High Street Property Details

George Simons, a butcher (1820 – 1887), came to Wheathampstead from Abbots Langley, where his father was also a butcher. The family had moved from Harpenden.  George established his business in Wheathampstead in 1840 and proudly engraved 'G. Simons Est. 1840' on a glass frontage to the shop, above the shop window. He first lived at the corner of Luton Road and Lamer Lane where his five children were born.

In December 1871 a sale of land and property was held at the Swan Hotel including a shop, dwelling house and meadow land near the Mill.   George Simons purchased these and during 1872 the buildings were demolished and a new combined butcher’s shop and house were erected to be known as ‘Leabank’.   Station Road was possibly named soon after the coming of the railway in 1860 and was certainly called this in the 1891 census but locally it was still called High Street, as is shown by the shop's entry in Kelly's directory, which didn't change to Station Road until the 1913/14 edition.

The shop and house are built of red brick.   Above the shop window, the glass proudly displayed the name G. Simons and that the business was established in 1840.   The house was built with three reception rooms and four bedrooms and a salting cellar.   There was a room above the scullery for the men who looked after the horses and there was a well under the kitchen.   It is said that this house contained the first flushing toilet in the village.   Behind the house was a slaughterhouse, some stables and other outbuildings.   Between the buildings and the River Lea there was a large garden, tennis court and orchard, but this is now overgrown.

Ponies were kept in order to draw traps to make deliveries in the local area and for visiting, until motor vehicles became more common. The traps were painted in the blue livery that carried on to the demise of the business.

By 1911 George’s youngest son, also George (1856-1938), was the butcher in the High Street where he lived with his wife, Mary Ann Sophia (nee Dunham) and their five children aged from 16 to 24. The business was called Simons & Son.  His gravestone is the black marble one near the east end of St. Helen’s church.  

George’s eldest daughter Georgiana married James Titmuss of the village milling family. Dorothea married one of the Garratt family, who were bakers in the village. Grace married Harold Clark and moved to the United States with an address on Wall Street, New York.  George’s eldest son William Robert, who was also a butcher, married Honor Margaret Blowey, from a farming family, and he took over the business from his father.

William Robert and Honor had five children the eldest being another William Robert known as Bob who was born in 1915 in a house opposite St Helen’s Church.  Their final child, a second son died shortly after birth.

Bob attended Smithfield Butchers College and during his time there was awarded the medal for best student.   He was particularly interested in the scientific side of his course and would have liked to pursue this but his father had been in a serious car crash and had problems with his heart and Bob had to take over the shop. There were also branches of their butchers, until the early 1980s, in Harpenden High Street, where Jackson’s is now and in Welwyn village until W.R.Simons senior’s death in 1949.

In 1939 Bob married Winifred Butler from a family of butchers in St Albans.   In the Second World War he was called up to the Herts & Beds regiment and then was transferred to the Royal Artillery.   He eventually served with the 81st West African regiment in Africa and India.   There he learned to cook a good curry using original spices.   While he was in the army his father again ran the shop.   During the war he would have dealt with meat rationing and the ration books of his registered customers.  

Bob returned home to England in 1946 with the rank of Battalion Quartermaster Sergeant; prior to this he had also qualified and worked as an instructor.   Rationing of meat was still in place until 1954 and care had to be taken to ensure fairness to all in regard to cuts and quality of meat. Rationing brought many difficulties, meat was supplied from a central depot in Watford and quality was very variable. Until the birth of their daughter in 1947 Winifred Simons had been the allocation officer for the St Albans area, collecting the carcasses and sharing them between St Albans butchers. Wheathampstead was in a different area for meat allocation.

During the Second World War fuel was available only on a limited basis so a pony and trap was again used throughout this period for the more isolated customers.  Topsy, a chestnut horse with a white blaze on her nose, who was used for deliveries, liked to wait at the end of the Folly field which runs alongside the railway line. She enjoyed racing the trains until her heart failed on her final race. A passenger got out at the station and walked down to report her collapse. The passenger service ended just a year or two later in 1965. Topsy was 29 at this time and had had many years of retirement. Over the winter months she was stabled at Leabank.

As time passed and motor vehicles became available for purchase again, motor vans finally replaced the traps, the final three being replaced by Hillman Imps purchased from Jessamine Garage.

There was a petrol tank and hand-operated pump in the yard for use of the firm’s vehicles. This was filled with concrete for safety in about 1990.

By 1949 the business had been renamed Simons (Butchers) Ltd. but the shop front retained the decorative G Simons sign.   There was an etched window in the door.   George Dunham, a cousin from Wheathampstead, also worked for the family.  In later years, not wishing to retire completely, he would make the sausages.  Bob always mixed the spices himself to his secret recipe using the more expensive spice mace instead of the more usual nutmeg. Occasionally he would make other recipes: one was pork, tomato and herbs.   

Bob and his family moved into Leabank on 6th December 1948, making do with carpets etc. from a much smaller property as rationing of such goods was still in place. When the rooms were redecorated after the war, the ceilings in the front of the house all fell in - a result of explosion shock from a bomb that had landed north of St. Helen's Church. 

When Bob’s daughter was a girl she mixed the food to rear the runt piglet from her uncle's first litter: this was sold at maturity and a large tricycle purchased with the money from the sale.   In later years she kept a few chickens to fatten for the Christmas market: these provided pocket and holiday money.  Chickens were kept by the family in the orchard to provide eggs for sale (the remains of the chicken house were found in the old orchard in 2015).  At the time of the Suez crisis in 1956, when petrol was rationed, a few geese were kept as they made excellent alarms to strangers on the premises. Later on there were also guinea fowl who start screeching when strangers were around.

Each year when the Christmas rush was over the family and employees would be taken on an outing to see Bertram Mills Circus at Olympia.

In early years cattle would be delivered by train and walked down Station Road to the business. Sometimes they would be kept in the field next to the railway yard to rest and feed until the time that they were needed.   Beef calves were also bought in to be reared locally on a relative’s farm.  The slaughterhouse closed in late 1985. Bob specialised in “Q” quality grade meat and supplied a cousin and his brother-in-law with some of their meat. The local authority meat inspector would inspect all meat produced on the premises in accordance with the law.

Bob was often asked to judge beef cattle, sheep and pigs at the Herts Show and at the pre-Christmas cattle markets in St Albans, Hertford and Tring.  Most years he would purchase at least one prize beast from the Smithfield show held at Earl's Court London, and the certificates and rosettes would be displayed along with the carcass (the prepared body of the meat animal): this practice followed on from that of his father and grandfather.

Bob Simons employed boys as Saturday helpers.   Pete Miller remembers working as a Saturday boy following in the footsteps of his brother Ken.   The work was for a full day and was hard work involving cleaning, sweeping, scattering sawdust and many other jobs.   The cellar had to be swept which was creepy as you could hear the footsteps of people overhead in the shop and sometimes sawdust would fall through the floor.   The cellar steps were worn away in a scoop shape where many people had walked.   At the end of the day all the trays and tins had to be scrubbed in a very large sink to remove dried blood etc. so that they were clean for the next day.   Dried blood is particularly hard to remove.   Simons backyard had a slaughterhouse and the Saturday boy also had the job of emptying cattle stomachs so that they could be used for tripe.  

Bob Simons was a good boss with a gruff exterior and a kind heart.   Occasionally a Saturday boy would go home with some sausages as well as his pay.

In Pete’s time at the butcher's in the late 1960s, there were two or three butchers working at Simons and as he became more experienced he was expected to do everything they did except cut up the meat.   Even though he became a full-time employee he still had to be a Saturday boy so worked a six-day week earning about £13.00 a week.   He left the butcher's at 16 for further employment.

Both Pete Miller and Bob's daughter remember an excellent butcher called Fitzsimmons, known as Fitz.

The shop had a cashier who sat behind a small window at the back of the shop.   This meant that the money kept clean and the butcher did not get his hands dirty from the coins.   There were also two bookkeepers, three van drivers, the slaughterman and the Harpenden shop staff.   The Fisher sisters Doreen (Slough) and Joan (Naples, Szylonek (sic)) both worked as book-keepers for the business for many years

Bob Simons worked at the butcher's shop for more than 50 years until just before Christmas 1985 when he retired.   His customers made a collection and presented him with a framed print of the old village and some cash, as recorded in the Herts Advertiser. He would always try to help his regular customers if they suffered hardship with gifts of meat.   He had a daughter and a son who were encouraged to take up other professions, because Bob saw what the future of small family businesses would be, so the shop closed on his retirement.  Bob died on 17th November 1986 shortly before his 71st birthday.

In 1987 John Geraerts re-opened the butchers shop.  The Herts Advertiser in September 1987 records that as he prepared to start the business he visited Smithfield market in London to buy a stock of meat, put it in his van and then the van and meat were stolen.  Despite this the shop opened and was welcomed by villagers.

For three years Jack Cody worked at the butcher's and then in September 1991 he took it over, with the shop renamed Jack's.   Jack's dreams of stardom were dashed when the BBC had to cancel filming at the butcher's because of an actors' dispute.   It had been thought that the traditional layout of the shop with sawdust and hanging meat were ideal for the filming of a period drama set in 1958 to have starred Julie Walters and Joan Plowright, widow of Laurence Olivier.  Jack told the newspaper "I am really disappointed and upset, I went to a lot of trouble telling people about this.  Now I feel a bit stupid and embarrassed."

Later MacIntyre Care bought the house and shop.  The outbuildings were demolished and the main building was substantially altered and extended to become residential accommodation opening in 1994 to provide homes and care for six people with learning difficulties and special needs.   The care home became No.1 Station Road and the shop No.1a.

In 1996 the shop opened as T Potts Café where the MacIntyre service users could be trained in catering and food

On 30th April 2012 Sue Keeble and  Neil Mawdsley opened Jack's Coffee Shop at 1A Station Road.   The shop had a New York theme and was named for Jack Reacher, a character with a great love of coffee in Lee Child's  books which are set in America.

Sue and Neil worked in the shop themselves, employing three cooks and some casual staff.   It's hard physical work and there is a lot of background work like ordering that takes time outside opening hours.   They learned about the different coffees and teas they sold with help from an Italian mentor and a tea importer and also did a lot of reading and research.   Their cakes (most of which Sue made) were very popular.   They had a reproduction antique ice cream bicycle parked outside the coffee shop every day.   It had a refrigerated compartment to hold the ice cream.

Sue ran the shop from 2013 to 2017.

April 2020 update

The cafe is now called Charlie's. It is run by a mother-and-daughter team and provides a wide range of snacks, light meals and beverages. It is popular with local people, walkers, cyclists, workmen and visitors to the area, including to Shaw's Corner.


Researcher:  Gillian Roe (nee Potter)


  • Kelly's Directories  (1906-1914, 1949)
  • Herts Advertiser newspaper
  • conversations with Diana Davies, Pete Miller, Lyndsay Hoyle (Macintyre Care), Sue Keeble
  • Suzie Brind's photos 

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