Howden’s stands the test of retail time for Borders pets

Jaqui Rickard and Rob Smith at Howden's pet shop, Coldstream
Jaqui Rickard and Rob Smith at Howden's pet shop, Coldstream

By the time Victoria ascended the throne in 1837, animal feed and medicines had been sold from 61 High Street in Coldstream, for nearly a decade.

Reckoned to now be the world’s oldest pet food supplies shop, its doors were first opened by George Wilson in 1830, when the Duke of Wellington was prime minister, Britain was still hanging pirates and Charles Darwin had yet to make his famous voyage aboard HMS Beagle.

The business was sold around the turn of the 20th Century to W.E. Howden - the name is still above the front door - and the interior refitted with its existing mahogany and brass fittings, and the facade decorated with its famous six pink granite columns.

Time seems to have stood still since then and current proprietor, Rob Smith, serves customers from behind the shop’s original mahogany counter.

Behind him shelves groan with glass jars and drawers still bear the yellowing labels listing exotic sounding products of bygone days - Sweet Spirits of Mitre, Salts of Lemon and Camphorated Water.

Rob bought the business over 40 years ago, but has never felt the need to change the name above the door to his own.

“I’m only the fourth owner - it was opened by George Wilson, was then run by his son; then between 1900 and 1910, it was taken over by Howden, who sold it on to the Clements in the 1950s and I bought it from them in 1974,” Rob told us.

“It was originally called Wilson Medicine Warehouse and it was nearly a hundred years before the name was changed to Howden’s. That’s been its name ever since and if its been good enough for the last hundred years, that makes it fine by me!”

George Wilson actually invented the world’s very first sheep dip, which was manufactured at 61 High Street and sold nationally.

Wilson’s Sheep Dip has long since vanished from the shop’s shelves, but Rob still prides himself on offering the same old-fashioned brand of customer service.

“Originally I ran it as veterinary medicines going round farms selling sheep dips and what have you. But then farming went through enormous changes 25 or 30 years ago and I had to rethink everything,” said Rob.

“So we started building the pet food side of things back up again, because we had always done things like worm balls and the like for dogs.”

While the shop has never sold live animals, it has steadily built a reputation for expertise in pet foodstuffs. Rob even has his own recipe for dog food - the popular Coldstream Crunch.

And while Howden’s no longer brews up its own animal medicines, staff members Jacqui Rickard and Claire Murray are certified to dispense modern medicines, such as wormers, and perform microchipping.

Rob has two daughters of his own and says he would love it if one or both were keen to take on the business one day. “If they don’t, I’ll be heartbroken when the day finally comes that I have to give it up.

“But I have no plans to retire just yet. I intend to keep going till I drop!”