Monday, 27 March 2017

Beech Road in the summer of 1932

We are on Beech Road in the summer of 1932.  

Judging by the shadows and the activity it must be sometime in the morning.

The manager of John Williams and Sons looks on as his assistant sweeps the pavement in front of the shop and beyond him other shop keepers are laying out their produce.

As yet there are few people about and most of those are on bikes are more than likely out on their first delivery rounds.  Most seem oblivious to the camera, except that is for the two by the lampspost who have stopped their conversation to gaze back at the photographer.

The picture perfectly captures Beech Road in the early years of the 1930s.  The stone setts on Wilton Road have yet to be covered and the old railings around the Rec are still in place, otherwise it is not so different from today.

Of course the absence of cars is quite striking as are the shop fronts with their tall windows,  and painted signs.

What is all the more remarkable is that it is a scene which is more familiar to us than to those who walked the road before 1930.

I had always assumed that the row of shops which included John Williams & Sons had been built sometime soon after the beginning of the 20th century.

The site had originally been occupied by Sutton’s Cottage which was a wattle and daub dwelling and may well have been built in the early 1800s and was demolished in 1891.*

So it was reasonable enough to assume that the plot was built over soon afterwards but not so.

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.

Now I rather think there is a story here.  Back in 1895 they are listed as John & Sons with five shops in Didsbury abd 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.

All of which makes me wonder at what our own shop on Beech Road would have been like, but that like the full story of John Williams and Sons will just have to wait.

Location; Beech Road, Chorlton

Picture; from the Lloyd Collection

*Sarah Sutton

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

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