Historical Photography Project discovers 27 High Street's past

15 March 2017 11:00

When you pass a shop do you ever stop to think… who lived there? What was their ‘story’? Who has passed through that very front door? We discovered several photographs of 27 High Street, Eton in our Blind Veterans UK Archives and decided to delve into its incredibly colourful life!

Black and white photo of former Blind Veterans UK shop E Harlow 27 High Street, Eton

Our first records show blind veteran Ernest Blundell occupying the shop. Born in 1891, he was a bricklayer from Cardiff who enlisted into the 11th Welsh Regiment in 1914 but was blinded three years later in Salonika, Greece.

He joined our charity (then St Dunstan’s) in April 1917 and was rehabilitated until September 1918 when he married Lilian and was offered the opportunity to open a picture framing shop. The shop, 27 High Street, Eton, proved incredibly successful with our records affirming Ernest an “excellent man in every way” and the shop to be a “flourishing business” with a "good profit of £4 this year and not a day without work since opening".

 Former Blind Veterans shop at 27 High Street, Eton

What was more incredible was the shop’s admiration from The Queen and Princess Mary. Our accounts show both visiting the shop and expressing their delight of their purchases. Sadly, in 1925, with the arrival of their first child imminent Ernest and Lillian decided to move back to Cardiff and leave 27 High Street, Eton. Although, he wouldn’t be the last blind veteran to own the shop…

Later that year fellow veteran William Pettit, who had been blinded in France in 1914, moved into the shop. William was married but his wife remained in their hometown of Nottingham as they were unable to sell their property there. Unfortunately, William became very unwell and passed away just six months after taking over the shop. He was just 33 years old.

Black and white photo of interior of former Blind Veterans shop at 27 High Street, Eton

Incredibly, months later a third blind veteran visited the shop and was asked to take over. This veteran was Edward Harlow who had lost his sight through an accident whilst serving in the Army. Our records show the shop proving a success again and Edward and his wife welcomed a son Edmund two years later.

Tragically, just a year later Edward suffered a heart attack and passed away. His wife remarried but would also pass away just ten years later leaving their son an orphan at 12 years old. He was soon evacuated to Exeter and continued to receive support from St Dunstan’s until he was 16.

The shop once again became vacant although previous occupier Ernest Blundell was offered the chance to return. As Ernest, his wife Lillian and son Derek had greatly missed shop life they decided to return. Accounts of 1930 show the Royals again returning to the shop, and Derek heading off to Guildford College to study in 1943. Due to ill health in 1954, 36 years after first stepping foot in the shop, Ernest decided to leave.

After leaving the shop, Ernest and his family continued to live in the area. Lilian, his wife, passed away in 1967 and our records show Ernest becoming a permanent resident at our Brighton centre in 1968. He passed away in 1977 at the grand age of 86!

But what happened next? Do you know what happened to 27 High Street, Eton?