Memories of Brook st with Russ Hughes

Lifelong Cestrian Russ Hughes was born in the old city hospital on Hoole lane in 1966. He lived in Hoole until 1969 and then moved to Brook st. He stayed there until his marriage in 1988 before moving to Vicars Cross and then eventually back to Hoole.

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Russ remembers

“I lived in Brook st from the age of 3-4 until the age of 19-20. Brook st was the focal point…we used to play football in Newtown on the grass where the car park in now. The goods yard, was around Northgate village was an old coal/railway goods yard. It was a bit of a no go zone , near to the former Northgate station, the framework of the building was still there, I remember seeing it as a wasteland and I could see the Northgate arena being built. It still gives good memories to go there”

Russ grew up att number 11 Brook st.. his mother Hazel worked in the newsagents “Hazels”.”She basically ran the shop on behalf of someone else for a number of years, and then she bought the business, so it was known as Hazels anyway. It was probably there late 60s until around 2002 really, the best years were in the mid to late 80s

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Number 11, childhood home

Russ described his memories of the shop: “she had a stool in the corner where all the locals would come in, and in those days you;d have a cup of tea and a fag and have a talk about stuff. It was a proper newsagents, it sold loose tobacco, sweets.. she was kind of the matriarch of the street really, she’d look after people if they’d cut their finger , she was occasionally seen wrestling jars of sweets off football hooligans. If you think about the 80s, Chester City were playing games like Sheffield United, cup games against Millwall or Charlton. She was dealing with all sorts of characters then. Brook St was then, the old cliché of “your doors always open” , you would lend cash to someone else’s shop, you’d open up each other’s shop if they were ill..

“There was a lot of characters that used to come into the shop. Barney was an example, he was in his 90s, he’d come in on his bike, he’d have half an ounce of shag (tobacco) He’d tell you stories of Cork, Dublin of years gone by, you couldnt shut the guy up, he had a fantastic accent . You’d get people who were loyal customers for many years, and that added to the aura of Brook St. It was the kind of street that literally had your butchers, your bakers and your candlestick makers..”

One of the key places in Brook St through to the late 80s was the Chesterman cafe.. which is now the Chester tandoori next to the Stanley arms. Russ says “it was a typical 70s cafe, with wooden tables and metal chairs, the proper tableclothes and that, it wasnt upper class , but it was well looked after. Mr Bawn was a friendly guy ,we didnt go in because of the famous .. “hole in the wall”.. it was old Mr Bawn (his son Robbie now runs Bawn lodge in Hoole) and a hatch , and we’d go as kids on a cold night and order a cup a soup, or he’d make you a cheese sandwich, a hot dog , cup of tea. And we’ll all huddle round the hole in the wall at Chesterman cafe. It was a real focal point back then. Another connection was next door, the Stanley Arms, they had a really good darts team which I was in at the time, with the lady who was later my wife. Robbie Bawn was the star pool player of the time, and we still see him to this day in Bawn Lodge”

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The iconic Hole in the wall remembered on the Brook st mural

“The Lollipop shop was pretty much next to it, It was actually two shops with a kind of hole in it , me mum would send me down there, to do the shop, you’d get a pack of fire-lighters, or a bottle of bleach or whatever, and then you’d go through the hole and that would be the second shop, a stereotypical 70s toy shop, you’d get a beach football, polystyrene glider, bouncy ball, it was junk today…kids would flock to Brook St to come to the lollipop shop. That’s a little bit lost these days” he reflects

“There was a shop called Bargains of Chester and it was run by a very Welsh Wrexham chap called Tommy Edwards, it was “the” shop, the Aladdin’s cave of Brook st. Whatever you wanted, he’d have it. In the mid 80s, Thrifty Shoppers came in next door, it was like a very early poundshop Wilko early sort of version. Tommy ended up packing up and going out of business, it was one of the first bargain shops of Chester before all the others came along “

“The only constants in Brook St were the pubs, The catholic club, The Cottage, The Egerton arms, The Stanley arms.. the railway arms until recently which is now Funerals from the heart. The only other constant is the barbers at the station end of Brook st, and he’s still there now. The Bingo.. before the flyover was there, it was top rank Bingo number 1 brook st. Before that it was the Gaumont theatre, which was actually owned by Pat Collins ( of funfair fame) Everything else has changed “

Russ describes meeting his close friend John Locke for the first time in the early 80s: “ the revelation of mr John Locke, who is now one of the owners of the commercial hotel in the centre of Chester. At the time John lived over the Dry cleaners which was next to the Lo Cost co op ( I think its a Polish shop now ) As a kid I was standing serving in Hazels shop and this guy walked in he had pointed winkle pickers on, he had the quiffed hair and the sidies.. I was in awe of the guy. He was in a band called the Lost Boys and they played Angels (now Forest House) and he got me a ticket to get in there when I was under age. He used to come in for a pint of milk and a paper, and he was telling me stories, even then of being in a band on the road. John then disappeared for a while and went off to run the Comedy Store in Manchester and he came back five years ago and I bumped into him in the Commercial. I said “my God its John Locke from Brook st!” “Its Hazels son!” replied John. “we’ve been friends ever since”

“The general culture in the 80s, I think we had Peter Morrison as MP, it was a very middle class conservative place, he was a good friend of Mrs Thatcher. The 80s were one of the best musical eras, I was into the likes of the Clash, Gary Numan, all the electronica, but you still had the overflow of mods and rockers. The other thing noticeable was football hooligans, there was a lot of police , they warned Brook St when the train arrived with all the idiots on. The shops would lock up knowing say 500 Sheffield Wednesday fans were on their way down. But me mum never locked up, knowing that if you locked up, you got your windows smashed, and there was a lot of trouble, but everyone joined together. A lot of people lived over the shops so they looked out for each other”

“Margaret and Stan Coopers chippie was a couple of doors away from Hazels.. its a fast food/Chinese place now. They had big rivals in Newtown, in Les and Rita’s chippie.. I know a few SC readers will connect with this! Les and Rita did flat potato scallops, that was their speciality , Margaret and Stan’s were pretty basic, he didn’t want to put different items in the same batter because it ruined the flavour, he was a perfectionist. The highlight at the end of the day, all the kids after they’d been to the lollipop shop was to get the crispy batter bits off the fish. They were really good with the kids, it was an integral part of Brook st life in the 70s and 80s.”

Russ describes how Coronation Street star Helen Worth (Gail Platt) visited Brook st in the late 70s’ “Roger Barri was a hairdressers. It was between Hazels and Cooper’s chippy. He spent a lot of money setting it up, and at the time Helen Worth was quite new, she was the darling of Coronation St. I don’t know how he did it , because you didn’t get celebrities in Chester at the time.. I remember Gordon Hill who played for Man United opened a salon in the Northgate arena (later short lived manager of Chester City ) … Barri got Helen Worth in, there was pandemonium .. she was a superstar then, we were only watching soaps and a few American programmes ..she turned up in Brook st and people were clamouring for her autograph, a picture with her.. it was a major coup at the time.”

“In the 80s we had an actual local bobby, he wore the domed helmet, his name was Geoff Lloyd, he lived on Mannings Lane in Upton , he used to come down the street every single day, a big 6ft plus, stocky chap. His outfit was very tight on him, but he was very imposing. He was very friendly, all the children loved him, they used to call him uncle Geoff even though he was a policeman. They were a lot more respected back then.. in the end Geoff became such a friend people were finding out what his hobbies were.. he was a fan of Speedway and Rugby League. He used to take me and some of his mates to go and watch belle vue speedway, Widnes rugby .. he was a big friend to the street and I think that’s missing today”

Other reflections : “we had Westminster motor cycles, at the time it was a massive rival to Bill Smiths, took up a big area of Brook St, it was a two storey motorway store, but they were very friendly, they’d let the kids come in and sit on the motorbikes all day. Brook st was a busy street with kids and families. There had also been a petrol station in the 60s, and in the 80s there was a second hand car dealer. You could go to Brook st, you could get your dry cleaning done, buy a car, get your hair cut.. “ he says, recalling the hustle and bustle of a once much busier street, comparable now to Faulkner street in Hoole he says.

“Maurice Maltby…. it was originally furniture shop Lightfoots, then Maltby’s, now Becnick’s, the coolest shop in Brook St today, like the Chester equivalent of Affleck’s Palace in Manchester’s Northern Quarter

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“Angels nightclub, Rosies was around then.. we had the Odeon and the ABC… the other cinemas like the Gaumont had already gone. The Odeon was 2 big screens absolutlely massive. “I remember queueing to see Star Wars , we went three times in a week. It was SFX that you’d never seen in your life. They used to queue out of the Odeon all the way down the left towards the old infirmary. Hundreds of people queuing to see Star Wars I don’t think anyone could believe what they were seeing ! Other attraction was Pat Collins fair.. I used to call me dad to try and come down in the car and give us some more money to go on the rides.. I don’t really go anymore, but its nice to walk past and spell the hotdogs and the burgers and the candy floss because it takes you back”

“I still feel nostalgic when I visit the street” he says “ I feel a little bit sad that’s it not the way it was, but that’s life, I have a lot of good memories. I tend to look at the pubs and smile and think of good times. The demographic of Chester hasn’t changed a lot, but the demographic of Brook st has.. with immigration laws changing and that, if you walk down the street now, you can see a Turkish barbers, spicy food shops, Istanbul Bbq (which is exceptional) .. its a different atmosphere. Its not bad at all , its just completely changed. One thing we never used to have was the carnival, (cancelled this year) When you have different cultures, to have these different cultures arrive is very cool for the city, if we still had the carnival it would bring people together” He now rarely visits the street but he looks back fondly “ I still think its very cool, its very funky, its got its own different character now , its massively changed from what it was, I don’t think as many people live there now, so the culture of looking out for each other isn’t there… times have changed. I’m not sure it has a bad reputation. Look at any street in Chester when the races are on for example .. I don’t see any trouble, you’ve got African people, you’ve got Poles you’ve got Brits , they’re all living together fine”

 

 

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