End of an era for Britain's rudest shop

A slice of Britain: The notoriously sharp-speaking owners of Fords of Lymington are closing their doors for the last time to make way for a pub

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The Independent Online

'What are you doing in the shop?" the owner barks at an innocuous-looking grey-haired woman. "You know you're banned from here."

In most stores, customers would object to such an abrasive "welcome". But then Palfrey & Kemp (Fords of Lymington) in Lymington, Hampshire, is not most stores: it is "Britains [sic] rudest shop". So says the poster in the window, which alerts passers-by on St Thomas Street that there are "only a few weeks left to be insulted, don't miss the experience!!"

By the time you read this, however, the homeware store's rude reign will be over. Yesterday, the owners Terry Palfrey and Geoff Kemp hung the "**** off! We're closed" sign on the door for the final time after I mingled with customers hunting out bargains during the last day of trading.

On this occasion, Terry is just joking with a regular customer. But there are many times when the partners mean it and are directing honest barbs at unpleasant shoppers. Take a few weeks ago, for example, when 61-year-old Geoff told one rather rude and demanding woman, who said she could not wait to be served because she had a doctor's appointment: "While you are there, will you ask him if he's got anything for your bad temper?"

When I visit, the spacious store – its leaky yellow ceiling badly marked by damp – resembles a charity shop thanks to the mishmash of goods on display. While the business used to specialise in linen, towels and fine china, shoppers yesterday were also stocking up on books, CDs, cassettes, paintings, cookware, furniture, cutlery, bric-a-brac...

There is a steady stream of customers – mostly pensioners as the grey pound is strong in Lymington. Some people are just popping in to say goodbye: despite their rudeness, Geoff and Terry are popular traders. Jacqui Head, 61, and her 17-year-old granddaughter Jayne had presented the shopkeepers with a special award, engraved "Britain's Rudest Shop", earlier in the week.

"They have deserved it because they are always very helpful and they will be very sadly missed in this town," says Jacqui. "The rudeness is just absolute fun."

The men are pulling down the shutters for the last time because they are fed up with the hassle of running the business and want more time for other projects. Fifteen years ago they bought the shop from the Fords family who first opened it in 1840.

Helping out on its final day is Brian Paxton, 70, who joined the company in 1962 as a house-fitter, laying carpets and hanging curtains. His wife, Diana, 68, who started making curtains and loose covers for Fords at the age of 15, is at his side. Both are understandably sad to see the business go.

But down must come the delightful handwritten signs peppering the shop, such as "If you can't leave these books tidy then leave them alone". The notice "Please do not go upstairs if you will have difficulty coming back down!" results from the fact that Geoff and Terry recently had to carry down one elderly woman.

The jovial characters are renting their premises to JD Wetherspoon, which is opening a pub restaurant in the upmarket coastal resort. "We think it will be good for the town," says Terry, 63. "They are going to provide 40 jobs – badly needed jobs."

However, the arrival of the budget boozer has not been without controversy: some residents, including one of the shop's customers, Valerie Kidd, voiced their objections with New Forest District Council. "It's almost 'not in my backyard', but I really don't think right next to the church is the right place to put something like that," says the retired primary schoolteacher, 68, of Milford on Sea. "And you've got the home opposite for elderly people." Others support the plans.

The shop was originally due to close in 2010 – which is when its linen supplier Belledorm made the posters advertising its rudeness – but the council refused planning permission to change the use.

Now it has been granted, Terry and Geoff are planning a special trip: visiting the United States for the "Route 66 Mother Road Radio Tour". Terry is a former pirate radio DJ who goes by the name of Paul Peters on the airwaves. The duo hosts The Fabulous Fifties Show on the community radio station Forest FM in Verwood, Dorset, which also goes out on 23 stations in America, four in New Zealand and one in the Falkland Islands. Setting out from Chicago on 6 June 2013, the pair will join the city's WRLR station on a 30-day trip to find people who worked in radio in the 1950s and 1960s.

But they will not abandon their rude roles completely. "We have a gift shop [Burley Coach House] in Burley village in the New Forest, which we are going to try to see if we can make as rude as this one," says Terry. Burley: you have been warned.