HARRY MEAD’S column came to an end in The Northern Echo last week after 50 years and it was a delight to discover that for decades that column has been composed in his home from a Walter Willson chair.

Walter Willson was the great grocery name of the coalfield. The store was founded in 1875 in Newgate Street, Bishop Auckland, by Walter de Lancey Willson (a very grand name for an Aucklandian). Under the tagline “the Smiling Service Store”, he rapidly opened on every corner in every pit village.

In 1887, he relocated to Gateshead – the company was headquartered in Auckland House – and when he died, having been mayor of Gateshead thrice, in 1907, he had 104 shops and a country retreat at Kirklinton Park in Cumbria.

His daughter, Alice, married Stephen Aitchinson, a shop assistant in Newgate Street, who took charge of the chain, and expanded it until it hundreds of stores, possibly even a thousand. In 1938, he was knighted, and became the 1st Baronet of Lemmington in Northumberland.

Subsequent baronets oversaw the contraction of the firm, and the fourth generation was involved in the sale of the remaining shops in the 1990s. The name disappeared in 1998 when the last 48 stores were bought by the All-Days chain and were rebranded – but a Walter Willson chair lives on in Harry’s study.

Is there any other Walter Willson bric-a-brac out there?