New Opening Hours

Mon: 8am – 5.00pm
Tue: 8am – 5.00pm
Wed: 8am – 5.00pm
Thu: 8am – 5.00pm
Fri: 8am – 5.00pm
Sat: 8am – 5.00pm
Sun: 9am – 12.00pm

How To Find Us

Post Office

Mon: 9am -1.00pm
Fri: 9am – 11.30am

Ilsington Village Shop
Old Town Hill
TQ13 9RG

Tel: 01364 661788


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March 2021

Village Shop Talk

The fourth Sunday in Lent falls on the 14th of March this year. It is traditionally celebrated as Mothering Sunday, the tradition being that children give small presents, often flowers, to their mothers. Since the Gospel for the day is the story of the feeding of the five thousand it also became associated with a respite from the Lenten fast, a day on which people ate special buns and cakes such as Simnel cake. The word comes from the Old French word for fine flour, ‘seminel’. Robert Herrick, the poet (‘Gather ye rosebuds while ye may’) and vicar of Dean Prior in the seventeenth century, wrote ‘I’ll to thee a simnel bring / ‘Gainst thou goes a-mothering’. One might perhaps wonder how much mothers would welcome the idea of baking special cakes and feeding what might seem like five thousand.

Entertaining lots of people is not going to be a possibility this year, but for those special people within your bubble don’t forget that the village shop can provide all sorts of high-quality ingredients from local suppliers to stimulate your culinary ambitions: a range of meat from Cox and Laflin, fish from Britannia Fish, and seafood from Teign Shellfish. If inspiration is needed, there is a steady turnover of recipe ideas on the noticeboard outside the shop, using ingredients that you can find within. Don’t forget the click and collect service: you can email the shop ( or telephone (01364 661788) with your order and it will be boxed up for you to collect. If you live within a two mile radius and need to self-isolate, the shop can arrange to have your order delivered to you. And on the subject of deliveries, those of us who benefit from it would like to thank those heroic young people who turn out early every morning, no matter what the weather, to deliver newspapers round the village. It’s also worth pointing out that some of the volunteers who normally serve in the shop are having to self-isolate, so there is an urgent need for other volunteers to replace them. These are all aspects of what the shop is about: the local community supporting itself.

Paul Brassley

February 2021

Village Shop Talk

Part of the pleasure in life, for many people, comes from novelty: new friends, new sensations, new tastes, new sights, new clothes, new places. But we also like what we are used to having – a favourite jersey, a well-known walk, old friends, familiar food. Humans are an inventive species, so when we can’t get what we are used to having, especially when things are difficult, we look for alternatives. Sometimes the substitutes become part of everyday life, and we forget that they began as replacements for the normal but temporarily unobtainable.

For example, think about some of the products that you are used to seeing in the village shop. Biscuits began as a substitute for bread, used by sailors on long voyages. Margarine, according to one of my reference books, was invented in France in 1869, at a time of very high butter prices. The original version was made from a mixture of refined beef fat, skimmed milk, and water, which formed a white mass with a pearly sheen. Hence the name ‘margarine’ after margarites, the Greek word for pearl. You may be relieved to know that the modern process is different. The new technologies that were developed to feed troops in the Second World War gave us the bags of frozen vegetables, canned fruit juices, instant coffee, dried soup powders, and ready meals that we now take for granted. More recently changing attitudes to drinking alcohol have resulted in the production of a range of alcohol-free beers and lagers (look for Becks Blue in the shop if you are interested).

What will remain after the current pandemic is over? Zoom meetings and more working from home seem like good bets. The village shop’s system of pre-ordering, by telephone or email, especially for bread and fresh vegetables, will probably continue. And don’t forget that there is a click and collect system that allows you to pick up your order from outside the shop. Whether the present home delivery option will still be needed remains to be seen. But it would be nice to think that the pre-Christmas surge in sales that we’ve just seen will be repeated next year.

Paul Brassley

December 2020

Village Shop Talk

Eighty years ago, when the second wartime Christmas came round, turkeys were expensive, if you could find one at all, and many of the traditional ingredients of Christmas puddings, such as dried fruits, were simply unobtainable. Subsequent wartime Christmases were made even more difficult because rationing was in force, although the Ministry of Food sometimes made extra rations of tea, or suet, or sugar available. For many it was a chance to stop listening to the news and forget about the war for a day or so. Most people wanted to preserve a national tradition and make Christmas as normal as possible, especially if they had children. They exercised their ingenuity in finding substitutes for things that were unavailable. Women’s magazines produced recipes for a substitute marzipan made from soya flour, cocoa, and almond essence, and an eggless Christmas pudding using grated potatoes and carrots. An alternative was a bread pudding boiled for six hours to make it look like the real thing.

The pressures on the Christmas that we shall celebrate this year are different, but there are parallels with those wartime Christmases. We are unlikely to have difficulty in finding the ingredients for the pudding, and we shall be able to pre-order turkeys, meat boxes and hampers from the village shop, but if restrictions on getting together are still in force Christmas parties may be smaller than usual. Nevertheless we may welcome an opportunity to avoid the news and have a break from unpleasant reality, and those of us with children will want to make life as normal as possible for them.  We may face the same separation from friends and family that people faced eighty years ago, but at least we will still be able to send them presents. The shop will have a wide range of gifts, from local whiskies, gins and cheeses, to mugs, tea towels and tankards. It will be open until 8 pm (and serving mulled wine!) on Tuesdays in December, and for post-Christmas opening times please see the website.  And, as in the war, we may comfort ourselves with the thought that it may all be over by next Christmas.

Paul Brassley

October 2020

Village Shop Talk

On 8th July the shop celebrated its 8th birthday by holding a delightful tea party in the Millennium Garden organised by the manager Katherine, committee members and volunteers. There were a lot of new faces at the party and coronavirus was partly responsible for that as many of the original volunteers are over seventy and so had to cease working behind the counter. But we are so lucky to have such a reactive community and as fast as gaps appeared in the volunteer rota, they were filled by new volunteers who found that they could no longer travel to work outside the village and so gladly devoted more time to the shop. It is wonderful to welcome so many new people to the shop family! There is always a call for new volunteers for all manner of tasks, not just serving in the shop, so do contact Katherine if you would like to know more about those opportunities.

Among the latest developments two new posts have been created – Fiona Coles will be working on display areas and Anne Villis and Alison Gilbert are taking responsibility for marketing and promotion. You will find a survey form on the counter requesting information about how our customers make their decisions about shopping as it’s important to provide the products and services that everyone wants.  The form is straightforward and only takes a few minutes to complete.  Help the shop with this, and they will be able to help you even more!

Katherine is planning a cook book based on recipes suggested by local people.  So pick a few of your favourites and send them to her to include in the book.  There will be a recipe of the month published in the parish magazine and displayed on the shop notice board.

And it’s worth remembering that the click and collect service introduced at the onset of Covid is still operating. Ring up on 661788 or email by 11.00 a.m. the day before to place your order, and pick it up the following morning.

Angela and Paul Brassley

September 2020

Village Shop Talk

In common with every other shop in the country, the village shop now requires customers to wear a mask while they are in the building. Presumably the last time an external threat affected the way we looked or dressed was eighty years ago. During the Second World War people were issued with a gas mask, which came in a little cardboard box and had to be carried at all times. Far longer ago, from the fourteenth to the seventeenth centuries, the bubonic plague, or black death, was a threat that kept on returning, and the doctors of the time, who had to be in contact with its victims, wore masks shaped like beaks filled with sweet herbs and spices. The theory was that these would purify the air they breathed and so prevent infection. Since the plague was spread by the bite of an infected flea it wasn’t a very effective theory. Surgical masks worn by operating theatre teams, the oxygen masks worn by fighter pilots, and those yellow plastic masks that will drop down when you have cause to wonder if your flight will be more exciting than you hoped are all designed to cover your nose and mouth while leaving your eyes visible. Highwaymen, revellers at masked balls, and performers in masques, on the other hand, leave the mouth visible but cover the area around the eyes, hoping that they will consequently become unrecognisable.

All of which raises some interesting questions. Which part of the face do we concentrate on when recognising somebody else? When I wear a mask, does my face become expressionless? One of the assistants in the shop told me that she could tell when I was smiling by looking at my eyes. Was she particularly observant, or is that something we do all the time? If the pandemic continues for a long time will we begin to recognize people by their masks? The shop sells masks, and some of the talented needlewomen in the village have made some very effective ones. Should we encourage them to offer a bespoke service for individualised masks? And how long will it be before we can go back to full facial exposure?

Paul Brassley

July 2020

Village Shop Talk

Lockdown has inspired many of us to get creative in our gardens and allotments and those of us lucky enough to have them have been digging, planting, potting, weeding, mowing, pruning and generally upgrading and organising our patches.  In these unusual and limiting times it’s been soothing to have such a rewarding outdoor pursuit and we would probably all agree with the late 19th/early 20th century British horticulturist Gertrude Jekyll when she says “I hold the firm belief that the purpose of a garden is to give happiness and repose of mind”.  Repose of mind is certainly what we need in these Covid-dominated times.

We are lucky in that the southwest is one of the least affected regions by the virus.  We are also lucky to have lots of garden centres in the area.  But you only have to pop down to the village shop to find our very own mini garden centre.  Our postie Graham Westlake is an expert gardener and produces a wide range of flowers and vegetables for us to buy at very reasonable prices.  He nurtures seeds and plugs, brings them on, and sells the individual plants at numerous stalls in the southwest.  Throughout the spring and early summer he has been supplying us with all sorts of plants starting with herbs, moving on to bedding plants like petunias, geraniums and pansies.  Vegetables have included runner beans, tomatoes and cucumbers, and this month he will be selling a good range of perennials.  Check with him as to what plants might be on offer in the coming weeks.

Plants sell well in the village shop thanks to Graham’s twice weekly deliveries when he comes to run the Post Office on Mondays and Fridays.  It adds another dimension to our services and provides a welcoming display as you come up the steps.

So while you’re waiting in the queue have a good look and you may well find exactly what you need for that odd corner of the garden.  Or a replacement for a plant that has been slaughtered by slugs.  Or pecked at by pigeons.  Or, in our lovely rural area, demolished by deer.

Angela Brassley

June 2020

Village Shop Talk

One online retailer, the biggest and best-known, recently reported a 26 per cent increase in sales, but noted that the increased costs needed to keep its staff safe would wipe out the next quarter’s profit. Its share price fell as a result.

Community shops don’t operate on that scale, but they too have found that the Coronavirus pandemic presents them with some of the same problems and opportunities as their bigger competitors. A quick telephone survey of half a dozen community shops in Devon revealed much the same story from most of them. They all reported increased takings, in some cases by about 20 per cent, in one by as much as 70 per cent. They all found that they had new customers, or that previously occasional customers had become regulars, while regulars were often buying more. And most of them were running delivery services. Broadhempston, in fact, is expanding deliveries from the village to more outlying areas. But there have been problems. Community shops are dependent upon volunteers, many of whom are over 70 years old and so in a vulnerable group: 60 per cent of Spreyton’s volunteers fell into that category, and most others have been affected to some extent. But the good news is that in many cases new volunteers have appeared. Most shops found that their usual suppliers had difficulty in providing some products – flour, tinned tomatoes and paracetamol were most commonly mentioned – but some hard work by the manager often meant that they could find new suppliers.

To judge from this small sample, Ilsington’s shop is pretty typical: takings up, with new customers, new staff and suppliers, and a delivery and collection system. But there’s more to the shop than just maintaining its service. It now has River Teign seafood being delivered every Tuesday, local meats on Wednesday, and each week a variety of lettuces from an organic salad supplier in Ashburton. Finally, don’t forget that the third Sunday in June is Fathers’ Day, and that various gifts for men, some of which may contain malted barley and hops, will be available in the shop.

Paul Brassley


May 2020

Village Shop Talk

This article is being written at the beginning of April, and it would be courageous (in the sense that Sir Humphrey in Yes Minister used the word, meaning foolish) to predict that life in Ilsington Parish will be absolutely unaltered by the time you read these words at the end of the month. What is certain is that it has changed enormously since the middle of March. Individual families have obviously been affected, together with the church, the school, the pubs and hotels, and of course the shop. But whereas those other centres of community life have been forced to restrict or cease their activities, the Village Shop is busier than ever.

It’s not difficult to see why. One might see the Coronavirus emergency as snow that takes a long time to melt. Back at the beginning of March 2018 the village was cut off by the snow, unless you had a four-wheel drive vehicle, for about three days. It produced a big rise in the shop’s sales for the month, as it was the only source of food for many people. We are seeing the same thing now. One customer described the shop as ‘an absolute lifeline’, because it has not run out of basic products as some of the larger local supermarkets have. This is because our Village Shop is a Community Shop. Two of the Oxford English Dictionary’s definitions of ‘community’ are ‘a body of people living in the same locality’ and ‘life in association with others’. Our customers are aware that their actions will affect the welfare of their friends and neighbours. Our volunteers and staff are aware that having close business connections with local suppliers means that in times of trouble those suppliers go out of their way to support us. Our community is aware that when people are isolated and in need, the most basic comforts can be delivered in a grocery bag.

Adapting to this strange isolated world has required a tremendous effort by Katherine the manager and her volunteer staff, some of whom are new to the job. They are now packing orders received by email, and running a delivery service for people within a two-mile radius who have to self-isolate. That’s the situation at the beginning of April; will keep you up to date with any changes.

Paul Brassley


April 2020

Village Shop Talk

As many readers of this magazine will know, scholars are divided over what Aristotle meant by the word ‘change’. Some argue that he said it was an actual potentiality; others that it was the actualizing of a potentiality. While it may be hardly surprising that such a radical difference could set academics at each other’s throats, it is not helpful. Perhaps it would be better to rely upon more modern thinkers. In 1546, for example, John Heywood suggested that ‘change of pasture maketh fat calves’, which is comforting for cattle producers but worrying for fashion models. Comparatively recently, in 1853, R.C.Trench contended that ‘A man will never change his mind if he has no mind to change’, and one can only point out the relevance of his observation to our own era.

These ruminations were provoked by a conversation with Katherine Bainbridge, who took over as manager of the village shop in February. Inevitably, she wishes to make some changes. Already regular customers will have noticed that there was a taster morning for jams and pickles, and as a result the shop will be stocking a range of these from The Bay Tree food company, which is based in Ivybridge. Another local supplier, the butchers Cox and Lafflin, will now be ensuring that there is more fresh meat available at the beginning of the week, and as well as stocking Vicky’s bread, from Cornwall, the shop will also have delicious cakes and flapjacks from the same bakery. It’s worth remembering that you can enjoy these with a hot drink in the seating area at the back of the shop. It’s the only place in the village where you can enjoy tea and cakes under cover during the winter, but of course now that the warmer weather is scheduled to re-appear, so will the outside seating area. Look out too for an expanded range of stationery.

One thing that isn’t going to change is the presence of volunteers behind the counter. Katherine says that until she began working in the shop she didn’t realise how supportive they would be as she got to grips with the job, and she’s very grateful to them.

Paul Brassley

March 2020

Village Shop Talk

The word volunteer has its origins in the Latin voluntas, meaning will, in the sense of people doing things of their own free will, and not because they have been coerced into or paid for doing them. The German word for a volunteer is a Freiwilliger, which reflects the free will idea exactly, whereas the French just seem to use their word volontaire in a military context, despite the old soldier’s advice to ‘never volunteer for anything’; the French word for somebody who does something without being paid is a bénévole, a word which seems to add the idea of good to will.

These etymological musings have been provoked by the recent departure for a new home in Scotland of Anne and Rob Parkinson. They had obviously never heard of the old soldier’s advice, or decided to ignore it. In the course of more than thirty years in the village they volunteered to help the school, the church, the village hall, the history group, the annual Simms Hill rally, and the village shop. They were indeed, as the French would not quite say, benevolent.

Their example makes you realise how many vital aspects of the life of the village depend upon volunteers. While the schoolteachers are paid, they are always looking for volunteers to help the children with their reading. Although we have a vicar, the church could not survive for long without the voluntary work of its congregation. And the village shop is no exception. The manager is paid, but volunteers serve behind the counter and do lots of other less obvious jobs, from stocking the shelves to disposing of the rubbish. Many of them give their time from simple goodwill, but often they also say that they really value the opportunity to meet neighbours that they would never otherwise have come to know. If you sleep for 8 hours a night there are 112 waking hours in the week, and volunteering for just one of them will be of enormous help to the committee (who are all volunteers) and the manager, Katherine Bainbridge. Do have a word with her when you next visit the shop.

Paul Brassley

February 2020

Village Shop Talk

By the time you read this, at the end of January or the beginning of February, many of you will have seen a new face behind the counter at the village shop. It belongs to Katherine Bainbridge, who takes over from Helen Tate as the manager on February 1st. Helen has managed the shop since the autumn of 2016, but now wants to explore new opportunities. The shop and its customers owe her an enormous amount for her years of hard work and her genial presence, and we wish her good fortune in whatever she decides to do in future.

Katherine is no newcomer to the village. She’s lived in Ilsington, only a few yards from the shop, for about 14 years now, although she was born and raised in Newton Abbot. After leaving school she became a hairdresser in Teignmouth. Now she only exercises her coiffure skills on family members, apart from one old customer whose hair she has been taking care of for over twenty years.

It was in the hairdressing salon that Katherine realised how much she enjoyed working with the general public and being part of a team. Over the last few years she’s been the team member responsible for administration in her husband’s engineering business. If you’ve bought anything from outside the shop you will have seen one of his products: Richard made the shelving racks for the fruit and vegetables. She recognises that selling steel products is not quite the same as selling food and household products, but she points out that they both benefit from attention to costs and prices, so she has some skills that are useful for both businesses. She’s also spent part of her time working as a teaching assistant, initially at Ilsington village school and latterly at Widecombe. She says ‘I love working with children and I’m going to miss the school, but it’s time to move on’.

Many people will remember that until recently Katherine was also a member of the parish council; as a result she was involved in running the playing fields. She was on the village hall committee at the time that the shop was being built, and is still on the committee of the Jane Ford Trust. For several years now she has been running the quad-biking club in the south-west of England. It’s an activity for her whole family, taking them all over the country at the weekend. Her husband prepares the bike which her son rides expertly enough to be a British champion in the 250cc class. She looks after the organisation of the events while they’re in progress. ‘I can’t watch – too scared’ she admits; ‘I’m the kit washer’. Given the amount of mud involved, it’s a crucial role.

Katherine sees the shop as a vital part of the village. She wants to settle into the job and find out how things really work, but she already has some ideas about how she would like it to develop. In particular, she wants to find out more about what customers – and also people who are not currently customers – want from the shop. So do go and talk to her. She’s the new face behind the counter at present, and we extend a warm welcome to her in her new role.

Paul Brassley


December 2019

Village Shop Talk

The traditional Christmas dinner is pretty heavy on meat. Turkey, goose, chicken, and beef have dominated the menu since Dickens was writing in the middle of the 19th century. An earlier recipe for ‘Christmas Pye’, published in 1719, prescribed a ‘most learned mixture of Neats-tongues, Chicken, Eggs, Sugar, Raisins, Lemon and Orange Peel, various Kinds of Spicery, etc’, which suggests that the ‘pye’ was half way to a pudding. But what if you don’t eat meat? That applies to more and more of us. Estimates of the actual numbers vary considerably, because there are various categories of non-meat eaters. Perhaps the strictest are the fruitarians, who will eat only fruits, nuts and seeds that can be obtained without harming a plant. Vegans – the term was only invented in 1944 – will eat anything that comes from plants, and their numbers have trebled in the last ten years. There are now more than half a million of them in Britain. If we include those who will eat eggs and dairy products but not meat or fish – the vegetarians – the number is now well over a million, but increasing numbers of people now identify as flexitarians: the bulk of their diet is vegetarian, but they occasionally eat meat or fish.

Given these numbers it is not surprising that a national bakery firm found its share price rising when it introduced a vegan sausage roll recently. Similarly, the village shop won’t be left behind. It already stocks vegetarian sausages, and will have vegan Christmas puddings on sale this month. For those who wish to roast nuts instead of birds the shop stocks quite a variety, as well as a cashew nut and cranberry nut roast mix. We are also responding to changing drinking patterns by selling both alcohol-free and gluten-free beers.

The shop will be closed on Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day. It will close at 1 pm on Christmas Eve and 29 December, and only open from 9 am to 5 pm on 27, 28 and 30 December. Then on 2 January everything will be back to normal. Enjoy the holiday, whatever you eat and drink to celebrate it.

Paul Brassley

October 2019

Village Shop Talk

We don’t know when the first village shops appeared, but a survey of part of Suffolk in 1522, when Henry VIII was on the throne, revealed that farmers and farm labourers could be found in every parish, and tailors, shoemakers, butchers and carpenters in quite a few, but if you wanted to buy arrows from a fletcher, or gloves from a glover, or needed the services of a horseleech or a pardoner, you would have to travel to Sudbury, the largest local town. As incomes rose in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries more village traders set up in business, as dealers in everything from coal to tea. Local government records from Warwickshire suggest that after 1750 nearly one fifth of families in the larger villages made a living by retailing food of one kind or another, especially tea and sugar, tobacco, spices, and dried fruit. Another historian has demonstrated a growth in all sorts of village shops in Cheshire at the same time, with even drapers and ironmongers being found in some places.

This growth in rural retailing was brought to an end by about the last quarter of the nineteenth century, as the expansion of railway branch lines made travel to local towns easier for many people, although it was a slow process. In 1939 there were still nine shops in Ilsington parish, but widespread car ownership is probably the main factor leading to the disappearance of village shops over the last fifty years or so. The Plunkett Foundation, which was so helpful when we were setting up our own community shop, found that between 300 and 400 commercial village shops closed in each of the last few years. On the other hand, each year has seen the opening of 22 community shops like ours. There are now about 10,000 volunteers working in nearly 400 community shops across the country. They form part of a legacy of long-standing community cooperation which dates back to the Middle Ages. So we can congratulate ourselves on not only providing a vital service, but maintaining an ancient rural tradition.

Paul Brassley

September 2019

Village Shop Talk

More than ten years ago, the idea of opening a shop for the village was formulated by a dedicated group who had watched, with sadness, the closure of the previous shop. They worked tirelessly for many months to turn their plans into a reality. So that all could be a part of this vision, it was decided that anyone could buy a share for £5 and own a small but important part of the fabric of the village. However, more money was needed, from charities and other sources. The really big breakthrough came in October 2011, with a successful application to the European Union’s Rural Development Programme for England. It provided a grant of £179,000, the bulk of the money needed to construct the new building, still commemorated by the plaque on the wall to your left as you enter the shop. Several of the other grants we received required matching funding from local people, and that’s when there was a big incentive to raise money by selling shares in the shop. Many people bought lots of £5 shares, but the Society still operates on the principle of OMOV – one member, one vote, no matter how many shares the member originally acquired.

Since the shop reopened 7 years ago we have seen many newcomers to the area who may have missed the initial jubilation at the renewed ability to shop locally and well. They (you) may also have not realised that it is still quite possible to become a shareholder and be an active voting member of the shop community.
One of the best parts of being a shareholder is the ability to decide which charity benefits from surplus funds that may accrue over the year at the shop. You might also be asked for your opinion and to vote on key proposals for the future of your shop.

Of course you will now want to know how you can become a shareholder?! It’s easy! Just come to the shop, pick up a form, apply and make your financial contribution. The price of democracy is cheap, but its value is enormous.

Paul Brassley


August 2019

Village Shop Talk

In the late fifteenth century, before printing was common, books were expensive. Manuscript books were definitely luxury items, and even early printed books were pricey. In one case some second-hand books were valued at 70 pence each. That may not sound much until you realise that the same source put the price of ale at a penny a gallon. Contrast that with today, when the book, certainly the second-hand book, is often virtually free. If you take advantage of the book exchange in the village shop a book will only cost you the effort of bringing in another book that you’ve already read, and if you’ve forgotten to do that the cost is only 50 pence. So books, which may have taken the author several years of creativity, research and effort, are amazingly good value and among the cheapest items in the shop.

Since they have all been brought in by customers they might have something to tell us about the reading habits of local people. They are not a perfect guide, because people don’t exchange the books that they might want to read again, or refer to, or value for some other reason. But given those caveats, what do the shop bookshelves reveal? There is little non-fiction: a few cookery and history books, and a slim volume on puppy care and training, perhaps once bought for a dog now grown up. But most genres of fiction are represented: crime, thrillers, science fiction, historical romances and family sagas, fantasy, and modern literary fiction in the novels of Anne Tyler and Molly Keane. At one point somebody in the village clearly enjoyed the Cornwall-set stories of Gloria Cook, for there are several on the shelves. And can one detect the decision to have a good clear-out in the presence of well-used volumes of Terry Pratchett and several battered Star Trek books?

There may now be more books on the shelves of the village shop, available for virtually nothing, than there were in the entire parish in the fifteenth century. Perhaps that’s a measure of progress?

Paul Brassley


July 2019

Village Shop Talk

A cynic, as Oscar Wilde famously said (in his play Lady Windermere’s Fan, Act 3), knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. If we multiply the number of items sold in the shop by the price at which they are sold we arrive at the total sales figure. Does that measure the value of the shop to the village, as the cynic would presumably argue, or is there more to it? Does the shop provide anything else of value?

One of the clear conclusions from the survey carried out last summer was that many people use the shop because they feel it connects them to the local community. For many customers, the opportunity to meet other people in the village is an important part of their shopping experience. But how can we put a value on that? There also seems to be some evidence that having a local shop increases property values in the village, although by how much is not easy to say. The school, the pub and the church undoubtedly have the same effect. There is a simple logic behind this: if these services did not exist in the village, those who need them would incur travelling expenses and lose time in going elsewhere to obtain them. Therefore even people who never use the shop might benefit from its existence when they come to sell their houses.

We should not believe that these benefits will necessarily always be available. Like the school, the pub and the church, the shop relies on being used. But it is much more dependent than those other three village institutions on volunteers. Although it has a paid manager, she needs our support. Inevitably some of the people who devoted a lot of time to the shop when it began can no longer do so, for a variety of reasons. They need to be replaced, so if you can spare an hour or two every week to be at the heart of your local community, do think about volunteering in the shop. You’ll be adding value to the village, even if we can’t quite put a figure on how much.

Paul Brassley


June 2019

Village Shop Talk

Are you missing out on a continental holiday this year? Fear not. The village shop brings you food from every continent except Antarctica, which may be a problem for those with a penchant for coddled penguin eggs but shouldn’t concern most of us.

A rapid survey of the shop recently revealed produce from at least 26 countries. If you count Cornwall and Scotland as separate nations, as some would prefer, make that 28. But it’s almost certainly more than that, because the shop stocks many products, particularly herbs and spices, for which the label simply states that they were packed in the UK without revealing their country of origin. Most European countries, ours included, were importing spices such as pepper, nutmeg, cloves and cinnamon from the east since at least the Middle Ages, if not earlier. Indeed the French word for grocer – épicier – literally means ‘spicer’. It’s also unlikely that the Cornish tea and coffee was actually grown just west of the Tamar; in fact the labels suggest that the coffee came from Costa Rica or Colombia.

In contrast, the information on canned fish is much more specific, perhaps as a result of concerns about over-fishing. Thus we can tell that our tuna was caught in the Indian Ocean and packed on the island of Mauritius, whereas the sardines were caught in the east central Atlantic and met their tomato sauce in Morocco, and the mackerel swam into nets in the north-east Atlantic and were canned in Denmark. We rely on at least ten different countries for our fruit and vegetables. Quite a few come from Spain, but during the winter the ‘French’ beans come from Kenya and recently at least one lot of garlic was imported from China. It takes ten different countries to keep us supplied with wine, but not so many to produce our beer. The Peroni comes from Rome, the Budweiser from the Czech Republic, and Becks is brewed in Bremen, but that old Spanish favourite, San Miguel, is brewed, as you might not expect, in Northampton.

Paul Brassley


May 2019

Village Shop Talk

‘What if …..’ are two of the most interesting words in the English language. For example, what if we no longer had the use of a car? For some people that’s how it is, and for most people that’s how it was eighty years ago in 1939, so it’s not surprising to find that there were then more shops in the parish of Ilsington. Kelly’s Directory for that year lists Martha Giles with a grocery at Glebe Cottage and Alice Heathman keeping a shop and Post Office. There were three tobacconists: Alice Commins, Emily Elson in Liverton, and Thirza Stone, who kept the Liverton Post Office too. Also in Liverton were the newsagent Alfred Dymond and Lily Mary Ellen Rogers, shopkeeper. There was a third Post Office and shop in Haytor kept by Emily Morrish, and William Pascoe, grocer, had the Haytor Stores. But now, if we were suddenly deprived of our cars (and our computers), for how long could we live on what we could buy in the village shop?

As far as food is concerned, probably quite a long time. A balanced diet needs carbohydrates, fats and proteins, supported by micronutrients in the form of vitamins and minerals, and including sufficient dietary fibre. In the shop, of course, all these things come packaged as bread, potatoes, meat, fish, butter and cheese, fruit and vegetables, and so on, and there’s a sufficient range to cover all the main food groups. Something to drink? There’s a range of teas and coffees, soft drinks, wines, beers, and spirits. You could keep the kitchen and the rest of the house perfectly habitable with the range of cleaning products on offer, and for entertainment and information there are books, magazines, newspapers and DVDs, and cards to send to your friends. If the prospect of a car-free life makes you feel ill, there are even some basic painkillers available. And if you would rather pay cash than use a card, you can get that by cash-back or on Monday and Friday mornings when the post office visits. Cigarettes are available for those who smoke, but today there are probably not enough smokers in the parish to keep three tobacconists in business.

Paul Brassley


April 2019

Village Shop Talk

‘One volunteer is worth two pressed men’ goes the saying, but one wonders if everyone knows who or what ‘pressed men’ were. Like many other common expressions (cut and run, slush fund) it began as a naval term. The demands of the expanding eighteenth-century navy for crews led to the development of an Impress Service with the power to force both merchant seamen and ‘landmen’ to serve in the Royal Navy. By Nelson’s time at the beginning of the nineteenth century half a ship’s crew might be pressed men, the rest being volunteers. The system died out in the 1830s and nobody then worried much about impressment or conscription for military service until after the Boer war of 1899 to 1902. Even in the First World War conscription was not introduced until 1916. Before that, the pointing finger and enormously moustached face of Lord Kitchener staring out of posters had produced enough volunteers. Conscription for all three services was reintroduced on 3 September 1939, the day Britain declared war on Germany, and continued after the war. The last conscript only left the army in May 1963, so many men in the parish who are over 80 this year will have memories of National Service.

Fortunately the village shop has no power to conscript its staff. In addition to the manager and her assistant, who are paid, there are nearly fifty active volunteers who play a vital role in keeping it going. Between them they cover about eighty opening hours each week. And it’s not only the friendly faces behind the counter who are needed. Some volunteers work on making sure that the stock is up to date, others help by collecting various products from our suppliers, and some help in the office. But of course they have other things to do, and go on holiday from time to time, so there is always a need for more volunteers. If you would like to be involved just mention it the next time you happen to be in the shop. As Lord Kitchener would have said, ‘Your Village Shop Needs You’.

Paul Brassley


March 2019

Village Shop Talk

Last summer was the best that I can remember for blackberries. I picked a lot, and those I didn’t eat I put into a plastic box that previously held ice cream. I bought wonderful strawberries, which came in their own plastic tubs. All of which made me think about the containers in which we collected and bought fruit before plastics were widely available.

Forty or fifty years ago strawberries and other soft fruit were commonly sold in small baskets made of thin strips of wood. They were called punnets, or chip baskets. H.L.Edlin, in his detailed and fascinating account of Woodland Crafts in Britain, first published in 1949, tells us that they were made from thin strips of willow that were cut from a log by machine before being bent or woven into shape and secured by a metal staple. Millions were made every year, and Wisbech, near the strawberry fields around the Wash, was then the centre of the industry. Alder wood was sometimes used for the rims of the baskets, and in Scotland pine wood was used for the raspberry crop, but for lightness, strength and cleanliness, according to Edlin, there was nothing to beat ‘the valuable intrinsic qualities of our native willow’.

The village shop has a policy of trying to minimise the use of plastic, so it uses paper bags for fruit and vegetables. Customers are encouraged to bring their own shopping bags (we’ve also noticed an increase in the use of wicker baskets), or you can take your shopping home in a biodegradable 5p bag which you can then use to line your compost bin. It’s an interesting exercise to walk around the shelves and think about how different products might be packaged if we tried to do away with plastic altogether. Presumably it would not be difficult to put soft drinks into glass bottles. Would waxed paper do for meat, or waxed card for ice cream and yoghurt? We might have a problem with vacuum-packed and frozen meat or fish without plastic film. But I could certainly re-use a punnet to pick blackberries.

Paul Brassley


February 2019

Village Shop Talk

On a Saturday in the middle of September the broadband went down causing the card machine in the village shop to fail. No problem for those paying with cash, but not everybody now carries cash with them. Nationally, we have now reached the stage where roughly half of in-store payments are made using contactless payment cards, so that lack of notes and coins was hardly surprising. Fortunately Ilsington customers are a trustworthy lot, so their debts were noted by the endearingly old-fashioned method of writing them down in a book, and they returned to pay, either by cash or by card when the wifi was repaired early the following week.

Shop takings increased significantly in the few days last winter when we were cut off by the snow. At the opposite extreme, there was a short period in those wonderful long hot days last summer when the air conditioning in the shop failed. Again, we became more conscious of the importance of things we normally take for granted. The electricity supply did not fail, but we might remember that it can do so, and, indeed, that Ilsington has not always had a mains electricity supply, although it has been available, in the centre of the village at least, since shortly before the Second World War. Houses and farms further away from the centre had to wait until later, and in any case not everybody could immediately afford the cost of installing electricity. Nevertheless they still managed to find a way of lighting and heating their houses, cooking and preserving their food, powering their tools, milking their cows, communicating with each other, entertaining themselves, and paying for their shopping. Such things perhaps took longer in the absence of power at the flick of a switch, but they could be done.

The shop was a lifeline for some people in last winter’s snow, and we managed to get around the card machine problem back in September. How convenient it is now to be able to nip to the shop for the things we need, and how lucky we are to have it. It’s the retail equivalent of flicking the light switch.

Paul Brassley


December 2018

Village Shop Talk

‘Christmas is coming, the geese are getting fat, please put a penny in the old man’s hat’ goes the old nursery rhyme, but fat and perhaps apprehensive geese almost certainly pre-date Christianity. Some scholars argue for the origins of Christmas in the Roman feast of Saturnalia, which marked the end of the autumn sowing season in Italy. Others contend that it had more to do with ‘sol invicta’, the feast of the unconquered sun, gradually returning again after the shortest day. The northern European festival of Yule, with its ceremonial log providing light while the sun stood still, relates to the same idea, and it was also the time at which Druids cut mistletoe as the symbol of life.

All these celebrations were marked with feasting and gift-giving, as the nursery rhyme suggests. A turkey as the centre of the Christmas dinner is a relatively recent tradition in England, dating only from the nineteenth century. Before that came the goose, and the advantages of goose-fat for roasting potatoes has seen geese increase in popularity in recent years. A seasonal flurry of baking is also common throughout European countries. Our mince pies, Christmas cakes and plum puddings are matched by German Stollen, Italian pannetone and Scandinavian ginger biscuits.

Ilsington village shop will be rising to the challenge of ensuring that you have everything you need to continue this age-old tradition. You will be able to order turkeys [and geese and chickens?] in advance, and also reserve all the vegetables you need to go with them. There will be some special treats from our regular suppliers – make sure you look at the shelves on the left as you enter the door – and a wide range of attractive Christmas cards. Also look out for the announcement of a mince pie and mulled wine evening to get you in the mood. The shop will close at 5 pm on Christmas Eve, and will be open between 9 am and 5 pm from Thursday 27th to Monday 31st, except for the Sunday half day. Enjoy your traditional feasting and gift-giving, whatever you call it!

Paul Brassley


November 2018

Village Shop Talk

Back in July most people living in Ilsington and Haytor Vale received a questionnaire about their use of the village shop, and we are very grateful to those of you who completed it and returned it to the shop. Most of the returned forms were from people who use the shop regularly, and it would have been good to hear more from those who do a lot of their grocery shopping online or elsewhere. Nevertheless, the survey produced some interesting results, and the shop committee members have now had time to consider and respond to them.

Only a few of the people answering the questionnaire used the shop less than once a week. Most used it at least once, and some three times a week or more, and most people were using it as much as or more than they did in the past, which suggests that the core group of customers is happy with the service that the shop provides. Many pointed out that it’s about more than retail therapy. For them, supporting the community and meeting people are also important reasons for using the shop. However, there were some people who were less satisfied. One of the more frequent complaints concerned the quality and freshness of the fruit and vegetables, and as a result the shop has recently changed its greengrocery supplier to one who promises better quality at competitive prices. It also stocks a range of products from the Fish Deli in Ashburton, Cox and Laflin (the butchers at Ullacombe), Sladesdown Farm at Ashburton and Dartington Dairy. And you may have noticed that it’s recently been redecorated and that the café area has been refurbished and provided with new furniture.

The important point to remember is that we are always happy to receive comments on quality and requests for the things that you, the customers, want. Please ask to have them written in the day book with your name and contact details. We want a shop that really does reflect the diverse needs and tastes of our village.

Paul Brassley


October  2018

Village Shop Talk

In 1958 about 25 million barrels of beer were drunk in the United Kingdom, together with about 15 million gallons of wine. These figures come from that treasure-trove for the numerically fascinated, the Annual Abstract of Statistics. By the time the figures have been converted into comparable units, it appears that wine accounted for no more than 2 per cent of the volume of booze consumed.

Another way of examining our drinking is by what we spend on it. In 1965 beer accounted for 59p of every pound spent on alcoholic drink. The latest figures are from the 2017 Household Expenditure Survey, and show that wine and sparkling wine took 51p of the drinker’s pound, whereas beer only accounted for 22p.

These figures are not quite comparable with the 1965 data because they refer only to alcoholic drinks consumed at home. But at least they support what the baby boom generation will remember: when they were young, wine was nothing like as popular as it is now, and some of it – remember Blue Nun and Hirondelle Red? – would not today be rated very highly. Women may be especially responsible for the change. A study in 2017 by the Office for National Statistics on adult drinking habits revealed that 60 per cent of women who had drunk alcohol in the previous week drank wine or sparkling wine, compared with 33 per cent of men.

We can see the local effects of these national changes in the village shop, where wines and beers are the biggest sellers both numerically and in value. As well as a wide range of beers – the latest is a lager called Devon Maid – there are wines from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Spain, Italy and Chile. All of those countries were producing wines sixty years ago, but you would not have found them in a village shop. The shop offers the opportunity to taste a different wine every two weeks, so next time you try one think about how much change a single lifetime can see.

Paul Brassley


September 2018

Village Shop Talk

2018 is a good year for anniversaries. It’s one hundred years since the end of the First World War and the formation of the Royal Air Force, and, more locally, a thousand years since the first Benedictine Buckfast Abbey was founded. Even more locally, it’s ten years since the events that resulted in the building of Ilsington Village Shop.

Hilary and Stuart Morrish had taken over a shop as part of Glebe Cottage in the early 1980s, but in 2006 they sold it to Andrea and David Arnold. In 2008, due to family commitments, the Arnolds were unable to continue running the shop. On September 30th they held an open meeting to tell the local community that they wanted to end their involvement with it at the end of the year, although they were happy for it to be run as a community venture. That was the beginning.

This is not the place – and there isn’t the space – to write a history of the shop and to tell the story of how the money was raised to build it as an addition to the village hall. But at the shop’s Annual General Meeting in June this year, Alan Hobbs, who has been the chair of the shop committee since it was first formed, and Paul Hughes, who has similarly been the treasurer, announced their retirement. They have done an enormous amount of work, and helped to guide the shop from its infancy to its present established status. The whole village surely owes them an enormous debt of gratitude. Sue Norris, who has been the secretary of the committee during those ten years, is carrying on, and Emma Schramm, who was the first shop manager, has now joined the committee, so we continue to have an experienced team in charge. If you don’t already use the shop, you might pop in soon and see what’s happening ten years on, or even think about becoming one of the team of volunteers that keep it going.

Paul Brassley