Edwin Allen Art and Crafts Shop

1894 – 2014

Edwin Allen of Anderton, near Northwich, founded his wallpaper, paint and glass merchant’s shop at 14-16 Buttermarket Street in May 1894 soon after he moved to Warrington. He was a member of the International Grand Lodge of Druids, having joined the organisation around the turn of the 20th century.

For 25 years he was the secretary for the organisation in the Warrington area.

He was also a Freemason, for which he held many offices, including Past Provincial Grand Warden of West Lancashire, a Past Provincial Scribe N. and a Past Principal of Gilbert Greenall Chapter.

He was a Past Master and ex-treasurer of the Gilbert Greenall Lodge (1250) and a director of the Masonic Temple, Winmarleigh Street. Among his other positions he was a borough JP (Justice of the Peace), and a member of Runcorn Rural Council, Runcorn Rural Board of Governors and Grappenhall Parish Council, over which he presided for two years. Edwin Allen passed away on New Year’s Day, 1955 at the age of 87. At his funeral the Mayor (Cllr Mrs M. Hardman) said “Mr Allen was a well-known and respected figure in the town”

The business was carried on by two of his three sons and two grandsons. The company became one of the largest suppliers of art and craft materials in the northwest and was always run by different generations of the Allen family. Stockists of Daler-Rowney, Winsor & Newton, Kars, Woodware, Trimcraft, Art Impressions, Pergamano, DO Crafts, and many more, they also offered art and craft workshops, which were extremely popular with the public.

In 2014 the Allen family decided it was time to close down the business after 120 years of trading from the same Buttermarket Street premises. It was one of many long-standing family businesses in the town centre, alongside Whites Sports shop in Warrington Market, The Waysiders on Horsemarket Street, Hancock & Wood on Bridge Street and Reardon and Sons Fish Stall in the market, who were established in 1855. I will add a feature on them at a later date.

Of the four shops, Hancock & Wood is the only one that will continue trading on the high street, with 2014 being their centenary year. Whites Sports will continue as an online business.

Kathy’s Closing Down notice

Kathy Thomas, the final owner of the Edwin Allen business, said she had seen many changes in Warrington over the years, and not always for the better. She told me she has enjoyed working in the business for the past 30 years and is a great supporter of independent and family enterprise. She is also pleased that an independent retailer will take over the premises in the near future. The shop ceased trading at lunchtime on 17 May 2014.

Buttermarket Street (May 2003)

Kathy organised a raffle and in a rather nice touch the winning ticket holder will have the honour of locking the front door for the very last time.

In April 2014, I was invited round the shop to photograph behind the scenes before the doors were locked for the very last time. It was fascinating seeing parts of the old building (which started as two separate buildings, hence the 14-16 Buttermarket Street address), including old fireplaces on the top floor and the old lift access (seen here in the photo, left).

Examples of products sold over the years.

In the rest of the story I will look at the Edwin Allen business in pictures. I will start with some of the archived documents from the company’s collection, going back to 1894 and coming up to 2014, the year the business closed down. Along the way I will pick out some of Warrington’s historical events from the years connected to the photographs.

From this photo we can see the business started trading in May 1894. Normal business practice is to keep financial records for about seven years, depending on what they are. You might need to keep them for longer if, for example, you expect an item purchased to last more than seven years.

But enough of the boring stuff. There is a better reason for keeping these records – the social history aspect of it. They are good for research, especially when tracing other companies from the same period, as we will see shortly.

No computer printouts here – everything had to be entered in a ledger by hand in the 1890s

This photo shows an example of wallpaper from 1894. So what else happened in 1894?

  • The Manchester Ship Canal opened (1 Jan). Queen Victoria performed the official opening ceremony in May of that year.
  • Alexander Mackie, founder of the Warrington Guardian, died (21 May)
  • The foundation stone for Sacred Heart church at Bank Quay was laid (3 Jun)
  • Fairfield Church of England School opened on Fairfield Street (16 Jul). The building is still used by the community – the school itself relocated to the opposite side of Manchester Road.
  • The new Theatre Royal opened in Rylands Street (the former Poll Tax House council office stands there now).

A page from the accounts ledger for September 1897. It shows company purchases for Beckett and R. A. Naylor (timber merchants who started out on 25 April 1878, according to the National Archive website). Another entry reads Unsworth and the final one says the supplier was Acton.

The most famous event nationally was the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria. Sixty years on the throne was something for the nation to celebrate. She had performed the official opening ceremony for the Manchester Ship Canal three years earlier.

In Warrington, the council purchased the private gardens belonging to the residents of Palmyra Square by the Parr Hall and named them Queens Gardens in honour of Victoria’s reign. They were actually opened to the public in 1898.

It was also 50 years since Warrington received a charter to become a corporate borough after Royal Assent on 3 Apr 1847.

Also in 1897:

  • Victoria Park was opened to the public – named, of course, after Queen Victoria.
  • The Warrington branch of St John Ambulance was founded (1 Jan).
  • Warrington Spiritualists National Church established on Academy Street (14 Mar).

The photograph, right, shows a letter sent out in 1900 to say Mr Allen had purchased the property on Buttermarket Street.

In the news for Warrington in 1900:

  • Alliance Box works opened on Orford Lane.
  • Electricity power plant built on the northern bank of the Mersey.
  • Electric street lighting was switched on for first time (21 Dec).

1915 was a time for alterations at Edwin Allen. The image, right, shows an invoice from February for a fire surround.

The receipt, centre, is for the mosaic front step (far right), which was installed in March 1915.

The mosaic step pieces were saved by Kathy

This invoice is for the lift installation.

Also in 1915, building work continued into April with the installation of a lift. The access point is still visible at the rear of the building and we had to follow the modern health and safety regulations when opening the door because it is a sheer drop of two floors to the ground.

And as the late Fred Dibnah once said, “One mistake here and it’s half a day out with the undertaker!” (Yeah, I know, but some of this modern health and safety is useful – although in our day we called it common sense!).

Actually, as you’ll see from the pictures later, Fred would have loved the Edwin Allen building – right up his street!

The larger invoice (above) is for electrical and other work completed.

So what about Warrington in general during 1915?

  • Well, of course, the town was in the second year of the First World War (the war to end all wars? The powers that be never learn, do they?).
  • On 5 July the Soldiers Home on Bold Street opened (St Austin’s Chambers today).
  • Warrington Bridge was completed.
  • The official opening of St Benedict’s RC Church on Rhodes Street off Orford Lane took place on 11 July. I suppose in wartime that gave a lot of people a big boost – a lot of people only think of The Almighty in times of need, if at all.

After The Great War

Extracts from the local paper of 1921. In those days it must have taken about six weeks to get to and from Australia by ship.

Now that the First World War was over, 1921 was the time when lots of war memorials were unveiled in the town: Padgate (6 Feb), Stockton Heath (5 March), Workingmen’s Mission, Bank Quay (6 March) and Lymm (17 July).

In other news, the Empire Cinema on Buttermarket Street opened on 10 October (“Why Girls Leave Home” was the first film).

Lancashire United started a bus service from Longford to Warrington on 13 July. No 79 was the WBT equivalent in later years.

We learn from this newspaper report that Edwin Allen lived at “The Limes” in Grappenhall and he had visited Australia, New Zealand and Canada. It is also stated that his daughter had married an Australian who served for Britain in Germany in the war effort and they returned to Australia in peacetime.

Before we move to the present day, here are some items from the archive regarding Buttermarket Street itself. But first, here’s a fact you might not know: it didn’t have a name for many centuries, being known simply as “the street leading to the church”. The name of “The Buttermarket” was first recorded in the Parish Church Registers in February 1648.

The church in question was the Parish Church of St Elphin on Church Street, and not St Mary’s RC Church on Buttermarket Street itself. The Parish Church was first built in 634 AD, while St Mary’s opened in 1877 on the site of Allen’s cotton mill. HTML clipboard The tower of St Mary’s was completed in 1906 and the church is now a Grade II listed building.

Other events in Buttermarket Street.

1720 The Society of Friends chapel was built. The Quakers, as they are also known, are generally united by a belief in the ability of each human being to experience and access the light within or to see “that of God in every one”.

1817 Wesleyan Sunday School built.

1820 The original Town Hall (or Sessions House) built in Irlam Street, off Buttermarket Street and Dial Street (according to Warrington Ancient and Modern – A History of the Town and Neighbourhood by Austin M Crowe, 1947).

1877 St Mary’s Church founded.

1894 Edwin Allen art and craft shop established.

1937 Odeon cinema built. The cinema chain was founded by Oscar Deutsch and his publicity team claimed Odeon stood for “Oscar Deutsch Entertains Our Nation”

1976 AUG New Town House opened to staff. It was once voted the worst building in the town in a survey conducted by the Warrington Guardian. Its demolition was announced in 2020.

1977 AUG 30 Cardinal Basil Hume, Archbishop of Westminster, visited St Mary’s Church to take part in their centenary celebrations.

And what happened in 1994, the year of Edwin Allen’s centenary?

10 JUN Croft Wing at Warrington Hospital officially opened by Princess Anne, The Princess Royal.

13 JUN Marks & Spencer opened a new store at Gemini Retail Park in west Warrington.

25 JUL Morrison’s opened a supermarket on the site of the former Greenall’s brewery at Wilderspool.

13 AUG Staples office supplies opened at Cockhedge Shopping Centre (moved to School Brow in November 2004)

Advert from Barretts Warrington and District Directory, 1959

So let’s skip forward a bit now to the present day and take a look inside the shop.

The artistry comes alive even before you enter the shop.

Left: two views of the front door.

Above: two views of the shop counter. It was sold after the store closed.

If you watched the popular ITV series Mr Selfridge you might recognise these windows.

These are exactly the same as the one used in the office of Mr Selfridge in the show – the only difference is his are coloured orange and Edwin Allen’s are blue. And that’s a fact!

While we are celebrating the history of Edwin Allen, I thought I would have some fun with the Time Machine feature in the photo editor.

I can create effects as they would have been done in times gone by.

The view of the shop counter is presented in the Albumen style.

This was a technique widely used from 1855 to the 1890s, so would have been used at the time the shop started trading.

This inexpensive photographic method produced paper-based photos.

Negatives were captured on glass, and the print was then created on paper that used albumen from egg whites to bind light-sensitive chemicals to the paper.

This next technique is called cyanotype.

Invented in 1841, this simple, inexpensive photographic method became popular from the late 1800s to the early 1900s.

The images are created when ultraviolet light converts the light-sensitive chemicals to Prussian blue.

This method was used for creating blueprints, hence the technique used for drawings.

The photo shows the shop from the side of the counter looking towards the rear.

Autochrome was a popular method of producing early colour photographs.

This method (seen in the photo, right) was developed by the Lumiere brothers (Auguste and Louis) in 1904 (10 years after Edwin Allen started up).

It used potato starch granules, dyed red, green and blue, to create images on glass, similar to a slide.

Those three colours are still the basis for all photography – in computers there are 256 shades of each colour, resulting in the approximate 16.8 million possible colours you often hear about.

A bit of normality now, in the sense that this is a modern-style photo, but taken in black and white, showing the centre aisle of the shop. It also gives a great view of the wooden floor. The Time Machine feature really does feel at home in the shop – I love this style.

In 1979 I started my first job at Lowes (Warrington) Ltd (bookshop/stationers) on Sankey Street and their shop was olde worlde like Edwin Allen. And you know what? It worked!

The first three images below are of the same aisle – the west side of the shop.

The first two look towards the rear. In the distance you can see the workroom where the art and craft classes took place, from where the third view is taken. The fourth image shows the display stands at the back of the shop. You will notice the Daler-Rowney trade name in green above the shelves in the second photo – only the best materials used and sold in Edwin Allen! Daler-Rowney started out in 1783 when Richard and Thomas Rowney moved to central London and opened premises selling perfumes and wig powder.

As the wearing of wigs soon became unfashionable (an event for which George IV was blamed when he discarded his own wig), the Rowneys re-focused their activities and concentrated upon producing artists’ colours. They achieved notable success, supplying famous artists such as Constable and Turner. The Daler connection came in 1945 when Terry Daler set up his sign-writing business, which became The Daler Board Company a year later, and the two companies merged in 1983. Visit the company website at www.daler-rowney.com.

I like the shelves and drawers in the fittings behind the counter.

I mentioned Fred Dibnah earlier. He would have loved the pattern in the wallpaper on the ceiling, seen here on the right. In fact, he would have loved the style of the whole shop itself and would have felt at home here in 1894 because he always felt he was born into the wrong century. I imagine that he would have been a pioneer of the Victorian age. His enthusiasm for the past was second to none, which made his TV shows really come alive. It was such a shame he died so relatively young – he still had so much to offer.

We leave the ground floor now to visit the second floor (that’s the third floor if you are an American reader!).

The second floor is where the glass was stored and prepared.

There are some great views of the street below, as we will see further down the page. I like the wooden staircase.

Next comes a general view of the glass-cutting work area.

The fireplace is Kathy’s favourite. There are others on the same floor – one is to the left of the window behind the glass storage panels along the left wall. It will be photographed when the panels are removed. The room was originally split into two when numbers 14 and 16 were separate properties, but as Eric Morecambe once said to Ernie Wise – you can’t see the join!

Let’s have a look outside now.

Above we see four views of the town centre from the top floor. On Buttermarket Street we can see The Lower Angel pub (below, left). Syd Ellison’s cycle shop was next to the pub on the right as we look.

Here we see the old Pelican Hotel, which is currently occupied by First Choice holidays and TSB (now that it is separate from Lloyds again). Note the pelican on the top. On the subject of Lloyds Bank, in the 1970s there was a branch next door to Edwin Allen where the British Heart Foundation charity shop is today.

In the third photo we see Time Square, which was demolished and the site redeveloped with a new market, restaurants, cafes and a cinema.

This is St Mary’s RC Church, also on Buttermarket Street, but nearer to the original town centre which was based around Church Street (Church Street being named after the Parish Church of St Elphin, the first one being erected in 642 AD).

Photos of the stained glass windows on the top floor from both sides. If you look carefully you can see the Salvation Army charity shop logo in reverse. I simply took them from inside and reversed them. The other two were taken from outside.

Now to the first floor, where picture framing took place.

The first photo, left, is a close-up of the decor above the door. How many others noticed this when they walked into the shop?

The second photo shows a Warrington Corporation bus outside the shop in the days before pedestrianization was the norm. Many say pedestrianisation was the worst thing they ever did to the town centre. It is safer to walk about, but passing vehicles no longer see the shops as they are routed around the outside.

A bit more photo creativity from me again now.

A few miscellaneous shots to finish

And now it’s time to shut up shop for the final time.

The shop was locked for the last time on Saturday 17th May 2014.

But the story doesn’t end there!

After closure, the building was prepared for Corker’s Pharmacy to move from Time Square.
During the shopfitting work the original hand-painted sign for Edwin Allen was discovered.
Kathy kindly sent these photos to mywarrington for you all to see.
The original mosaic front step was removed and Kathy now has the
biggest desk-top jigsaw puzzle to work with. Sadly not all the pieces are there.

My sincere thanks to Kathy and Mike for their hospitality and assistance, and for giving me permission to reproduce some of the company history on the mywarrington website.

Corker’s is an independent business.

mywarrington offers its support and wishes Lisa and her colleagues continued success.

Corker’s Pharmacy, with mosaic step.

The new shop opened for business on Thursday, 21 August 2014
Open Monday to Saturday 9-5. Closed Sunday.
14-16 Buttermarket Street. Tel: 01925 632079
Free Collection & Delivery Service.
Corkers Pharmacy is a dispensing chemist that also
sells a range of toiletries and cosmetics as well as
hair care products, walking sticks and baby care products.
Other Products and Services
Emergency Contraceptive Pill
Lipotrim Weight Management Programme
Celebrity Slim Weight Management Programme
Pharmacy & Health Food Products
Pet Medicines
Dieting & Weight Control Products
Vitamins & Herbal Medicines
Pharmacy Medicines
Natural Remedies
Complementary Medicines