Memories Of Little Downham’s ‘Lofts’ Shop

When one recollects childhood memories, invariably there are many that standout. For me – growing up in Little Downham – these included my first day at Feofee’s primary school, the tragic death of Susan Cockerton (Susan and my Auntie Steph used to babysit me) in April, 1968, the ‘giant hydrogen-filled balloon’ that drifted over our primary school in August, 1970, making houses out of straw bales in the field bordering on our house (sorry Mr. Parsons!), fishing down the ‘Hurst’ and a little shop forever frozen in time. That shop was ‘Lofts’.

Image: Mrs. Hillen

‘Lofts’ closed sometime in the late 80s. It was a childhood memory that had not – physically – changed since my earliest visits on the way to primary school in the late 60s. Truth is, it probably hadn’t changed that much from the day it opened in the early 1900s!

Loft’s was a small dark foreboding place lost in the modern world; an amalgam of Royston Vasey’s ‘local’ shop in The League Of Gentlemen and Arkwright’s store in Open All Hours. But to a child in the late 60s and early 70s that lived east of St. Leonard’s Church it was first stop (we were to lazy to walk to ‘Barlows’ or ‘Proctors’) on the way to school or the ‘field’ (playing field), you see, the shop had a lot of sweets, in the big front window and the jars on the back wall, it also had Corona fizzy and Lyon’s ice lollies. What more could a kid wish for?

Loft’s was an amalgam of Royston Vasey’s local shop in The League Of Gentlemen and Arkwright’s store in Open All Hours.

The main gateway to a kid’s nirvana was through two giant sliding glass doors (they were always shut); you would tell Mrs. Hillen you wanted some sweets and ceremoniously she would open the sliding doors. As a 7 year old with ‘thrupenny bit’ in hand I would ask what I could get for my money and then reach into the big shopfront window and choose with the watchful eye of Mrs. Hillen ever vigilant.

The store was from an long-forgotten age that allowed locals to run a ‘tab’ for groceries as long as you paid up on payday. Sure there was the occasional damp packet of crisps or biscuits and the chocolate in the front window did melt on a hot day but overall I had fond memories.

The shop was handed down to Mrs. Hillen (maiden name Lofts) from her Father, Ben Lofts, a man who I have very little memory of.

The shop served me and my friends very well during our primary school life and the long summer holidays of the early 70s when we spent most of the time either fishing at the ‘Hurst’ or playing tennis, football and cricket up the ‘field’.

Popular treats back then were a ‘¼’ of loose sherbet, pineapple chunks or pear drops.

Popular treats back then were a ‘¼’ of loose sherbet, pineapple chunks or pear drops. When playing tennis down the ‘field’ a bottle of corona cherryade done the trick, making sure to return the bottle the 10p deposit. Ice lollies were popular also: Zoom, Fab (a girl’s lollie, but tasted great) and the big ice popsicles. You could walk down the street with a sweet cigarette in your mouth imitating the adults and laughing when some old geezer thought you had a real ‘fag’ in your mouth.

The store was never over-busy as new shops such as ‘Barlows’ and ‘Proctors’ at the other end of the village had arrived as housing in the village grew. But it did have a loyal following of older ‘true’ locals and served the children well who walked to school from Lawn Lane and Ely Road.

I took the following photographs in the late 80s, it was something I had wanted to do for years but hadn’t the courage to ask.

These could possibly be the only photos that exist of the shop’s interior. I hope I am wrong as I would really like to see earlier shots of Ben Lofts. If anyone has any that I can scan please get in touch.

Image: Loft's Shop, Little Downham

(above) Loft’s around 1920.

Image: Loft's Shop, Little Downham

(above) Mrs. Hillen.

Image: Loft's Shop, Little Downham

(above) The gateway to nirvana.

Image: Loft's Shop, Little Downham
Image: Loft's Shop, Little Downham
Image: Loft's Shop, Little Downham
Image: Loft's Shop, Little Downham
Image: Loft's Shop, Little Downham
Image: Loft's Shop, Little Downham

(above) I’ll have a ‘¼’ of sherbet please.

Image: Loft's Shop, Little Downham

(above) The ice cream refrigerator.

Image: Loft's Shop Today, Little Downham

(above) Lofts is now a residential property called Lofts Cottage.

87 replies
« Older Comments
  1. Fid Hall
    Fid Hall says:

    Hi Mick
    The man in the football photo was not Roy Pearson it was an R A F person and only played that one game and the man who swung his leg was Elias king he came to every home match as for as the best team if not we were a close second every body likes to think they were the best with players like Roger Saberton who could score 4 goals a game, Mick Dewsbury the most hard working player you could hope to find, Joe Howlet who was the best kicker of the ball in cambs football Mick Cornwell as fast as a rabbit and could score goals Tony Pearson who was a very skilful, Jef Starling just about the best captain I played under, Bob Pearson strong in the air as on the ground, Mick Bedingfield a very underated keeper he did not have many bad games. I remember you playing in the reserves you wasnt a bad player yourself just lacking pace.

    Good to see Geof Suddal still about he was a good player he was strong and good in the air but let his temper get the better of him.

    hope to hear from geof.

    cheers Fid

  2. Belewski
    Belewski says:

    Does anyone know bomber Belewski’s first name? My dad has passed on and with him the force he fought with.
    I have a posting on the web of him in his uniform but no one knows the uniform. It may be his day outfit.
    Dad never spoke of his war years.
    Any help appreciated.

    Prackatan

  3. Michael Fenn
    Michael Fenn says:

    I remember the annual fair in my Aunt Laura’s field. I believe it was run by a man called Charlie Nunn from Manea(?). Interesting that it was referred to as a “feast”. This is a medieval-sounding word, perhaps it was a very ancient event.
    Fid – I would like to be in touch and hear a bit more about what is happening in the village, but perhaps this is not the best place to exchange news. You could mail me at michael.fenn@hik.se if you have time.

  4. Robert Newell
    Robert Newell says:

    I picked this up on the web. It might be of some help.

    Hello, ive read your read your message and im also looking into my family history. i also have the surname BELEWSKI.
    My name is Lesley Belewski, im 44 years old. My father was called Jerzey Belewski. He came over to England during the second world war. All i know is that his parents and youngest sister were tortured in the war. I have a cousin born 1st April 1959 name im not sure. ( Jerzy Belewski’s father was a priest ) This is all i know.

    Please get in touch with me at LBELEWSKI@AOL.COM

    Love Lesley.

  5. Jonathan Snell
    Jonathan Snell says:

    Robert Newell, I thought you and your brother went to live in Canada.

    Good old Downham Swifts: The local derby Littleport Football Club big. Sam Murfitt, who could forget, him great bloke and Fid Hall who could handle himself – not many people tried to take him on. Geoff Suddell, is he still a plasterer?

    One more thing I would to say enjoyed my days at Witchford Secondary Modern.

  6. Robert Newell
    Robert Newell says:

    Jonathan

    Yes, I live in British Columbia – unfortunately my brother died in January of this year. I’ve lived in many places since I left the village in 64 but I can’t think of a better place to grow up than Little Downham.

  7. jonathan snell
    jonathan snell says:

    Robert, sorry to hear about the loss of your brother. Little downham was a great place to grow up. I wish my parents had not moved away.

    I remember some of the old characters like little Walter Leigh who could out drink anyone in the village, Storky, who lived down California in a caravan – he had only one leg; he used to bike everywhere.

    I have a few more stories to tell when I can remember them, memories going, getting old.

  8. Pauline Bedingfield McCamant
    Pauline Bedingfield McCamant says:

    Hello I am now 72 years young Ha!.. but have wonderful memories growing up in Little Downham.. By the way Karl, I am your 2nd cousin.. Jayne and I grew up together.. I moved to the states in 1960… during the war years lived with my grandfather John Walker who owned the Plough…. When I went to infant school our teachers were Miss Woolnough and Miss Knights… Tony, Bob and Roy Pearson are my cousins.. Fid Hall came to see us a few years back… I really have been enjoying some of the old memories.. I remember “Top school” we called it in my day… Mr Ives being the headmaster and Mrs Sole my favourite teacher.. In those days we all set for a scolarship at 11 .. I passed that year with Olga Burgess and we went to Ely High School.. Would love to hear more about our village… Keep in touch and I will get back with you ..

  9. Tina Bryant
    Tina Bryant says:

    What wonderful photos of Lofts shop. It seems like only yesterday I would eagerly await those magic glass doors to slide back to buy my Golden Cup, spangles, galaxy counters, mint cracknell bar, etc. I also used to love looking in the display window on my way home from school.

  10. Ian Martin
    Ian Martin says:

    Hello Little Downham folk, If I remember correctly ‘Bomber’s’ first name was John, he lived in a cottage on Townsend near Owen Cole, I think with Chris Snell who still visits the Bygone’s day with his vintage army truck, John and I used to travel to Witchford Secondary together on one of Charley Gray’s finest coaches!

  11. Kat
    Kat says:

    Hi Lesley

    I’m writing on behalf of my father who knew a belewski.

    He would like to know some more information about him and maybe a photo would be helpful so he could confirm whether it was the same one.

    Best regards
    Kat

  12. Malcolm Hobbs
    Malcolm Hobbs says:

    I am writing with reference to some information that Ian Martin has written regarding John Belewski.

    I also knew a John Belewski who had once lived at Townsend.

    John had been quite a character.

    I can still remember two situations where John’s amusing sense of humour had revealed itself.

    One being where John had hidden himself upstairs in old vicarage on a Sunday morning.
    As happened in those days us youngest would be taken to vicarage. On that particular Sunday morning as we had entered the vicarage John had suddenly appeared at the top of the stairs. Then had proceeded to startle all of us as he had ran down the stairs shouting a bogeyman had been after him.
    Ian had your nick name been Iggie at one time. Because although very young at the time I do still remember you may have been friends with a person called Charlie Clark.

    Charlie Clark had lived down Lawn Lane.

    One memory I do have; is all of us fishing down the Hurst in what I believed had been called Green’s pond.
    I never did find out who had stocked the pond with fish; but I do remember catching some small carp in the pond.

  13. David Bourne
    David Bourne says:

    At 5:13 pm on November 18th, 2010, David Bourne wrote:
    Your comment is awaiting moderation.

    18th Nov.’10. David Bourne.
    I have just stumbled on this site. What luck. My family moved to Little Downham in 1953, I was seven. My mother took over Little Downham post office from her mother, my father became postman. He also had a shop in the post office selling sweets etc. therefore I did not actually shop at Loft’s but as we delivered papers for Dad every evening after school and very ofter the mail,(especially at Christmas) we knew most of the people in the village.I agree with everyone, Little Downham was a wonderful place to grow up in.I left in 1962 and went to sea and have lived abroad ever since. Presently in Burgundy, France.

  14. Pauline Bedingfield McCamant
    Pauline Bedingfield McCamant says:

    November 24th /2010….Hello David.. Pauline Bedingfield (McCamant )here.. I remember your mum and dad ..and Jackie your sister and I were best friends… My Aunt Pearl ,,I think worked at the post office.. That was many moons ago .. I lived at Lawns Cresent.. I would love to get in touch with Jackie if you have her address.. I moved to the states 1960.. did get in touch a few years back..but lost her address.. saw your mum and dad a couple of times when I came home..the last time was in Little Downham..

  15. Janice Parr (now Clarke)
    Janice Parr (now Clarke) says:

    Hi. I came across this website by accident – and wow, what a find! Superb pictures and comments about Lofts’ shop. Also great to read names and reminiscences that I recognise. Re the ‘Feast’: it was run by the Charlie Nunn family. I believe that Mr Nunn ran the roundabout, Mrs Nunn the Hoopla/shooting at playing cards with darts. The prize could be a goldfish in a little plastic bag. Miss Nunn ran the coconut shy and Mr Nunn jr a rifle shooting range. Please correct me if I’m wrong. There was also a bank of penny slot machines, flick a metal ball etc.
    Does anyone remember the evangelical tent that came every year to the field behind the infants’ school in Eagles Lane? It kept us out of mischief for an hour or so. I remember singing, with actions, about the ‘Wise man built his house upon the rocks’. And the fun we had in ‘the Hilly Fields’ down Lawn Lane. We also made camps in the overgrown scrub area at the back of Orchard Estate, now more houses. Great memories of a happy time in the village.

  16. Tony Cornwell
    Tony Cornwell says:

    Thankyou for a trip down memory lane,I too remember Ben Lofts shop and the saturday delivery of paraffin with frank Moxon.I was born in 1934 and lived in the council houses opposite the methodist chapels.When I started school there were two teachers, Miss Knights and Miss Hall who later married Gerald Hull.At “Top” school the newcomers were taught by Miss Pate and the headmaster was Mr Crabbe, his wife was also a teacher and they lived in the house across the lane from the school which is now the butchers shop. I also played for the “Swifts” both in the reserves and first team until I married and moved to Ely.1954-55 was a good successful season for us as we won the league, won the bedford cup and were runners up in the Hull cup. Our team then was, Donald Philips,John Crane,Derek Godbold,Albert Casbon,Gerald Yardy,David Yates, Arthur (Gandy) Newell, Keith Fenn and myself. The previously mentioned name of Pauline Bedingfield rings a bell as she would be about the same age of my late wife ( nee June Larham) who also went to Ely High School

  17. Stephen Gilbert
    Stephen Gilbert says:

    Robert – I asked my father Wally Gilbert the other day how Gandy got his nickname and I felt sure he would know as he appears in many photos in the same team as Gandy. He said he had no idea and he had only ever known him as Gandy.Father is 85 and has lived in the village all his life so if he doesnt know I am not sure who would.
    Stephen Gilbert

  18. Tony Cornwell
    Tony Cornwell says:

    Sorry Robert I have no idea how your dad got the nickname “Gandy”. It must have been sometime previous to when I knew him.

  19. Pauline Bedingfield McCamant
    Pauline Bedingfield McCamant says:

    Tony I remember you.. and your sister Pat..During the war We lived with my Gd/dad and Gd/ma Johnny Walker.. who owned the Plough… Went to school with June and Joyce ..June and I were buddies.. I am sorry to hear that she has passed.. Was friends with the Casbons ,Stearmans ,Martins,And your sister right in the same block…My brother is David Bedingfield… and cosins Tony , Bob and Roy Pearson..and Mike and Jayne Bedingfield..I used to work In millers Record shop in Ely… Small world.. My best to you and your family ..

  20. Tony Cornwell
    Tony Cornwell says:

    Nice to read your comments Pauline. Just to let you all know that I have a picture of the 54/55 football team which I can Email to anyone who gives me their own address.

  21. Pamela ( Skinner) Weddig
    Pamela ( Skinner) Weddig says:

    I remember Mr Lofts. I was always a little afraid of him. My Grandfather Skinner went there for his tobacco. Your messages took Pauline and I down memory lane. Pauline and I live about 7 hours from each other and we see each other once a year.I have lived in Ontario Canada since the 1960s. I have a message for Robert Newell. I would like to get in touch with you. We haven’t seen each other for a long time. Please e-mail me at pam1990@sympatico.ca I would love to hear from you.

  22. Stephen Gilbert
    Stephen Gilbert says:

    Hi Tony
    I would like a copy of that team – not sure if my father was still playing then – he would have been nearly 30. My e-mail adress is “gilbert_s2@sky.com”

  23. Andy Crane
    Andy Crane says:

    I, amongst others have just stumbled across the Little Downham site. Names from the past, some less familiar than others keep popping up. Little things, such as the rivallry between Townsend bonfire and the one on the old pond site at the bottom of Pond Lane springs to mind. As for Ben Lofts shop, can others remember the deep wooden draws behind his counter with the scales on top? These contained various tins of “Baccy”, tobacco from past times. From menory there were tins of “Black Shag” “Golden Virginia” and others I cannot remember. I recall wathing Mr Ben weighing out the half ounces, and he had a wonderfull way of putting enough on his old type balance scales to put the pan down, and then, very carefully, remove what he could to just allow the scales to balance! I bought the old ice cream fridge from Eva when she closed the shop, and used it to store fishing baits in our shop in the village. As for the village feast, it was held in the paddock in front of Lawns Farm, owned by my very good freind Den harrison. In the 50’s, there was, as Janice said, old Charlie and Mrs Nunn, alond with Young Charlie Nunn, also sometimes both Young Charlie’s brother, whose name I forget, and his sister used to help. Oh for the good old days

  24. Jan Snow ( Janice Parson )
    Jan Snow ( Janice Parson ) says:

    Wow, talk about taking me back to my youth ! I left the village in 1964 after marrying but loved living there. Roller skating was our thing, although the pavements were a bit hit and miss in places. I remember the evangelical tent and singing our hearts out and doing the actions at the same time. Also the little funfair visiting, and trying to catch a “fish” to win a prize. We spent hours on the swings and roundabout in the playing field and also tried playing tennis when the courts went in. Mr. Ives was the Headmaster at the school and I was there with Elizabeth Saberton,Vivienne Hull, Carol Crook,Margaret Ives,Gloria Suddell, Stuart Reed,and Teresa Green among others.Miss sole was a lovely teacher and a favourite of mine.I could go on but am running out of space !!! but, my, how the village has changed. Houses everywhere now.

  25. Stephen Gilbert
    Stephen Gilbert says:

    Back in 2008 Jo suggested a reunion – I think it is a great idea. I also started in 1954 and would love to get together with others for a nostalgic session.

  26. Chris P
    Chris P says:

    I remember mouldy Lofts very well, the 1p ‘bubblys’ are what I was always after.Then there were the suprise crisps (2p a packet I think), the suprise being- will they be soggy or not? I also recall the dead wasp in the window, it was there for as long as I could remember.

    Strangley enough my first Lofts memories are having to carry a small Jerry can up there from Lawns Crescent to get some parrifin for one of those Darlek type heaters that sat in our kitchen, I think it was called ‘Pink Parrifin’ and the pump was around the side.I got a sticker one day from Ben? that said ‘Think Pink’. I felt that I had earned somthing for all those trips. Used to take me ages to carry it home though, had to stop at Church Way then top of Lawn Lane, bottom of the Crescent then home.

    What finally stopped my visits to mouldys was when Harringtons opened and you could buy fruitella sticks for a penny each, not half as scary as going in Lofts.

  27. Jenny Chaplin
    Jenny Chaplin says:

    Like many others, I came across this site by accident. My father used to play for the Swifts from the middle thirties until the late forties. We did have two photographs of the team, but one was given to the Plough Inn and the other was given to put in the village sports pavilion.

    I remember the fetes very well, and the fair. Does anyone remember the village show, with the best runner beans etc and the best victoria sponge. In the evening we’d go to top school for a dance. The partitions were folded back to make the room larger. I remember Mrs Offord sitting there, all dressed in black. She always reminded me of Queen Victoria.

    I have many memories of infant school too. Miss Vanballeygowen made me stand on a chair and drink a bottle of milk. I hated it then, and still do. Nevertheless, happy days.

  28. pauline bedingfield mccamant
    pauline bedingfield mccamant says:

    Jenny.. Hello ..Just went back home for a five week visit,, Had a wonderful time… and saw your mum ..What a lovely lady ..beautiful inside and out..We lived next door to you at Lawn’s Cresent in my growing up years.. My Brother David and my hubby and I took a stroll thru the village for old time sake.. Things have changed but still brought back wonderful memories.. Went in the Plough which my grandfather owned in the 50;s .. so different.. but Gd/dads picture is still on the wall..Saw Fid Hall ..Ethel Collet..Teresa, Gwen, and Olive Nicholas .. Gill Cole..Shirley Casbon .Pat Cornwell Pam Yardy(all maide names !!)..and many others .. Was a great place to grow up in.. took lot’s of pictures..even went to the now village hall which was our school..for an evening ..topic being”The vicars of Lt. Downham..Janet Saberton was there as was Alan White who after his stroke didn’t remember me.. so sad..
    I love Little Downham..WOULD LOVE TO HAVE FRIENDS CONTACT ME .. I
    WILL KEEP UP WITH THIS WEBSITE.. All THE Best.. Pauline..

  29. Jonathan Snell
    Jonathan Snell says:

    How many people remember the winter of 1963 ten inches of frost in the ground and water pipes frozen could not get through snow drifts to Ely water came from the little pump up near the Plough Pub

  30. Greg Scott
    Greg Scott says:

    Wow, what a trip down memory lane this has been – I have only just stumbled across it, but I remember Lofts only too well. And had the fortune to stay in Phylis Ambrose’s B&B on one occasion when I was home for my mum & dad’s golden wedding a few years back.
    I think it was the cola cubes, pineapple chunks and sherbet dips that I remember best – oh, and being too scared to go in by yourself – always safer to go in pairs!
    Reading the comments has also been a trip down memory lane too – some old familiar names cropping up!
    Don’t get back to Lt Downham often enough these days, I left in 1989.
    Thanks Karl, I remember you well, although I was probably more friendly with Neil & Michelle!

  31. Pamela Knight Delgado
    Pamela Knight Delgado says:

    Jonathan Snell, I remember the winter of ’63. Barely, I must have been about 8 or 9 years old back then! My father was in the Air Force at Lakenheath and we boarded with a lady named Ms. Green right next to the sweet shop on the curve. I remember very few people, but I do remember that winter. I came from Virginia Beach, VA, and the ice and snow – frost- was a miracle to me. I remember my mother having to go out, to the pump, I suppose and bring water! The mornings were so cold that when they did deliver the milk the bottles were frozen and all the cream expanded out the top of the bottles! What memories. I wish I could remember the name of the street….the memories I have are much like those faded photos. Thank all of you for sharing.

« Older Comments

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *