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From an interview with Rae Drage on 17.2.2009. Transcribed by Sue Manton
Jim Osborne - Osborne's Sports & Toys
Osborne's toy shoop on the corner of High Street and Victoria Road.
Osborne's Shop

My name’s Jim Osborne, I was born in 1931 and I lived at the back of my mum and dad’s original shop in Leamington Spa which was a newsagents and tobacconists shop. After that we moved back to Hinckley in Leicestershire and from Hinckley in Leicestershire, actually in May 1955, I purchased the gift shop at 118 High Street Rushden from a Mr. Harold Desborough and so that was my first introduction to Rushden. We changed the name of the gift shop to Osborne’s Sports and Toys and of course it has been that ever since. So the early memories that I have of the gift shop, it was just after the war.

One of the things I thought was quite interesting and you might find interesting was when you purchased a shop in those days you actually purchased the right to sell particular toys, they were called agencies. So in fact when I took over the gift shop in 1955 I purchased the goodwill of the shop and that consisted of the right to sell Meccano and Dinky Toys and Baco which were trade products. These products were sold in agencies all over the country and you were an agent for Dinky Toys in that particular town. In those days I think the agencies for Meccano, Dinky Toys and Hornby Trains were Clipson's in Church Street and me lower down in the High Street. I don’t think that even the Co-op sold Meccano even though they had a toy department in those days. So, I was literally the toy shop of the town. That is entirely different today because there are not many toy shops around but shops that sell toys, which I think is a big, subtle difference. So, that was my introduction to Rushden and we have been here ever since and I am now celebrating my 54th year here.

Inside the shop

My first indications were that we always had a traditional half day on Thursday, which I still have, but I’m probably the only one in the town that still does. The traditional holidays were always the main thing.  I remember the factory fortnight, or the factory week, as it was in those days. On the Friday you would always be busy selling loads and loads of stuff for the people to go on holiday then you were quite quiet for the next week or fortnight. They went from Higham Ferrers and would nearly always go to the East coast; Yarmouth or Cromer and places like that. The train from Higham Ferrers used to leave very early on the Saturday morning. We were always busy as well when the factories knocked off at night. We didn’t close until 6 o’clock in those days and the factories closed at 5.30pm and it was wonderful to see all the people coming out of the factories. Their bicycles would be propped up on the kerb stones at the side of the road and they would do their shopping then. Of course at the weekend Saturdays were always busy because the local people always shopped on Saturday and they always shopped in their local town. They never went anywhere else because they had to get the train or the bus so it was easier to shop in their own town while their husbands went to the football match.

I had an assistant with me, I remember, a Mrs. Allen, she came to work for me in 1956 from Charlie Robinson’s. She worked at Charlie Robinson’s for years and she always said to me she only came for a little while, just to fill in, and stayed for 27 years. A lot of people in the town remember Mrs. Allen from when she worked for me and when she worked for Charlie Robinson. In the early days my Mum came as well and she was part of the shop, used to come and help out. But in February 1960 I was married to Pamela, she was the physical education mistress at the Rushden Girls School in those days and we met at the local tennis club. Our son William was born in 1961.

Keller's shop bought by Jim Osborne.
Keller's shop
Now in those days of course we only had the one unit which was 118 High Street. To either side of us was Billy Keller, the greengrocer, who had been there from the early part of the century and the other side was Buttling's, which was run by Mrs. Robinson and her daughter Pat. In 1965 Billy Keller retired and I bought 118 and 118A, which was the corner shop, and we were married and lived upstairs above the shop as most shop keepers did in those days. I used to thoroughly enjoy living above the shop; it was quite good, I’d been brought up living behind the shop. In 1985, I think it was, that we bought the shop that was Mrs. Butling, Elsie Butling that was, knitting wool and baby linen and things like that, so I had three out of the five shops. 

In those days Clarks the big television people were next door and I always remember in fact we were the second people in the town to have colour television. The reason for that was that Clark’s couldn’t get the signal in their shop as Lloyd’s bank were in the way but I had one in my property and if anyone wanted to see what a colour television looked like they could come into 118 and have a look at it. So we were probably only the second people to get a colour television.

There’s all sorts of things that have happened over the years and some wonderful people and characters that we’ve met through the sports side of the business and the toy side of the business. In fact I started out in 1948 working for a firm called Whiteman’s in Hinckley, I collected, kept and collected quite a few of the old toys. In 2003 I was very pleased when the British Toy and Hobby Association had their fiftieth anniversary toy exhibition in London and we were invited to show fifty years of toys on their behalf. They had five shops built at the XL and each one was labelled for ten years and we were very privileged to be able to set out five shops for the toys of that decade and we found that very exciting. So our archive was raided and that had quite a lot of publicity. We were delighted when the British Toy and Hobby Association awarded me with a golden teddy bear for services to the toy trade but I think it was based on the services to that fiftieth anniversary that we helped them out with.

Another thing happened in 2008 that was quite nice to do with the old toys. We suddenly had a phone call one day and it was gentleman ringing up to ask about Kiddicraft toys. Kiddicraft toys were invented by a chap called Hilary Page who really revolutionised the market for children’s toys at an early age. They didn’t know too much about the product and they rang us and asked if we could help them out. Fortunately, we had got a box of their old products and the British Toy and Hobby Association wanted to honour Hilary Page with an award posthumously. He’d died years and years ago and the award was made in a big London Hotel and we were invited along but actually William attended the celebration and the presentation. They gave the award to his two daughters, who were in their eighties even then, and that was quite nice as all our toys were shown on the television with the presentation to his two daughters. That was quite a nice little feather in our caps and we quite enjoyed doing that and got quite a kick out of it as nobody else could do it apparently.

Jim and Pamela in the shop
William inside the shop
The extensive shelving

Funnily enough I think the future is quite unreliable. Every day of the week now we get someone come into the shop and say. 'We’ve never been in a toy shop like this for years. There isn’t one where we live.' And they’ve come from quite a few towns away. We get a lot of people coming from Wellingborough, Kettering, Northampton, Milton Keynes because they haven’t got a shop like this one. It’s a very much traditional, dare I even say it, old fashioned toy shop, still run by a family; my wife, William and myself, which is quite unusual. As far as how it will go in the future, there’s lots and lots of shops that sell toys but they’re not toy shops, whether we shall survive I don’t know. I’m now seventy seven, the wife’s seventy six and William knows all about it and could keep it going but he couldn’t keep it going on his own. What will be the future I don’t really know yet? We have no plans at the moment to do anything about.

The most popular toy that’s ever come out has been Lego. There’s a story about Lego which is quite interesting. We thought that we were the first ones in the country to have Lego toys but in fact we were proved to be the second not the first. We were married on February 13th 1960 and we went to Brighton for our honeymoon and that was the Toy Fair. On the Sunday morning the toy fair opened my wife and I went along to view the toys for the next Christmas and year and as we got to the Corn Exchange in Brighton the shutters were put up on the Lego stand. We were the first ones on the Lego stand on that occasion, so we always reckoned that we were the first ones that were there. They opened an account with Osborne Sports and Toys and I think Lego has proved to be one of the biggest selling toys ever. [2018 confirmed by Lego on their 60th birthday that Jim was indeed the first to sign as a stockist] To the older people I should think that Meccano and Dinky toys were two of the most popular and all these companies that we had in the past, Baco, Chad Valley, Mobo, Hornby Trains (made by Meccano Ltd.) and many other manufacturers that have all gone. The names are still there but they’re not the same. It’s like shops, there’s a lot of shops still about but not run by the same people. We’re the same family and the same people. In fact I’m still the same person buying from Lego into the same shop.

Jim, Pamela & William outside the shop

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