|Evening Telegraph, July 1998, 'Memory Lane', transcribed by Kay Collins
End of an era as pet shop closes
A CHAPTER in the history of a county town centre draws to a close next week with the closure of one of its longest established shops.
Horsley's corn and seed merchants opened in High Street, Rushden, shortly after the turn of the century, selling birdseed and farm fodder for local smallholders.
In later years it became more popular as a pet shop, providing food and playthings for dogs, cats and budgies.
The store closes on Saturday, August 1 , when its present owners, Pat and Patricia Holt, take early retirement. They took over in 1984 from John Horsley, whose grandfather, also John, founded the firm.
Present owners, Pat and Patricia Holt
Horsley's began in the late Victorian era as a Wellingborough business trading from premises in the town's Midland Road.
Rushden was its first branch but sister outlets were later established in Irthlingborough and on the Market Square, Higham Ferrers. A second Wellingborough shop was also opened in Silver Street (now the TSB Bank) and it once had corn stores in Horsemarket, Kettering (later Everard and Saltmarsh).
The Rushden shop opened in about 1905 at 6 High Street, previously used as temporary premises by ironmonger Harry Cartwright after his shop, opposite the John Cave shoe factory in High Street, was one of 11 destroyed in the 1901 Great Fire of Rushden.
Founder John Horsley originally came from Hull and during the last century helped establish a thriving business, Horsley and Wareham, which sold the first Crosley oil engines and was the first manufacturer of cattle cake.
In its early days the Rushden store sold feed for pigs, poultry and goats, making deliveries by horse and cart. When Mr Horsley, then living above the shop, died in 1912, he was succeeded by his eldest son Fred, who later took over a small farm at Harrowden.
Over the years, as demand for seed and corn fell, the pet shop side of the business was developed, selling day-old chicks and ducklings. But after the Second World War, Fred became more involved with the family farm and all six shops went into voluntary liquidation in 1954.
Fred's son John bought the most viable store at Rushden, which he ran for the next 30 years. Previously he had been a travelling salesman in the same trade, selling Welham's birdseed, and for a short spell ran his own corn stores in Hastings.
Now aged 74 and living in Bedford, he told Memory Lane: "The business had changed considerably over the years.
"In the old days Horsley's sold pig and horse food - chaff and had a regular contract with Bertram Mills Circus, 14 lorry loads of hay and straw at a time."
Mr Holt, formerly transport manager for Spillers at Bedford, bought the shop when Mr Horsley decided to call it a day.
The idea was that his wife Patricia, an assistant with Horsley's for many years, should take over as manager but Mr Holt decided to help her run it when they realised how much work was involved.
"We provided everything people wanted for rabbits, cats and dogs and sold budgies and goldfish," he said. "For many years we have also been agents for packet seeds and sold peas and beans loose by the half-pot for gardening.
"Everything is so commercialised now but we stocked many things you couldn't get elsewhere, such as hemp, maple peas and tares (tiny peas boiled and used as fish bait)." The shop premises are being taken over by Wills, the department store next door, and its old signs have been bought by a local collector. The frontage has changed very little since it opened. Mr Holt said: "We were going to change the name to Holts but we never did put a sign up because it had been known as Horsley's for so long. Many of our older customers have been coming here all their lives and are very disappointed we are closing.
"We are a nation of animal lovers and it's amazing what people get for their pets - they even buy Christmas presents for their cats or budgies.
"Some owners also regard me as some kind of vet. They consult me over their pets' ailments, thinking I know everything about animals. I do my best but it's a good job I'm not allowed to prescribe medicines!"