PEEK INTO PAST: The former shops of Curzon Street

I HAVE had the image we publish today in my collection for a number of years but I would admit that, by itself, it is, perhaps, not the most interesting picture that has been published in this column. It is, though, of a part of Burnley which has not featured in this series as much as it should.

By The Newsroom
Wednesday, 22nd June 2011, 4:25 pm

In the days when it was taken, just before the Second World War, most of the residents of Burnley would have known where the photographer was standing when this photo was taken. I can remember some of the individual businesses, some years later, of course, in these premises and, because I had to walk down this street regularly when I was a boy, I know where these shops and warehouses were once located.

I wonder if you know where the photo was taken? Before I reveal the answer to the question you might, if you have not already worked it out, like to have a few clues. The first of these involves the date when the picture was taken. I cannot be precise about this but there is something in the picture which helps enormously – the name of the business over the shop window at ground floor level, left. You might not be able to see it but the name is “E. Sweeney” and the sign, on the first floor window, tells us Mr Sweeney (it was a Mr) was a dealer in carpets and lino.

“Sweeney, Edward F”, appears as furniture dealer of 86 Church Street and 51 Parliament Street in the Commercial Directory of 1927. I suspect the firm was in business before this date but I can tell you there had been changes by 1933. The Church Street address remained the same but, by this time, Mr Sweeney also had premises at 128a St James’ Street and at 7-9 Brown Street. This latter street was not far from the scene shown in the picture.

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By 1937 Mr Sweeney was at the location we see here though he lived at 25 Chiltern Avenue. However, in the earlier directories of the 1940s, there is no mention of a firm by the name of Sweeney until 1949 when the following entry is made, “Sweeney’s Lancashire & Yorkshire Clearing Company”, furniture dealers of 1, 3 and 5 Parker Lane.

If all these references are to the same family, and possibly the same firm, it is clear they moved about a bit but we do know roughly when (and where) the picture was taken, though I have not yet revealed the latter.

When examining the photo I noticed another clue on the back. The photo has a description and whoever has given it a title has called it the “Fruit Houses”. Now that should get your brain cells working. There is only one street in Burnley to which that name could have been applied. I think it was my old friend Ken Bolton who added the description. He would have been aware the street shown in the photo was well known in Burnley for the number of fruit and vegetable warehouses located there.

If I tell you the more recognisable firms included Whyatt & Palmer (Burnley) Ltd, A. Bentley & Sons (Colne) Ltd and M. & J. Howarth, does that help? For the “history buffs” like myself, I will give you an obscure clue, the street to which we refer was once known by another name – King Street. This is not to confuse you but this street is not the King Street many of us remember in the Meadows but another street in Burnley.

I have mentioned before that modern Burnley is basically two local government areas, Burnley and Habergham Eaves. In the early 19th Century both had King Streets (this applied to a number of other street names) and it was eventually decided to keep one of them. The one that survived until recent times was the King Street in Habergham Eaves and (wait for it) the one in Burnley was renamed Curzon Street.

This picture of Curzon Street must have been taken on a Sunday. It certainly was not a Market Day because, as you will now know, the Market Hall was not far from where the photographer was standing.

In the early 20th Century both sides of Curzon Street were lined with warehouses, shops and houses but, later, many of the shops on the odd side were pulled down and the Market Square was extended. The only building to survive on this side of the street was the Corporation Arms.

On the even side, after Marks & Spencer’s was built, the first building, number 12, was that of Wood’s the printers. Whyatt & Palmer’s was at number 16 and, on the extreme left of the photo you might, just, be able to make out part of number 20 which was taken by Allied Newspapers Ltd. Next door was Howarth’s, the fruiterers (the building has shutters) and then came Sweeney’s.

There is no information about numbers 26 and 28 but Mrs S. Lowe lived at 30 which was presumably above the property with the large wooden doors to the right in the picture. Mrs M.A. Fetridge, who was a confectioner, was at 32. Her property can just be seen, extreme right, and you will be able to identify the stone surround of her shop window.

A few other things might be profitably said. You will recall I have mentioned the Meadows but did you realise that quite a number of the names associated with this part of town had, for want of a better word, agricultural origins? There were once several orchards in Curzon Street and Orchard Bridge is still only a few yards away. Behind the odd numbered row of Curzon Street there was Garden Street and with Salford (the ford where the sallow trees – willows - were grown for Burnley’s once thriving basket industry) we almost complete the picture. We should add, though, that Poke Street, close to Garden Street, took its name from those baskets.

Notice that the buildings of this part of Curzon Street were not all built at the same time. This can be seen by looking at the roof lines. I was pleased to see, in the property on the extreme right, that the window glass in the second floor window is of the period when the house was built, the very late 18th Century or the early 19th Century.

I have been thinking about the large chimney in the background that I think may have been from the Saw Mills, which are still standing, in Brown Street or the Bethesda Iron Works in Brick Street. The latter street takes its name because it was once the access to a brick croft, where, as the name implies, bricks were made.

I am sure there is a lot more I could have written about this, at first sight, somewhat uninspiring street scene. It is amazing what can be found out and I have not even mentioned the hustle and bustle of this old street. Mind you, that is something which has survived because Marks & Spencer’s, T.J. Hughes and Wilkinson’s are in Curzon Street these days and they create plenty of activity, don’t they?