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Dr Derek J Ripley on the lost art of DIY in Wigan

PUBLISHED: 00:00 26 June 2014 | UPDATED: 17:50 19 January 2016

Talcott’s struggling shop gave discounts to anyone over 75, accompanied by both parents

Talcott’s struggling shop gave discounts to anyone over 75, accompanied by both parents

(c) Brand X Pictures

Our resident hisorian Dr Derek J. Ripley charts the rise and rapid fall of the kinds of hardware

It is practically impossible these days to turn on the television without seeing a programme about self-improvement, whether it be a nanny shouting at a family, a dietician shouting at a fat family or two fat politicians shouting at each other about families.

Before switching off, who pauses to think about the history of this desire for self-improvement?

Regular readers will recall that I have detailed the story of William Gladstone Blunt and his rise to fame on the back of fridge magnets. Along with his wife, Ernestina, he produced 14 children and it can be fairly said that the 20th would have been a very different century were it not for their progeny and their extraordinary achievements.

The history of the self improvement movement can be traced directly to their third son, born in 1883, Talcott W Blunt. His particular speciality was the improvement of houses via do-it-yourself.

From an early age, he could often be found playing with tools in his father’s shed, confounding his parents when, at the age of three he patented a device for locating a lost dummy (or ‘pacifier’, as the globular lumps of lead on a ribbon used to be called).

It came as no surprise when he left school at 13 and opened a hardware shop in Mintball Square, Wigan. The shop struggled to thrive, however, possibly because the range of stock was too limited or, as many have suggested, because the name ‘Blunt Tools’ carried an inappropriate subliminal message. One evening as Talcott was drawing down the shutters, a Norwegian sailor separated from his shipmates on a night out in Wigan, wandered into the shop with a broken compass.

The sailor, Olav Quisling, quickly saw how the ailing business could be improved by closer attention to cost control, continuous product development and a change of name. Quisling jumped from ship to shop and the partnership of Blunt and Quisling was born in 1911.

This was a time when house prices were booming and suddenly property investors and DIY fanatics started to flock to the shop from as far afield as Hindley and Appley Bridge, attracted by philosophy of selling good quality products at a fair price served by buxom wenches wearing see-through overalls. They were never afraid of gimmicks to attract, and even now are remembered fondly for their introduction of ‘50% Discount Wednesdays’ to anyone over 75 (when accompanied by both parents).

Encouraged by their success, Blunt and Quisling transferred their stock to a new warehouse a couple of miles outside town on the A577 with parking for up to 150 horse-drawn carriages.

It was here that their new business struggled. They had not taken account of the fact that few people owned their own transport and the No 42 Wigan to Ormskirk horse-bus ran only once a day.

The pair asked Spaatchcock and Spaatchcock to come up with some ideas to revitalise their business. On their advice they changed the name to Quisling and Blunt. When this failed, they shortened it to Q & B and tried to recapture the success of their Mintball Square days. They even opened a small cafe serving Uncle Bill’s Meatfree Meatballs in a tasty Norwegian cod sauce, but, sadly, nothing could save the store.

It finally closed in 1987, the victim of strong, local competition, when a more modern establishment was opened a few miles up the road in Warrington by a hitherto unknown Swedish retailer who had already made a fortune from his invention of the one-way system, which he applied to his shops.

 

Forgotten Lancashire and Parts of Cheshire and the Wirral is by Dr Derek J Ripley. To purchase a copy go to www.forgottenlancashire.co.uk

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