Looking back at Leigh shops from yesteryear

Suited and booted for a day trip
Suited and booted for a day trip
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Local historian Alf Ridyard takes a look at where we spending our money in the days before supermarkets and online shopping...

We take another look at shops and things in our town that are no longer with us but in times gone by would not have warranted a second look.

First we look at items in the street, generally attached to the walls of the shops, first up was the cigarette machines.

Our picture shows the self-standing type, these were multi-brand choice machines, with the likes of Woodbines, Park Drive, Players and Capstan available just to name a few of the brands back then.

The cost, nowadays, of a packet of cigs and the temptation of theft, makes the idea of a nice shinny machine in a public place a nonstarter.

Coincidentally the shop we have chosen is itself something of memory jogger, Bob Royals had a reputation for wonderful ice cream, a treat to look forward to on the summer day trips to Pennington Hall or as a meeting place in his temperance bar for many a young courting couple before they attended the many dance places around Leigh.

Another machine common in our sweet or paper shops was aimed more at our younger citizens – the Spearmint machine.

Who remembers, Beech Nut, Wrigley’s, KP and Juicy Fruit being the main ones? Plus of course the free standing globes with bubble gum balls inside. These were usually chained to a metal ring drilled into the shop wall and taken when the shop closed.

As we are talking of children’s sweets we must not forget the honourable penny tray, how the shop keepers kept their patience whilst a child would deliberate on spending a couple of coppers on the many sweets on show, is beyond comprehension.

Moving on to the adults and the ladies, a selection of the well-documented shops in Leigh were Blackshaw’s, Danbys and Oxleys.

Danbys and Oxley’s, were, according to the ladies of our town, a little more upmarket than Blackshaw’s whose clientele inform me that they sold passion-killer vests and liberty bodices and the girls reminisce of the navy blue knickers of their school days.

One thing the shops had in common was the cash paying systems, your money was put in a little circular container and fired off on a wired pulley system upstairs to the cash office and returned with your change and receipt. For our younger readers Blackshaws had two shops, one was on Leigh Road next to what is now The Thomas Burke pub and the other was in the town hall buildings.

Danbys was on the corner of Lord Street and had been in Leigh since 1857 and survived till the 1970s/ Oxley’s was in Railway Road, the building was originally Cook’s Bazaar.
Oxley’s has now also gone – wallpaper supplies took over the building.

The men not to be outdone for clothing shops had Burtons, William Hill now occupies the building and across the road we had John Collier the fifty bob (£2.50p) tailor, a term prolonged from their inception in 1907.In the 60s a suit would cost £15. In the early 60s, we also had Alexandre’s, also on Bradshawgate, plus a short lived one Weaver to Wearer, something of a little more upmarket, so I’m led to believe.

The weekend fashion scene has now changed for a more casual approach to dressing but back in the fifties and early sixties the majority of men wore a suit at weekend.

As we can see from our picture of what appears to be a Buffs trip, Buffs being the poor man’s Masons, it is leaving from the old Leigh bus station.

Another long since gone popular place can be seen behind the men, the Victoria Billiard Hall which had been there since the 1920s, situated inbetween the Eagle and Child pub to the left and Jones’ furniture shop to the right. Its demise was not far off and was to be replaced by an indoor market.

We go back to Bradshawgate and I wonder how many remember the UCP café - most, I would hazard a guess. But I would also wager the majority of people were unaware as youngsters what UCP stood for in those days, its full title being United Cattle Products.

There were delicacies such as, cow heal, oxtail, haslet, elder and tripe. Of course this was the favourite haunt of children who had attended Leigh public baths in Silk Street.
The only delicacy they were interested in was chips and gravy, ask any child who went there and that’s the first thing they would say. This was usually followed by a trip to Woolworths for a pennuth or two of broken biscuits assuming the kids had not spent up.

Just a couple more memory joggers: who can remember the Fry’s Five Boys chocolate bar with the faces of a small boy going from miserable to delight? And its successor Fry’s Five Centres?

I only mention these as we received them as a treat when relatives came to visit us, in my case sixty years ago. Memory lane is indeed the longest lane we encounter during our lifetime.