The practical joys of a traditional ironmongers

FOR several months, I have been muttering “curtain hooks” to myself every morning. Not a bizarre facial muscle work-out or an obsessive self-help mantra. Just a reminder that I need to find some curtain hooks so that one of the curtains in the dining-room will hang properly, not fall off the end of the curtain pole.

And every day I forget. So, finally, last Saturday, I wrote it down. Hey presto, I remembered when I went up the road to get the newspaper. And I popped into our local hardware store to buy some.

I expected to have to buy a packet of, say, 50, which would have been OK. A lot more than I need, but not excessive. If we didn’t have an independent hardware store I would probably have had to drive to Yeovil and would surely be faced with a large bag of 1,000  hooks which I would never use even if I win the lottery and can buy that Tudor black and white country house in Shropshire that we are both lusting after. Why do the chain hardware/building supplies businesses not understand that we often need small quantities of things, and that most of us, who aren’t into DIY on an industrial scale, only want a handful of any given small useful object?

Clementina’s, our hardware store here in Wincanton, is in many ways an old-fashioned shop – it still has its Art Deco-style fascia, they close for lunch, there are wooden shelves piled high with an eclectic stock that ranges from washing up bowls to seeds, china figurines to nuts and bolts.

I could have bought just the two curtain hooks I needed – but common sense told me that (a) I would lose just two in the bottomless pit of my bag and (b) I would need a couple more at some point, so I bought 10. But how sensible and practical, to allow people to buy what they need.

When we were in Shropshire for a few days with friends recently we made a little pilgrimage to Montgomery. It is just over the border in Powys and it is one of those places which you visit en route to somewhere and find yourself drawn back to again and again.

It is small, but it has a long and dramatic history, beautiful old houses, an atmospheric ruined castle, lovely independent shops selling everything from groceries to pottery and beautiful clothes, a locally renowned fine dining restaurant, an excellent cafe (we had delicious home-made soups) and an ironmonger and hardware store that is justly world-famous. If you haven’t heard of Bunners, you are missing out on one of this country’s great independent shops.

We took our practical friend, Pippin’s Auntie Margaret, with us, knowing that she would love it. I walked Pippin up to the castle while the others explored the nooks and crannies of this Aladdin’s Cave of tin tacks and tools, nails and nicknacks, power tools and potting compost, materials for cleaning everything from Georgian silver to York stone, garden shears, kitchen scales, on-trend silicone bakeware, woodburning stoves, Stanley knives, waterpumps, range cookers, quad bikes and that little gadget that will fix the little whatsitsname that you know has a use if only you can get it working!

Bunners, like Clementinas in Wincanton, is a family business and there is a family feeling the moment you walk in. Friendly faces behind the counter say ‘Hello” and you get a helpful answer to your question, no matter how trivial or silly (and believe me, if it’s me that’s got the question it may be very silly – I can barely change a lightbulb)!

Founded in 1892, Bunners describes itself as “a working reminder of an age where customer service came first and you could still buy a single screw if that is all you needed. “

It is a very old building, which still has its Georgian windows and stepping over the threshold can feel a bit like stepping into a working museum. But that is part of its attraction – over the 123 years the business has grown but it has remained essentially the same.

In warehouse DIY stores on featureless retail parks, everything is packed in set sizes or quantities stacked  on pallets or in a storeroom to be brought to the counter when you submit the relevant code. In Bunners, as in Clementinas (albeit that is a smaller shop), things are everywhere, in drawers and boxes, on shelves, hanging from hooks, piled on counters, standing on the floor …

And if you want just a couple of screws  or curtain hooks, that little purchase gets the same attention as if you were ordering a ride-on mower for a landscaped garden.

The dining-room curtain is now hanging properly again.

Fanny Charles