BLACKBURN’S oldest store, Ainsworth Jewellers, is celebrating its 150th anniversary.

Founded by Joseph Ainsworth in October 1870 the jewellers is the oldest surviving retail business in Blackburn and has been based at its present Darwen Street location for more than 50 years.

The family business has survived through two world wars, under different six monarchs and 36 Prime Ministers. It was established when Queen Victoria was on the throne and William Ewart Gladstone led the country. 

J Ainsworth Jewellers & Clockmakers, as it was called, was established at No 9a Darwen Street – before relocating further down to No 71. It moved across to Northgate in 1885 and then further shops were bought by the family at 74 King William Street and 48 Market Place. 

Following his death, Joseph’s three sons, James, George and Arnold, continued to grow the business before combining and moving to 50 Market Place. In 1965, as the first shopping centre was being built, the business moved to 57 - 59 Darwen Street and has remained on this stretch of road ever since.

It is now headed by Phil Ainsworth, the great, great grandson of Joseph and great grandson of George. Phil started working at the Darwen Street store in 1990 and said it was wonderful to be celebrating the 150th anniversary.

He said: “We would like to thank the people of Blackburn and Darwen on behalf all our generations throughout the past 150 years. It is through their support we are still here.”

Phil began documenting the history of the store in the nineties and a museum at the shop which the public can view, features a range of artefacts salvaged from the Market Place shops and donated by customers. It also includes Joseph’s spectacles-case and an original pocket watch from 1895.

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Joseph and sons, James, Arnold and George. With Edith (James wife) and Jane (Joseph’s wife) (Ainsworth Jewellers)

Phil said: “We didn’t know this, but as we looked through our history we found that the Ainsworth store was, among other things, responsible for designing the clock face of the greenhouse at Corporation Park in 1900.

“We also found out that between 1907 and 1927 Ainsworth produced the FA Cup medals for the Football Association.”

Ainsworth Jewellers is one of three businesses based on Darwen Street whose history dates back more than 100 years. The others are Edmondson’s, which was founded in 1898, and Wm Hobkirk & Son, established in 1903 by Mr William Hobkirk, who originally traded from Salford, Blackburn.

Despite deep recessions and economic uncertainty, Ainsworth’s has remained a constant force in the town. Phil said: “As well as celebrating the past, we have started to look to the future. Of course we are having to develop and change the business model and I think that has what has set us apart.

“We were closed for 13 weeks, like many other shops in the spring. But, surprisingly, since we re-opened things have been busy. A lot of people have been coming out and supporting us after the lockdown.

“People still like to touch and feel the product and it has been good to be able to assist those looking for that perfect piece of jewellery. It can mean so much for families and loved ones.”
In what has been a testing year Phil told how they helped to laser-engrave a wedding image onto a signet ring for a man who had lost his wife to coronavirus

“It was wonderful to be helping to re-create such a significant moment for someone through our service,” he said.

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Phil and Helen in the Ainsworth Jewellers Museum

Phil’s fiancée Helen Dimmick, an experienced jewellery consultant, has relocated her business to Darwen Street and is now based at the Ainsworth store. She is working in partnership with the brand. 

Helen said: “The aspect that sets jewellery apart is that people still have an emotional connection to the piece that they purchase. 

“Jewellery still, I feel, has a major relevance in people’s lives no matter what else is going on in the world.”

Helen revealed how Ainsworth Jewellers was now hoping to inspire the next generation.
She said: “We are working with Blackburn College on our Pure Jewels collection, and asking students to design their own jewellery.”

The past 150 years has seen many momentous events and occasions.

Phil said: “Probably the most testing time for the store was the Second World War. My grandfather was also in the RAF so it was a time of great upheaval.

“I would say the town and its people have seen many ups and downs and we have come through it through perseverance and community. And we will do so again.”

ALSO SEE Town leaders congratulate Ainsworth Jewellers

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Founder Joseph Ainsworth was an apprentice of John Welch Jewellers based in King William Street.

The first Ainsworth Store was actually based in front of Blackburn Cathedral at 9a Darwen Street

On Joseph Ainsworth’s death in 1934, the three sons entered into partnership and continued the Northgate and Market Place businesses.

The Market Place shop was located where the Game store now sits opposite NatWest.

George Ainsworth became one of the first members of the Blackburn and District Branch of the National Association of Goldsmiths, and was eventually elected president and served on the committee for several years.

During the war, stock became hard to come by each window was covered over with brown paper.

In 1946, Miss F Openshaw started work and went on to become Ainsworth Jewellers longest serving member of staff. She continued to work for Ainsworth up until 1988!

When the shop opened at 57 - 59 Darwen Street in 1965 the iconic Blackburn town hall clock was demolished and the re-development of Blackburn Town Centre started.

In 1995, the firm became a founding member of the Online Appraiser Jewellery Valuation Service which is still used for all valuations.

In 2015, Ainsworth Jewellers celebrated 50 years on Darwen Street. 

In 2017, the firm hosted a £395,000 refurbishment sale. This was to enable the ongoing refurbishment and improvement of the store here on Darwen Street which is in evidence today.