closure programme took effect, forcing Jenni to give up the business. In 2008, the lease was assigned to Tim Fitzgerald, who also struggled to make the business work.
In 2009, Elizabeth and Ron Faulkner took on the shop to run it as a not-for-profit business, with the help of a group of volunteers. In 2012, the shop was once again in danger of closing. At this point, a small group of local people approached Mike and offered to take on the lease with the aim of establishing a community-run business with volunteers. The community took control, and it is thanks to their dedication and perseverance that the shop as we know it today was born.
The team approached Michael when the lease was due for renewal in 2019. At that time, Michael was looking at retirement options and was considering selling the property. Having owned, supported and invested in this important community asset for nearly thirty years, Mike and Diane felt that the future of the Village Stores should be safeguarded. They are delighted that a local couple, Tom and Sophie has come forward. Tom and Sophie are as passionate as Mike and Diane about the community shop and committed to continuing their legacy.
We have enjoyed our time working in and for the Wilstone community and thank the many friends we have made. We would like to welcome Tom and Sophie and wish them much happiness in their new home, and as owners of the Wilstone Shop. May it prosper and continue to serve the community for many years to come.
by Mike and Diane Armson