Wednesday, 19 October 2016

A little bit of our tiled past on Beech Road above the cocktails and pizzas

John Williams & Sons Ltd 2015
I can’t be exactly sure when this bit of tiled wall disappeared behind the false wall at number 32 Beech Road, but I am guessing it will have been sometime in the 1960s when the grocery shop which was John Williams and Sons became the Maypole Launderette and later still the Soap Opera.

And like many others who sat watching the washing going round and then waited for the clothes to dry in those huge tumble driers I was totally unaware that hidden from view high and close to the ceiling beside the window there was this sign.

The other surprise was that John Williams and Sons were not local traders but in fact owned a chain of grocer shops across the city and beyond which in 1931 accounted for 41 shops of which there were three in Chorlton**, six in Didsbury and another four in Rusholme.

John Williams & Sons, 1932
Back in 1895 they are listed  with five shops in Didsbury and Fallowfield which by 1911 had become 11 with John Williams described as managing director and the head office at 400 Dickinson Road.

Later still although I can’t date it is a wonderful advert for the company which advertises their ‘“Dainty, Delightful Delicious Tea, [from] John Williams & Sons limited, “The Suburban Grocers”, [at] 28 Victoria Street Manchester Stockport & Branches’.

And looking at the interior of one of their shops sometime in the early 20th century there is more than an element of “class” about the place.

So while the shelves groan with tinned produce and between the potted plants are the familiar posters advertising Californian Apricots at 6½d, and Coffee and other things, it is less cluttered, less in your face and far more discreet than some of the grocery chains of the period.

Taking in Beech Road in 1932
Of course we will never be quite sure whether our John William’s was typical of the chain but I rather think it will have been for then as now there was a corporate brand image to maintain.

Certainly the picture of the Beech Road shop in 1932 would suggest as much.

Which brings me back to the tiled bit of the wall.

Now given the way these things work I doubt that there will be many of these left, most will have been painted over covered in a thick skim of plaster or just knocked off the wall.

The closed Soap Opera, 2011
So all credit to the owners of the Launderette who have incorporated this little bit of the buildings past in the present decor.

They of course have also given a nod to the buildings previous use and now also to its time as a grocery store, all of which reminds me that the price of preserving the past is eternal vigilance which I am the first to admit is to misquote what the American Abolitionist and liberal activist Wendell Phillips said in 1852.**

Now that is almost where we came in because I only discovered that bit of tile after yesterdays story on Beech Road in 1932, which prompted Anne-Marie Goodfellow to point out that it had been preserved by the restaurant.

And in turn that led me back to two of Peter Topping’s painting from his series which set out to record how Chorlton was changing.

The Launderette 2014
Late in 2011 Peter had painted the Soap Opera after its last rinse and tumble dry had finished and went back just after the Launderette had opened its doors offering “cocktails and carbs” and much more.

Now I bet there will be plenty of people who also have pictures, memories and the odd bit of memorabilia from a lost Chorlton shop which we would all like to share.

And just after I had posted this story John commented that  "I used to deliver orders on a real order bike with a big cage on the front, from that very shop on Beech Road, 15/- bob a week, and tips. 1959/60."

Which is a nice way to conclude, given that we started with that tiled sign  for John Williams and Sons, purveyors of all things grocery and end with John the delivery boy.

Pictures; the tiled advert for John Williams and Sons, 2015 from  the collection of Andrew Simpson suggested by Anne-Marie Goodfellow and  Beech Road in 1932 from the Lloyd Collection

Paintings; the Soap Opera, © 2011 and the Launderette, © 2014, Peter Topping, 
Facebook; Paintings from Pictures, Web:

*32 Beech Road, Wilbraham Road, 211 Upper Chorlton Road.

**“Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty” Wendell Phillips on January 28, 1852, speaking to members of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society.

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