Shop fronts hide wealth of history

Big Wheel Studio circa 1901
Big Wheel Studio circa 1901
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A SURPRISING amount of interesting and historically important features can be hidden within the fabric of seemingly ordinary buildings.

Take a recently-demolished section of Coronation Street, where we today return for the third time this year, thanks to yet another fascinating tale.

Local historian Terry Regan, who has uncovered a family connection, says: “Features, which having been hidden from view for many years, have usually been forgotten about with their stories left untold, that is until the builders or demolition contractors move in, when all may be revealed to the world.

“One such block of rundown, tatty buildings, standing in the way of massive redevelopment in the heart of Blackpool, has recently been demolished. This Victorian property, comprising mainly shops, cafes and offices, stood on Coronation Street, directly opposite the Olympia, and adjacent to the Houndshill centre.

“As the bulldozers got down to work several interesting features and stories concerning the history of the site were about to be revealed to readers of Memory Lane.

“Firstly Ted and Ann Lightbown treated us to the story of a private school that long ago occupied a site near to where the King Edward pub now stands, then which had later removed to a property on the corner of Coronation Street and Adelaide street.

Demolition of buildings between Tower Street and Coronation Street, Blackpool.

Demolition of buildings between Tower Street and Coronation Street, Blackpool.

“As a result of the school quitting the premises years later the building had undergone many changes, its secret history unsuspected by passing crowds. The bulldozers changed all that, just as they did when a glass fanlight over an arched doorway at the opposite end of the block, saw daylight for the first time in decades.

“As reported in Memory Lane, lettering on the glass revealed that this building had been the Northern Press Agency.” Terry says: “I found this item of particular interest, as by a remarkable coincidence, and due to a relative in the USA doing family history research, I had recently been investigating a story concerning that same group of buildings.

“Some years after the academy was established on Coronation Street, but prior to the erection of the Big Wheel in 1896, a family of professional photographers opened a photographic studio a few doors away from the school. This studio, at 41 Coronation Street, was founded by Edward Brook, formerly a native of Halifax. This man and his family are distantly related to me by marriage, but I had never heard the story concerning their business, which apparently operated for several decades, with eventually the Coronation Street business becoming known as the Big Wheel Studio.

“Later, several branch studios were successfully established and employed several members of the family, all of whom were top class photographers in their own right.

“My research indicates the business ceased to exist just prior to, or just after, the Second World War. Further to that, research by family members in the USA has thrown up several interesting photographs taken by Edward Brook and various members of his family.”

Terry says: “There is a picture of the actual studio, circa 1901, possibly taken from a carriage of the Big Wheel.

“Outside the shop we see an elderly Edward Brook Snr, talking with his grandaughter Olive, aged about six, plus their little dog Trixie. The second photo shows Edward in a classic pose as the Victorian artist/photographer, but the third photograph depicts Nelson’s flagship the Foudroyant.

“This ship was wrecked at Blackpool in the late 1800s. Many photographs have appeared over the years, however it appears this particular shot, taken by Edward Brook Snr, has never been published.

“At some unknown date the glass photographic plate was broken in two.

“Luckily Edward Jnr kept his dad’s photograph.

“It passed down through the family, eventually becoming a prized possession of my elder sister Winnie, and her husband Bob, who have lived in Virginia for over 50 years and where the broken plate has lain in a drawer.”

Terry says: “Now due to a combination of factors which include the action of bulldozers combined with family history research we have uncovered a possibly hitherto unknown photograph of the Foudroyant, which appears to show more remnants of sails and rigging than is usually visible in similar pictures.

“Perhaps Edward was one of the first photographers on the scene and took his picture before they started stripping the vessel?” suggests Terry. “Either way, considering the age and condition of the glass plate, the results are very interesting.”