06th January 2022
Filling in the gaps: the old corn merchant in Bishy Road
We recently had a surprise email from Rosemary in Canada, who wanted to give us some interesting information. You may remember that we previously featured the history of the old shop on the corner of Bishopthorpe Rd and Darnborough St, when Robin Wetherill retired from his long-term antiques shop in 2019, and we then welcomed Susie Brown opening her Fully Woven business here.
Rose told us that she had a copy of our book Bishy Rd: A York Shopping Street in Time, and says that this building was previously her own family’s shop, where she grew up, John Garnett & Co. She passed on an intriguing account from her mother Amy, which reflects the pervading importance of animals in town life in the early 20th century, and then the effects of war on business.
Arthur Garnett in front of the shop in 1972
“John Garnett and his wife Florence moved to no. 2 Darnborough St. in the early 1900s, when John Garnett opened his own business as a corn and forage merchant. My dad, Arthur, John’s oldest son, joined his father in the family business in 1928. In 1936 Arthur married Amy Jewitt of Russell St, York, in Southlands Methodist Church. When the war with Germany began in 1939, John Garnett, his brother Joseph Garnett, and Arthur were partners as corn merchants, and Arthur as junior partner, had to register for army service. On April 9, 1942, on his 35th birthday, he was instructed to report to Sheffield, leaving behind his wife, daughter Margaret aged nearly 4, and daughter Rosemary, two weeks old.
John Garnett and family
Back row: Tom, Arthur, and Frederick Garnett.
Front row: Florence Garnett, Helen and Winnie Garnett, John Garnett.
Three weeks later he received a postcard from Amy to say “We are all right,” the first he had heard of the news of the air raid on York which killed 75 people.
When he returned from the war in 1946, Dad had to build back the business. He had a warehouse in St. Martin’s Lane and the corner shop here at Bishopthorpe Rd was his office, plus a pet store, where all kinds of bird and animal pet food could be bought.
Rosemary's brother John told her that their dad manufactured pig and poultry feed from milled barley and added protein concentrate. He was a distributor for BOCM (British Oil and Cake Mills), who manufactured animal feed for cattle, pigs, and poultry. He also sold hay and straw, mostly for horses and small pets.
Our family lived in the adjacent house at no. 2 Darnborough St, until around 1952, when Dad moved his growing family to a larger house on Bishopthorpe Rd. He and Amy had six children; Margaret, Rosemary, Kathleen, Janet, Elizabeth and John. Dad retired in 1973 when the shop was sold and he and Mum moved to a bungalow in Fulford. Our dad died in November 2001, and Mum in her hundredth year in 2015.”
Amy remembered the Baedeker raid on York in 1942: “On the 28th April 1942 I was awakened by the sound of bombs dropping. A quick scramble into clothes and got the children up, but we couldn’t get into the air raid shelter, which was next door as the elderly couple did not get up. I decided we had better shelter under the table when Ellen Woodcock and her dad came in. By then the raid must have been nearly over, and we went into Howland’s next door. Mrs. Snowdon was there, she was worried her friend had been killed. The raid did a lot of damage – Leeman Rd, Poppleton Rd, Nunthorpe Estate, Nun Mill St. Five nuns were killed at the Convent on the Mount. The station was badly damaged, the Guildhall gutted and St. Martin’s Church. 75 people were killed that night."
Rosemary told us “Another incident from the war, which left a lifelong impression on my three year old mind, was witnessing the Halifax bomber that crashed into Nunthorpe Grove in March, 1945. Mother and I were returning from Rowntree Park, and as we turned onto Bishopthorpe Rd we heard the most frightening grinding and roaring sound. It was only when we looked up we saw this huge plane, seemingly almost suspended above us, close enough we could see the faces of young men looking out of the windows. As it moved slowly over us, I was terrified it was going to get hung up on the towers of Southlands Methodist Church. At this point Mother must have grabbed me and run for home. It was only many years later I learned of the tragedy of the crash and the many lives lost.”
Can you fill in any gaps about the history of our local shops? If you can please let us know on firstname.lastname@example.org, or complete our enquiry form here.