Jessica Lofthouse’s books were read all over the English-speaking world. Among her collected correspondence are a number of letters from an ex-Blackburnian L H Heald living in New York. His recollections of Blackburn of long ago make fascinating reading:
‘ I well remember the horse-trams, the steam-trams and the first electric ones. Whalley New Road was macadam then and in that row of houses near the Cemetery, opposite the Thwaite’s Arms, swallows used to make their nests under the rain troughs, and on wet days they could be seen darting to the roadway to pick up the macadam soft mud for their nests. At the Bull’s Head there was an ancient blacksmith’s shop, and horse-shoeing was done there. To the left going down Wilpshire Bottoms, stood a very large pear tree, in fact I’ve never yet seen anywhere one so tall, and in the season it was loaded with fruit, but the pears were very hard to eat.
‘Coming back to Little Harwood at the junction of Whalley Old Road and Plane Street there stood a large stone house, which was named the ‘Colt House,’ and had the name carved in stone on the side facing Whalley Old Road. It stood empty for many years in my boyhood and we used to play in and around it. I wonder how and why it was named the Colt House?
‘The Blakewater ran from the bridge further up, near the Little Harwood Inn, under the road, and then after in a winding manner past St Stephen’s School. There was a small waterfall there and a plank bridge was the only means of crossing the stream. There was a group of very tall trees there. The stream also ran underground of the playing fields known as the ‘cinders.’ In Penny Street at Larkhill as a boy I saw that row of buildings erected, I think it was then called the Mayor’s Buildings, being erected by one of Blackburn’s mayors who lived in Regent St. There was some quite high ground before the buildings were erected and it was levelled by brawny Irish labourers, not with steam shovels but by hand labour.
Right near the Olde White Bull in Salford where Harry Boyle had a furniture shop stood a very low, one story building, very old too. It was a provision store selling flour, oatmeal, dog-biscuits etc, and operated by 3 or 4 very old men, all brothers and Quakers. I think their name was Sagar. They were very gentle in manners, but never gave anything but just the exact weight, nothing over. There was a joke that they would cut a currant in half rather than give anything over.
‘I well remember Queen Victoria’s Jubilee in 1897 and the Corporation Park decorated with thousands of little coloured glasses with candles lit inside them at night, also a great display of marvellous fireworks.
On Whalley New Road just past the Cemetery were hedges of hawthorn and they were a brave sight in springtime with their snow-white, fragrant blossoms. As I said the roads were macadamised in those days and during a dry spell would be covered with white dust. We small boys used to take a walk up to the Brown Hill, or Wilpshire, and on the return home we used to scuffle our clogs in the piles of white macadamised dust and when we reached Bastwell with a branch of hawthorn in our hands, other lads , seeing our white dusty clogs would say: ‘you must have been a long way.’’
Mr Heald remembers too Blackburn characters such as ‘Tum o’Dick o’Bobs’ getting his beer-jug filled in the Bastwell pub, drinking it before he got home and going back to have it filled again. He remembers ‘Owd Chipper’ with his chronically sore eyes and ‘strong Dick’ being pelted with refuse from the fruit market, including a dead rat. Part of ‘Strong Dick’s’ act was to place a potato on a volunteer’s neck and cut it in half with a sabre. Mr Heald volunteered for this and got a hiding when his father found out for being so foolish: ‘Tha might have got thi head chopped off!’
In 1929 Mr Heald came to England with his mother who felt her end was coming and wanted to die at home in Mellor. She did so four months later and was buried in Blackburn Cemetery at her husbands side. Mr Heald returned to New York.