Knee’s shop

From the outside, Millers Estate Agents, Fore Street doesn’t resemble a time machine. But when, a year ago, the attic was investigated via a trapdoor high in the ceiling, the staff stepped back in time.  Up there they discovered a desk, stool, the nub of a candle, and two bill spikes, impaled upon them huge numbers of bills, forming two blackened and dusty balls.

These were carried off to the Hayle Archive where volunteers spent many hours gently removing the bills, dusting with soft brushes, and filing them. What emerged was a fascinating glimpse into the past, between 1910 and 1912, when it was the home and thriving business of Charles Knee, described in correspondence as ‘iron monger’ or ‘hardware/oil merchant.’

The bills describe an empire of which ‘Chas Knee esq.’ was king, selling, from the two rooms of his shop a selection of goods almost as varied as that of the modern day Trago, including chimneys, china and glass of all types,  boots/shoes, soap, oil lamps, carpets, commodes, over mantels, cutlery, clocks, handbags, jewellery, bird boxes, perfume, toys, window blinds, watches, and…most intriguingly for 1910.…baby alarms.

Goods arrived from companies all over Britain, their bills headed with stunning engravings of the products and factories.

But arguably the most captivating and interesting entries were removed and filed by the archivists under the heading ‘Private Family Documents.’  

Here we discover that Charles had a son, John, who attended Hayle Grammar School, but who was absent through illness for most of the winter term, and a daughter, Marea, tutored by Lilian Peek in music.

We find that Earnest Vivian, an employee, claimed compensation from Charles for an injury received while working, and was awarded the sum of twenty five shillings.

Charles Knee also seemed to have aspirations towards becoming a landlord and property developer, deduced from a series of increasingly irate letters from Redruth District Council regarding his attempt to build ‘wash kitchens’ onto his rental properties in Gwinear.

He entertained the idea of modern transport, there is a letter describing ‘a van, previously used as a baker’s van, sound and in good condition, and cheap at the price of £12, which should meet with requirements.’

Charles Knee passed away in 1936. For anyone wishing to indulge in a little time travelling, his documents can be viewed at Hayle Archive, Sea Lane, open Tuesday/ Thursday mornings, 10am to 1pm.

Kath Mullinger