Monday, 2 April 2007
A Walk on the Dark Side
The Curiosity Shop: scene of a murder.
Am I looking at a 50’s childhood through rose coloured glasses? I suppose I could ramble on indefinitely about riding down country lanes, provisioned with a bottle of water and a loaf of bread, its inside hollowed out and filled with crisps and ketchup. The glory days of British cuisine. There were expeditions to the ‘Gingerbread shop’ - somewhere we never found twice. There were those who travelled as far as the ‘Dizzy steps’ though I never discovered where these were and subsequently relegated them to the province of the Elephant’s Graveyard.
There was a darker side. Many of us would gravitate to a small garage situated off Wyresdale Road, between Ribblesdale and Warbreck Moor. It dominated a small entry behind Shaws the Chemist and the owner would allow us to sit in the corner and talk about anything and watch all there was to watch. It made for a gloomy and intimate hideout and I can still remember the smell of engine oil, and grease. We never questioned why he was so tolerant of our company. Some time later he was found hanged in his garage; suicide it was said. Later still it came out that he was a child molester. I haven’t mentioned his name out of respect for what is essentially a tragedy, but his face is still clear in my mind.
Just a little further down Warbreck Moor was a sixteen room Victorian house occupied by one very old man. It cornered Hall Lane and Albany Road and in my parent’s time was known as the Curiosity Shop. Its ground floor was stuffed with the weird and exotic, memorabilia of every kind. In 1953, the man who owned it, George Walker, was 86 years old. I was 5. In January 1953 George Walker was murdered. His killer was John Todd, a 20 year old labourer from Roxburgh Street, Walton. A massive inquiry involving 14, 000 statements eventually identified him and he was arrested, charged and hung in Walton Gaol in May 1953. What strikes me now is the sheer speed of the process. One assumes, perhaps wrongly, they got the right man.
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When we were a little older, the house was still there stripped and abandoned. You could get into it from the back, but despite all our bravado we never stayed in it for long. Real or imagined, it exuded a horribly creepy atmosphere. Some boasted of spending a whole night there…but some how I doubt it.
Now it’s a Shell garage…but I wouldn’t spend too long on its forecourt at night.