IF you ever wanted to be transported back in time – as far as a pre-Victorian era – then until recently that was possible by visiting WM Walton & Sons Ltd.
Little had changed in nearly two centuries at what was believed to be the longest-established business on the high street in Ashton.
Customers stepping inside the Stamford Street shop, which began as a paper and twine merchant in 1832, and which latterly sold disposable paperware and cake decorating equipment, were given a snapshot of life from a by-gone era.Most of the original fittings remained as the shop became a sought-after location for television companies filming period programmes. The fittings for gas lights even remained along with ornate fireplaces as the top of the four floors to the building were once living quarters.
But it is the end of an era as Marilyn and Dave Wilson have retired and, with no line of succession, the shutters have just been put down for one last time.
It has been emotional for Marilyn, 75, who has been working in the business for 60 years since leaving school.
And when you consider she helped out during school holidays, her involvement extends even further back.“I was aged 15 and left Fairfield School on the Friday and started work the next day, though officially it ought to have been on the Monday,” she recalled.
“But I had been helping out at the shop since I was about 10 years of age, maybe younger than that.”
Marilyn took over the business from her father Henry Jolly in 1984 and ran it with her husband Dave, 76.
There is sadness from Marilyn that she had to take the decision to shut the business which has been in her family for generations, she believes since the 1860s.
“I am ready for retirement and, with our only son living in Australia, there is nobody to take it over,” she explained.
“Business was not good in recent years, and it was quiet before Covid with more people shopping online. We were too old to adapt so we have sold the shop.”It was back in 1832 that the business began as a paper and twine merchant.
And the extensive cellars bear out the suggestion it was a public house before that with access from Stamford Street to store barrels.
There are also stables at the rear still as they were with hay nets still mounted on the walls.
Marilyn believes the business has been in her family since the 1860s – she is unsure for how many generations.
But it developed and evolved later becoming a printers with the presses still in-situ on an upper floor along with all the printing blocks and galleys of type when it was hot metal, far from today’s digital age. That, too, was like a history lesson.
In later years, the business switched to disposable paperware and cake decorating equipment while it has become a film location for television programmes Ridley Road and Snatch.
In the BBC’s Ridley Road, the shop was kitted out in November as a tailor outfitter as the show was about life in the 18th century while earlier in Snatch, the crime-comedy drama, also took over the street to create a 1960s market.
With the official handover to the new owner taking place at the end of January, Marilyn and Dave are clearing the shop and disposing of historical artefacts.
Some of the haberdashery cabinets have gone to Leicester where the purchaser is opening a café.
As for Marilyn and Dave, who live in Ashton, they are hoping lockdown restrictions are soon eased so they can visit their son and grandchildren on Australia’s Sunshine Coast.