THIS is the third in our series of "wide-eye" photographs taken in the mid-1960s when a photographer with The Northern Echo got an exciting new lens for his camera. He wandered about the region taking panoramic views with it, but because the prints were unusually wide they couldn't be filed properly in the paper's library. Consequently, we've only recently rediscovered them, lying in a forgotten corner.

This view of Blackwellgate in Darlington was taken on March 11, 1965, the same day as the wide-eye of the Covered Market which appeared in Memories 501 (see over). The A1 Darlington bypass officially opened two months later on May 15, so this was still the Great North Road sweeping through the town.

What of interest can you spot on our wide-eye picture? Please let us know if you have any stories or connections to it.

On the left is Bainbridge Barker's department store, which occupied a corner store which, in its heyday, was an appropriate welcome to the town centre for travellers on the old A1. Local builder Thomas I'Anson created it in 1898 on the site of various buildings, including a pair of almshouses that dated back to 1636. He grandly called it South End Chambers.

In one of I'Anson's new shops, James Bainbridge Barker opened a drapery business. With his brother, Armstrong Barker, he cycled into Wensleydale, Swaledale and Teesdale on a tandem to drum up business. When the orders grew too large for their bicycle basket, they switched to a pony-and-trap and then to a motor car.

As their modes of transport improved, so Bainbridge Barker's premises grew. Within little more than a decade the brothers occupied all of the corner building. A 1913 advert advises that BB's could "convince you that we can make your shopping a success! Millinery, coats and costumes, an almost endless variety. Blouses the beautiful delicacy of appearance combined with durability, proves great attraction in this department. Mourning orders receive prompt and careful attention."

On the upper floor, they had a mock-Tudor cafe, full of aged beams and panelling.

James Bainbridge Barker died in 1941 and in 1961 his son and grandson, apparently fearing death duties would wipe out their inheritance, decided to sell up for £194,000. The new owner was Matthias Robinson and Son, a West Hartlepool family department store.

His name lasted over the door for just 11 months before Debenhams took over, and for a decade Darlington enjoyed a department store dogfight as Debenhams battled with Binns.

Binns triumphed and in January 1973, Debenhams retreated claiming the Bainbridge Barker site was "too small".

Since then, South End Chambers has had a succession of short-lived tenants and with its peeling paint, it has long since stopped serving as a welcome to the town centre.

If you have any stories or observations about our wide-eye, please email

“I STARTED my first job at Bainbridge Barker’s in 1959 as an office junior,” says Ann Lake. “It was a little like Are You Being Served, as we had First and Second sales people, and if you were a junior, you were lucky to get to serve a customer.”

Instead, her jobs included operating the shop switchboard and unblocking the pneumatic cash dispensing system.

“Plastic bags were just coming more in, and sometimes they got caught in the pneumatic tubes, and there were great problems finding out where they were,” she says.

Pneumatic cash systems are one of our favourite subject (see Memories 310). The counter staff would place details of the sale and the cash into a pod which would go into a tube and be sucked up to the accounts department on the top floor. The accountants would undo the pod, record the transaction and put the change in the pod and send it back down the tube to the waiting customer. We also welcome pneumatic cash system stories.

“I eventually got to help with the accounts and one thing I remember when writing up the heading for the ledger was that Mr Barker told me that the easy way to remember how to spell stationary or stationery was that envelopes went with stationery.

“I was there when Mr Barker retired and the business was sold to Matthias Robinson and Son of West Hartlepool in 1961. There was a sale on the last day and I think it was about 10pm before we cashed up.

“We had some good times and I wonder if there are any of the staff I worked with still around.”

KATH CALVERT (nee Allan) must have been one of them. “l left school in 1960 and went to work in the store three days later as an apprentice in the soft furnishing workroom where Mrs Swanson was my tutor.”

Bainbridge Barker had two other workrooms, one doing clothes alterations and the other preparing carpets.

“We went out with the carpet fitter to homes and stitched round the edges of the carpets, and then at the doorways we sewed tape to bind the raw edge,” she remembers.

Back then, most carpets were produced in strips 27 inches wide (or 69cms, if you prefer).

“Five or six widths had to be sewn together, either by machine or hand, to make a full carpet to fit a room,” says Kath. “We did it when the store was closed on Wednesday afternoons to use the space on the shop floor.

“In the main shop floor, the manager was George Reed. Bill Grundy on menswear with Geoffrey Gillow, van drivers were Ronnie Anderson, George Cummins and Barry Weatherill. In the dress alterations workroom were Vera Crumby, Cathy Clayton, Eleanor and Jenny, and Betty Smith worked with Gladdy Carter in the carpet workroom. Lots of happy memories.”

ANOTHER matter arising from the wide-eye picture was the identity of the black car whizzing off to the right.

Far too easy, and far too many people to mention them all knew it was a Hillman Minx, although it could have been anything from a Mark 2 through to a Mark 7.

"It was introduced in 1953, so quite an old car when photo taken," says Mike Crawley. "I'm surprised it hadn’t rusted away."

“It may even have been me as I had a black Minx at that time, which I bought from Motor Delivery showroom at the top of Victoria Road for £105, which was a fortune in 1959,” says John Weighell, of Neasham.

“It was one of the first cars to have headlights built into the front wings and a small side valve engine. It took us all round the UK on camping trips.”

Other car spotters noticed another car related item.

“I see the John Neasham garage on the right,” says Robin Rutherford. “Didn't he build the big garage on the new ring road that then became Skippers?”

Mark Cooper added: “The picture would have been taken a year or two before John Neasham opened his new garage on the ring road, which was when he was mayor. He also had a filling station and a Ford tractor sales place in Parkgate.”

Mr Neasham’s Blackwellgate garage was on the site of a mason’s yard which had a large lion – made of stone, so most definitely tame – lying on its roof and roaring across at a curious statue on the building beside Bainbridge Barker, so we will have to return to him in a future week.

If you can tell us anything about Mr Neasham and his garages or the statues – or if you have anything to add to any of today’s topics – please email