History of a famed emporium

Lynda Wadge and Heather Stonebank with Mary Kelly.
Lynda Wadge and Heather Stonebank with Mary Kelly.

Hepscott WI

The members of Hepscott WI were fascinated by the stories of Bob Young, a member of the well-known Smails family, about the famed Morpeth emporium.

Smails had served the community as an established shop in Morpeth for more than 100 years.

However, to everyone’s surprise, they learned that it had previously been located on a number of sites before settling in its final location in the impressive building in Bridge Street.

As a successful business, it moved with the times throughout its life-span.

This was seen from its inception when it was selling fishing and hunting tackle, through to offering agricultural equipment for sale.

In the 1920s the shop started to incorporate a music department, and a sports department and TV aerial repair department were established in the 1950s.

There was later camping equipment on sale from the 1970s, and, of course, the amazing ironmongery department, which all Morpethians came to rely upon until the shop finally closed its doors for good on Easter Saturday, 2016.

Probably the best known member of the family was Isobel Smail OBE — for as St Peter is said to guard the Gates of Heaven, so Isobel guarded the doors to Smails, and greeted all who entered with her customary greeting: “What do you want?”

All members of the family were expected to do their stint in the store, from Saturday workers upwards, until other careers had beckoned the younger generations.

When the shop was cleared a number of particularly interesting items were found, and Bob brought along a good selection to test our memories.

We had great fun trying to guess what some of the things were used for.

He also had some wonderful photographs of the family and employees. These ranged from the country fairs of pre-World War I to the 21st century, with many familiar faces among them.

It proved to be a nostalgic evening, full of local flavour (there must be a book in these memories).

It was all vividly brought to life by an informed and enthusiastic speaker.

As women, members of Hepscott WI are aware of some of the feminine needs in our community.

They regularly donate sanitary products to the local food bank, as well as organise an annual collection for The People’s Kitchen in Newcastle.

Mary Kelly from The People’s Kitchen came along to our meeting and she was pleased to take the bags of clothes we had collected to share them out with those who have need of them.

The next meeting of Hepscott WI will take place on Tuesday, March 19, at 7.30pm in the Village Hall.

Les Elliot, of the Honey Store, whose stall can often be found at the Morpeth Farmers’ Market, will be talking to members about Beekeeping And The Sweetness Of Honey.

Guests are always welcome to come along and join the group.