Shops of yesteryear

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Several weeks ago I indicated that I would raid the Briercliffe Society’s Photograph Collection to show you some images of shopping streets in Burnley, writes local historian Roger Frost.

I had already made a selection from the Postcard Collection and a number of you were kind enough to let me know that you enjoyed the pictures I had chosen.

If I remember correctly, the postcard images were of Burnley’s main shopping streets so I have chosen photographs of Burnley’s secondary shopping streets for this article. The ones I have chosen are Bridge Street, Church Street and Westgate all of which were secondary shopping areas when compared to St James’s Street, Manchester Road, before the planners got their hands on it, Market Street and Howe Street, as they were to the later 1960s.

It was largely the case that Burnley’s major stores were in the more important shopping streets. I might mention Woolworth’s, Marks and Spencer’s and Burton’s which were all originally in St James’s Street. In fact, Burton’s, the men’s outfitters, had two large stores in Burnley both of which were in St James’s Street – the famous one at the bottom of Manchester Road and the other one which is now occupied by Barclay’s Bank.

However, it was not always the case that the major stores were on what we might regard as the main shopping streets. In the days when the Burnley Co-op had most of its main stores on Hammerton Street, that thoroughfare was very busy on most shopping days. The Co-op, in those days, occupied different stores for the different lines that they sold. On Hammerton Street, I remember the jewellery shop, the tobacconist store, another which stocked furniture and a third which sold clothing but I can’t remember whether it was for men, women or children. The street also housed the Burnley Co-op’s head office, the Bank and the magnificent Assembly Rooms, part of which opened as a restaurant on Saturdays.

Another example was Webster’s. Their main store was on Bridge Street, though it also extended almost the full length of Cannon Street. This building felt as if it had been intended for other purposes. There were steps and corridors everywhere and it must have been a nightmare to police. However, I am told that before the redevelopment of the town centre taking things from the stores there was not as common as it has since become.

I recall that at Webster’s Toy Department it often seemed as if no staff was present. When a customer wanted to buy something he had to set off in search of a member of staff to pay for what he wanted. There was never anyone in the bed and bedding department which was not set out as is the case in stores today. Often the beds were not set up and the customer had to look for all the constituent parts of the bed in which he had shown an interest. I recall that the mattresses were stacked up in big piles, something which bothered me as I have long since had views about mattresses. I have spent the last 58 years or so in search of the ideal mattress that was mine until about the age of eight!

There are other streets in the town centre which were shopping streets. These include Curzon Street, Standish Street, Parker Lane and Yorkshire Street. At the Standish Street/Market Street junction there was another of Burnley’s outstanding but largely forgotten shops. I refer to Ainsworth’s who were book sellers and stationers.

I have decided to show you a range of shops over a period of time rather than restrict myself to a particular era. The consequence of this is that we will see Bridge Street and Church Street at different times in their development. With regard to Westgate, where there were quite number of shops, including a confectioners owned by my aunt and uncle, but the shops you will see are from the time when the demolition men were about to move in.

Professional makers of postcards were, as you would expect, interested in selling their images. Consequently, they tended to choose the main streets of a town for their cards. The photographs you are to see today come from a variety of sources. A number were taken by officers of the Council. Others have come from private collections and a few have been found in the archives of local newspapers including the Burnley Express.

I would accept that a number of the images you are going to see today are not up to the standard of some of the postcards I selected for the previous article but a number of images give us insights which might bring back memories for those of you who are in my age group and older.

The first image is one of my favourites. It is of Bridge Street, very early in the last century. The remarkable thing is that I recall this street almost as you see it here. There were, of course, cars in the street in my day whereas here there are none. From the shadows of the buildings on the right, it looks as it this very informative photograph was taken in the relatively early morning.

Let us travel back in time to see how a variety of photographers have captured the shops of Burnley in earlier days.