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Terminal vests – the story of Grouts on film

If you have only lived in Palmers Green for a few years, you might have considered Grouts to be a wonder of PG’s past that you would hear about but never see. Til now!

Veteran film maker David ‘Tec’ Evans visited the Palmers Green institution in 1997, and made this amazing 15 minute film, now viewable on YouTube.

Grouts first opened its doors in 1914 on the corner of Green Lanes and Devonshire Road, when the block itself was only two years old. The premises were rented by Alfred Grout from a Miss Lilley for the princely sum of £130 a year.

Over the years Grouts built up a reputation for selling items which couldn’t be found elsewhere. There were 9 branches in all, including another in Palmers Green at 48 the Promenade, opposite St John’s church.

The film shows the shop’s extensive wares – an Aladdin’s Cave of corsets and control pants, towels, handkerchiefs, woolly hats, straw hats, darning wool, tea towels, ribbon, bolts of cloth, housecoats and pinafores.

The last owner was Alfred Grout’s granddaughter Sue Whittemore, who ran the shop with her husband Phil, a former pastry chef. In the film, the proud and entertaining Mrs Whitimore regales viewers with tales of the odd requests she received from customers, including ‘terminal’ (thermal!) vests, and tells of life in the building – her grandfather’s family and most of the staff lived upstairs. The job of a shop assistant in Palmers Green was highly prestigious in Grouts’ heyday, and she recalls stalwarts Miss Warren and Miss Edwards who worked in the shop from a few years after it opened until the 60s and 70s.

Perhaps as famous as Grouts’ wares was its cash railway, The Gipe. First installed in 1927 it was used until the 1950s, though Sue Whitimore says that a lot of people think that it was in operation for a lot longer, perhaps because the wires and fittings were kept. When the shop closed in 2002, it was believed to have been the oldest cash railway remaining in situ – it was removed and taken to the East Anglia Transport Museum in near Lowestoft.

Highly recommended.

  • Does anyone remember the Whittemores, Miss Warren or Miss Edwards? Perhaps you worked in Grouts yourself? Tell us more…!   


4 replies on “Terminal vests – the story of Grouts on film”

The last time I shopped in Grouts (by St Johns Church) I bought 3 yards of Horrocks cotton material @ 1 shilling, eleven pence, and three farthings per yard, to make some little dresses for my baby. This was in 1953. As a young child I used to love shopping at Grouts with my mother because I was always fascinated with the money going up in a little pot by rail, to the lady waiting in a small room to check the money and send back the change. Happy days !

My aunt Cynthia worked there in the 60s and early 70s. I often went in as a child to browse and see her. The shop went back for ‘miles’ and smelt lovely and welcoming.

I have so many memories of this wonderful shop and was so sad when it closed down. From when I first moved into the area in 1969, I was constantly in and out, whenever I needed anything for needlework to gorgeous retro 50s scarves and also for my grandmothers nighties and bloomers!

I worked in Grouts as a Saturday girl!! from 1959 till 1961 !!! I was asked by Mr Grout would I like a full time job there…….as I was leaving school, . which I had to refuse as my parents had other ideas for me !!!
When I first started there the farthing was still in use, but I think that was the only shop in Palmers Green that used them till they stopped being legal tender………YES things were very different then but good times

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