The 22nd of July marks a grim anniversary of a murder in Atherton which occurred 128 years ago. The event went down in history but subsequently the details of who, what and even where have been forgotten. This is the hidden history of 29 Market Street.
The Nineteenth Century
In the mid-nineteenth century Atherton, or Chowbent as it was known back then, began to develop into a large industrial town. Market Street, the main shopping street which connected Atherton to Bolton and Leigh, grew out of Market Place, located around St. John the Baptist Church.
Number 29 Market Street is first mentioned by address in 1876, by this point the town is in the midst of a population boom, rising from 7,531 in 1871 to 12,602 people in 1881. Like most of the properties on Market Street at the time, Number 29 served both commercial and domestic uses. James Woodward (1816-1877) was a boot and shoe maker and he was assisted in the business by his wife Ellen (1818) who worked as a boot binder and their four sons; Thomas (1845), William (1847), Richard (1852) and John (1853). They also had a daughter, Susan (b.1840).
In 1876 Thomas Woodward was charged with stealing a purse from the house of Jane Holland in Bolton. The case was dismissed from court after Woodward’s friends, Giles Higson and Samuel Hatton denied he took the purse and that they had no need to take it as they had plenty of money and had gone to Bolton “for a spree”. In 1877 James Woodward died and by 1881 only Ellen and her youngest son are left at 29 Market Street; the business has folded and it is purely a domestic property. To make ends meet John is working as a bolt maker and Ellen is working as a domestic servant, despite being aged 63 (which was considered quite elderly in the late nineteenth century as the life expectancy for a female was 58-60 years).
22 July 1889
In 1882 John Lowe set up a pawnbroker’s business at Number 4 Market Street. For a lot of the working class residents of Atherton in the late nineteenth century, the pawnbrokers shop was a barrier between poverty and complete destitution. It is often recalled in other histories of working class areas that the poorest people would pawn their best clothes after using them on a Sunday and then reclaim them on Saturday to be worn again. Lowe’s business was clearly profitable and in 1889 he opened another shop at 29 Market Street.
In May 1889, 21 year old Walter Davies came to Atherton to work for Lowe as manager of the second shop at Number 29. His wage was 23 shillings a week and he lodged with Mrs Ann Hodson at 22 Mealhouse Lane. Monday 22nd July 1889 started like any normal day:
7am – Davies leaves his lodgings and bids Mrs Hodson good morning. He immediately goes to Lowe’s shop at Number 4 Market Street where he is given his instructions for the day. He is given a box of watches, chains and rings to make a display of in the shop window and also told to clear the cellar of mud, as heavy rains over the weekend caused it to flood.
7:15am – Davies unlocks the shop at 29 Market Street and begins his day. Mrs Clewes who lives next door at 31 Market Street was still in bed but “heard him whistling and apparently in the best of humour”
8:30am – Mrs Clewes goes for milk and see’s Davies arranging the watches in the window.
8:55am – A friend of Davies calls into the shop to have a chat but notices he is busy selling a silk handkerchief to a male customer. His friend leaves.
9:10am – Mrs Clewes calls into the shop. This is what she saw in her own words, taken from the Leigh Chronicle
“Shortly after 9 o’clock I went into the shop where I noticed Davies working about an hour before, and not seeing him I called out “Walter” but got no answer. I then went to the top of the cellar steps, and I heard a moaning noise.. [She goes next door to get her 18 year old son, Frederick] Then both of us went into the pawnshop through the front door, and we went down into the cellar , my son reaching the bottom of the steps in advance of me. He found Walter lying in a pool of blood under the water tap, his face turned to the wall, he was lying on his left side.
Frederick Clewes stated “When I got into the cellar I said ‘Walter! Walter! Who has done it? but he could not speak, he apparently understood what I said, for he tried to speak but could not and only sobbed twice.”
Dr. Sephton was called, as was the police but Walter Davies was already dead. There was a pool of blood on the floor and down the cellar steps. The walls were smeared with blood as was a shelf containing the gas meter. Davies was described as a “muscular and well-built youth” and there must have been a struggle between him and his assailant. Davies had a fractured skull and two deep wounds behind his ears caused by a blade. Lowe was brought to the shop and he noticed that a gold watch, 3 silver watches and an unknown quantity of silver ladies watches had been stolen. Davies pocket watch had been ripped from his body as well.
Walter Davies was buried a few days later in his hometown of Sutton. At the funeral his distressed mother was heard to exclaim “Oh, my murdered Walter! Don’t tell me my Walter is murdered. What have they murdered him for?”, she had to be carried away from his grave. Walter’s sweetheart, Miss Sarah Roberts who had seen him only the day before his death was also overcome with emotion and had to be carried from the grave.
It was suspected the murderer and thief was the man who had been seen buying the handkerchief. The assailant then fled the scene and headed towards Central Station. A man who was described of “nervous excitement” called into the Bluebell Hotel on Bolton Road shortly after 9 o’clock and asked the landlady, Mrs Higginson the time.
A man named John Lorn was identified as a suspect in October 1889 but he was found to have a firm alibi on the day of the murder. However another man, William Chadwick quickly incriminated himself. Chadwick was imprisoned in Strangeways for stealing luggage from trains. He was said to have been reading a newspaper about the murder case and remarked that Lorne was innocent. This remark coupled with his history of violent robberies and an association with pawnshops and handwritten evidence against him was enough to convict him of the crime.
Chadwick was found guilty and hung at Kirkdale Goal near Liverpool on 15 April 1890. Chadwick pleaded his innocence to the end and left long letters to his brother, sister-in-law, the press and the Home Secretary. The evidence against him was circumstantial and it may never be known whether he killed Walter Davies or not.
A New Start
In 1892, Thomas Clewes took over the property at 29 Market Street. Clewes had previously resided next door and it was his wife Jane and son Frederick who discovered Walter Davies in the cellar. Clewes was a tripe dresser and he conducted his business from the ground floor, whilst his family lived upstairs. In 1891 only nineteenth year old Alice, fourteen year old Thomas and twelve year old Lewis are still at home.
In 1893 the property and its neighbouring building number 27 were advertised for sale. The combined square footage of both buildings was 221 square yards and there was a lease of 99 years from 30 May 1881. This date may infer the Number 29 was built at this time and any earlier building that was occupied by the Woodward family was demolished. Whoever purchased the buildings allowed the Clewes family to continue to reside there. The family are recorded there every year until 1908.
The Twentieth Century
In 1909 Adam Pendlebury is recorded at the property, however by 1910 it is home to the Greenwood’s. The family work as fishmongers and conduct this business from Number 29. James Edward Greenwood runs the business and the household is made up of his two daughters Lizzie and Florence and his widowed sister, Elizabeth Faulkner.
In 1913 the property is once again advertised for sale. The rent is £30 a year (£2709 in modern terms) and the ground rent is £7/10 per year (£677 in modern terms). Again the Greenwood’s continue to reside there after the sale of the building and James is still recorded there on the 1915 electoral register.
In 1923 Alfred Brickley (1891-1978) married Sarah Bullough and they ran a drapery business from Number 31 Market Street in 1924. The same year they also had a daughter, Joan. By 1939 the business had really took off and Brickley now owned Numbers 31, 29 and 27 Market Street.
Brickley’s continued to run from the three shops well into the 1950s. By the 1990s the shop continued to run from Numbers 29 & 27 Market Street. The entrance was through number 29 and that side of shop was ladies clothing and underwear and there was a staircase in the middle of the shop. The other side of the business dealt with school uniforms and generations of children in Atherton got their uniforms from here.
From what I recall of the shop from my childhood in the 1990s/2000s the shop seemed to be very old fashioned through a child’s eyes, it was quite gloomy inside and there seemed to be stock everywhere, all over the place but the shop assistants always knew where everything was.. There was a small curtained fitting room in the corner of the shop on the school uniform side and some really old mannequins.
Around 2010 the shop was refurbished to make it more modern, as the YouTube video in the link below shows. However the shop was unable compete with the wide range of other clothing outlets in the area and it closed in 2011 after some 87 years of trading as Brickley’s. It must hold the record for being one of the longest running shops in the town.
The Twenty-First Century
After the closure of Brickey’s the properties were divided back into two units; Number 27 became a hairdressers, Michael Anthony’s Hair Affair and Number 29 became a house clearance/second hand shop.
That shop closed recently and Gallo Rosso, an Italian takeaway opened there, the only such business in Atherton.
- Wigan Observer and District Advertiser, 19 February 1876, p.8
- Leigh Chronicle, 26 July 1889, p.6
- Leigh Chronicle, 27 December 1889, p.6
- Leigh Chronicle, 9 June 1893, p.4
- Leigh Chronicle, 23 April 1909, p.5
- Leigh Chronicle, 11 April 1913, p.1
- Wigan Archives & Leigh Local Studies