Quite a few years ago my Grandad used to own the newsagent ‘Rapsons’ in a street in Chichester, West Sussex called ‘The Hornet’. It has changed hands and uses a few times now since he owned it and up until recently it used to be an Art Gallery. The newest owners are in the process of renovating it. Whilst doing so they uncovered the original 1890s shop sign that had been preserved underneath various newer signs that had been added over the years.
My Dad enjoys researching local history and he uncovered some history about the original shop and its owner.
Henry John Voke was born in the Hampshire village of Emsworth during 1871. Until 1891 he was employed as a baker at North Street, Chichester in a shop owned by George Mant where his sister, Kate also worked as a shop assistant. Shortly after this date a Chichester Street Directory shows John, as he was known, with his own shop, at 47, The Hornet, sharing the premises with John Herbert Hobgen, a seller of corn. I remember my father-in-law telling me that, in the 1950’s, when the shop window needed repairing a quantity of corn grain was found in the sill, no doubt some of Mr Hobgen’s left over stock!
John had married Eliza Kate Hutchings on 10th September, 1893 at St Olave’s Church in Chichester and the couple had two children, William born in 1895 and Ernest in 1898. The whole family would have lived in what was many years later to become ‘Rapsons’ newsagent. As a child my wife lived with her parents and her brother at the shop during the 1950’s.
In the years between 1905 and 1909 John Voke and his family moved next door to larger premises which later included tea gardens at the back of the shop. An ex prison warder, James Weller and his wife, Sarah moved into the shop which then became a newsagents. James died in 1911 and for several years Sarah ran the shop single handed until after the First World War it passed into the hands of Mrs Edith Mary Barnes. She, and her husband Robert, had two children, David and Ethel who would spend their early years at the shop in The Hornet. For many years Edith’s newsagents and confectioners sold papers and sweets to the people of Chichester. She died in 1941 and my wife’s grandfather, William who was a butcher, with a shop next to “The Bush Inn” a little further down The Hornet bought the newsagents for his daughter, Norah. For many, many years her and my father-in-law, John ran the family business very successfully until he retired in 1997 at the age of seventy nine! The shop was then sold and a variety of businesses have been based at the premises since that date.
Every time I walk passed what I still think of as Grandad’s shop I remember going in there as a kid with my family and that he’d always offer us a chocolate bar. It’s amazing just how much history is in one small shop and just how many past lives had been lived there.