Ex-owner tells history of collapsed shop

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HERE stands former shop Birtchnells more than 50 years before a catastrophic collapse made it cease to exist.

The photo taken in the 1960s shows how the mens outfitters once looked, rather than the remnants of the collapse that rocked Berkhamsted three weeks ago.

The photo was displayed during a talk to the Berkhamsted Local History and Museum Society by former shop owner Bob Clark, who is now 73.

He displayed a slideshow of photos of the shop and the town as it looked during the time of his predecessor Percy Birtchnell, who died in 1986 aged 75.

The origins of the business stretch back to before the Second World War, and until September last year, there had always been a Birtchnells business in Berkhamsted.

Mr Birtchnell lived in Cowper Road and was a keen country walker.

Mr Clark said: “He never had a car and used to get me to give him a lift in the evenings and then walk about 10 miles to get back home.”

Bob had just left the armed forces when he began working for Mr Birtchnell - and it wasn’t long before the shop owner decided Bob was going to become Birtchnells’ new manager.

Mr Clark said: “It was quite strange to let someone so young with so little experience take over the running of a shop.”

Mr Birtchnell, who inherited the shop from his father, left Bob in charge so he could pursue his true passion of journalism and writing.

Mr Clark told a packed audience of history enthusiasts that Mr Birtchnell had a front page column on The Gazette at the age of 12 while still at school.

He also wrote regularly for a menswear magazine.

Mr Birtchnell was the writer of books including A History of Berkhamsted and Bygone Berkhamsted, and contributed regularly to then-newspaper the Berkhamsted Review from 1942.

Mr Clark said: “He was a very skilful man, and also very kind.”

Mr Clark retired from menswear in September after selling the Birtchnells shop.

An investigation into the collapse of its former site by the Health and Safety Executive is ongoing but so far no cause has been announced.