BEHIND THE SHOP COUNTER
For many years my family owned the newsagents on the corner
of Cotes Road and High Street. We traded as “Webster & Barnes”.
Later “Martins” bought the business and latterly it has been
“Barrow News”. Here are a few anecdotes from the old days.
feature of our trading day was around 6.45 a.m. every weekday
when a group of workers, all heading for the Brush Works at
Loughborough, all came to stock up with their papers, sweets
and cigarettes usually all at the same time! One particular
day the Rush came and went and left against the counter was
a brown briefcase. In this security conscious time noone would
dare touch or open any item such as this, but in the sixties
things were somewhat different. My uncle opened the briefcase
and found only a pack of sandwiches and a copy of ‘Lady Chatterley’s
Lover’ by D.H.Lawrence, then the most controversial book of
the time and a banned book unavailable from normal sources.
Problem, what to do for the best? We resolved in true British
style – say nothing – replaced the contents and waited for
the corresponding inward rush at 5.00 p.m. Sure enough, the
bag was collected and the “gentleman” in question probably
counted his blessings. His identity? Suffice to say he was
a pillar of the church and a part time Justice of the Peace.
This bar has been stolen!
Petty pilfering, or “shrinkage” as large companies care to
call it, has always been a phenomenon of retailing. Usually
the retailer has to live with it, but on this occasion we
didn’t. For some time we had noticed an unusual occurrence.
A dead line called Cadburys ‘Bar Six’ suddenly started to
sell in reasonable quantities yet no-one could remember selling
a single bar. We kept observation and sure enough the thief
was identified, but what to do? A true dilemma. We established
his modus operandi and baited a bar with a little handwritten
note saying “this bar has been stolen”. We then conspired
to have the baited bar at the front of the stand ready for
action, making sure that no genuine customer got a nasty surprise.
After three attempts, the thief took the bait and we heard
no more, nor sold any more ‘Bar Sixes’.
Whilst on the subject of anti-social behavior, it reminds
me of the phantom piddler.
For some weeks when we opened up the shop at 5.00 a.m. on
a Sunday morning some kind person had used our doorway as
a urinal and after three applications of hot water and Jeyes
Fluid not just the miscreant’s bladder was strained. We resolved
to wait mob-handed as the culprit had obviously been to the
Three Crowns or the Hammer and Pincers, decided to get a Chinese
takeaway and needed a comfort stop between. The first Saturday
night four of us waited, and waited – no show of any kind.
Next week we waited again. This time at 11.00 p.m. the unmistakable
sounds – result – shop door thrown open, shop lights turned
on, alarm going off. Four chaps armed with powerful torches
highlighted the miscreant who wet his trousers and ran off.
End of problem!
VILLAGE LANDMARK CLOSES ITS DOORS
Last year saw the closure of a High Street business, perhaps “institution” is a better term. The usual assumed cause when
a business closes can be too much “red tape”, the level of business rate or complicated laws from Europe. In this case the
reason is much more simple: the owner of Harris’ Garage, Don Mitchell retired. This ended an almost unbroken period of
80 years of a garage and shop at 13, High Street.
The history of ownership and usage of the land and property
is complicated and could easily run to an article itself. It is
clear that the existing property is not the original. The Deeds
have reference to ownership from 1731 and record a
“common beer house”, the Railway Inn as well as a butcher’s
shop sited on this land. They also record the High Street as
North Street and Town Street.
Towards the end of the 1st World War the property was
owned by William George Hull, who was a plumber but it is
not clear whether he ran a plumbing business from there. In
1922, Mr Hull sold out to Frederick Harris for £600. Mr
Harris lived in Sileby, worked as a hosiery mechanic and set
up Harris’ Garage and due to the excellent reputation that he
built up, this name has survived for the past 80 years.
Frederick Harris continued in business with garage services,
wedding cars, taxis and a shop until 1946 when the business
was sold on to Frederick Kings Partridge.
The garage workshop at the back was visible from the
platform of the old Barrow railway station, now Crossley
Close, and the enterprising Mr Partridge erected a large sign,
at the rear of the garage workshop, advertising the
availability of a taxi service, to passengers leaving the train,
that they should ring QUORN 34 !
Harry Leslie, known as Les Mitchell, Don’s father, ran the
garage from1950 and bought the business from Partridge in
1958. Mr Mitchell senior, trained as an apprentice at Wolsey
cars; he passed these engineering skills on to Don.
The original shop front was a single door, single window style
(butcherís type) shop front. Fred Harris had the shop front
altered to two large windows and wide, half-glass double
doors. This conversion allowed him to display cars for sale,
usually an Austin Seven and a Morris 8, the original Barrow
Les Mitchell continued to run the business along similar lines
to those established by Mr Partridge. He still provided a taxi
and wedding car service, sold novelty toys at Christmas and
two and four star petrol until 1974. The two petrol pumps
were situated on the outside wall comers of the shop and
metal pipes swung out over the pavement to carry the fuel,
through attached rubber hoses to vehicles parked on the
roadside thus preventing an obstruction to pedestrians using
In the days before central heating was the norm, many people
used paraffin heaters to warm their homes and the garage
sold huge quantities of paraffin. Don recalls one particular
cold Saturday in the 60’s when the whole of the 600 gallon
tank of paraffin was sold out completely. A ìPink Paraffinî
van ran a weekly delivery service throughout the winter
The shop also took in radio accumulators (batteries) for
charging and became an agent for Raleigh Cycles. Cycle
repairs and spares became a speciality. All the garage
services were carried out in the wood-built workshop, with its
characteristic Belfast truss roof, at the back of the premises.
There is no date known for the building of the original
workshop but Mr Harris bought a 1st World War army billet
to extend it in the early 1920’s. A hydraulic ramp was
installed in 1964 and the inspection pit was enlarged to
accommodate MOT test work but otherwise the workshop
remains in its original state.
Don Mitchell originally trained as an engraver, mainly
working for the printing and footwear industries. After 15
years Don felt like a change of career so joined his father, Les,
in January 1961 to work in the garage and was trained in
motor engineering skills by his dad. The business passed to
Don in 1978 where it continued until January 31st, 2002 and
the shop finally closed its doors at the end of March 2002.
Don and his wife Barbara, (Sister Mitchell) to many of you,
enjoy living at the property and do not want to move so the
business has closed and the premises will be living
Mrs Mitchell retires at the end of March 2003, allegedly, and
Barrow Voice wishes both Don and Barbara a long and
I have concentrated on the property and uses of 13 High
Street but there is still a considerable amount that I haven’t
covered, for instance the conversion of the archway to the
back of the property from rounded to square for the storage
of the village charabanc here, that there was stabling at one
time at the rear of the property and what these were used for
but that will have to wait, it’s another story!