old sheoakThe first store come postal agency in Belair was established in the 1860’s and operated from a house in the grounds of the Anglican Retreat House, which later transferred to the present house on the north east corner of Pinera Railway Bridge (this house was later occupied by Belair’s first police officer).

With the coming of the railway to Belair in 1883, the commercial and social focus of the community moved to what has been defined as the Belair Village – centred on the Belair Railway Station.

Mr. W J Dunston who ran a General Store at Blackwood, rented 43 Sheoak Road from the Cordes family.  He opened a General Store and Post Office. Supplies to the store came by horse and cart from Blackwood.  Mr. Dunston installed as Manager at the Belair Store Mr. James McDougall Walker.

When the Cordes family increased the rent on number 43 (c.1893) Mr. W J Dunston decided to build his own shop at number 38, close the business at number 43 and move everything to number 38. Supplies of meat, bread and vegetables from Blackwood and Coromandel Valley were delivered to the homes of local customers. The opening of the shop at number 38 was said to coincide with the opening of the railway bridge leading to Upper Sturt Road.

In 1926 Mr. Rothwell James Halstead (known as Jim) bought the business from Mr. Dunston. Prior to that time Jim and his brother had been running an orchard at number 107 Sheoak Road, but it was no longer able to support both families.

Mr. Roth Halstead recalled that in those days his refrigerator was a cellar, half a pound of bacon and a pound of mixed biscuits cost 10 1/2d, chocolate frogs cost one penny and lamp glasses were essential stock. Biscuits were “packaged” but each night after the store closed at 6pm Roth would put bins of individual biscuits on the counter, make up bags of biscuits which would be prepared to cater for the individual tastes of the buyers, who would then specify what they did or did not want included.

Maturing cheese was a specialty. Storekeeper Roth matured his own cheeses, storing them for months in the cellar where he would wipe and turn the twenty pound cheeses once a week. They were wrapped in cloth and stored in order of age, sometimes maturing for months, and would be pricked and tasted to test. When they were ready, one mild cheese was improved by injecting it with Sherry.

As well as general goods, Shell petrol and motor oils were sold. Mail stamps cost 1 1/2d and then 2d. Local residents called at the Post Office for their mail which was held for people as far away as Eden. The first non-official delivery was done by the Belair Post Office but was very difficult due to the lack of footpaths and no decent roads.

In 1960 Roth Halstead sold the shop to the Reynolds Family and moved, along with the Belair Post Office, to rent premises on the Northern corner of the Windy Point – Main Road junction – Belair Triangle.  In 1985 this building was demolished to make way for the present commercial and Post Office complex.

In 1985, after a succession of owners,  the business was taken over by Ann and Bill Shircore. Both being tireless workers and Bill such a handyman they set about building up the business which had suffered after a condemnation threat made by the Highways Department.

The building reprieved: due to rotting wooden uprights the building would shake when the trains went past. During the six years that Anne and Bill had the shop extensive restoration took place. The uprights were removed and replaced with steel, and the outer walls which were made of two layers of chicken wire with a cement-like layer that resembled papier-mache between them, were comprehensively replaced. The original facade of the shop however, has remained the same.

In 1989 Ann and Bill started a Museum from the premises, displaying at least six sets of shelves with items that would have been sold in a General Store, from aerated waters to patent medicines and groceries in tins and packets. If you are interested in the past the collection is certainly worth a look.

The Museum completed, their final improvement effort was to renovate the Cellar, install a “Cellar Antiques” sign and sell old items and general bric-a-brac.

On 16th December 1992, after a very busy 6 years, Ann and Bill sold to Fay and Gordon Papps.

A special thanks to Jeannie Moffatt, Maggie Ragless & Christine Stanley for this overview.