From the Burnley Express Archive: Did you see this famous fire eater in Burnley

So far as I am concerned, this image is one of the most interesting that we have published in this series.

An amazed crowd gathered outside a store in St. Jamess Street, Burnley to watch fire-eater and sword-swallower Stromboli brighten up a dull Tuesday morning for them. Scots born Stromboli and his assistant Sylvia were appearing at the re-opening of Tesco in Burnley.
An amazed crowd gathered outside a store in St. Jamess Street, Burnley to watch fire-eater and sword-swallower Stromboli brighten up a dull Tuesday morning for them. Scots born Stromboli and his assistant Sylvia were appearing at the re-opening of Tesco in Burnley.

It is of the Tesco store, which was located at 11 to 15 St James’s Street. McDonald’s is located there now, but I recall that there was an early Tesco at this site but lots of Burnley people seem to have forgotten the fact.

Whenever I have mentioned it there have been those who have questioned my memory. I don’t think that I ever went into the store. When the photograph was taken, toward the end of July, 1970, I had just finished at Manchester University and was looking forward to a year in London.

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I was still living at home and we Frosts did little supermarket shopping and particularly not at Tesco’s which was, in those days, “a pile ‘em high and sell ‘em cheap” sort of place. We reserved our food shopping for Harle Syke’s premier grocer’s, the Nicholson Brothers, who had all that we wanted.

Mother used to write an order into a Silvine Order Book. Dad used to take it into the shop on his way to work, and, before he came home, Mr Spencer (the part-time deliveryman) had brought our week’s food to us!

That was how the Frost’s did their shopping, some 50 years ago, and things remained like that until I moved to Muswell Hill, in north London. There was a very good Sainsbury’s in the High Street and that is where I did my shopping.

At Manchester, because of illness, I had lived in a Hall of Residence for three years and I was not used to shopping. I wrote to Mum (we did not have a telephone then) and told her about Sainsbury’s though in Burnley we clearly had a Tesco, a Safeway and doubtless others.

Before that, I recall a branch of Cooper’s, on St James’s Street and I had always assumed that Cooper’s Supermarket had been taken over by Tesco. I was wrong. Cooper’s was a Scottish supermarket and grocer’s chain which was taken over by Fine Fare. The firm once traded as Cooper’s Fine Fare but it was finally bought out by Gateway.

I don’t know how Tesco’s acquired their first Burnley site but the firm first came to the town at a time when it was expanding rapidly and attempting to go up-market. That, of course, they did and now we have two large Tesco stores locally and the firm is the largest food retailer in Britain with about 29% of the market.

The article in the Burnley Express which went with today’s photograph, said almost nothing about retailing in town. The only thing that interested the paper was, as the headline indicated “The Human Volcano at Tesco”.

“Not only”, wrote the Express, “was he seen gulping in the flames, from blazing torches, and blowing them to the winds, but also making a meal of a razor-edged sword by swallowing it up to the hilt.” He was the fire eater and sword swallower Stromboli who was in Burnley to brighten up a dull Tuesday morning and to publicise the re-opening of the store!

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I don’t think that Tesco do that sort of thing these days.