JOHN DILLEY’S WWI BLOG: Anger over early shop closures to keep the town dark

John Dilley.
John Dilley.

October 10, 1916 – Light fighting on the streets of Market Harborough

I hate queuing up at airport security and removing my belt and shoes for what seems to be an unnecessary precaution designed to keep people in a job. And it makes my blood boil when I’m made to throw away my water bottle and only to be forced to pay exorbitant prices for another about a hundred metres away.

It seems the town centre traders of First World War Market Harborough are feeling similarly aggrieved about the council’s proposal to insist on closing the shops at 6pm in the winter.

It really is battle lines drawn on the Home Front according to the editorial – and advertising – columns of the October 10, 1916, edition of the Market Harborough Advertiser.

Some shopkeepers are in favour of closing early so night-time lights are not visible to the increasing number of Zeppelin raids made by the Germans over Britain – although none have ventured anywhere near Market Harborough.

Other traders argue they will lose trade and money if the early closing rule is implemented and it will be all to no avail – just like today’s airport water bottle rules.

The proposal calls for shops to close at 6pm on weekdays and 7pm on Saturdays. A council letter to all merchants says: “The advantages of this arrangement will, of course, be readily apparent to you.

“It is most important that the town should be kept as dark as possible during the next few months and with the restriction of the lighting orders it is now impossible to display goods in shop windows after this time, so closing them will result in practically no loss of trade and will give more free time both to you and your customers.”

Not so according to another account in the Advertiser. “As things are now the majority of people do not leave work until 6 o clock. When would they have a chance to do any shopping, bearing in mind that a large number of shops are closed from 1-2 mid-day. It does not give them a chance at all.”

The anonymous shopkeeper then continues to ridicule the pro-closure argument. “No Zepp raid has ever taken place before 9 or 10 o’clock at night, so I cannot see there is any reason for shopkeepers to c lose earlier than they have been doing. Heaven knows some of us want to do business.”

And he seems to have a well-reasoned solution for any problems. “If there should be an early raid the Authorities have the remedy in their own hands – shut off the gas and the shops will close then.”

He concludes: “I agree with every possible precaution but do not let us get ‘panicky’. If shops have to close at 6 o’ clock I suggest that the factories in the town should be circularised to close at 5, and thus give us all a chance.”

Elsewhere in the paper, a more pragmatic approach to the issue is taken by Shindler & Douglas in their prominent page 3 advert drawing attention to a sunset time of 5.34pm by the end of the month when ‘evening shopping will become increasingly difficult’ and the lampless streets and darkened windows will make movement about the town ‘not only unpleasant but dangerous’.

However, there is a answer according to the advert. “We therefore, respectfully suggest to our many customers that they take full advantage of the mornings and afternoons (especially the mornings) for shopping.

“This will mean safe and pleasant shopping and will also greatly help us in the early delivery of parcels.”

Meanwhile, the young men of the town are continuing their perilous life trying to avoid the limelight but the Advertiser records that three more have paid the ultimate price.

Two Great Bowden lads with the Leicesters Regiment, Private Edward Mayfield and Private Harry Pritchard, are reported as killed in action and so is Captain T Lewis Ingram of Welford.

There is a long tribute to Ingram, who used to be the village doctor. “His kindness, geniality and readiness to join in anything for the good of the village and district made him respected and beloved by one and all, and it can be truly said that Welfordians regard his death as a personal loss,” says the report.

In gram, who had been awarded the Military Cross and then the Distinguished Service Order for his bravery earlier in the war, had been involved in ‘looking for the wounded and fearlessly went right up to the German lines and brought in many wounded’.

On the night of September 16 he was again involved in rescue missions at the Front. “In one part he found it was too dangerous to take his bearers with him so he found them safe shelter for them and with the Chaplain they then set out alone,” says the account.

“They went on to see if they could help those who were wounded bear another part of the German lines and they were never seen again.”