Inside the mind of a writer www.scskillman.co.uk

Posts tagged ‘Thames’

Skillman & Sons: The Tool Shop Opposite the Woolwich Ferry – and Traditional Britain Reborn

The London postal service once had to deliver a letter from India addressed as follows:

“The tool shop
opposite the Woolwich Ferry
London”

The original Skillman's of Woolwich in 2002. Chris Skillman,former MD, is on the left of the group

The original Skillman’s of Woolwich in 2002. Chris Skillman,former MD, is on the left of the group

It arrived safely at its destination: A.D. Skillman & Sons, 108 Woolwich High Street, London SE18.
Skillman and Sons of Woolwich (founded by my grandfather Alfred Daniel in 1900) was a byword throughout south east England for generations. A sign used to hang up outside the shop:

“If you want it, we’ve got it. If we haven’t got it, you don’t need it.”

Every member of our family worked there over the years; I used to do holiday jobs selling packets of loose nails from the pigeonholes at the front, or stocktaking at the back, or peeling potatoes for my aunt in the flat upstairs or collecting stamps for her from the Co-Op in Hare Street, Woolwich.

Now of course Woolwich is seeing regeneration, not least through the beautiful Royal Arsenal Thames Riverside, together with the Greenwich Heritage Centre and Firepower, the Royal Artillery Museum very close by, and the wonderful Thames Barrier and Visitor Centre. All this regeneration is fuelled by the extension of the DLR from Docklands to Woolwich.

My grandfather Alfred Daniel started the business in 1900 further up Woolwich High Street and later moved it to number 108. My father Ken took over after the war. He was later succeeded by my brother Chris until the business closed in 2002.

But now Skillman and Sons has re-emerged. Not in Woolwich, but in Kensington.

That traditional tool-merchants business now has a new life, through the enterprise and imagination of another hardware store owner, Manish Vara, who is hoping to revitalise the Good Old Days of English service and quality – popularised of course through the current wave of nostalgia and euphoria generated by the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the London 2012 Olympics. A different manifestation of Skillman’s, more hardware than tool-merchant, has emerged. My brother Chris Skillman, MD of Skillman’s of Woolwich, wishes Manish well.

The new manifestation of Skillman & Sons which has emerged in Kensington

The new manifestation of Skillman & Sons which has emerged in Kensington

Perhaps some time the story of the shop opposite the Woolwich Ferry, and its 102 years of history, may weave its way into my fiction. The River Thames has strong resonance for me – not least when I took the ferry across from Woolwich at the age of twelve or thereabouts, supposedly on a round trip. But I got confused, and disembarked in North Woolwich, across the river, and wandered around lost for about an hour though to me it seemed an eternity!

If you have an interest in the history of south London, and you’d like to know more, I have published a full article about Skillman & Sons in Family History Magazine, which is re-published on my official website under the heading “My family background.” Do click here to read the article.

Are there any traditional shops or longstanding family businesses in your town or area which are part of the landscape of your life? Has the Diamond Jubilee celebrations and the tide of patriotism attendant on London 2012 opened up traditional Britain to you again? Please consider leaving a comment!

On the Outside Looking In, Royal Barges, Rowing Boats, Glimpses, Panoramas and Artistic Vision

As I watched The Diamond Jubilee River Pageant on TV and tried to work out whether I wished I was there, or whether I was glad not to be, I remembered these words in a radio interview several months ago. ‘I have always felt myself to be on the outside of everything, looking in.’

I was listening to a bestselling novelist speaking about his recent success in winning a major book award. Among the many things he said which touched and amused me, the most striking was this reply to the interviewer’s question, ‘Now you’ve won this prestigious award, do you feel you’ve arrived? Do you now feel you’re on the inside?’

Then, looking at the Queen and her immediate family on the royal barge, I found myself thinking, “I wish I was on the royal barge, watching everything pass by for my benefit.”  And in the same moment I wondered whether William, Catherine and Harry felt slightly wistful and wished perhaps they were out there on the river, rowing some of those boats instead of standing on a floating version of Buckingham Palace being gracious and removed and “on the outside looking in”.

Would I have liked to be hanging over a bridge in the pouring rain catching perhaps a two second glimpse of a white figure amongst gold and crimson? Or was it much better to be viewing the entire panorama from a warm dry living room and hearing all the commentaries and flashing back and forth between different viewpoints as we do sometimes in a great novel?

We rarely strike the balance between the excitement of real moments, and the  enjoyment of long perspective, and full appreciation of whichever situation we are in.

We cannot always be outsiders looking in. Sometimes it’s necessary to get involved, and come alongside. I believe both can co-exist simultaneously. There is in fact never a time when a writer is so fully involved, he or she cannot at some future time stand back and write about it. Every experience, no matter how negative or difficult, can prove raw material for a writer because in the act of writing a story you are often drawing upon unconscious material.

In the world you have to participate. But you can also observe. The truth lies in paradox. Thus the most successful creative people can literally be, in the eyes of the world, on the inside. Of course they have arrived! And yet they can sometimes feel they are always on the outside looking in, whether that be from the glamour of a royal barge, up on a bridge, or in a temporary TV studio.

What are your thoughts on this? As ever I love to have your comments!

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