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Remembering Brackley Street

By Derek Tomlin

In the early 1960's, my family lived in a 2 up, 2 down terraced house on Grove Street Kearsley - a lovely, quiet little cul-de-sac close to Lord Street. At the age of 4 years, 5 months, I started school at St John's C of E School, on Church Road, Kearsley - about 5 minutes walk from home. Around the age of 6, circa 1965, my parents announced that the family were 'upping sticks' (by this time, I also had a 1 year old brother, who was born at home in Grove Street.). Apparently, we were ' going into business ' - by way of a greengrocery shop on Brackley Street, Farnworth, where we would also live - on the shop premises!

Even at that tender age... I already knew of the existence of Brackley Street...what young lad (or girl) from Farnworth or Kearsley didn't? Apart from the fact that it was just about the busiest of streets (certainly compared to Grove Street!) with it's bustling market that stretched to the Bus Station Arcade on King Street, and also down by the side of Woolworth's onto Market Street., this was the site of the Co-operative Department Store... a place that every child would attempt to make a 'bee-line' for when out shopping with mum and dad - as the Toy Department in the basement was akin to descending into ' Santa's Grotto ' every week of the year! A couple of weeks good behaviour might see you let loose with a couple of shillings, and even when money was tight, at least you got the chance to wonder in amazement at the latest games and novelties...and start to eagerly compile your Christmas ' must have ' list!

However - our shop was at the less busy end of Brackley Street (the Albert Road end). This I was not so familiar with. Still - I soon learnt the 'landmarks' that are forever etched upon my memory of Brackley Street around that time. Walking up Brackley Street from the Co-op, the first impressionable shop was York's. Facing the market, this shop must have consisted of at least 3 double-fronted window displays; furniture seemed to be the mainstay of this business, along with prams and cots.

Once you had cleared the market on the right, there were half a dozen terraced shops facing each other, but the next landmark I remember was also on the right of the street - Dagg's wallpaper and paint store. Along this stretch too was a little shop that had the strangest smells and odours emanating from within. This turned out to be a herbalist's shop - jars and jars of stuff with many labels quite unpronounceable for a 6 year old! They used to sell 'tonic drinks' too that adults seemed keen to partake of... less so the children!

Eric Neath's greengrocers was next here (ah! the 'Opposition '!!). I'd spend a few hours in the coming years riding pass Neath's on my bike - checking out the prices of his fruit and veg, and reporting the findings of my ' spy ' missions back to mum in our greengrocery shop (competition was rife, even in those days...). The local newsagent's was also on this row of shops... I'd never seen such a collection and choice of pencil sharpeners in my life as could be found in there... the row ended with a hairdressers (which also produced strange, but 'warm' smells ) and looked most unlike the barber's shop (John Bill Lawson's on King Street.) that my dad and I used to frequent.

Crossing over onto the left side of Brackley Street, there was a bike shop (which later became 'Billy Jo's' - a fashionable clothes shop that briefly held my attention when I was a little older!). A little further up was some sort of joiner's shop, and then ' Egan's '...another source of fascination for a young lad, where every type of lock, nut, bolt and nail could be found, and keys were cut. A true Hardware store that smelt of oil and ' Esso Blue ' paraffin!

This brought you to the intersection with Byng Street (turn left onto here and you were at the Farnworth Veteran's Club - ' The Vet's ' - one of the very few remaining landmarks still there now in 2006). On the corner of Byng and Brackley Street was Magee's off-licence - one of about 8 ' corner shops ' that were within a minutes walk of here. This was the start of the row of shops that contained our shop and home. Magee's was fascinating merely for the fact that it was another double-fronted shop, but had cellar grids that were always a source of interest to children, and the source of many 'legends' of ghosts and the like that your mates had sworn they had encountered on a misty winter's night!

'Old ' Callaghan's butcher's was next up (the younger brother having a different shop further up the row - more on that later...) and then 'Eric Bennett's Electrical' store, where you could buy records, radios, TV's and the like. A few doors up brought you to ' Ricky's', which again was a popular shop with the kids on the block... cheap ' n ' cheerful toys and ornaments / pictures that your mother would buy and 10 year's later you would all cringe at!! This shop eventually passed into the hands of a trendy-looking young guy by the name of Jack. I make mention of this because ' Jack ' is still around today, standing the Farnworth 'Monday Market ' and the Sunday car boot at Lever Street Bolton! 40 years may have passed, but I still ' let on' to Jack, and although he returns the greeting, I doubt he remembers the little lad who used to recognise him so well from his ' Brackley Street.' days!

The shop next door was let and re-let to a few tenants, but, as it was next door to our shop (and where we would live for the next 8 years or so) I vividly remember the time when it was a tripe shop. The guy who owned it was called Henry, and he had an English bull terrier that I used to stare at and admire over the yard wall (but was careful to avoid!). His partner was a lady called Franchesca, and they too lived behind the shop. I would never try the tripe and cowheel that my father seemed to enjoy, but did have my first ' experience ' of ‘Elder'...which I think is sliced cow's udder!

Which brings me to our shop and home. A greengrocer's shop primarily - but mum and dad decided early on to try and expand the range of goods sold, so we had shelves of tinned meats, soups, Stanton's pop (which came in stone jugs!) a few sweets for the kids... and even a cigarette machine! The shop was the front part of the 2 up, 2 down. The back room was our lounge, and then there was a ' lean to ' that served as a kitchen (which in reality was more like a shed with a greenhouse - type glazed section of building). Upstairs were 2 bedrooms - no bathroom - that was a tin version out in the yard... as was the toilet! Great slabs of Yorkshire stone adorned the floor of the yard, and also separated us from the premises either side of us - rising from the ground like huge worn ' gravestones '... Hot water was via a gas geyser... heating came from a solitary coal fire.

Next-door was a house. It may well have been a shop in a previous life, but was just a dwelling when we moved into the shop in 1965 - and stayed that way until 1972/3 when the whole of the area was demolished to make way for the new ADSA car park. But, the next door but one shop was the real 'the Jewel in the Crown', certainly from the perspective of a 6 year old lad.

‘Old' Callaghan's butchers may have been popular further down the street, but ' Young ' Callaghan's shop got my vote any day of the week. This was the ' Ye Olde Toffee Shoppe'. Many's the time I would climb up onto the outside toilet roof, and sit watching Mr Callaghan making his vast array of boiled sweets and chocolates at the back of the shop. Many's the time too, that Mr Callaghan would come out back and remonstrate with me for climbing up onto said loo building... " Get down! You'll kill yerself one day...those building's aren't safe! ". Right though he was, the smell of the toffee and chocolate (and the huge cardboard drums in the back yard - empty, but must have contained glucose syrup when full) made the danger seem insignificant.

The shop itself was painted more like a chocolate ' n ' cream version of a Tudor building... and inside... a chocoholics Heaven on Earth! Particular specialities in the shop were the home-made coconut ice... pieces of dazzing white and lurid pink blocks that they cut up into mouth-size cubes and were sold by the quarter pound... and the vanilla fudge... truly like nothing else you could buy on Earth... no wonder people came from literally miles around to satisfy their sweet-tooth cravings!

Next along was a milliner's... hats, gloves, stockings... nothing to compete with the wonder's of the toffee shop - well, not for a 6 year old anyway... but the last shop in the row was ' Doreen's '. This was the last of the double-fronted shops in the row, and was famous for being 'THE' roast chicken shop! Lovely and warm, especially on a cold winter's day... and on a Saturday, if business at our shop was going well, we used to be treated by going to Doreen's for a ' chicken barm cake '. Freshly cut chicken breast, straight out of the huge rotisserie in the shop window, and warm sage 'n' onion stuffing... all packed into an oven-bottom barm cake... a definite treat... and a meal in itself!

Opposite our particular row of shops was the ' spare ground '. This was just a large patch of dirt, the size of a large football field, that stretched down to King Street and was also the 'home' of the 'Wakes', or fair, 2 or 3 times a year. The bright lights and the noise of the fairground was like a magnet to the local children...and living right opposite was also a great source of business... Many's the time I remember our shop being open till 9 or 10pm, when the 'norm' for such shops as ours (at the time) was to close strictly at 6pm at the latest.

Next to the ' spare ground ' was another landmark that still remains today - the Sur-Ply garage. A wonderful array of cars they sold too, but as we didn't own a car, my fondest memories are of playing football for hours after school... kicking the ball against their repair shop wall, practising free-kicks, dreaming of Wembley...and generally probably being a real nuisance to the poor guys who were trying to get on with their work! If I was really daring, I'd sneak through the fence onto the Labour Exchange car park that backs onto the Sur-Ply (when they'd all gone home of course...). Not in my wildest dreams (or nightmares!) did I ever think that one day... that car park would be part of the premises of my employer some 15 years later!

Nearly at the top of Brackley Street (Albert Road end) now... and the next business along was Frank Shuttleworth's Motorcycle shop. Frank moved to larger premises in Peel Street Farnworth some time later, and a family called Byron moved in and opened a small cafeteria there for a short while.

The only other business on our side of the street that stands out was the local public house... The Brackley Arms. Fondly known as ' The Mop' locally (Heaven knows why), this was a source of mystery to a 6 year old... another ' funny smells emporium ', and windows that were frosted and so you couldn't' t see what the attraction was to all these adults, who seemed to pour in and out of it's tiny front door on a regular basis. On the opposite side of the road (next to the Sur-Ply garage) were 3 or 4 really old terraced houses, and then a stand-alone wooden building that housed the equivalent of a ' pound shop ' nowadays, called 'Cass's Mini-Market'. Run by a (very) Jewish-looking gentleman, this is where your mum sent you for soap, washing-up liquid, clothes pegs, brillo pads and an array of other household goods. But, as he also sold inexpensive toys and novelties, a visit was more of a treat than a chore!

Behind Cass's was something more errie and sinister altogether. Basically a black wooden 'hut'... with no windows - strange sounds and flashes of light emanating from it at certain times... and a smell that could turn your blood cold...this was a mystery indeed...and not somewhere to linger around, even in the daytime. This was a place of Death...otherwise known as the RSPCA hut. Sad looking people entered this building with an animal in tow... and came out usually looking even sadder...and more often than not... alone... A place to hurry past with a quick sideways glance...

The last place on Brackley Street was a sewing machine shop, that advertised 'Singer Sewing Machines' along it's shop front. Venetian blinds adorned it's windows, and held no attraction whatsoever for a 6 year old. However, turn the corner onto Albert Road, and you immediately had your senses 'assaulted' by the unmistakeable aroma of freshly cooked fish ' n ' chips!

But that's now Albert Road... and another story!!