A shopping basket full of memories of Leigh Beck
Remembering shops, buildings and people from the 50s onwards
As there seems to be quite a lot of interest in this small shopping area (which has been, literally, the centre of our universe from 1947 to the present) my sister Jenny Stacey and myself decided to put our heads together and come up with as close to a definitve history as we can.
Chronologically we’ll start in the early 50s (cos that’s as far as our memories can stretch) and add as much previous history as we can.
Geographically, we’ll start on the north side of the High St (opp.Gafzelle Drive) heading in a easterly direction.
So here we go:
The three shops that comprised our parade were built onto the front of the original shops and bakery (which he’d constructed from the early 20s) by my grandad, Oliver Stevens.
This second phase was started in the very early 30s after the High St (or London Rd, Main Rd, Station Approach, take your pick), no pun intended, was lowered. Granpa Stevens always had very individual ideas on building materials i.e anything that was cheap and available.
This resulted in some shop-walls being formed from shuttering of thick asbestos sheets filled with bakery-oven ash and others from pot-bricks and cement, all of which the Normans would have been proud of! In the late 40s/early50s the first shop was Mitchell’s Library owned by Mr McNeil (his grandson is Martin McNeil, Evening Echo editor).
Mr McNeil was balding with a small moustache and round spectacles. He always wore a three-piece pin-striped suit and striped shirt with sleeves held up by silver bands. Occasionally he wore a brown warehouse coat (a la Arkwright) much favoured by shopkeepers of that era. The shop,although called Mitchell’s Library, sold very few books but had a varied stock, similar to the Clockhouse, i.e.secondhand mags and comics, toys, games and puzzles, beachgoods, ciggies and lots of sweets in glass jars on shelves up to the ceiling.
It was rather dusty and disorganised and amongst all the paraphernalia Jenny even remembers__paraffin. Some kids used to buy a quarter of sherbert lemons from the top shelf and when old Mac came back down the ladder their mate would ask for a qtr of cough-candy from the same shelf. Old Mac was not a happy shopkeeper!
The middle shop was the Post-office down the left-hand side and the bakery occupied the rest. The bakery side must have sold other things besides bread and cakes cos I remember taking lots of Dairylea Cheese Triangles that had a bit of mould on them (not saleable) to Leigh Beck and giving them away to classmates __nobody turned their noses up! Rosa Webb was in charge of the Post-office and Molly Britnell and my Auntie Dot (then Dorothy Lording) worked in the bakery shop.
At this time the end shop was empty but had been used, for a short time, by my Uncle Ray (Stevens) for a bicycle repair-shop venture. In fact, the facia of the canopy was still sign-written to this effect. Mitchell’s Library and the Post Office/Bakery were also sign-written and the post-box was situated in front of the middle shop. Probably about 1950 the P.O was moved to the end shop with access into the bakery shop. Fortunately the floodwater of 1953 did not enter the bakery or shop premises. For a couple of years from c1954 I delivered telegrams on Saturdays and in school holidays, a job I shared with and then took over from Denise Cunningham. Auntie Rosa (Rosa Webb) was still in charge of the P.O. and I also remember; Mrs Argent, Mrs Quin,a lady called Pat and Miss Stuckey worked there too on apart-time basis.
THE 50s to 70s SHOP-SWOP.
Trying to put this sequence of events in order proved to be quite difficult for us, so I hope it’s not too confusing for the reader: dates have to be approximate:
Sometime in the middle 50s when Mr McNeill retired the P.O.was transferred to that vacant shop which had been re-furbished. We are a little vague about the fate of the ex-Post-office shop but I believe the bakery moved onto that side and the firm expanded into more grocery items, using both shops.
The most significant event of this time was on June 1st 1960 when a serious fire severely damaged the interior of the old bakery but the shops were unscathed. Because the bakery was unusable bread and cakes were ‘bought in’ from Dossetts of Leigh and Grandpa Stevens (then 76yrs) set too, repairing the damage with the help of some casual labour (Ernie Rushforth, I remember.) Amazingly baking was possible by the end of June.
Shortly after the fire c1961 both shops were completely re-furbished by Collins building firm (Richard ‘Dick’ Powell was a chippy on this job). They were also re-fitted, the centre shop which became a self-service store and the bakery shop was much improved. My mum, Kay, managed all the retail side and the firm’s accounts (ever since the early 50s). Also about this time Elkingtons’ two shops and accommodation in the next parade came up for sale, originally a general-store, I believe the premises had become very run-down. After some deliberation my mum and dad thought it a good idea to acquire Elkingtons and Grandpa Stevens bought the freehold c1963.
The property needed a lot of building work and it was probably about 18 months before the Post-office was moved to this site where it has remained to this day. At the age of 80, Grandpa Stevens had retired from bakery work but remained as Sub-postmaster, an active and responsible role, illustrated by his purchase of a motor-cyclists’ crash helmet which he wore for protection when carrying money and P.O. documents back to the safe at his home at Reliance Cottage. Later on the Royal Mail must have considered the position of the P.O. to be permanent as it moved the post-box to it’s present location.
With the removal of the P.O. from the former Mitchell’s Library, the Bakery shop was despatched to that end of the parade and the area it had occupied became the hardware dept of the self-service store. In 1974 my mum decided it was time to take things a little easier so reluctantly, after 12yrs trading, she closed the grocery self-service.
So, following another refit, back came the Bakery shop to it’s former location with addition of a brand new shop-front in 1978. The middle shop was used as the pastrycook’s warehouse and the empty shop was used, temporarily, by schoolteacher Doug de Cruz’s Swan Theatre Group for fund-raising activities. The canopy in front of the parade must have been pulled down c 1978.
The building of the new bakery in the long hot summer of 76 really heralded the end of the shop-swopping of the previous decades. In the early 70s it was becoming increasingly obvious most of the old bakery building was untenable, therefore, using the original flour-store as a link to the bakery shop a 2000 sq ft building was constructed on the east side of the site. The old bakery behind the two shops was pulled down and individual storerooms added to each shop. During this process the builders fell foul of one of Grandpa Stevens unique construction methods when an avalanche of ash and cinders came down out of a wall they were demolishing. The new configuration of the site also gave us the advantage of a large tarmac car-park.
The middle shop tenancy was taken by the Collette Charity (later Mencap) in the care of Pauline Watts, Janet?, Kay?, Clarice and Nora. Barry and Mary Burns opened Target Hire in the end shop.
Having withstood Flood and Fire the bakery business coped with ‘not exactly Famine’ but the bread shortages caused by the plant bakery strike of Sept 77. Long hours were worked and bread had to be rationed.
In the following two decades there were no major changes. Our parents Aubrey and Kay remained actively involved and dedicated to the business until they passed away in 1986 and 1994 respectively.
At this juncture I think it’s the right time to mention people who worked in the bakery and shops, some for more than 20 yrs, others for shorter periods, sometimes just to help us out.
Over nearly 50yrs it’s quite a long list so I apologise if I I’ve forgotten anyone:
Uncle Eddie (Hall), Peter Webb, Tom (the Frenchman), ‘Butch’ Talbot, Peter Waghorn, Arthur Baker, Charlie Carey Mark Vincent, Paul Kent, Len Brazier, Bob Harwood, Aubrey Hawkins, Joe Overs, Doug Henderson, Wally Manning,Wally Kingsley Maisie Talbot,’Smiler’ Talbot,Beattie Webb, Olive Hansford, Ada Bellett, Vi Clarke, Dolly Smith, Queenie Elliot, Joan Jeffreys, her daughter Elaine, Christine Davis, Mandy, Rene Townsend, Shirley?, Michele Henderson, Flo Bishop, her daughter Sylvie, Cynthia Baker and her daughter Carol, Wendy Milne, Maureen Hill and last but not least, my daughter Leanne.
Sometime in 1997 the Charity Shop called it a day and the middle shop became Needfull Things, a gift and novelty shop run by Kay Hearn (from Maurice Rd P.O) and her sister-in-law.
Sadly after 76yrs trading I had to close the bakery on 24th April 1999, however my wife Sandra opened up Toys 4 U selling quality s/hand toys in the ex-bakery shop. Shortly after that Needfull Things closed and the toy shop was extended into that shop.The final nail in the coffin came when Target Hire moved to new premises at the top of May Ave in 2000 and in 2001 the site was sold for residential development.
End of part one……………..to be continued