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Tribute to Garth Dawson who died on December 14th 2016

Here at Acorn News we were very sad last year to hear of the death of a man who became an icon of Accrington and after the local authority boundary changes in the 1970s, Hyndburn. Here his daughters Barbara and Judith look back on their heritage with the help of the many photographs at their disposal.

Picture of Garth Dawson , ever hoping to join his hero John Wayne (picture by Garth Dawson)

The ancestors of Garth Dawson ( The spirit of the Dawsons)


My sister and I have been looking at some of the photographs taken by our father Garth Dawson as well as some taken by his father in the 1910s to 1940s.

As ever when someone is lost from this world, so are their memories and knowledge.

Why did we not ask more questions, write things down and listen to our elders and relatives.

Where did we come from what did our “ancestors” do?

Why did they come to Accrington and what hardships and pleasures did they know?

Amongst dad’s albums we found this newspaper picture dated 1928:

The blond haired boy is Garth Dawson, our dad.

He is pictured with his father, Richard Dawson, standing behind him,.

Richard (born in 1898) was a shoemaker with a shop on Union Road in Oswaldtwistle (next to the hat shop run by Jane Dawson (nee Hartley) dad’s grandma).


Later Richard Dawson’s shoe shop moved to the end of Cromwell street on Whalley Road near to what used to be the main entrance (forbidden to all except teachers and the sixth form) to the High School (now Moorhead).

The sixth form of 1968 at Accrington High School after winning the “drama prize” I am sitting on the far right in the middle row.

Aerial view of the High School, the (new) Grammar School and St Christopher’s in the 1960s (picture Garth Dawson from a light aircraft)

As a child, I remember the smell of shoe leather and grandad busying himself in his blue work coat, nailing and polishing shoes.

 a Helper in Richard Dawson’s shoe shop c 1920s

Richard had been a medical auxiliary in the first war working with military surgeons in Africa.

His great ambition was for his children to become doctors, but dad refused, leaving his sister (Janet Maureen Dawson ) to enter Manchester medical school in the early 50s, to qualify and move to Canada to work (where she remains age 86) (and his daughter, myself to take up my grandfather’s ambitions)

Janet  Maureen Dawson in the amateur dramatics 1940-50s  Picture Garth Dawson

Richard who was only five foot tall walked with a stick, a rapid limping gait due to a lifelong hip problem (of unknown cause). He was a determined fast moving individual who wouldn’t wince at trying to take his belt to his mischievous son, (an accepted practice in the 20s and 30s!).

This harshness may not have been surprising after he had disappeared into a hole in the back yard overlaying a six foot tunnel  which had been dug by my father and his friend after they had been to see “The Count Of Monte Cristo” at the Ossy Palladium!

  Richard Dawson

My father convincingly imitated grandad’s gait and claimed it was a war wound (or perhaps he was shot at OK Corrall in one of his jaunts to the cowboys at Ossy Palladium?)

Also standing in the 1926 picture is Robert Dawson, a shoe maker, my father’s grandfather who I believe was responsible for helping dad set up his photographic shop .

Being involved in the family business of shoe making was becoming less of an option as the market was soon to be flooded by the big companies and mass produced shoes, leaving no place for the small family craftsman.

Robert Dawson was married to a Jane Hartley from Colne (8/10/1896)

(Wedding of Richard Dawson and Margaret Scott c 1923 Jane Hartley stands at the left back and Robert Dawson at the extreme right. Towers Dawson stands behind the bridesmaid.)

Robert Dawson and Jane Hartley had two children, Richard and Elizabeth. (Elizabeth moved to Cleveleys where she married a butcher named  Jim (or Jo) Grime. Of their children Jo(or Jim) moved to Australia and Jean became a nurse, ending her days in Whalley.)

Robert retired to Blackpool, (another accepted practice in the 1920s).

Towers Dawson was my father’s great grandfather and sits in the centre of the 4 generations picture

Towers appears to have come from Pendleton, the small village close to Clitheroe (born in 1843 or 45). His mother Barbara ( my name sake) in the 1851 census was a widow for the second time with three children of the name S(w)ales and two, Towers and his brother William whose father was a David Dawson. David had died before this census and the second child William died soon afterwards.

 There are several Dawson graves in the Pendleton cemetery.  ( I had always wondered why my father had a liking of “The swan with two necks” and it came as a surprise to me that it was the pub in Pendleton, probably very active at the time of Towers birth having been opened in the mid 1700s. With the help of an old! School friend  Lesley Pearce( nee Green  also on the sixth form High school picture above)  we have traced the Dawson’s in Pendleton back to the 1790s but there are no graves going back so far, and at present the trail has stopped. I have been told that they, like the Lords on my mother’s side had come from North Yorkshire, Settle area in search of work.

It seems that Towers in response to the building of the mills, left his village and moved to the booming and affluent town of Accrington to work in steel foundry.

 He married a Mary Wolstenholme , 4/8/1872 at St John’s Accrington.

Believed to be an image of Towers and Mary and possibly one of their daughters

Towers and Mary had two sons Robert, (born 1874) and Robin(son) (born 1878) and two daughters, Margaret(1880) and Alice(1883).

Robin (son) had a large family. The 1911 census shows him living with his wife Clara, his father Towers, his sister Margaret and his 5 children (9 people) in Richmond St , Accrington.

Perhaps there are still people around who remember Doris, the eldest daughter and her husband Amos Spencer who later ran the sweet shop in Rishton Road Clayton (still there in the 1950s, when I was a child growing up in Clayton ,but now demolished).Doris Spencer nee Dawson

Her sister Clara was married to a man that my father referred to as “uncle Buff” and for a while ran an antique business from Sparth House Clayton before it became a hotel. I have no idea what happened to their brothers Edward (Teddy) and Robert and their sister Amy.

So the Dawson trail leads back to the country, the sides of Pendle and reflects the changing life through the generations  and the needs to stay ahead of the big factories and companies in order to remain“ independent craftsman and traders”.

The photography business eventually felt the stings of recent changes, the internet , phone cameras, cloud stored photos and unfortunately the young man who took over dad’s shop failed to survive against the modern onslaught .

My sister and I have joined the throngs of people working for large organisations and I feel for the spirit of those who wish to maintain an independence from them.

 In a way I feel I have let the cowboy spirit of the Dawson’s down. 

Barbara Milne 2017

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