“You could get anything in Smails”

This article is taken from the excellent “Villageguides” Facebook page – and we hope to be trawling in those waters for future items…

One of the most distinctive shops in Morpeth was J. Smail & Sons the hardware store on Bridge Street. It was one of the largest shops in the town, high-ceilinged and cavernous, extending across three floors but packed to the rafters with every kind of hardware items.

The shop was opened towards the end of the nineteenth century by the first John Smail. He was a Scotsman from just across the border by Kelso. He had a business selling Fishing Tackle from a horse and cart, travelling all around the border country, Wooler, Alnwick and as far south as Morpeth. He relocated his family in the town and at first rented premises in Bridge Street, next door to the Queen’s Head Hotel.

Every Wednesday the farming folk would descend on Morpeth for the weekly market and after they had sold their own produce and had cash in their pocket they would go to one of the many pubs or hotels in the town, or head to John Smail’s shop to stock up on any agricultural or general ironmongery they needed. The shop also stocked many of the new household implements that were starting to be manufactured.

The current shop dates from the 1920’s. John’s son, also called John, took over the business on the death of his father. He took a gamble in the dark days of the depression and acquired the large premises at No. 40 Bridge Street that had once been the town house of the Wards of Nunnykirk. He created the huge plate glass frontage on the first two floors that still exists today.

The second John died in 1941 aged only fifty. He had no son to succeed him in the business and many thought it would be sold off. What they had not reckoned on was the indomitable spirit of his widow and her four daughters. For the next sixty years these women ran the store. One daughter in particular stands out. Isobel Smail served in the shop well into her eighties. She was a pillar of the local community and served as mayor of the town in 1971 and 1983 and was awarded an OBE in 1996. She died in 2010 aged 89.

The shop closed in 2016 and has since been converted into an Italian restaurant – Lollo Rosso.

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