Martin’s Memories – Blaydon Town Centre. Walter Willson’s To Danny Brown.

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The Martin’s Memories series has been reproduced with the very kind permission of Tony Martin from his posts on the Old Blaydon and Old Winlaton Facebook group.

OLD Blaydon and OLD Winlaton | MARTIN’S MEMORIES 19 | Facebook

Leaving Walter Willson’s and proceeding down the west side of Church Street, the first shop one came to was Stephen Hands, the watchmaker and jeweller. I always called him Uncle Stephen, but he was my mother’s uncle by marriage in that he was married to my maternal grandmother’s sister. The shop was managed by my maiden aunt, Elsie Browell while he concentrated on repairing clocks and watches at home and going on visits to schools and larger establishments that had big wall clocks to be looked at. I remember several times going with him and one of the memories that really stand out was a visit to Stella Hall before it was demolished in 1950. The shop was quite small. The back shop was given over to recharging accumulators for the wireless, the counters had glass tops with jewellery and watches displayed in them and on the wall there was a glass case full of mouth organs, a popular instrument of the time because of the popularity of Larry Adler. At night the windows were guarded by metal mesh shutters, which were fastened to the gable end of the shop when it was open.

After the shop, there was an alley between that and Fosters, the newsagents. This was in reality a back lane cul-de-sac for the first few shops on Church Street. When Fosters gave up the newsagent business, the shop was taken over by Melvyn James’s father. The next shop had the appearance of a junk shop, but in fact, it was an electrical repair shop. Next was the staircase up to Norris the dentist and the Eldon Mission meeting rooms.

After this stair there was the Tea Company as people called it – the London and Newcastle Tea Company. It was a big grocer’s shop, later to become Fine Fare. One of the assistants, Isabel Pentland, who lived near the top of Maple Road used to go around for the orders at the beginning of the week for delivery nearer the weekend. I remember, my Aunt Nell buying lots of groceries here, but the main item of interest was their China Teas, bought in yellow packages. Unfortunately, they were no longer to be had after the Communist Revolution in China in 1949. After this there were two further grocer shops – Moore Stores and Angus, the grocer. This latter was a long established local business. Next came the Wet Fish shop run by Taylors, with the fish displayed on marble slabs and the shop window always seemed to be open.

There was an entrance next to the fish shop into what was called Rifle Court. There were a few different businesses located here in my youth. Howie’s milk and Perna, the ice cream man were located here, which later had the salerooms of Billy Swan. Perna was one of the town’s two Italian ice cream families, the other being Joe Sap, but more of him in the next episode. On the other side of this entrance to Rifle Court was Billy O’Neill’s toy and fancy goods shop and then Peter Craig, the fruiterer and greengrocer. He lived in Stella House at the bottom of Summerhill Bank, was in St Cuthbert’s Church Choir and also had shops at Bleach Green and Ann Street at the top of Theresa Street.

Next to Peter Craig was the Blaydon Hotel, a pub known locally as the Lang Bar because it had an entrance from Church Street and there was a connecting entrance or exit onto Tyne Street. There are many tales of this establishment, which like all the town’s pubs had its own clientele and there was fierce competition in the local pubs darts league. Next to the Lang Bar was an old fashioned looking, but well supported tailor and outfitter, who was always known as Danny Brown in our family. Again it was a long established local business and the premised were later taken over as a showroom.

We have now reached the bottom of Church Street where it met Tyne Street. On the other side of the road was the main bus stop for the United and Venture bus services to Newcastle. This stop was beside a high red brick wall which separated Tyne Street from the main railway line. In the next instalment, we will cross over the street to Callers and follow the other side of Church Street back to St Cuthbert’s Church.

FINE FARE, formerly the Tea Company and other shops mentioned. The archway near the car is the entrance to Rifle Court.
The green shop with the open door is Peter Craig’s greengrocers. The archway to Rifle Court is seen from another angle.
The Long Bar and Danny Brown’s outfitters.
The corner of Church Street (straight ahead) and (Tyne Street off to the right)