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History Blog

A HUGE Thank You to Jennifer Graham

We would like to welcome Jennifer Graham, a lifelong resident of the village, who has agreed to be another contributor and ambassador to What’s On Birstall. Jennifer began writing a column in the Birstall and Batley News in the early 1980’s. She then published her own book which is a very much prized possession around the village. Thank you Jennifer for joining us!

June 18th 2023


“Birstall isn’t the same as it used to be.” Many people have been heard to mutter this and how true it is, take the shopping center for example. Whoever would have thought, the 1950’s when queuing for a bag of chips in the fish shop near the Dairy on Low Lane, that one day it would be possible to buy elegant clothes from the same premises, when a few years later it was turned into a Boutique, and later a Travel Agents, or that the pork butchers and dairy would become a pizza takeaway.

I imagine the shop that has changed the most is what is now the Co-op supermarket. These premises used to be known affectionately as “t’ Emporium” and what a grand place it was. There was none of today’s plate-glass frontage. Instead, a grand showcase window graced the centre of the arcade-like entrance. One could walk round the arcade and browse before actually entering the shop – so much nicer than having to stand on the pavement and gaze in the windows.


Inside the Emporium seemed to change very little over the years – the glass doomed roof hovering above the centre of the store and the old-fashioned wooden partitions dividing the various sections of each department. They sold lots of things in the Emporium – from a reel of cotton in the Haberdashery section to new furniture downstairs in the large Showroom. There was a Footwear department and in winter time this was littered with Wellington boots and their distinctive smell wafted throughout. In the Fashion department, clothes were available for every age and every occasion.


One local resident actually purchased her bridal gown and veil there in the 1930’s – all for the princely sum of one pound! The bridal gown had been given pride of place in the central display window of the arcade and the young girl decided it was the dress of her dreams.


There have been so many changes, that the Co-op is probably only one of the few still retaining their original name. Not only has the Co-op Emporium changed, the premises where the Co-op Chemist used to be was once used as a Betting Shop and the old Co-op Bread shop is now an Insurance and Estate Agency.


I doubt if many of Birstall’s newer residents will remember when the Midland Bank used to be in what is now a house (known to locals as “The Bank House”) at the top of Chapel St.  The Midland moved into premises across the road and these were previously a Wallpaper shop owned by a family called Illingworth, but the same premises now also have been turned into an Estate Agency.


Credit: Jennifer Graham.

June 11th 2023

As a teaser of Jennifer’s future contributions to the Birstall History Blog here is a great photograph. It shows Bradford Road between Brookroyd Lane and the Smithies. It shows the old railway line and St Saviours Church (Brownhill) can also be seen in the top to the right. The photo also includes Brookroyd House. Thanks again Jennifer and we are very much looking forward to sharing the fascinating content you gathered over a wonderful writing journey


Credit: Jennifer Graham.

May 23rd 2023

This photograph was probably taken at the Birstall cricket field around 1900 on Leeds Road.


E. Dickinson, who was a local greengrocer, is seated at front centre.


Credit: Birstall Community Trustees.

May 14th 2023

One of the exciting features of “What’s On Birstall” will be a “Historic” section tracking the development of our Village over the years. We will have many well known local contributors adding content to this area of the website over the coming months.

This is a photo which was kindly given to us to get started. Much more to follow in June… and thank you again for your support!

Credit: Birstall Community Trustees.