Local historian

MOST East Lancashire town centres look very different to how they did 50 years ago. But Darwen centre, around the Circus, hasn’t changed much.

Most buildings are still there looking rather like they did back in the late 60s. The Palladium Cinema – facing the market hall and municipal buildings – had become the Plaza by then. The building is still there but it’s a pub. Just up Railway Road the Wesleyan Methodist chapel is still there, but it’s also a pub.

Chemist’s on the corner? Tick. Millstone pub by the lights? Tick. Railings curling up towards the station, the Burton’s block and shops on Market Street, Holker House, the coffee bar though under a different name … all still there. So is the impressive entrance to the Market Hall topped by that wonderful clock, the Carnegie library and the imposing Holy Trinity Church although it’s now called St Peter’s.

Buses still swing into Parliament Street past the “potted meat bank” though it’s no longer a bank and at least three other bank buildings have taken on new responsibilities. Belgrave Square and Bridge Street look the same. The Post Office is still impressive.

The outside market came and went, mourned by few. A statue of a big, bronze bird is there now – it’s either a large falcon or a tiny weaver bird; who knows? Most folk are just hoping it will fly off.

However, what’s the one thing that many elderly Darreners miss about the Circus area? The one thing that no other East Lancs town had to compare with it?

Here’s a clue: Big signs warning “No Thoroughfare” were at either end, though no one took any notice.

Another clue: Heavy rain didn’t put off shoppers – and it was great for lining up parades and marches in the drizzle.

And another memory-jogger: it was probably the only place anywhere in East Lancs where you could buy pig’s trotters, cow heel and fresh onions alongside tasty ice cream.

Yes, of course: th’arcade, known to everyone as the “Glass Shed”which was dismantled in 1968, a few years before the merger with Blackburn, so that’s one thing Darreners can’t blame our neighbours for.

The arcade was added to the market hall when it was built in 1882 and it housed greengrocers and tripe stalls, while in later years Ward’s red and white ice cream van did a roaring trade on the Croft Street corner.

Baines and Jepsons ran the tripe stalls in those days with colourful characters Gladys Tripe and Betty Tripe (no relation!) in charge. Betty was the mother of Darwen Council leader John East and he recalled as a youngster watching her break ice on large vats of tripe on cold, mid-winter mornings.

There wasn’t much waste and all sorts of odds and ends from the production lines were popular with pet dogs.

So, what exactly is tripe? It’s the lining from the stomachs of various farm animals, particularly cows. When I was a child we occasionally had tripe. It was long before pizzas and spag-bol became fashionable.

A plate of honeycomb was just about edible – as long as you poured half-a-pint of vinegar on it.