Blackburn Billiard Hall, 53, Bottomgate, Blackburn, Lancashire and its owner James Edward Shorrock

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​James Edward Shorrock

James was born on 21st October 1861 in Ordnance Street, Blackburn and was baptised on 10th November 1861 at St Mary the Virgin Church, Blackburn (Blackburn Cathedral). He came from a relatively poor family and started life with extraordinarily little. He married Mary Ann Bailey on 29th November 1880 and they went on to have 12 children, three of which died young, three sons served in and survived WW1 and their eldest son John who was a local trader went on to become an alderman and in 1952 became the Mayor of Blackburn (see also, the section on Mayors of Blackburn​ on the Cotton Town Digital Archive).

James started working life as a fish dealer living in the Furthergate area. The 1891 and 1901 census shows him living with his family in Whitebirk Road and Cherry Street respectively and he was shown in both of these to be working as a brewery labourer. In 1907 he opened a second-hand furniture store at 51, Bottomgate. Trade directories and family documents also show he was listed as a grocer in those early years. In the 1911 census James and his family were living at 45, Copy Nook, Blackburn and he was shown as a broker and furniture dealer. His wife and son James were helping in the business and the rest of the family were employed in the weaving trade. His youngest son Benjamin came into the family business when he came of age. James now wanted to develop his business interests further. 

James was clearly a canny business person and not afraid to try new things and he took a lease on space in Cleaver Street Mill where he provided a bed cleaning, mattress, and repair service. Some of his sons worked in this business with him. The business expanded into re-upholstery soon afterwards and then further expanded in 1926 into repairs of mangles and wringers made by local firms such as the Cherry Tree Machine Company. In the 1921 census, James was described as a furniture dealer living at 2, Furthergate with his wife and three of his children.

The billiard hall was the idea of James Edward Shorrock and having been granted a licence, opened its doors in 1923. It was in 1921 that James first approached local business leaders and investors at a meeting in Richmond House, on Richmond Terrace, Blackburn, seeking to find partners and financing for his idea of the billiard hall. His plan was to build it next to his furniture store at 51, Bottomgate. There was a total of five investors/shareholders in the business who became the directors and James became the chairperson. Business insurance was taken out from Sun Insurance Company. Over time changes were made to the board and other family members sat on the board as well as a number of the original investors.

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Shorrocks Furniture Store at 51 Bottomgate; the entrance to the Billiard Hall is on the right (c) BWD Library & Information Service

Records from the company show that James opened an account with the Lancashire and Yorkshire Banking Company (later to become Martin’s Bank of Liverpool) with set up capital of £4,400. He set to work building his vision and also spent a significant amount (£1,000) on internal furnishings, including ten billiard tables from William Oates Sykes. A close friend and neighbour of James’ on Cherry Street was Albert Wainwright, the father of the famous walker, Alfred Wainwright. He was a stonemason, and he did all the work on the marble frontage of the billiard hall. Mr Duerden was the architect for the building project.
The billiard hall opened in 1923 and players paid 1s a game. They also sold drinks, cigarettes, and snacks as well as sundry items related to billiards. In 1930 they also investigated setting up midget/mini golf in the room above the shop and were granted a licence, but they did not proceed with the idea in the end. In 1931 due to the depression and the fact that the local library could not fit everyone in who wanted to use it, they opened a public news room in the building to help the community.

In the 1939 England and Wales Register James and his second wife, Margaret, were living at 140, Lammack Road, Blackburn and he was shown as the company director of the billiard hall. At the time of his death on 21st July 1940, he was seventy-eight and a widower (Margaret died in December 1939) and he died at his daughter Mary’s house in Audley Range. In his will he left the business to his family. His eldest son John took over as company director of the billiard hall and his youngest son Benjamin was also working in the business.

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Interior of the Billiard Hall

The billiard hall, along with many other businesses in the area was hit hard by the depression but kept running until after the war had started. The war had an enormous impact on the business. The business was given advice from Blackburn Police about air raid precautions and the training of staff as air raid wardens and auxiliary fire personnel. In 1943 a new limited company was set up called J.E. Shorrock and Sons Ltd with regard to the shop at number 51. It sold utilitarian furniture, bedding and upholstery and also dealt in fabric, cotton, and hardware. This continued in business long after the billiard hall business had ceased. The main billiard room was set up as a cloth storeroom. The cloth store was leased to and run by Frank Mercer of Pioneer Mill from 1941. James’ family retained three billiard tables in the upstairs assembly rooms of the billiard hall, but it was only open in the evenings and weekends. The billiard hall business never recovered afterwards. When James died in 1940, his will divided all his business interests, including the billiard hall between all his children and   members of his family continued with the business of dealing in furniture, bedding, upholstery, and cotton from the shop at number 51 and oversaw the leasing of number 53. 

When the billiard hall and adjacent shop closed, the furniture shop moved into the Co-Op’s old premises in Furthergate. James’ Cleaver Street business also continued in the family and was run by some of his sons and extended family after James’ death in 1940.In 1953 the old billiard hall was rented out to the Blackburn Shoe and Slipper Company until 1958.

The Blackburn Community History library hold a small archive collection of materials related to the billiard hall, including financial information related to the business set up, as well as bank books over the operating period and invoices and bills related to the set up and furnishing of the building. It also contains the formal Articles of Association, audit reports, stock taking books, contractual agreements, trading accounts, trading licences for its set up and licences from Blackburn Borough Council, insurance policies, solicitors documents and receipts, receipts for numerous services, information about directors’ salaries and factory and workshop documentation. Two original photographs of the premises are also included in the collection. The archive collection also contains personal documents from the family, mainly with regard to James Edward Shorrock and particularly from the period around his funeral, death and will. The reference/shelf location for the archive is D56 SHO and is referred to as the 'Bottomgate Billiard Hall and James Edward Shorrock Collection.

Written and compiled by Kath Sutton
Published August 2023