PEEK INTO THE PAST: The days when booksellers abounded in Burnley town centre

Peek Into The Past 649
Peek Into The Past 649

Those who read this column regularly will recall we visited this part of town two weeks ago. Today’s picture is another of those taken for Smith Sutcliffe, the Manchester Road firm of solicitors, by Lynn Millard. We are still in Burnley’s former Market Street and you can see Standish Street in the background.

The photo dates from 1960, or thereabouts, and shows the same shops that featured in the picture published to accompany article 647 in this series, but, this time, Mr Millard must have been standing at the junction of Market Street and Howe Street. His picture is a very clear one of what was one of Burnley’s most well-known streets.

I am sure it will bring back memories for many of you. It certainly does for me and, when I first saw it, my eyes were immediately drawn to the shop in the middle distance and on the left of the photo. There is a sign two-thirds of the way up the building, above an arched window, and it tells us this was Ainsworth’s.

There is no clue, other than the large ground floor window, as to the nature of the business once transacted here but I remember Ainsworth’s because my father did business with them on behalf of the council. John R. Ainsworth, who in 1927 lived in Blackpool, was a commercial stationer, church bookseller and fancy goods dealer and his business address was 2, Standish Street and Market Square.

I often went into the shop you see in the picture because Ainsworth’s was also general booksellers though they never seemed to have a particularly large stock. My father was involved because the town hall department he came to head had a contract with Ainsworth’s to supply textbooks and library books to Burnley schools and the college. Eventually, this contract went to Lupton’s which was then in St James’s Street and one of my first Saturday jobs was working on this contract with the late John Parkinson who was manager at Lupton’s.

At about the time the photo was taken Burnley had no less than 21 booksellers and stationers. Some of these firms were, in reality, printers rather than stationers and certainly not booksellers. Veevers & Hensman, of Parliament Street, and Longbottom’s in Manchester Road, come into this category but there were other bookshops, the most well-known of which, in the early 1960s, was Guttridge’s in Howe Street.

I know these figures, about booksellers and stationers, are difficult to believe but I assure you they are correct. In addition to this, Burnley Council operated, perhaps not officially, a policy of “local preference”. If there was a Burnley firm that could do the job, the council negotiated a contract with them rather than give it to a firm with no Burnley connections. Regardless of whether this was equitable, or not, this would not be possible today, the reason for it being that we have lost so many local businesses.

Let us have a look at the picture. I will start on the right. You can see Percival’s shop on the extreme right. The building was on the corner of Market Street and Howe Street but, in the past, Howe Street did not extend this far and the part of the street which connected to Bridge Street had been known as Nile Street. In the same area there was a Fleet Street and I suppose these two streets are connected, historically, as they were developed at about the time when Nelson’s fleet defeated the French at the Battle of the Nile. Richard Howe was, like Nelson, one of England’s leading seamen. He became Earl Howe in 1788 but the family had local connections through Assheton Curzon, hence Curzon Street.

Percival’s shop, as you may be able to see, sold fish, game, poultry and rabbits. This is another shop I recall, but notice it was housed in a building of a later date to those in the otherwise Victorian row of property. You can see this if you look at the stonework at first floor level, there is a vertical line of cement which marks where the older Pollard’s and Percival’s are joined together. See, also, the stonework between the two rectangular first-floor windows. This is typical of the architectural style of the 1920s and 1930s.

Another thing you may be able to make out is that Percival’s only had one floor above the shop. By the time it was built it was no longer the fashion for the families which ran town centre businesses to live above the shop. Consequently, newer shops were often not as large as earlier ones. I realise that not all shop buildings provided living space but a lot did. The desertion of town centres at night time is a quite modern phenomenon and, in the past, there was a lot going on in town centres most, if not all, nights of the week.

Pollard’s was known to Burnley people as “the home of music” and these words can be seen above the shop. I am afraid I have never been very musical but I did go into Pollard’s on one occasion.

This was when Ken Dodd was “appearing” there. I went with some boys from school. We were on our way to classes at St James’s Woodwork School and wondered what the fuss was about so we called in. Ken gave us signed photos of himself and he said, about me, that if ever he wanted a double he knew where to find one!

You can see the other shops and I feel sure older readers will have their own memories of most of them. If, in police fashion, you proceeded down the street and walked beyond the New Market Hotel and Altham’s, you would come to Standish Street. There was, though, a triangular piece of land on the other side of a high fence and then came the bridge which carried the road over the Brun.

I remember the fence as being covered in advertising hoardings and there was another, even larger, hoarding on the other side of the river. Then, you were most definitely in Standish Street, a street which survives, at least in part, to this day. On the other side of the street Ainsworth’s shop has been pulled down but the part of the street which had most shops is still there.

Standish Street has always been one of Burnley’s best-known shopping streets. I recall a well-known writer – the late Ian Nairn – filming for a television programme about townscapes. Mr Nairn had little good to say about Burnley’s new shopping centre, which had been built by the time he came, but he thought Standish Street, with its little shops and businesses, was very interesting, the way Burnley should have continued. As we know Burnley has taken the concrete and steel route to modern retailing, something which those with long memories regret.

Standish Street

It is obvious why Market Street was given that name, and I have explained about Howe Street, Nile Street, Fleet Street and Curzon Street, but what about Standish Street? In terms of its name Standish Street appears to have no connection with these other streets unless a Standish had a connection with the Howe’s or the Curzon’s.

Standish Street is probably named after the Rev. Turner Standish who was the curate (or incumbent) of Burnley about 200 years ago. I am not so sure he deserved a street named in his honour as he was an absentee clergyman employing someone else to carry out his work in the town. I don’t think many of the Market Street or Standish Street traders would have approved.