ALTHOUGH several generations of his family made their living at the loom, George Heyworth, born in Burnley in the late 1800s, had greater ambitions.

He left behind the noise and grime and within a few years became the owner of an elegant department store in Cambridge.

GA Heyworth and Co was for many years a city landmark, thriving under both his leadership and then later his son Herbert.

A new book, which tells the true story of four shop girls who served a variety of customers, including glamorous gypsy queens, genuine royalty, stuffy academics and the fashionable elite, touches first on the man behind the store.

George was the eldest of five children, born in 1887 to cotton weavers George and Mary, whose grandfather John Heyworth was a cotton manufacturer.

It was a hard life in the mills; the hours were long – 6am to 6pm during the week and 6am until 12.30pm on Saturdays.

The average wage for a weaver in Burnley in 1908 was between 23s 8d and 24s a week and they were expected to run several loom at the same time.

George’s first job at the age of 14, in 1901, was as a mill office boy and he stayed there for 10 years.

But he wasn’t the only one of the children to seek out other employment, his sister May became a schoolmistress and his brother Herbert, who was killed in action in 1916, aged 25, had been a postman.

Only his youngest brother James kept up the family tradition of more than a century by being a tenter – an assistant to a weaver.

In 1911 George moved south, securing an apprenticeship as a draper’s assistant in Luton, which then had a thriving hat industry.

It is not known exactly when George moved to Cambridge, but by 1914 he was running a thriving business there, over three premises in Burleigh Street, with the sign, G A Heyworth and Co, Milliners, Ladies Complete Outfitters, Drapers and a provider of Specialist Babywear painted across the top.

Once he had settled, the time was right to marry his sweetheart from back home; Elizabeth Ann Ashworth came from Accrington and the couple married in the summer of 1914.

George was a prolific advertiser and one, with 11 photographs of his premises promised ‘All depts abloom with new things’ and ‘a millinery department that displays more than 1,000 exclusive new hats, trimmed, semi trimmed and untrimmed’.

A year after their marriage their son Herbert George was born – George does not seem to have had an active role in WWI, until war records show he enlisted in 1917 at the age of 29.

He is described as a very capable driver and a very reliable man with a clean conduct sheet.

Fourteen years after opening in Burleigh Street, George took a decision that was to transform the future success of his store, he decided to move to one of the most prominent and affluent shopping areas in the centre of Cambridge.

His new store was based in Sidney Street. The move led him to selling more select and exclusive fashions and became an upmarket ladies department store and millinery, selling beautiful clothes and hats to the well-to-do college wives.

George established himself as a pillar of the business community, joining the Rotary Club in 1929.

n The Shop Girls, by Ellee Seymour, is published by Sphere and priced at £6.99.

* A Heyworth dinner dance, with Mr and Mrs George Heyworth, left, toasting Mr and Mrs Herbert Heyworth.

* The department store in Sidney Street decorated for the Queen’s coronation in 1953.