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This year sees the 60th anniversary of Whewell’s Timber in Accrington as a Limited Company. The story doesn’t start there though as Gordon Whewell reminded me. His parents, Rowland and Olive were the prime movers.

“The story of the family business started in 1947, two years after the war, when my father bought a run-down hardware shop in Warner Street. He still worked part time at Lang Bridges and my mother worked at Woolworths as a window dresser.

“She gave up her job and started in the shop selling hardware. From there, my father, an engineer, started cutting keys and repairing locks.”

The shop in question was number 45 Warner Street, on the corner of Cross Street and although Rowland and Olive called it The Big Key Shop, it was always known as Key Joe’s to the locals. Gordon thinks that it might have been the name of the previous owner of the shop.

Between 1947 and 1954 the family lived above the shop until Rowland had enough for the deposit on a house, Gordon told me.

As business grew and expanded into selling hardboard and beadings plus other timbers and Formica, the little shop became inadequate and Rowland bought another one on the corner of Cross Street and Oak Street. Gordon said of those early days:

“They had a little saw. It was only on the floor and you had to kneel on the floor and push the hardboard through the saw to cut it to size.”

As the company need somewhere to store the wood, Gordon went on:

“He rented a warehouse, which is part of what we now own. It was just one big room. We started selling hardboard and other products from there and now, as many people know we own quite a sizeable property in Bridge Street. We own half the properties in the street.”

Whewell’s is essentially a family business and Gordon’s son, Michael, runs it along with his father, and now a third generation is part of the company in the shape of Michael’s son. I put it to them that it was great to see such a thriving business in the town in light of so many closures. Gordon said that was largely due to the fact that they had a staff that all understood the business and some good customers.

Michael joined the company straight from school and I asked him what he remembered when he just started out and what the business was like at that time. He told me:

“When I started it was already here. All the buildings we have now, except The Toolbox”.

The Tool Box was acquired around twenty years ago on the site of what was then the Central Working Men’s Club in Bridge Street. Michael continued:

“There were few places to get tools in Accrington so it was an opportunity we took.

“We opened with three things really: hardware and ironmongery, which the Key Shop used to do; locks and keys and also tools: hand tools and power tools. It has been very successful. Obviously since then with the advent of the Internet which all the high street’s suffering from, and we are no different, it just makes you more competitive really.”

Michael did say though that one advantage they had over the Internet is the personal touch.

“We can get things in to order that people might find difficult to find online. He went on:

“You can’t ask those questions online. You have got to tell it what you want. You’ve got to know exactly what you are looking for and if you make a mistake there’s nobody else to blame; whereas, if you come in here and don’t know exactly what you want, we can ask you the questions to try to ascertain the right product for your needs.”

Michael also told me that one of the ways to succeed is to recognise what is in trend and cater for it. Hardboard was something that everyone wanted to panel their doors with in the 1960s and 70s for instance, but not today and MDF is now one of their top selling products. Their customers include DIY enthusiasts and tradesmen alike, and sometimes they will act as a go between to find a tradesman to help the ones who get a little out of their depth.

Talking to Gordon and Michael gave me a real insight into why they are still going strong after all these years and on behalf of Acorn News I wish them good luck for the next sixty years and beyond.

© Peter Jones 2018

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Musbury Fabrics have been housed at Park Mill, Helmshore since the 1990s. The company, owned by Alistair Mitchell and Kathryn Carr, specialise in bespoke bedding, curtains, cushions, window blinds and many other soft furnishings.

They manufacture a variety of custom made products in their on-site factory in Haslingden and specialise in the making up of curtain fabrics by a team of experienced and highly skilled machinists who also have specialist knowledge in curtains, bedspreads, foot throws, cushions, voiles, blinds, swags and tails, valances and tie backs, according to their website, where you can also order from their online collection. Just visit www.musburyfabrics.co.uk

Alistair and Kathryn also sub-let a café and a gift shop at the mill premises and have their factory shop next door.

The gift shop is called The Furniture & Gift Emporium and the Mill Café at the other end of the substantial downstairs area provides hot meals, sandwiches and an array of beverages.  The owner of the Mill Café, Andrew Clarke-Cope has a workforce of six and the café is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Apart from Helmshore, Musbury Fabrics have two other stores in the area at Oswaldtwistle Mills and Pendle Village. They are currently trialling a new initiative whereby each of their stores has a sleep specialist who will help people select the best bedding, duvets etc. to assist with a good night’s sleep.

Alistair was kind enough to speak to me about the business and he told me:

“We manufacture bespoke bedding and custom made curtains, cushions and throws and roller blinds.”

Whilst Musbury no longer weave their own fabric, they buy the best available and make it into the wonderful array of soft furnishings that you will see in any of their outlets. They advertise quality goods at Mill prices and who can argue with that. Over the years my wife and I have bought their products and have never been dissatisfied. At Oswaldtwistle Mills, which is nearest to where I live, the staff are always ready to help you in a friendly and courteous manner and after speaking to Alistair I can see why.

He is obviously proud of the business and even speaking to him you can feel his enthusiasm to maintain the quality that Musbury have achieved for the last twenty odd years.

I asked him what his vision was for the future. His answer tells you all you need to know and I’ll leave the last word with him:

“Really it’s just to keep making beautiful curtains and bedding.”


© Peter Jones 2018

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Many café’s throughout the region display pictures by local artists. The gallery at The Mill Café in Park Mill, Helmshore is a little different, however, in that 10% from the sale of each painting, goes to Rossendale Hospice.

Andrew Clarke-Cope who owns the café, told me:

“The artists are allowed to display their works for a few months free of charge, but then new artists are given the chance to replace them. If the artists sell a painting, 10% will go to the Hospice and they will keep the rest.”

The Mill café is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Andrew has a staff of six. They provide a varied menu including hot food, sandwiches and a selection of beverages and the café occupies half of the spacious area that has a gift shop at the other end.

The whole area had a welcoming ambience and the artwork certainly enhances this. Andrew told me that the café has a regular client base and I am sure it attracts new customers by word of mouth. It’s certainly worth a visit.

© Peter Jones 2018

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Park Mill Furniture and Flooring have just celebrated their second anniversary at Park Mill, Helmshore.

The company, owned by Shaun Evans has actually risen Phoenix-like from the ashes of the former site of their business, Lambert’s Mill, which, whilst not destroyed by fire, was devastated by heavy floods that caused damage and destruction to stock which included sofas, beds and carpets. This unfortunately caused the business to close.

That was in December 2015 but by April 2nd the following year, Shaun and business partner, John Booth launched a new business at Park Mill where they occupy the complete second floor.

Shaun was quoted as saying:

“It has taken 14 weeks of hard work to get to this stage.”

The business is now going from strength to strength and Park Mill Furniture and Flooring provides a wide range of furniture including beds, mattresses, sofas and chests of drawers for every pocket. This is all backed up by employing experienced fitters who have been with the firm for a number of years.

The company has recently expanded its product range to include living and dining room furniture and also makes its own range of sofas and a large range of upholstery items are also manufactured in the company’s on-site workshops. These workshops also now offer a re-upholstery service and the team can recover anything from a saggy chair to a complete suite.

This is a triumph for dogged determination and a never-say-die attitude.

© Peter Jones 2018

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