A CHURCH Crookham newsagent will close its doors for the last time on January 26 after 80 years of trade.

Byrne Brothers in Beacon Hill Road has been a family-run business ever since it started in 1922 in a wooden hut.

It was the biggest independent newsagent in the area at one time, but now the historic shop cannot compete with multinational chain stores anymore.

Owner Ray Byrne, 67, has announced his decision to retire, marking the end of an era.

The last day for newspapers is January 19 and he will close the shop for good the following Saturday.

He will live in the house with his brother Bill and has decided not to let out or sell the shop.

He said: "I decided to set a precedent and retire, unlike my father and grandfather. My decision was brought forward after I snapped my wrist last year delivering papers.

"We are easily the longest serving newsagent in Fleet, but now every other place is selling newspapers. At one point I had 38 members of staff on the books.

"When we lost the Gurkhas it was a big blow to us because they bought 70 papers a day.

"Our tobacco trade declined too, because you can buy them everywhere now and there is the illegal trade and anti-smoking campaigns."

Ray's grandfather William Matthew Byrne started the business in 1922 when he bought a paper round from another Fleet newsagent for £20.

He opened the business in a wooden hut in Green Lane (renamed Beacon Hill Road in 1936) and by 1932 the hut had been replaced by the present house and shop on the same site.

His wife Florence took over when he died during the Second World War in 1941. Their sons William George and Thomas James took over the store in 1945 and named it WG and TJ Byrne.

It became known as Byrne Brothers in about 1959 because "it rolled off the tongue better".

When Ray's father died he joined Thomas, also known as Jim, in running the shop, and when Jim died he left it all to Ray.

They used to sell groceries as well, but stopped in 1968 and concentrated on the newspaper trade.

Ray and his two brothers, Kevin and Bill, who often helped him run the shop, have lots of happy memories of the old days.

Ray said: "My dad used to go as far as Dogmersfield on his bike to deliver papers to Winchfield Hospital.

"To trade for 80 years is very good going and it is the end of an era.

"But I am looking forward to retiring.

"I remember going to the Queen Elizabeth Barracks in the fifties with my mate and we would sell 224 newspapers each in half an hour.

"We sold papers like hot cakes as they did not even have any radios then.

"There were no cars about then. When I delivered the papers my dog Bob would run on ahead of me — it was great around here in those days."

Kevin said: "It is still so interesting to look at the old places around Crookham, especially the Gurkha Barracks and the houses along Gally Hill Road.

"When you have seen all the changes you can still appreciate the magic that was Crookham."

Ray added: "I would like to thank all the managers that helped me, all the paper boys and the loyal customers — some of them have been loyal for 50 years or more — plus my two brothers for their help after I broke my wrist."