t is not my intention to write of the years of the depression, but rather to reflect on the thirties as I remember them and of a town in which I grew up. These years hold a very special place in history because during them, events evolved which were to change the entire world, a sweeping statement but a true one. My generation had more than a front row seat. In 1939 they were called upon to fight for King and country, just as their parents had been some twenty-five years earlier.
We were born some five to seven years after the Armistice was signed, and brought up in the uneasy peace that followed. The rumblings of war were everywhere. China was in conflict with Japan, Mussolini had invaded Abyssinia, Haile Selassie, the Lion of Judah, had stood firm against the invader, to no avail Germany was fast re-arming and calling on the youth of the country to prepare for war. News bulletins came by way of radio, as television was in its infancy. We may have had the delights sooner, but we had to do something about the little man in Germany, “Hitler”. In the event, many of my friends from mixed infant days were never to return from war.
Childhood is such a marvellous time it is a pity we can’t wait to grow up. Every generation is the same; we do not value it until it is too late. My memories are of Blackburn as a cotton town, as it had little to offer in the way of other industries. Lancashire’s climate is just right for cotton weaving; it is said we weave the finest in the world. All my family were involved in the trade, my father being a tape sizer, his brother a mill manager, and his brother-in-law a mill owner. When Wall Street collapsed, we felt the backlash. Cotton was all we had, and it was our lifeline; money was tight, jobs were scarce, and the shopkeepers felt it too. In spite of this people were friendly and always willing to lend a hand. In every street there was some good woman who could help the Midwife or the Undertaker as the case might be, or look after a neighbour’s children in an emergency. It was safe to walk the streets at night, dimly lit though they were. Even the longer streets had just a few gaslights, but petty crime and housebreaking were rare; how could you rob somebody who was no better off than yourself- perhaps even worse off. Everyone accepted the situation as the aftermath of the Great War, and the Depression was worldwide.
Anyone asking weavers, spinners and winders of this Town why the Mills had to close would have given many different answers. As technology advanced, suitable conditions for cotton could be reproduced on the spot, so transport costs were reduced. This is only my opinion, gleaned from conversations at home. My Mother said we were letting too many textile students in from overseas, and telling them all we knew. We were also exporting machinery and letting skilled men go abroad to train others; in view of the recession here there were many who were glad to go. I do remember people going on strike after having their wages cut, and they were locked out. Anyone going to work for less money was called a “knobsticker”. As I said, my father was a Tape-Sizer, and at one time my mother was a Weaver, so a lot of odd phrases came my way via the tea table conversation.
Some mills wove special kinds of cloth which required great skill; “ Double Umbrellas” (special cloth woven for umbrellas) were very tricky, being very closely woven, Jacquards were difficult too, and Egyptian Cotton was a nightmare, it was also very expensive, as was Sea Island Cotton. Tacklers, who maintained a set of looms, were very important men; if a loom was not just right a lot of cotton could be spoiled. Conditions were appalling; no canteens-I gather you ate your breakfast at your looms. The old weavers speak with nostalgia of former times, and of having to provide a repair kit consisting of scissors, reed hook, a fine steel comb, and a small penknife. Sometimes a mistake could be put right with these, if not, the Tackler was told, resulting in a fine [for the weaver]
Saturday morning was part of the working week, and there was a one-week holiday without pay in summer. There was no rest room, and toilet facilities left much to be desired. The managers were only interested in results, and heaven help you if you had to stay off work. Not only did someone come round to see if you were ill (this was because you would get a few shillings from the weavers club), but you had to try to find someone to work your looms. On your return you had to see if your own looms were available, if not, you had the choice of going on any that you could, or be out of work. If you turned down looms you would not qualify for dole money. The looms were like sewing machines-they came to know the operator, and no one liked to change looms. In spite of all this there was a comradeship between weavers, and they enjoyed their work, starting at seven in the morning and working till five-thirty, with an hour off for dinner.
The Second World War brought about some changes. The back-room boys started experimenting with man-made fibres, which had been used most successfully for parachutes, rope, and other things. When these were no longer needed, the yarns were to become part of our everyday lives. The textile technicians had long sought a universal fabric, one that could be used for all kinds of clothing, household furnishings and every other thing they could dream up, and preferably one that needed minimum of ironing. These things were to win the housewife over, thus turning another page in the history of cotton.
To produce these man-made fibres, some machines had to be scrapped, some converted. Firms had to adapt and expand, or close down altogether. Some were reluctant to change or plan far ahead, and many small friendly firms began to close at an alarming rate, never to open again.
I could not close this chapter without making a reference to clogs. Most weavers wore these, and they did make a clatter on the cobblestones, which paved most of the streets and roads. In the late thirties the trend was to wear shoes to go to work in, and change into clogs for standing on stone floors. Black woollen Stockings were also worn, with beige lisle for Sundays. During the war they brought out a rubber clog sole, which did not clatter like the iron ones- the music-hall comedians had to rewrite their scripts. I also remember the knocker-up, usually a man; he would tap on your window with a stick. How he got up in the mornings I will never know.
The old weavers could tell you lots more about their industry and its conditions of work. It must have been terrible in summer, with no fresh air; that was why most of them went home for lunch if they could. No doubt the first thing they did on leaving work was to take a deep breath- no pollution from car fumes then, only the mill owners could afford cars.
The picture in those days was pretty glum for a town of this size, but things were slowly moving. Mullards and Phillips moved here from Eindhoven in Holland, having first built a large factory in Mitcham in Surrey. They built a larger factory on the outskirts of Blackburn, bringing new life to the town. Soon afterwards the Royal Ordinance Factory was built at Lower Darwen, contributing greatly to the war effort. Eindhoven was one of the first towns in Holland to be over-run by the Germans, and remained in enemy hands until liberated by the allied troops some four years later. The factory of Phillips Road absorbed a large part of the working populace of this town, and still does. Many of their new employees were weavers willing to try a new way of life, and when the Mills came into their own again, many stayed in their newfound employment.
The city fathers of this town, irrespective of party, have done much to provide employment. No doubt some people will disagree, but everyone has his own opinion. Rates have shot up, but this is still a good town to live in. Then the powers that planned a new city centre, though not to everyone’s liking I agree. First of all they dealt with the river Blakewater, from which the town derives its name. How do you get rid of a mucky brook bang in the middle of the town centre? Well, they did. It was a mammoth task to divert it, and it had to be done before work could start on anything else. Always a smelly stream, you could never picnic on its banks, or even follow its course on a summer’s day. At low tide it was just a trickle, but when the monsoons came it was a torrent of dirty, evil smelling water. I knew the district, Salford was quaint and many of the stone buildings had character, but surely it is much better now than the way it was? I can’t help thinking what might have happened when the polio scare hit town in the 1960’s, and what a public outcry there would have been. I digress forgive me. Recollections must start somewhere, and where better than at Sudell Cross, the place that has seen all the changes yet remains to this day very much the way it was. To people coming back after some years, this must have been one of the few landmarks they could identify with. I remember when I was small; it was like going on safari trying to get across. The sprawling cobbled road, with the tram tracks running through, had to be policed every day. The bobby directed traffic and saw the very young and elderly safely across. Cars and such seemed to be everywhere with the policeman standing amid it all. One very bad winter, during a foggy spell, someone hit on the idea of putting large galvanised bins in a circle, painted black and white. The policeman stood on a box in the middle of the ring, but wide of the tram track. Of course [Leslie] Hore-Belisha had yet to dream up his famous beacons, like traffic lights they were still in the pipeline. We now have lights, but I still get butterflies when I have to cross here, the, I am getting old.
People were becoming car minded, but the war delayed the day of the family car with its traffic jams, motorways, getting to the coast before anyone else, and all the things that make motoring the hazard it now is. Walsh Bros., the main Ford dealers in this town, was just off the corner of Sudell Cross. Fords must have had a sales promotion in the north. I remember going to Blackpool one day to see a parade of cars driving down the promenade. Henry must have had a change of mind about the colour; these were all cream with red trim, red upholstery and two doors. We even went to the top floor restaurant to get a better view. No doubt someone will remember going to that display.
At the corner of Sudell Cross and Limbrick was a tailor’s shop. The window display was a large photo of a man in tweeds, Donegal of course, Burberry raincoat and walking stick. A moustache completed this picture of sartorial elegance by Smith & Ibbotson. Draped across the floor of the window was an assortment of Harris Tweeds, Prince of Wales checks and Tattersall Checks, all in pure wool, bespoke tailoring was a must, but the day of the fifty-shilling tailor was coming. Another window display was plus fours, if you’ve never heard of them, ask your Granddad, he probably wore them, gathered at the calf and worn with argyle socks. Black and white buckskin shoes, then making a come back completed the picture.
Next door to the tailors was a fancy goods shop and post office, Wilson’s who turned their large upstairs room into a Christmas showroom each year. The post office later moved to Seed and Gabbutt’s bookshop, where Miss Newby and her staff carried out its affairs. No family allowance, no T.V. licences, just old age pensions, registered envelopes and stamps at five pence, one penny and a half.
Birthday cards come to mind as I write. They were mostly like a post card, all red roses, pussycats, and puppies in baskets. Painted on the reverse side was “ This is a real photograph by Rotary”, and if you remember them then you must be as old as I am.
Seed & Gabbutt had a large circulating library, as had Baxters, Parker & Boots, to name but a few. For two pence you could borrow a book for a week, and for another penny you could reserve a book in advance. Westerns were very popular, my father enjoyed a good western, and there was always a Max Brand on the bookshelf at home.
Next door to Seed & Gabbutt was Porrits, selling Irish linen in pastel shades by the yard. They were also agents for Tootall dresses. These were quite dear but were never outworn, being quite different from the mass-produced ones that came later.
Further up Preston New Road was Pierre Stultiens; French models were the order of the day in this establishment at this time; Paris ruled the fashion world and this shop had the very latest Parisian gowns. Across the road was Miss McMasters little shop, she made children’s dresses, and never have I seen such delicate work- French knots, smocking, featherstitch, on georgette of all things. They really had to be seen to be believed.
There was Hipkins high-class grocers, where they wrapped your purchase in brown paper and tied it with string, not forgetting a loop for your finger, a far cry from a supermarket checkout. Then there was Burton & Garland’s photographic studio, one of many in the area; another popular one was Elsie Ames. Her studio was a large house further up the road; it had a small garden where weddings could be photographed. Mr Duckworth had a little studio at the bottom of Limbrick known as Sharples. Come Easter Saturday we would dash down to see the weddings, no one ever got married in Lent, and we would Ooh & Ah at the bridal groups. Looking back they all seemed much the same, satin dresses in pastel shade of blue peach or green, whit too of course, all cut on the bias. The bouquets looked more like wreaths of carnations. Mr Duckworth was also an industrial photographer, and specialised in trick photography, I remember when an airman was awarded a medal posthumously; he superimposed a photograph of the dead airman’s head onto a photograph of an airman with the same decoration, and came up with a picture that greatly pleased the grieving family. He also photographed the Rialto Cinema when it was first built on Penny Street, it was seen as a wonder of the age, cinema, theatre and entertainment centre all in one- another good idea that was to fall by the wayside. I digress, which often happens when you wander down memory lane. Some of the buildings on Preston New Road are three stories high, and over Burton & Garland’s was a ballroom known as the Palais de Dance, it was here that my friend’s sister tripped the light fantastic. I can’t remember when it closed its doors, but it was in use as dance hall during the Second World War.
Lower down there was Thompson’s garage with its large frontage and show room, they were agents for Armstrong Siddeley, these large saloons must have consumed a great deal of petrol. Second hand car sales were not the thing they are today, mass production was in its infancy and new models were just beginning to roll off the line. Motor mechanics were teaching themselves, and lorry drivers could name their own terms, some of the heavy duty lorries were steam powered, I think they were called “Pierce Arrows”, and they seemed very hot and steamy-not the air-conditioned pantechnicons of today.
Round the corner of Simmons Street was Fry’s Sports Outfitters, they sold Slazenger racquets, and I thought if I had one I could be a Wimbledon champion, alas I had to use my cousins old one and let Dorothy Round carry off the laurels, so much for childhood dreams. Also in Simmons street were the tram repair sheds, later used for maintaining fleets of Police Panda cars. Across from Fry’s was a mixed business selling Almond’s tripe: their advert showed a little man in a pin stripe suit, pince-nez and spats, I thought this was Mr Almond. Next-door was Gladys Graham’s millinery shop; this really did have style, all the summer hats seemed to be black or cream straw, with yards of net and flowers adorning them. Winter hats were of felt, fur felt or velour such as you rarely see today, in shade of peacock blue or mulberry, masses of feathers-ostrich, pheasant and cock. They were expensive, but oh what style. Even if you could not afford a new coat, a new hat would do wonders for your morale. Gladys Graham later moved across the road to premises vacated by Smith & Ibbotson. Steads the sweetshop had been there as long as I could remember, and used to have a café in the basement. The little tobacconist across the road is an old established shop too.
Mr McMynns Chemist shop was on the other corner of Sudell Cross, and next door was Miss Stephenson’s wool shop, where you could buy Clarks silks a penny a skein, and an ounce of wool would cost two pence, a book of transfers cost one penny, and Irish linen tray cloth about sixpence. When television came in embroidery went out like Miss Stephenson’s shop.
On the opposite corner of Sudell Cross was Richmond Hairdressing Salon, and a very small shop known as the Powder Bowl:here they sold all kinds of trinkets mainly in barbola work (ornamentation with small flowers, fruits etc, made of plastic paste and coloured), this too is a dying craft. Next door to the powder bowl was a draper's shop called Fielding's, and even to me in those days it seemed very antiquated with a display of wool panties or directoire knickers using the polite term–later known as “ passion killers”. They were displayed on brass ‘T’ shaped rods with a heavy circular base, and adjusted at different heights. Wool combinations were also on display, and this was an all in one garment which combined vest and panties in wool-much loved by elderly ladies, because they kept you warm. Corsets defied description;they were heavy drill and looked more like armour plating, and enough steel to help the war effort in one pair. You did not wear a brassiere; you wore a bust bodice in a mucky shade of pink or peach. Night dresses were of heavy flannel and most men wore union shirts (a mixture of cotton and worsted, very warm and hard wearing) for work, but at weekends they wore shirts with separate collars for which you needed a back stud and a front stud, and of course cuff-links, and arm bands. The finest shirts were made of poplin, again difficult to weave, but a joy to iron. Next door to Fielding’s was a pottery shop called “ Cat looking back”, the floor space was massive. In these days of order and method the sales assistants would be worn out walking across the floor, they probably were then but no one seemed to care about it. This shop sold very large earthenware bowls for baking bread, most people made their own bread then, they also sold stone hot water bottles, and very large pudding dishes.
Most people at this time had a roast for Sunday lunch, followed by a rice pudding, and for tea it would be meat sandwiches followed by home made cakes and trifle. Monday lunch would be the left over joint somehow turned into stew, and the left over rice pudding would be put in the oven by the fire to re cook itself. Monday was washing day, and the kitchen smelled of steam and hot soapy water. Possers and a dolly tub, or maybe you had a boiler, but the atmosphere was still the same, hot and steamy. You used Mother Shipton's soap or Blue Windsor, which was mottled blue and white, or sunlight soap, all sold in long bars. I think Rinso was one of the first washing powders, and you always used Robin Starch or Dolly Blue.
In Limbrick was a series of stone built shops, one was a veterinary surgeon, and lower down was Harrison's Newsagents where I bought my school-girls weekly.Sometimes I had a change and went to Mr Murray's on Blakey Moor. At that time there were quite a few schoolgirl magazines, what girl did not dream of going to boarding school. Babs & Co, when Pam made Morecove wonder, Bessie Bunter the loveable duffer of the fifth, a page showed you how to renovate things, a comb case your friend would be proud to own-not mine, it was a disaster as all I could do with a needle was thread it. Later a magazine came out called Girls Crystal; this must have been aimed at the teenage market as it had a “boy meets girl” theme. You see boys and girls were segregated at school after mixed infants, at the age of seven or eight, and girls were taught separately right through until you left school.
The Boys magazines were much the same theme as girls, Hotspur, Wizard, Boys Own, Sports Budget, to name but a few. Red Circle School, Morgan the Mighty, one was a story of a school in the 1970’s. In this story the boys were taught by closed-circuit television, they used typewriters and it seemed like something out of the “ March of Time” (this was a feature shown in cinemas, something like today’s “Tomorrows World”.) We had comics too:Chicks Own, Tiny Tots, Tiger Tim, all in colour. Then Chips, Joker, Butterfly, Film Fun, and a little later Dandy, Beano, and many more. Swapping comics was a pastime in its own right. Here I must mention cigarette cards; in most packets you would get a card, depicting roses, do-it-yourself household hints, radio stars, film stars, wild flowers, and dogs to name a few. We children did quite a trade in these cards. The cigarettes were varied-Players twenty for eleven pence halfpenny, Woodbines five for two pence, Star Robin, De Reske Minors, Du Maurier, Ardath cork tipped, Black Cat, Club Kensitas, Three Castles, Passing Cloud, and some like Kensitas gave free gifts with coupons. Further on down Limbrick is The Sir Charles Napier hotel, but in those days it was the Y.M.C.A. We would go on a Friday night for a penny entrance to watch a film.You could see Charlie Chaplin, Laurel & Hardy, and a documentary. Talkies had arrived, and cinemas were being built to be visited by everyone once a week. There were also magazines for avid filmgoers- Picture Show, Picture goer, movie magazines which came straight from America. A shop in Victoria Street specialised in these magazines, and to a film struck girl they were the bible of the film industry. I can remember at school we had film stars photos pinned to the inside of desk lids, Robert Taylor, Nelson Eddy, Franchot Tone, Clark Gable to name but a few. Clark Gable actually appealed to our older sisters who had started work and therefore on a different planet to us.They could wear high heels and silk stockings, and choose their own clothes. We had to wear school uniform, which included long black stockings, panama hats, velour in winter, gymslips and a white blouse.
As I said, Walsh's were the main Ford dealers, and it was there that I first saw a fully streamlined car–a Chrysler. Boys and girls came from miles around to view the wonder of the age. It was navy blue, and all they talked about was mileage, tyres, engines:the Motor Trade was on the brink of taking off.
Malcolm Campbell came to Blackburn with his famous Blue Bird, I think it must have been at Loxhams. I remember him giving signed photos away of his record breaking car, and it was running on “Wakefield Castrol”.
Just off Limbrick was Kirkham Lane. And at Limbrick end was a toffee boilers, Thompson by name,. Here Mr Thompson and his son made a variety of boiled sweets. For a penny you could be sick.Sarsaparilla tablets, pear drops, humbugs, mints- you name them they made them;your Saturday penny bought a lot of sweets. It was a fascinating place, when you went inside they would be in the process of throwing the boiled glutinous mass, and you had to wait to be served. Sometimes they would let you stay and watch if you didn’t get into mischief, then you came away with a big bag of sweets for your penny. The next stop the Clinic Dentist, Oh dear!
Northgate has quite a character all of its own, and now that the new shopping phase is near completion, it could be busier than it has ever been.
There was at one time a drinking trough for horses at the side entrance to the Grapes Hotel. A few shops were unique in having steps going up to them and steps going down to the basement to different shops. One went up some steps to a chip shop owned by the Caton family for many years, before they moved to Blackpool to open one by the Coliseum. Another was a hardware shop, and in the basement a shoe repairer's. The Police Station, the Law Courts and the Public Halls still stand sentinel overall.
In those days the cars parked vertical to the road outside the public buildings, can you imagine that today? Oh, but the cars in those days : Bull Nosed Morris, Baby Austin, Lanchester, Hillman, Standard, Alvis, Riley, Morgan, Singer, M.G. Sunbeam Talbot, and Trojans, the last being aptly named. I seem to remember that the Brooke Bond Company had these monsters, they chugged along like a tank.
I must also add here that Amy Johnson and Jim Mollinson were doing great things and daring deeds in the air, flying to Australia and America knocking minutes off each other's records. The Schneider Trophy was a race to Australia and competitors entered from all over the world, so there was great excitement when the news came through on the radio. Campbell Black, Scott and Guthrie and many more entered the race in planes that looked like oversized match-boxes. These truly were the pioneers of early flight.
Alan Cobham was another pioneer, the Freddie Laker of his day you could say. He hired a field at Guide every year to put on an air display. You could take to the skies for only five shillings, a fortune when you only had sixpence pocket money.
Air ships were also flying around at this time and were competing with the Germans in this field. I remember the maiden flight of the R101 and the disaster that followed. I think only three people came out alive, one was the radio operator, this would have been about 1933.
We were wandering down Northgate at the beginning of this chapter; however we will get round the Town centre eventually.
Across from the Public Halls was the Co-op Emporium. This was the “Golden Age” of the Co-op, there were people who lived and died by the Co-op, that is they purchased everything from the Co-op even their funeral. The Emporium had a café, a Ballroom and a caged lift to its many floors. The Grocery department was all white tiled and very clean.
There were of course other Co-op shops in various parts of the town. They all had long counters and very wide shelves in dark red, highly polished wood. Service was one person at a time. Here you purchased Van Huton cocoa, Panshine, Silver Seal Margarine, Brasso, Zebra Black Lead, Dolly Blue, and Dolly Cream for lace curtains and Robin Starch for the Miss Muffet print dresses that most of us girls wore in summertime, if your Mum was handy with a needle.
Dress material was six pence a yard from Hawkins on King William Street. We had to get three yards to take to school for sewing lessons. With only one machine in the class, we had to take turns, otherwise we had to tack, learn the art of pocket openings, flat facing and run and fell seams, but first you had to draught your own pattern. Mind you it took a whole term to do this, and when the finished garment was ready we had a sort of fashion parade. My dress was a disaster so I never entered as a budding model.
The magazines for ladies at this time were Woman’s Weekly, the main story writer for which was Ruby M. Ayers, then there was Home Notes, Woman’s Journal, and I remember the first edition of Woman. It was heralded as the leading weekly for women, price two pence. But no home was complete without Weldon’s Ladies Journal; this was a monthly magazine costing sixpence and was handed round to relatives and friends. Weldon’s also made paper dress patterns, as did Leach and Maudella. Somewhere I still have old catalogues.
Mitchell’s toy shop was a great delight, and still is. It is now known as Mercers. They had dolls prams, dresses for dolls, and most small girls had to keep up with the Joneses. If you went walking on a Sunday you took your dolly in the pram and everything had to be perfect because we would stop to admire one another’s prams. It was many years after that time that Cindy Dolls, Action Men and Strength Armstrong appeared on the scene.
We played Cowboys and Indians, Cops and Robbers, Hide and Seek, Hopscotch, Top and Whip, Foot Cycles- homemade with wood and two iron wheels, it was quicker than walking when you had to do your Mum’s errands. See how we were motivating to speed.
Another pastime for girls was swapping scraps. You bought these for a penny a sheet, flowers, butterflies, ladies in crinolines, all very pretty, but the premium was one of angels, and one angel was equal to six others. A large angel was worth half your collection.
Clarkson’s pawn shop was next to the Ribblesdale Hotel, and in the window was an assortment of watches and jewellery. Some items had fortified pledge tickets on them. This meant that the owner could not pay back the money that had been borrowed. I wonder what stories of hardship some of the articles could tell? It was all good quality jewellery and most of it Victorian.
Across the road was Bradleys Gents and Boys Outfitters, coats and suits hung outside the door, best quality wool of course. The “fifty Shilling Tailors” were coming into their own, the suits of course were all three piece, and it was unthinkable not to wear a tie. Most men wore Bowler Hats, Velour Trilbies, and for casual wear a cap very much like “Andy Cap” style of today.
The Band Leader of the day was Harry Roy. He was then at the height of his fame, having written Tiger Rag, and was going to marry a princess from Sarawack. A trilby was brought out namedafter him; it was silver grey with a black band, the youth of the day flocked to buy them.
Northgate is still a very narrow thoroughfare and always a very busy one. In my young days deliveries to shops were made by horse and cart. Price’s confectioners, Haydocks Laundry, milk carts from farms and dairies, and the Railway delivered parcels in all sorts of covered wagons. A man called Charlie was on the Town run using a horse and cart even up to 1949.
There was on Northgate a Pork Butcher called Fairbrothers. The shop had a long grey marble counter, brass scales about two foot high. They made their own potted meat, pork pies, pork sausages and other tasties that used to torment me as we could ill afford them.
Across from the pork butchers was Yates Teetotal Tavern. You could get a cup of tea, a wholemeal buttered scone or an oatmeal cake, all baked on the premises of course.
Across the way from Yates was Bainbridge’s Shoe shop. I remember getting a pair of ankle strap shoes, they were brown Startrite. I thought I was the cat’s whiskers as my friends had black patent, mine were very different.
Shoes on display in the shop at that time always had crepe paper in them, orange and yellow for ladies and girls, red and green for men and boys, but always leather.
There again changes were taking place. Catalogues from clubs were making their mark with cheaper and mass produced goods. You could get a pair of shoes for four shillings and eleven pence and for twelve shillings and eleven pence they would put the Red carpet out for you to try them on approval.
Next door to Bainbridge’s was a high class children’s outfitters. Most children got a new outfit for Easter Sunday. I had seen this cream straw hat in this shop, it had poppies, daisies, corn flowers and a yellow ribbon. My mother said that I could have it, my coat was home made and a pair of cotton gloves completed the picture. I was sure I wasn’t the only girl to pray for fine weather on Easter Sunday to show off our new clothes.
In those days everyone wore gloves, you were not dressed without them. To get a pair of leather gauntlet gloves for Christmas was the ultimate, fur backed ones even better. You wore knitted wool ones for school, done on four needles, and your Gran would help you with the fingers. Men wore suede or chamois, ladies gloves had fur linings and very fine leather outers, the finer the skin the more expensive the glove.
At the end of Northgate was Higher Church Street. There was a shop called Denham’s, it was very much like Seed and Gabbuts, and was one of the shops recommended by local schools for the purchase of pens, pencils and paints. We had to buy our own Reeves paints, rulers, and protractors and set squares. Pitman manuals had also to be bought by our parents. I can remember the “closing down sale”; there were some very good book bargains. The district was also noted for its public houses in an area known as “Barbary Coast”. There were many public houses on the coast then: The Old Bank, The Dunn Horse, The Swan, Sames Vault, and down Church Street itself, The New Inn and the Golden Lion. If you were not legless by the time you had called in these hostelries then you had not had a real drink. The Police were very busy on Saturday nights, all on foot patrol in night duty uniform, all black and truncheon at the ready. The only vehicle around was the Black Maria.
Church Street was a very busy shopping centre. On the corner stood the Old Bull Hotel with potted palms at its entrance. The doors cut glass and engraved with brass handles. Many notable people stayed there. With the outbreak of war it became an Air Raid Shelter, and later it was demolished for road widening.
Thwaites Arcade in Church Street was one of the few shopping areas in which you did not get wet when it rained. On rainy days it was very busy indeed. At the Church Street end of the Arcade was Eastham’s florist and a sweet shop was inside Timothy White's chemist. Lewis Gowns & Mantles on one side and a Millinery shop on the other. There was a little trinket shop owned by Sally Waters, Worswick's jewellers, D.P. opticians, a tobacconist and Hadfield's for ladies coats, dresses, stockings, pure silk scarves and leather belts – even real crocodile at fifty nine shillings and eleven pence. I liked Hadfield’s but could not afford to buy there, not on one and sixpence spending money a week.
I must say that at this time most of the shops were lit by gaslight as were most homes. Cables were still being laid for electricity. I may be wrong but I think Haslingden Road was the first main road to have electric lighting in its modern form.
There was a shop called Clifton’s in Church Street that made and sold chocolates in quarter and half pound blocks. You could choose your own centres, nuts, crispy mint and other flavours, all beautifully wrapped. Later, during the war, when sweets were rationed my Mum spent all our sweet coupons here, saying “well if we are to be rationed then at least we are going to have the best” and joined the queue that formed outside.
There were a number of shops on Church Street who sold cheaper dresses, aimed at I suppose at the younger (teenage) market. Then as now the young ones wanted choice and change. It was no use saying to them “buy the best and make it last”
My teenage years, as |I have said, were the war years, and then clothes were rationed, but that is another story.
Buses were in operation on some routes, but there was still a labyrinth of tram tracks through the town. The Wilpshire Tram was a double decker, the Preston New Road tram was a single one with two very low seats facing each other. In a quiet period you all had a seat, in a busy period you had to stand holding a leather strap that with others hung down the centre of the tram. Some double-decker trams had open tops, lovely to ride in on a fine day. It cost two pence from Blackburn centre to Billinge or Wilpshire. It was great to travel on the trams.In Church Street was a news agents and greeting card shop called Astleys. Next door was Sellers; they sold cockles and mussels, oysters, crabs, winkles, lobsters and all kinds of fresh sea food. Mr Sellars was a friend of Charlie Chaplin who always called in his shop when he visited Blackburn. Across from the newsagents stood the White Bull, another landmark that has seen many changes around it. Though much has changed the news vendor is still there through hail, rain, snow or blow, and the wars have not stopped the news, good or bad, from reaching the people of Blackburn.
Around the corner, on Railway Road, was another sea-food shop, Chesterton’s. They did a very good trade in winkles at a penny a bag- the pin was free.
A walk up the Boulevard brings you to the Cathedral, which did not have an open walk through like it has now, to the best of my knowledge it was inaccessible from the Boulevard as the railings came right up to the side of Chesterton’s shop. On the Boulevard the statue of Gladstone stood sentinel along with the statue of Queen Victoria. Queen Victoria still stands but I do not think that she would be amused at all the graffiti around her. No one in my day did anything like that to public monuments.
The compartments held about twelve people facing each other so corner seats were very popular with kids who could count horses and cows in the fields. of which there were many on the ride to Blackpool.
As you went up the ramp to the station platforms there was a poster depicting the Ancient Britons with lovely umbrellas. This was an advert for Stanworths Defiance Umbrellas. Stanworths had two shops in Blackburn both selling fancy goods of a very high standard. Stanworths also made umbrellas and in those days you could have the frame recovered. A fox frame was one to cherish.
Talking of posters reminds me of some of the best ones. Bovril had a man sat on a bottle of Bovril in the middle of the ocean dressed in cosy stripped pyjamas waving to all and sundry and all at sea. Another had an Oxo cube and a bull’s head with the apt phraseology “Beef in Brief”. But Guinness topped the lot, especially the Zoo keeper running after the ostrich with a glass of Guinness stuck in its throat. “My Goodness My Guinness”, each one of their adverts seemed better than the last.
The Iron Swans, why did they move them? They were such a delight. Each huge Iron Swan stood in the centre of a foot high circle of ironwork and was placed there in Victorian times. I do not think I am the only one that mourns their passing.
The seating forms are still there of course. There was always an assortment of seated people, young and old, probably unemployed, chatting and watching the trams go by.
My family have long worshipped here, and my grandfather was a sidesman. On Sunday night they had a full congregation. Downstairs there were rows and rows of pews. Upstairs the seats were boxed off along two long balconies above the North and South side of the Altar. All the woodwork was very dark and everything had an air of solemn occasion.
The transformation is truly amazing, including the controversial figure of Christ which many people do not like. But a lot of people never went there in the first place to even remember the inside layout.
Going to Night Service was something I shall never forget. We had to go through the Church Yard from Church Street; the grave stones were like huge stone tables with carved legs, no lighting and an eerie silence everywhere. I clutched my mother's hand tightly, yet what I was scared of I do not recall, but scared I was until we reached the sanctity of the church, then I knew I was safe.
The Minister then was Canon John Sinker, and the format for Watch Night service was always the same in his day: he would order the doors of the church to be opened at midnight letting in the New Year to the peal of church bells-it was lovely.
The hymns were the same every year; “Oh God our help in ages past”, “Abide with me”, “A few more years shall roll”-it was a moving service, and the memory remains with me still.
After the service came the eerie walk home to take the New Year into the house, and have a small sip of sherry, a biscuit ,and so to bed.
The Palace Theatre on the corner of Jubilee Street has hosted many events in its time including live theatre, so live that a lion once walked from the stage towards the audience, everyone gasped and the front rows soon emptied. They had Pantomimes there at Christmas, and my Granddad would meet me after school to queue up for the show. He would bring a sandwich and some cake to eat as we waited for the first house to open.
I remember one of the songs that year was “chick, chick, chicken lay a little egg for me”. Later The Palace closed its doors to live theatre and opened as a cinema, still with a double balcony- the higher one called “The Gods.”
By that time the only live theatre was The Grand Theatre, owned by the Murray family, who I seem to recall were also friends with Charlie Chaplin too. Many well known stars performed at The Grand, even though it was small as theatres go. Around the balcony were gilded cherubs holding torches. The theatre was well seated so that wherever you sat you could always see the stage, and there was a little bar where one could imbibe at the interval. The Grand was a grand theatre; oh I wish it could have been saved.
During the war years the Grand came into its own, as many stars came to Blackburn to rest from the strain of entertaining in larger and more vulnerable cities. Blackburn was a reasonably safe town during the war.
A night at the Grand was like a Gala night for us kids. It was mostly variety and afterwards we would go to a little chippy on Eanam where Whitbread’s Brewery now stands empty. The chippy must have been a very old property: till the day it closed its doors it was lit by gas light. The fish and chips were delicious, and it was the only shop that served mint sauce. You could eat inside with seating for about twelve people and it must have had the most antiquated chip range in town. I have a mind to think that it was called Kennedys. A night out at the Grand was not complete without this ritual. The chippy was demolished about 1952 to make way for an extension at Dutton’s Brewery.
The Railway Station in those days was a true delight, it was gas lit of course, but oh how exiting with the steam trains thundering along. On the Station was a sweet shop, a newsagents and a tea room. You visited all three if going to Blackpool, to buy buckets and spades, sandwiches, flasks and rain coats. The Blackpool trains would be packed and grown ups would bustle the children inside the carriages for safety.
Going down Salford from the Boulevard shops on the right are still there. The Parcels Office was not always there, I think that it was once a piano shop. The chip shop is still there but with a difference—in those days there was a dining room upstairs as well as downstairs, and on Saturday nights after the cinemas closed they were very busy. Where Woolworth’s stands was the Parcels Office then, left luggage, tram and bus information. The outside of this building had dark red glazed tiles and parcel boys would dash in and out all day. In those days you had to serve a period as a parcel boy before you became a tram or bus conductor. Goodness only knows how long you had to wait to become a driver.
Wilpshire Tram Terminus was where the Yin-Kin Chinese Restaurant now stands. There was a pub on the corner called the Bay Horse, and a little shop called the Yankee Bar, which never seemed to close. The Transport Department acquired premises on Railway-road and Woolworth’s acquired that corner for their extensions.
Outside the old Parcels Office stood the ladies and gent’s toilets, which were underground; the area is now part of the subway.
The Golden Lion public house was next door to Ashley’s, and by some quirk of architecture came diagonally to the back entrance of Woolworth’s, which was the beginning of Victoria-street. Hiltons shoe shop is still on the corner, sort of defying change, with shoes strung up outside for you to see before making a purchase. The tobacconist is still there and above these shops was a local branch of the Tape Sizers Union to which I took father's dues on many occasions. On the other corner was the Home and Colonial and Isaac Talbot’s fruit shop, then the back of the Golden Lion.
The only thing missing today is the hot potato cart, bright and shining with its polished brass fittings. A little donkey trimmed with rosettes and plaited mane pulled the cart, indeed the whole outfit was very well maintained and belonged, I think, to the Rossi family. You could buy a bag of hot potatoes for a penny and on Friday and Saturday nights they were very busy indeed. In those days people did not get paid till Friday night and Saturday afternoons were like a Roman holiday.
Victoria-street was a long and winding street part of which been swallowed by the new shopping precinct. Millets store was on the corner where the new Wine Lodge now stands and over the top was the Vee Cross Café. Next door was the New Inn, being the last pub on the Barbary Coast. Next-door was Greenwood's dress material shop, then John Forbes school outfitters and men’s wear. Then a little fancy goods newsagents shop called Ridings. Round the corner was Parker's Library, Slater’s Cycle Shop, Kennedy’s Oyster Bar, the Grosvenor Hotel, Hadfields, the market entrance to Thwaites Arcade and a Billiard Hall.
Across the way was the Clarence Hotel, Rakestraw's Carpet Galleries and in the basement was Andersons who sold household equipment –dolly tubs, dusters, pegs, etc. The lower part of the street was the market square for textiles. There was also a very smart dress shop, which had moved from Sudell Cross, Jack Waring, and next door to him was Wordens the Jeweller, which now is located in the complex occupied by the Co-Op near the market crossing.
To continue along Victoria-street, the topside of which was part of the Market Square, we come to the Crown Hotel. All sorts of functions took place here including the 330th Royal Artillery Regiment Local Brigade Annual Dinner. My father, like many in Blackburn, was a member, having served in the said regiment during the war. At the side of this hotel was a covered yard where an assortment of barrow boys sold their wares.
On the next corner was Hunters Stores with the Maypole Store next door, and then came various butchers shops, Bradley’s gent’s outfitters, a milliner's shop and the rest being taken up by wholesale fruiterers. Further along the Law Courts still remain, and across the way stands St. John's Church, now a preserved building.
Across from St. John's was a doctor’s residence, I think he was called Dr. Payne; his premises have now been landscaped.
Before we proceed along Victoria-street I should like to halt awhile at Bolton’s Court. Here was an assortment of property. On one side were old cottages, later to be rented to market wholesalers, and an antique shop called Marshall’s. Across the way was a little entrance that led to another yard where some houses stood in a little square. The Richmond Paper Mill was around the corner so the square may have housed the workers. There was also a yard similar to this one in Brown-street with two cottages in the yard.
On the corner with Regent-street was Ben Holden’s chemist that prescribed for many ailments. You only went to the doctor for serious ailments in those days as you had to pay—even children had to pay. Some doctors collected their fees at so much a week; even so this was a great burden on those with large families. As I said, many went to Ben Holden and the like, who would help you if they could. He was very busy all week and would even open on Sunday. On Friday many of his customers were buying perfume at two penny worth a time, in a little phial: Lily of the Valley, Jockey Club, Jasmine, Californian Poppy, all dispensed from large bottles.
Saturday night was still something special even in the days of the depression, you might meet your own true love at the Palias, Alec Marsden, (Mirabelle), Academy, or Tony Belington’s (Tony’s Empress Ballroom), and if you really wanted to learn strict tempo, you went to the Park Gates private academy or the academy of Miss Bourderke.
To continue along Victoria-street: across from the Royal Hotel was a confectioners called Kim’s, later known as Knellers, they were famous for the vanilla slices. There was a butcher's shop, a grocer's on the corner, Jack Axford by name, Wilkinson’s Newsagents, a linoleum shop, Bickerstaffe's Fruiterers, (later Drummonds), chip shop, Mr Bennett’s Jewellers was next to Ben Holden the chemist.
There was also a wool shop, Gregsons; they had a machine that would wind wool. The proprietor had a goatee beard and always wore a stiff collar and black bow tie. The cheapest wool that he would wind on his machine was two pence an ounce.
We had to learn to knit at school, with rusty steel needles if you got to the box last, and an awful string type of dish cloth cotton of dirty white, red, a garish blue or horrible pink. If you had a granny who could teach you to knit on four needles you were very lucky: in, over, through, off, and if you could turn a heel then you were very clever. You could also end up knitting socks for the rest of the family. You could buy a penny ball of Dolly Varden wool which was of many shades of the same colour with your Friday or Saturday penny.
There was a confectioner's shop on the corner of Victoria-street and Watson’s buildings as it was then known, some people called it “the roundabout shop” and in my day it was owned by the Holden family. At this point, Victoria-street was known as Folly Well-street, leading onto Whalley Range. I hope this name is not lost as it has a lovely ring to it.
There was a butcher’s shop at the corner called Jack Gregson; my granny called him “Jack Butcher.” Across the way from this shop was Dan Bolton’s cycle shop, he was always very busy. He sold new and second-hand bicycles. Cycling was very popular in those days and there were quite a lot of cycling clubs throughout Blackburn. At the weekend it was not unusual to see thirty or forty riders setting off for Blackpool, the Ribble Valley or the Lakes. Bicycles were bought on a pound deposit with a further shilling a week payments, a brand new bike was a luxury.
Nearby was a little shop called Ramesden’s Confectioners, and milliners owned by Mrs. Hill. Going further along, on the other side of the street, was Shorrock's bedding shop and Field’s Ruby Lamp Drapers who had a chain of shops throughout Blackburn, all painted red and white with a big gas lamp mounted above the door (these shops were sited at Audley, Eanam, and Bank Top.) They were all dark and mysterious inside; the assistants all wore black coveralls. Union shirts, and ladies and gents overalls hung from the ceiling, you needed a long pole to get them down. The shops were lit by gaslight adding to the strangeness. Apart from workfare, they sold ladies and children’s clothing; white dresses for field days or church anniversaries, children’s hats, which you wore to church on Sundays, ribbons, laces and petticoats. They stayed open late on Fridays, as did most shops then, Friday being payday.
Nearby was a newsagent called Denton’s, and across from there was Appleton’s pork butchers, Laura’s gown shop and Turton’s shoe shop.
At the corner of Randal-street and Victoria-street was a confectioners who would make special small cakes in an assortment of cream and jam to order for parties, boxed at one shilling the dozen. Across the other side, at the corner of Ward-street, was Wilkinson’s pork butchers, and across from them was a sweet shop which had tall glass jars, two feet high or more, with fancy glass lids. These contained Benson’s sweets, bonbons, cachous and other delights.
All these shops did really well from the nearby Ward-street mill. The mill was owned by E. & G. Hindle and was also known as “Swallow-street mill: workers here would do their shopping on the way home after a shift.
Next there was Loynd’s tripe shop, Tower's milliners, and Abbot’s drapers, along with an assortment of shops that carried on to Bastwell. This area of the town was a community of its own; most shopkeepers lived on the premises and stayed open until late in the evening.
Preston New-road starts at Sudell Cross. It is a wide and splendid road and most of the shops have remained the same. The butcher's shop was called Biltcliffes; Kenyon’s cake Shop is still there, but with a different proprietor. Miss Isherwood’s wool shop too has changed; she had a little window which was entirely taken up with dolls house furniture and we would gaze for ages at the display, especially on Sunday. All the furniture was fretted out of wood and the doll’s dresses were up to date and sewn perfectly—no one would go to such trouble these days, they would mutter “not available".
The Chemist's shop was then owned by Mr. Aspinall, a small man with glasses, white moustache and a very smart line in suits, mostly blue-grey. My mother at this time was very ill and had to walk with a stick. I had to go for her prescription, so I became a regular at this shop. I would ask for empty boxes, French soap and perfume, erasmic soap which was purple and transparent with a strong smell of violets. Sometimes he would give me a scent card impregnated with perfume in the shape of a bouquet of flowers; I was the envy of my friends. Make-up was a growing industry then, with Yardley, Coty and Atkinson’s as the brand leaders. Houbiguant, Molyneux, and Pivers were the leading French ones.
My mother used a cream called Icelma—two perfumes, Magnolia and Bouquet, sold in a lovely dark, matt green glass jar for six pence or one and sixpence. There was also Potter and Moore’s powder cream, sold for one shilling, with a mirror at the base of the jar. Face powder was sold loose, and a Yardley’s Compact, with the famous lavender lady, was only something that your father bought for your mother on her birthday at a cost of two shillings and sixpence. DuBarry produced a book of powder leaves along with perfumes such as Morning Glory, Blue Lagoon, and Garden of Roses, all with a talk to match. Other perfumes included: Californian Poppy, Evening in Paris, Top Hat, Seventh Heaven, Mischief, Ashes of Roses, Ashes of Violets, June, Phulnana, Shemelessin, Jockey Club, these being a few.
Across from the chemist, on Preston New-road, stood a sweet shop of great renown that sold very good ice cream. The shop also had a place where you could sit in and drink iced minerals in the summer months. In winter they sold hot Vimto, Bovril, and Oxo. Next door was a fruit shop with a figure of a black boy in the window, advertising Fyffe’s Bananas. This shop was run by the Walmsley family for many years before it became an Estate Agent as it is now.
When I was very small I can remember going with my grandma to little mission on Blakey-street which was off Winter-street. A Mr. Simmons was the minister, and on Sunday nights my gran would chat to her friends on the corner by the fruiterers and then leave them for another week, to meet again at the mission the following Sunday night.
Corporation Park is a lovely place to visit both summer and winter. After school, children would go there to play cricket or have fun on the playground. The park had putting greens, bowling greens, tennis courts, two play grounds, an open air school, and of course a band stand The latter being a fine piece of Victoriana that many would have liked to have preserved. Below the big lake was a waterfall and standing in a green beside it was a statue of Flora. We used to say that she had real eyes and we would stand for ages waiting for her to blink.
Below the tennis courts is a wide avenue of limes. This is a magnificent walk, but to us kids the main attraction it held was the “Potted Meat Stone”, a huge pebble of granite the we as children would slide down, and when we would get bored of this we would walk up to “The Cannons.” The cannons were relics of the First World War, and to scamper up them was a real feat of daring for the boys. We girls would place rhododendron petals that had fallen from nearby bushes upon the cannon barrels.
Some of the areas of grass you could not walk on and a park keeper was employed then to make sure that you kept in order.
The Conservatory is another fine piece of Victoriana. It is a cool and pleasant place and always very well maintained, displaying plants from all over the world. By the Conservatory was an Aviary, full of chirping, many coloured birds that provided joy for many people.
Between the Conservatory and the big lake was a duck pond that was home to some Chinese geese. In the surrounding trees American squirrels would dart and play. All in all it is a very beautiful spot.
The Top- most park gates bring one out on Revidge-road, being the highest point in Blackburn, and no stroll through the park was complete without a visit to the “Water Tank” upon Revidge, to view the surrounding district. Once when I was very small, I was taken to Revidge Tank to see a total eclipse of the sun. All that I can remember is that it became very dark and there seemed to be a lot of people about and everyone was very excited. History will have recorded the exact date. There was, and still is the “Sixty Steps” that bring you down from Revidge to the east gate of the park. We used to approach the park on the east side from Shear Brow, along a road that we called the “Twirly Back.” This back road really did twist and twirl and brought you out on Lilford-road where there was a very large tree. We would pick a leaf from the tree, make a wish, then bury the leaf. It became known as the “Wishing Tree.”
Richmond Terrace is a street of preserved buildings which have changed little over the years. It is a rather splendid street of Georgian houses that also houses another splendid building, the Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery; it is a glorious place to spend a wet afternoon, or any afternoon come to that. You would never believe that the Museum was once burgled, and the town was robbed of a gold cup. The cup had been won by Sir John Rutherford in some kind of gentleman’s derby. The cup was on display for all to see along with a portrait of Sir John Rutherford attired in red and white striped racing colours and seated upon the winning mount. Well someone must have had the idea to steal this cup, and during the hours of darkness the cup went. Down we went, granddad and I, to see the fingerprints the thieves had left behind. They seemed to be everywhere, and yet nothing was taken, only the cup. The portrait is still there.
I have been a patron of this museum since I was about three years old and have many fond memories of it. My grandfather was a retired moulder and must have spent many hours with me in this place, and in my turn I have taken many children, including my own, to show them the culture we have there.
There are many bigger museums, but how many people realize what a fine display we have in all the fields of art, craft and industry. Many of the paintings are no longer on display. One particular one was Hetty Sorrel, the lady running from the woods with stark terror in her eyes, covering her ears after abandoning her baby, so my granddad told me, “Tell me again granddad, what is she doing?” the explanation was always the same.
One of the best pictures that depicts Blackburn of this era is a water colour of the Easter Fair when it came to the old market square. The “Flying Pigs” are on it, I can only remember them coming once, they were very fast. The picture shows Tattersall’s and Tomlinson’s Hat Market too. I am sure that a reproduction of this would sell, as it would have special appeal to all Blackburnians the world over, especially like myself who remembers this period with fond affection. More about the fair later
There is an Egyptian mummy in the Museum that has been there for many years. It is the body of a woman and quite recently the poor dear was given an X-ray. The Witch Doctor's outfit can be rather frightening to small children and I never asked granddad about that one, I just averted my gaze to a white marble effigy in a glass case. It was of a beautiful mother with her two children and a kitten. I did wonder where the rest of her body was as only the upper half was displayed, but there was a limit to granddad's patience.
There is a fine bronze statue to the greatest Roman of them all and I see it now graces the Town Hall rents and rates collecting department—a master stroke, “Render to Caesar.”
The display of animals, birds and insects from all over the world are a very fine collection as are the fossils. Glass, pottery and other Roman remains found at Ribchester are also on display, and there is a splendid specimen of a whippet or greyhound called “The Bed of Stone” which had been quite famous in its day.
King-street starts at the crossroads of Astley Gate, Northgate and Mincing Lane. The same road, through many names, ends up in Preston.
Here we have another community all of its own, some people called it the “branch” as Montague-street ran off it right the way up to Preston New-road, and there was a wide variety of shops on both roads. The shops were all gas-lit and very quaint.
The clog shop, Pickups I think it was called, had clogs of all kinds hung outside the door. Mr. Wright's the optician had a very large shop frontage and his window was full of spectacle frames of all kinds. But the centre of the window display was given over to a display of glass eyes, all staring balefully at you, all sizes, and all colours. Mr Wright repaired glasses on the spot, he was cheaper than most opticians, and so he had a brisk and busy trade being a very obliging person.
There were quite a few opticians in the town then, the leaders being Charlie Dean, “See Dean and see Better” was his motto;Blackhams on King William-street and Caffins on the corner of Salford. The thing about glasses was when you were at school you had to have a medical at least once a year. You had to go to the clinic accompanied by a parent and have a strip medical and eye test. If you failed the eye test you were given a card to take to the optician of your choice. You had to pay for the glasses and if your parents could not afford them you had to have metal frames—clink specification.
I had horn rimmed or Harold Lloyds as they were called; they cost nineteen and sixpence at Caffins. The choice was very limited even for grown ups. My aunt wore pince-nez, which were frameless, they clipped onto your nose and had a chain and gold wire shaped to your ear. Come to think of it one of my teachers at junior school wore the same type. Glasses had to be functional not fancy.
The shops in the “Branch” area were many and varied: Palmerton’s Isle of Man House had three shops selling ladies and children’s wear. They later moved to Market-street and took over from Pamphlets leaving another fine building to be demolished. The Palatine, confectioners, were famed for their cherry buns and funeral biscuits, the latter being made like a Savoy sponge, but without the cream, and a funeral was not held to be proper without the funeral biscuit. In those days you went into mourning for twelve months at least for a close relative, or six months for someone more distant.
For the funeral, if you did not buy new clothes you wore a black armband, and you ate these biscuits with a glass of port before setting off. The drivers of the hearse and cars were offered tea or coffee. Cars had not been long in use for funerals, horses drew the hearses when I was very small, but taxis came into use and drivers were all very solemn on those occasions. I knew more than one child who went to a bereaved neighbour and asked: “Please can I see your body lady?” or man as the case may be. Must have been very morbid kids in those days.
A wool shop called Friend's stood on King-street, as did the Palace stores, which was a furniture shop, along with a small drapers, called Slater’s. Slater’s had wooden stands in their window, being of various kinds and heights, upon which perched ladies hats. The shop assistants wore the standard black satin overall, lisle stockings of a nondescript beige and black bar type shoes with Cuban heel. Looking back, clothes were as drab as the times.
There were various second-hand furniture shops, newsagents, fish and chip shops leading down to the Regent Cinema, later renamed the Roxy, now empty. Arnold and Clarke’s was a children’s out fitters and as most children went to Sunday school they did a very good trade in summer with white dresses for anniversaries and field days. St. Anne’s, St. Paul's and the Ragged School, which is incidentally one hundred years old this year, being three schools that spring to mind. There were others of different denominations in this vicinity and all had field days.
In summer at least one church each week had a field day. This was the day that the school banners came out. The men carried the banners and held the strong ropes that supported them. The children held on to colourful ribbons that hung from the banners. To walk in front and lead the banner was a great honour. One year I was chosen, I was only seven. I wore a pale blue satin dress and a garland of pink carnations. When the field day was over my parents came to meet me and we went to the market shopping. Would I take off that garland? No, I wanted to savour every minute of my big day.
Older children walked behind the banner with shepherds' crooks painted gold and silver and decorated with flowers and ribbons. The girls wore white dresses, gloves hat and socks, all of which your parents had to pay for. The town florists did good business on such days.
Photographs were taken of course, black and white in those days. I had a Brownie Box camera, bought for eight and sixpence. Others had Ensign Box cameras that came as free gifts from magazines, provided you collected sixty tokens. These magazines were John Bull, Passing Show and later Picture Post. I still have a dictionary that was a free gift from John Bull.
Montague street had many shops in its day the like of which have gone forever. I remember a little shop at the bottom of the street that sold various items of groceries, sewing threads and general goods. The man who ran the shop was entirely self taught and spoke in many languages including Chinese. He was also very quick on the typewriter.
At Browns Newsagents you could pay so much a week as a down payment for things you wanted for Christmas, these being put aside for Santa Claus. The shop was used by my mother for such purpose. It was here that she bought a lovely calf leather bag with a note pad and purse on a chain. The bag cost twelve shillings and sixpence, and years later my eighteen years old niece would say: “Why did you not save it for me?”
I remember a draper’s shop that was also a pawnbroker. They had Victorian type jewellery, gold watches and gent’s pocket watches in the window. At that time most men wore pocket watches on a chain or Albert as they were called. A silver chain with a silver watch and a gold chain with a gold watch. A gold Hunter watch was quite something and would probably have been handed down from a grandfather. Boys usually got a pocket watch for their twelfth birthday or Christmas. The general one-upmanship was whether yours had a second finger or not. I know this because my brother had a watch for school that he wore with a leather Albert and at the weekend he wore my grandfather's silver one.
Girls had a wrist watch if they were lucky, which had a silk wrist strap. The watch itself was probably chrome, but that did not matter, as a watch was a watch and the height of luxury. A gold watch was unattainable, you may get one for your twenty first birthday, or so you thought. Like most girls of my age my twenty-first birthday came during the war years, bread and cakes were rationed, so parties were restricted, and gold, then as now was going through the roof.
On a corner with Nab Lane was a very large draper, M.C. Dunn’s, where you could buy lace curtains by the yard in calico and cotton. There were many home sewers in those days. Across the road was Haworth’s ladies and children’s gowns and mantles. They had two shops together. Lower down was a shoe shop, ladies and children’s in one window, men and boys in anther, all set up on a backdrop of crepe paper. Next-door was Bert Brett’s record shop. Gramophones then were cabinet types with some portable ones that you wound by hand. Records cost from sixpence to two shillings. The pop tunes cost sixpence; the operas would cost one or two shillings.
Woolworth’s, in the centre of town sold most records, and the latest tunes were played all day long, even dogs could bark out some of the songs: The Isle of Capri”, “Roll Along Covered Wagon Roll Along”, “Eleven More Months and Ten More Days”, “Home on the Range”, “Red Sails in the Sunset”, “See you in My dreams”, “Have you ever seen a Dream Walking”, “Alice Blue Gown”, “Horsey Horsey”, to name but a few.
The tunes were great but the records were breakable. By melting the old records on a low oven heat you could mould them into a sort of bulb bowl. The hole in the middle made a very good drainage system.
Getting back to the Montague-street area, somewhere round about here was Hanson-street, where there was a butcher's. The butcher was called Calbb Foot, funny unusual names stick in your mind.
Feilden-street, where the Technical College now stands, had quite a few shops, including a chemist, and overall shop, dairy and confectioners.
At the corner of Princess-street was the City Dairy. They had lightweight milk floats drawn by small horses and even in those days, employed mostly women. The carts were primrose yellow with red stripes and most of the customers saved a carrot for the horse.
Some people made a living taking a flat cart and pony around selling fresh fruit, vegetables and fish. The horses were well fed by the customers. On Friday night a man would come round selling crumpets, milk scones and muffins. These would be toasted on an open fire and most houses had a long toasting fork, which hung by the fire. One family member would do the toasting, another the buttering, the rest noshing! There was also a saddlers at the bottom of Montague-street, called Edgar Brown.
The Market Hall has seen many changes over my life time. It was a stone fronted building which was later gutted inside and redone out. Then it was demolished and the market moved to its present site. The original building was quite something, with every kind of stall you could imagine, with cafes at the far end. The cafe I remember the most was Mellor’s where you could have a cup of tea and watch the shoppers passing by.
Of the stalls inside these, included: Read's grocers stall, Coar's butchers, Stoker's drapers, two fruit stalls, Kelly’s and Aneley's, both high class fruiterers, Gleeson’s tailors, a spectacle shop, gents outfitters, a second-hand book shop that also sold sheet music for sixpence and two shillings, Munroe’s confectioners, the Palatine cafe and cheese stall, Rushton's shoes, Kirkup’s dress material, Lamb’s curtains, Baxter’s library, Littler’s butchers and a baby linen and children’s outfitters that I think was called Haydock’s. Some stalls had big copper tills, very ornate with a high pitched bell that rang the money up. Most shops had a small drawer for the money and some stall holders wore a black waist apron with deep pockets. When the old Market Hall was remodelled some of the former proprietors retired.
When the town centre was rebuilt these stalls moved into the New Market Hall. One of the changes was the cafes. They had been on the ground floor in the old building and are now on the balcony above the stalls.
The three day market surrounded the old Market Hall and had to be erected every Tuesday and Thursday in readiness for the following days. The Market Square on Sunday nights was like speakers corner. There, various groups of people gathered around speakers who expounded their views on politics and the state of the world in general. Now of course we have a local radio station where you can air your views, however odd.
The three day market was gas lit as some stalls kept open till seven or eight o’clock in the evening. The stalls were set out in blocks: the block on King William-street was mostly food stalls; the lower block was dresses, coats, fancy goods and gents clothing. I cannot name every one, but some do stick in my mind. Corbride's candy stall sold homemade cough candy, mint humbugs and coffee. Fletcher's pot stall, who had a warehouse in Tontine-street, specialised in Royal Doulton and lustre glass. They also had a pony and trap that was always well turned out. The driver wore a Billy Cock hat and had a blue travelling rug across his knees. Wilkinson’s pork butchers I remember best form Christmas time when they would have two pigs heads hung up on the stall each with an orange in its mouth.
There was one stall called Jacobs, and I still have a morocco leather purse that my mother bought there in a sale for one and eleven pence. Jacobs also had a shop in Town Hall-street (it is the Army and Navy Stores) that sold hand bags, fancy light fittings, silver candelabra, glassware, oriental china and leather goods. It was a fascinating shop, and for that special occasion it was the place everyone went. Their sales were well attended and at such times a continuous queue would form on those days, especially the New Year Sale.
You could buy a fox fur coat on the market in those days. There were quite a few stocking stalls; artificial silk stockings were just coming out then, fully fashioned of course, with a pattern up the side that was called “acloque” I think. I do not know if I have got the spelling right, but it was a fancy pattern from the ankle, about eight inches long.
There were of course lots of “seconds” sold on the market and Fanny’s Bargain Stall was famous for Ballito, Bear Brand and Aristoc to name a few, at sixpence a pair. Woolworth’s also had stockings at sixpence a leg. In those days Woolworth’s was the original three pence and sixpence store. The “Stocking King” specialised in men’s socks, and Baxter’s was mainly children’s socks, stockings and handkerchiefs.
A road ran between the markets from King William-street to Victoria-street. It had shops on either side and the other side was given up on Market Days to the “Shrimp Ladies”. These women came from Southport and wore pretty floral cotton bonnets, clean white clothes, black shiny shoes and black wool stockings. There is still one stall on the New Market that sells shrimps, Wallbank's. The Fish Market was in a building next door to the Market Hall. It was lovely and cool in summer, but in winter it was very cold. The stalls all sold fresh fish and names I remember are; Tomlinson’s, Schahill, Myers and Hargreaves.
Opposite the shrimp stalls stood Booths, Italian Cafe and oriental food purveyors. Then came Simpsons carpet galleries, the Nottingham Lace shop, then on the corner was Wallbank's corn chandlers being a lofty shop with sacks of provender, dog biscuits and other animal food stuff. They were wholesale and retail and from here I would get one or two of Kit-E- Ration and two tins of Ken-L-Ration for the family cat and dog. The shop smelled delicious, a mixture of oats, barley, chaff, straw, hay and flour with cats sitting everywhere on the sacks. There was also Sowerbutts in Market-street, which was a smaller provender but smelt just as good, more so because they sold home cured bacon and groceries as well as animal foods.
Where Marks and Spencer’s now stands was the Frances Furness department store, no less than two floors of lovely dresses and frilly laces, buttons, etc. to tempt any lady. The top floor was a cafe. The nearest Marks and Spencer’s at that time was in Blackpool and so when a store opened in Blackburn it was very exciting as they sold nothing over five shillings. You could buy a watch for five shillings, and shoes or clothes. They even had a credit club whereby so many people in a group joined and every week one member in turn purchased five shillings worth of goods. The rest of the building was let to Great Universal Stores and later to Montague Burton, gent’s outfitter.
On the same block was a tobacconist called Hargreaves; Cash’s gent’s outfitters, now Roy Marlor, and on the corner a dress material shop called Ellwood's that was previously Glossop and Hawkins Lancashire Prints. There was another gent's outfitters on the opposite corner called Hayhurst, very exclusive—gent’s evening dress, white tie, tails, top hat, gloves, white silk scarves, initialled and linen handkerchiefs initialled in black on white. [They sold] everything but the white gardenia that went with all this. The dress shirts had to be laundered and starched and the starch had to be a certain strength to make the front stiff and the cuff also whilst leaving the rest of the shirt less stiff for the comfort of the wearer. Haydock's Laundry, Rosehill Laundry and the Co-Op all excelled in doing dress shirts as occasions were very formal in those days.
At one time you could buy animals, mice and hens etc. on what was known as the Hen Market, which was held in Tacketts-street. It is now part of the parking complex in the new precinct; here you could buy hens, bantams, White Wyndotts, Light Sussex and all kinds of poultry.
Many people who then lived in terraced houses would make a small garden in their back yard or would tend a nearby allotment. In such places hens, rabbits or pigeons were [sometimes] kept and in this way the Hen Market was kept very busy. Pigeons were very popular and racing pigeons across the English Channel was a hobby, sport for many men. In the Aqueduct area of Blackburn you could find quite a lot of pigeon lofts, it being one of the centres for this sport. On Sundays the fanciers would all turn out to await the homeward flight of the birds and each bird would be timed.
For myself, as a child, Sunday afternoons were sort of peculiar days. After Sunday school you could not go very far as you had to go to church again on Sunday night. After Sunday school, weather permitting, you went for a walk sometimes with your doll in her pram. Ours was a walk in Blackburn Cemetery! Felling very sanctimonious we would walk up past the lodge along a path lined with geraniums, French marigolds, alyssum and forget-me-nots to then wander around the graves. A visit to the “Blackburn Giants” grave was always a must. You would read the gravestones and weep, never thinking that any of your family would ever die, and we told ourselves that we would never be naughty again, till Monday of course, and then we would be back to normal.
A visit to the Priory at Pleasington was another walk out on a Sunday afternoon. After crossing the playing fields a sandy path led to the Priory. The church is very beautiful, yet I have not been there for some time now. I remember that my father would take us to visit Father Shine’s grave, a priest who had been at St. Anne’s Presbytery and was much respected by many people. I remember one grave in particular; it had a white marble surround and on the reverse of the headstone was carved a violin with a broken string. I also recall a yew hedge with convolvulus growing with in profusely.
A Bank Holiday in those days was not for watching sport on the T.V.; it was for getting away from it all to the countryside. The Yellow Hills, so called because of the gorse that grew a plenty there, was a popular spot with its fine views of Blackburn and the surrounding hills. On a clear day you could see Blackpool Tower, the Lakeland and Welsh Mountains. As a family we would walk across passing Butler's Delph and on down to the Butler's Arms at Pleasington where dad would have a quick one, then we would walk down the sandy path to the playing fields for a game of cricket. There was a little hut by the playing fields were you could get a cup of tea, sponge cake, biscuits or pop.
If you did not go to the Yellow Hills on a Bank Holiday then you went to Copster Green—known as “Goosemuck Hillock”. You would walk down from Wilpshire, having alighted from the tram there and walk through Wilpshire Bottoms, cross over to Salesbury and across fields to Copster Green. Here there were many cottages all selling jugs of tea and home made cakes, lemonade and toffee. Wild roses, buttercups and marsh marigolds seemed to grow everywhere in great profusion.
If you did not visit these two famous picnic spots you went to Balderstone. Here were shady lanes, bluebells, primroses, ragged robin, violets and a very fine church. By the river was Jackson’s Bank—one of the finest beauty spots in the world, but then I am prejudiced of course.
A very special Bank Holiday treat was a day trip to Blackpool either by train or charabanc. There was a booking place on Darwen-street for KCR Coaches. KCR stood for Kenyon, Coleman and Robinson and their coaches were white with red trim. The cost of the trip was one and sixpence with children travelling at half fare. Whether you travelled by coach or train it was very exciting—a whole day at Blackpool—the sands, fairyland, the Tower. Of course you took your own sandwiches and bought jugs of tea on the sands. Later in the day you would buy fish and chips for about one shilling. Where the coaches parked there were wooden trestles and forms where you could eat your own food and buy cups of tea and of course you would come home with a stick of rock.
When you had wound your way by chara or train, footsore, tired, yet happy, the first thing that father would do was to switch on the wireless. Radio in those days was very basic, I do remember headphones but later they had a speaker and were powered by a wet battery. This was called an accumulator and had a red and a black knob for the connections. It looked like a glass brick and it contained acid. You could get it charged up yourself or a man on a motorbike would call. He had a sidecar like a coffin in which he delivered the accumulators every week.
In the wintertime you would dash home from school for toast round the fire and listened to Auntie Muriel, Uncle Mac and Grey Owl and the Beavers. Grey Owl was a Red Indian who talked about his nation territory and adventures. There was Romany and Raq. This was country life as seen by this gypsy and his dog Raq. Children’s Hour; happy days! The news bulletin would follow Children’s Hour and then various programmes for grown ups.
The weekends on radio were something special. Saturday night was “In Town Tonight” and you could listen to all the interesting people who were in town that night. Later was dance music with Henry Hall, who was the resident dance band leader [for the BBC]. There was also Geraldo, Harry Roy, Roy Fox, Joe Loss and many others. Two male singers who were popular at the time were “The Street Singer” [Arthur Tracy] and Cavan O’Connor. Trois and his Mandoliers, the Palm Court Orchestra and Ambrose Big Band were all very popular personalities. The newsreaders were many and varied; Alver Lidell was one that I remember.
Jessie Mathews was doing great things on stage and screen. Anna Neagle too was dancing in the London shows, Peter Dawson was singing “I Travel the Road Who Cares,” and Paul Robeson was packing them in with “Ole Man River.
Fieldman’s, the music publishers, had a place in Blackpool where anyone could go for a singsong. You could sing along with the music of “Carolina Moon” all by yourself in the moonlight. Feldman’s sold sheet music for sixpence and brooches for sixpence. A popular brooch was Amy Johnson’s Aeroplane with Amy [written] across the wings.
Funerals were, I suppose, as expensive as they are today. Not wishing to be too morbid, everyone seemed to be buried at that time with not as many cremations as there are nowadays. Then there was not a Chapel of Rest and the coffin had to remain in the front parlour until the day of burial. The whole family would go into full mourning, even the children, for twelve months at least. Aunts, uncles and cousins would go in mourning for six months. This involved ladies in the family wearing a navy coat and black accessories. Men wore grey with black armband. My mother refused to put me in black so I wore a grey coat and a panama with a black hatband for my grandma in 1936, the same week King George the V died. For King George there was public mourning and the shops were all closed on the day of his funeral. The shops remained draped in purple or black for the following week.
We had the funeral tea at Furness's café with a fish course and dessert—what a feast. The undertakers had a special contraption to lower the coffin into the ground and as it was a recent invention they had to ask my parents permission for its use.
Apart from watching weddings, funerals, playing in the park and getting into mischief in general, children had to think up games of their own.
Spending money in those days was a penny, given on Friday night and if you wanted any more money you had to run errands for your mum, gran or neighbours.
The cost of going to the pictures on Saturday afternoons was twopence at least, threepence in the best seats. The Majestic (Classic/Essoldo) was my favourite. The films would finish at five o’clock, when hundreds of screaming, happy kids would be let loose onto King William-street. Boys would fire imaginary guns at one another; just like the cowboys they had seen on the silver screen. This cinema ran a serial for about six weeks at a time and the talk in the schoolyard was of what had happened and what would happen next.
As young children, we were not allowed to go to the cinema on Saturday afternoon and only allowed to go at night accompanied by a parent. My mother said that the cinema was no place for children, only if it was educational. We were not allowed to read newspapers either; the horrors of the day were not for children to dwell on. Goodness only knows what she would say today! We did of course have the children’s newspaper, which was edited by Arthur Mee, who also did the Children’s Encyclopaedia, 10 volumes, which I still have to this day and which my granddaughters greatly enjoy.
A Man used to walk around the town that we knew only as “Billy Buttons”. He wore a khaki hat with brass buttons on it; he asked no one for anything but people gave him food and cups of tea anyway. Of course children gathered round when he sat on the kerbstone, but he never spoke to them. We said he did not need anything given to him as he lived in a mansion and that he had a gold piano. I ask you, what would anyone do with a gold piano? Wet, the stories would build up around him but your mother or gran still gave him the benefit of the doubt. Of course we were very young then.
Sunday school was a must for all of us. I attended St. John’s and many devoted people helped there. There was Mr. Kellett, who was the superintendent and he had a very large roll of hymns which were placed on an easel. He would turn the sheet to a chosen hymn and stand by the side of the easel and point to each word with a very long stick and at the same time look round to see that everyone was giving voice, of course we could all read. Looking back on my school life I don’t remember anyone not being able to read or write.
I joined the public library when I was seven and read such books as “Milly Molly Mandy”, “What Katy Did”, “Wind in the Willows”, and “Ann of Green Gables”, which still has pride of place on my book shelf. The library had many schoolgirl stories and the “Priory League” is one I remember. The boys had their specialities too, such as “Teddy Lester, Captain of Cricket”. I should think that these books were very widely read as boys liked to dream of playing cricket for East Lancs or football for Blackburn Rovers. The Rovers at this time were always in the first division and keenly supported.
Sunday school leagues both in football and cricket were very well supported. My father played in the Sunday school league for many years at football. Looking back on the heavy footwear they wore and the weight of the ball, it seems a much easier game now in my opinion.
The Easter fair was an exciting time for us kids. During Easter week the three-day market was absent as the town centre was taken over by the pot and pleasure fairs. The area extended to Woolworth’s from the [market] clock tower across from Marks and Spencer. The pot fair was here and for many years the same people came with their wares. The most notable being Carters Mathews, Baileys and of course Fletchers who were local people and specialised in Royal Dolton. Mr Bailey was a tall man with black bushy eyebrows and a line in patter that kept the crowd around his stall. On his stall he had statuettes of a shy looking girl, and he would get one down from the rear of the stall and would say to one and all; “the only shy girl in Blackburn”. I have seen him since that time on local flea markets.
There was one merry-go-round that took up a great deal of space; it was the “Wall of Death”. Motorcyclists rode round and round the sheer wall, often with a lady on the back. You could buy post cards with a resume of the daring deeds of the people involved. The riders were not local; they came from foreign parts like Germany and France and shone with all the glamour of show business. One boy said “don’t be daft they live in Bolton or Accrington, they are only kidding on that they are foreign”. And so speculation would go on until the fair closed.
The dragons were the highlight of the merry-go-rounds; they were enormous monsters with seating for about twelve [people] in each dragon. The cars had red plush seats, a gold painted organ pumped out music and coloured flashing lights were all around, and each go on the dragons would cost sixpence.
On Easter Sunday the Salvation Army Band would play from the steps of the dragons and a lot of people would gather for the open-air service. The swing boats were another popular feature of the fair and they were really as large as canal boats. They would swing high into the air holding many excited people. Sadly, they stopped coming before I was old enough to go on them. I still don’t think that I would have dared though.
Older people often say that summers and winters are not like they used to be, yet I think that they are better these days. Hot was very hot then and cold was very cold. In summer we did not have fridges and freezers and food did not keep very well, iced drinks were only obtainable at the small shops that had freezing facilities. Many shop made their own ice cream; Ashworth’s on Manor-road, Entwistle on Whalley New-road and Smiths on Preston New-road being three of the most notable. There was also Bogganios of Trinity-street who had ice cream pony carts that would travel around the streets of greater Blackburn. The family were Italian, so they really knew about ice cream. Around 1937, Walls started selling ice cream and recruited many young men on bicycles to sell the ices. They wore blue and white striped jackets and the bike had a freezer box over the front wheel, with the slogan; “Stop me and buy one”. They sold what I suppose were the first lolly ices. These were called Snowfruits and were wrapped in a triangular piece of cardboard, price one penny.
Snow in winter was a problem, but not for us children. It stayed for days because no one shifted it. You cleared your own pavement and left it in the gutter and there it stayed, so the snow lasted until the thaw. There was not the same urgency to clear the roads as the traffic was minimal.
Most homes had a coal fire and a kitchen range which had an oven and a boiler which you kept stoked up for hot water and baking. Casseroles and stews were cooked long and slow. The shelf above [the range] was used by my mother to warm blankets before they were put on our beds in the winter. We did not have electric blankets, but used hot water bottles. These were made of stone, copper or aluminium and filled from the range boiler that had been keeping hot all day.
A day would come when your parents would decide to beautify and have a parlour range put in the front room. What a performance that would be! After you had had the range put in you had to redecorate the room. What a to do, it’s a wonder that you or the dog or cat did not end up behind the paper on the wall! Wallpaper was not trimmed then, you had to do this yourself. I think that my mother did most of the trimming sat on a stool, cutting a half inch margin off the side of the roll. It seemed a laborious job, with father saying to her; “are you cutting it straight?” The paste was made of flour and water, once you had finished papering you had to put a boarder round the wall, one about ten inch deep was very fashionable. Then you would have to put up new curtains and lace. Lace curtains were white or dolly cream, then came a new shade, biscuit, so everyone had biscuit curtains. Thing caught on quickly in those days.
You would then decide that your front door needed a new coat of paint. Your door may have had a knob or a sneck, usually made of brass which needed polishing every week. The door step was cleaned and donkey stoned every week. You may have had a plant table under the front window with an aspidistra on top. Some [people] would display china tulips in the window and if you were very avant garde you placed the statuette of the “Shy Girl” on the table so that passersby could see how you set your stall out.
The Leeds and Liverpool canal played a big part in the growth of the town's industry, as coal was first transported by this method. Coal barges were often seen at Eanam Wharfe, and the local lock keepers knew just what would be coming through at any time. Looking back, I rather think that the canals at this period could have been losing money and trade. I remember my mother telling me of the days when folk would go down to the canal for day trips. This was not so in my day and I can only recall the canal being used commercially. We would wave to the bargees as they passed by, and you know, it still seems a good way of transporting heavy goods, it would take the strain off our overcrowded roads.
The steam trains were a joy to behold; it was the start of a great adventure as soon as you entered the railway station. The hustle and bustle of the porters, drivers and guards all going about their business add to the excitement. When you boarded the train you sat in compartments on seats of velvet or uncut moquette facing each other. In our hands would be a bar of chocolate bought from a slot machine on the platform. The guard would wave his green flag and along with much smoke and clatter we were off. You gazed above the heads of the people sat opposite at the pictures mounted there; a picture of the “Monarch of the Glen” with the words “Come to Bonny Scotland”, or a plea for you to visit Brighton or some other place. Then you would strain your neck to see the three pictures above your own head. The window is slightly open, someone gets up to close it as we are coming to Sough Tunnel, otherwise we would all be covered in soot. The fireman puts more coal on to get up steam to speed us on to our destination, Manchester, London or where ever, what do they mean by the term “Inter city?”
We had to get used to more traffic using the roads. We had to look both ways before crossing the roads. This was a must, even now my sons say; “Mum, why do you look both ways crossing this road, it’s only one way”, but I smile and say; “Force of habit!” You see, you accept the traffic today, we had to get used to it, and we were going to school in the last days of the horse and cart era.
The Thirty mile an hour limit, crowded trams and trains. The War came and all these forms of transport were in heavy demand. It took World War Two to produce the speed we now attain, as I said at the beginning, my generation was caught up in this change and we were privileged to remember the remains of the old and to be able to embrace and accept the new.
A peace of sorts has remained for thirty years; let us hope that it will stay that way, and that my generation are the last to be caught up in wars. This history could be said of any town in the country, the places would be different of course but the events and human nature being what it is remains the same.
All towns and villages have their own characters and if you delved into their past it would be the same or similar. We all, deep down, cherish a little corner for the place of our birth and first beginnings, even though we know that we will never go back to them. I can only hope that this little attempt will remind Blackburnians everywhere of a time and place that was.
I could not conclude without saying whichever road you travel in this town you will never be far from green fields and flowers, varied wildlife, beauty spots of renown, abbeys, churches and castles steeped in history, stately homes, Roman remains, historic colleges, superb views, salmon fishing and horse shows. We have everything within a few miles of the town, so please open your eyes, you young ones who can. Never say “it’s a dump and there is nothing to do”. There is plenty to do to preserve the town and keep a mix of old and the new.
There are many things that I could have written about and could go on forever but will leave you to remember the things that I have left out, not forgetting the black pudding kiosk in King-street and Butterworth’s wholesale sweet shop on Tontine-street. Two ladies who came into the store where I worked after the war used to wear very old fashioned hats and we called them, “This happy breed!” What a note to finish on.
About the Author
Joyce Tennant was born in 1922 to a family of Lancashire cotton workers. Her early school years were at St. John’s girl’s school and Blakey Moor Central Girls School. On leaving school, at a very early age, she started work as an assistant at Rosehill Laundry, which was at Eanam. She was also employed by Marks and Spencers and Hocking’s stall on Blackburn’s three day market. Her keen interests were tailoring and arts and crafts. Her craft work was quite unique.
She was married to Herbert Wignall and had two children.
Coming from a very strong community, Joyce was a big part of the Ragged School, where she helped raise funds on many occasions.
She was passionate about the people of Blackburn, and also a keen local historian, which in turn inspired her to write about her town for the future generation.