Friends on Gas Works Brew

Of all the people that ever walked down Gas Works Brew, it had to be a relative that fixed the spot in my imagination.

For those who know, then you know. For those who don’t, then Gas Works Brew went from the bottom end of Corporation Street up to Oldham Road and you finished up opposite the bottom end of Taylor Street.

Gas Works Brew wound and climbed steeply. There was a hidden street lamp halfway up. It was one of Middleton’s specials. It had been a gas lamp but later it was electric with a swan neck. There were lots of these in Middleton at one time and no two were alike. There were railings up the brew too. At the top end near Oldham Road were old wooden and metal posts stuck into the settled surface.

These posts had been put there during the war. They were all of different sizes and widths. One of them might have been an old railway sleeper. Anyway, there were enough of them to stop any cars going down there although a motorbike might easily have done the trip.

Halfway up Corporation Street there was the old Empire Cinema and Theatre. Aunty Winnie was walking to the Empire with her sister. It was foggy and it was also the middle of the war. As it was the evening, everything was blacked out – no streetlights, no nothing. Turning from Oldham Road, Aunty Winnie walked a little way into Gas Works Brew and then she walked into one of the posts. She didn’t know it was a post and so, she apologised politely.

After the pictures were over at the Empire, they walked back down Corporation Street and by this time the fog was worse than ever. Coming to the top of Gas Works Brew, Aunty Winnie walked into the post again and this time put her arms round it. Once again she apologised.

Not until a week later did her sister point out the posts in the street. “There’s your friend,” she said laughing; “the one you bumped into twice last week.”

It became a bit of fun later and we enjoyed the repetition of the story.

The area isn’t quite the same now. But every time I pass there I think about the absurdity of the story. It was quite a Hylda Baker moment.

Talking of Corporation Street, there was a sweet shop on there just towards the bottom end on the opposite side from the Empire. When I was a child I used to look at the sweets in the window. I always fancied the “Strawberries and Cream” in a big jar in the window.

These were sold in two ounces or by the quarter and were hard-boiled sweets. They were red and white, hard sweets and they were not shiny but had a dull surface. Like they had been dusted in icing sugar.

The shop was very old and looked quite unvisited. I supposed that it might have been busy at one time with people going to the pictures.

Eventually all those houses were emptied and made ready for yet another unfeeling and unsympathetic Compulsory Purchase Order. The shop window became dusty and the jars of sweets disappeared. After that, I didn’t go there any more.

But one day many years later, I bought two ounces of Strawberries and Cream sweets. I forget now where I was. As I ate them I went back to Corporation Street as if in a dream. I looked through the window once again and stepped inside and bought the sweets in my imagination.

To be truthful, I can’t really remember if I ever did go in or not. I might have on the way to the Baths on Fountain Street but at this distance in time I can’t recall.

You couldn’t beat Corporation Street in the old sooty-rain days. The flags really shone. But that shop window certainly brightened my imagination and hopefully a few others too.


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