May Keyte’s: The Harrods of Broadway

By Arthur Bayston

When I started school in 1915, in Broadway, there was a little shop almost opposite the Catholic School, that we used to call “Keyte’s”. It was kept by a Mrs Keyte, who was blind, and she was helped by her daughter May. Much later on the shop was called, or referred to as “May’s”, by those who knew her, and “May Keyte’s” by those who did not know her very well. Tell me anyone for miles around, though, who had never heard of her. We used to call at the shop on the way to school if we had a halfpenny or a penny, to spend – that is if we had not called at Kitty Grimwood’s or Granny Richardson’s first.

More often than not, we just used to look in the window, as that did not cost anything. The selection of sweets was much the same at all the sweet shops, no doubt supplied by the same wholesaler and ordered from the same traveller or ‘outride’, as they were sometimes called. Could be from Tarry’s of Evesham, or Bassett’s, Sharp’s or Vincent’s. There were liquorice all sorts, sherbert dabs, aniseed balls, acid drops, chocolate, mint humbugs, peppermint so, sticky toffee and many other delights that were all in vogue at that time. Many are still with us. The others just a memory. Later on May used to sell many grocery lined, soap, soda, starch and blue bags as well, also ties, studs, braces, handkerchiefs, bootlaces and so on. Then the grocery lines dropped and she went in for a bigger variety of haberdashery and could supply almost anything you asked for, men’s clothes, shirts, vests, trousers, flannels, shoes, cricket shirts, suspenders, laces, tie-pins, gloves and scarves, also clothes for ladies and children and babies; material for curtains, needles, knitting pins, wools, cottons and silks, buttons and tapes, everything.

During the Second World War, when things got difficult to get, May satisfied many customers as she could find things in her stock which had accumulated over the years. I mention the case of a lady who wanted a pair of long white gloves to wear at a wedding after the war. Things were not easy to get. She went everywhere, all over London, Cheltenham and Evesham, without success. Someone said “Try May.” She did and found exactly what she wanted, a perfect fit, and not at all expensive. “The Harrods of Broadway,” the lady said, very satisfied and very delighted.

May sometimes had a sale, good value for money but perhaps not the latest fashion. However, up till the time she retired I don’t think the stock was ever cleared right out. I have had some very good and reasonably priced things from her over the years, and one of the best costumes Luisa ever had came from May’s, and it was such a pretty blue. It was worn to Italy several times and was always admired.

May was very shrewd and very successful. She owned several cottages in and around Broadway. Hers was the first house in Broadway to have underfloor electric heating. She later had a shop built next to her house, and even this did not seem big enough, it was soon packed out with stock. She learnt to drive when she was 70, and always had Triumph cars with folding head, and was always ready to take anyone with her when she went for a drive round the hills. She used to close the shop one day a week, which gave her the opportunity to get out. It seemed that she would never retire but she did eventually.

The sale and giving up of the shop was not an easy matter. You could not see May packing up and walking out just like that. The house and the shop were bought by the Lygon, who seemed to buy all the houses around Broadway as they became empty and use them as staff quarters. Also a good investment, I suppose, property in a place like Broadway. Part of the arrangement was that May should stay on in the house as long as she wanted. She let the shop, or at least the new owners did, and she helped the new tenant for some time. I expect she would have found it very difficult to have given up altogether after a lifetime.

It was never quite the same; eventually the tenant gave up and the business changed hands. Thus does Broadway change – the family business, the Railway, the Coach and Horses, A.G. Morris, A.E. Warren, John Morris, the Midland Stores, the closing of the Monastery, the Sands, and now May’s and Kemp’s. They all played their parts in the life of the village.