Memories of Stoke-on-Trent people - Don Barnes


Don Barnes of Pyenest Street


Memories in the life of Don Barnes


Pyenest Street

Pyenest Street, an unusual name, apparently named because magpies once nested there, was for a child of the time a wondrous street to grow up in. It was full of interest from one end to the other with always something going on. 

There were some forty families living there, the names of most I still remember to this day, two shops, a mill, a motorcycle repair garage, a corn and feed merchant, a motorcycle shop and petrol pumps, a small pottery, the Borough yard where the councils road men worked from, and finally a wholesale garage supplier: all this in about 400 yards.

Pyenest Street in January 2008
Pyenest Street in January 2008 

Pyenest Street on an 1898 map
Pyenest Street on an 1898 map 
the Caldon Canal is shown in blue

Of the two shops, the one on the corner of the street was the largest; it was owned by a Mr Rudge. During the general strike of 1926 my mother had apparently done cleaning there and he had been helpful to families who had been affected. The shop was long and narrow, with an ’L’ shaped counter at the narrow end which held the bacon-cutting machine, the sides of bacon and ham hanging from hooks in the ceiling. Sacks of potatoes and other vegetables lined the wall under the window; the walls were lined with shelving all filled to overflowing with stock. There was so little floor space that Mr Rudge discouraged any one not actually buying from standing in the shop so children often waited outside on the pavement.

Around the corner was another door off the street into his Off Licence where from wooden barrels he sold beer, into whatever container you had brought for it, usually a large or very large jug. There were only a few brands of bottled beers; in our house the most popular was Milk Stout. All bottles had a penny return value and many a night at the pictures was paid for by returning carefully hoarded bottles.


The other shop in the street was only the front room of No. 54 the home of Mrs Walker and her son Wilf. Her niche market was the essential items needed when Mr Rudge was closed, in essence a forerunner of the ‘Late Shop.’ Her specialities were candles, gas mantles, fire-lighters, sticks and herbal remedies. I recall syrup of figs, Indian brandy and "Mothers friend" being the most popular. The small window was always well stocked with big jars of sweets and cheap lines in chocolate. The gas lit window, during the long winter evenings was an oasis of light in a street with only two gas lamps and many street games were organised and run from under its windowsill.


Bassett’s motor cycles are still in business in Shelton
Bassett’s motor cycles are still in business in Shelton


Almost next door was the motor cycle repair garage belonging to Mr Bassett. There was always plenty of activity here and several motor cycles usually stood outside on the pavement awaiting repair. No one seemed to mind if you indulged in a little fantasy by sitting on one and pretending to be zooming off on some journey. The garage had for a child a more important function because it provided old tyres and ball bearings, both prized possessions. Many years later in 1949 I bought my first motor cycle from him, a 1938 A.J.S, for the princely sum of £25.00. And today Bassett’s motor cycles are still in business in Shelton.

Another business of interest to me was Leese’s the corn and fodder merchants. Stepping into their yard was like moving from town to country: the smells were wonderful, and through the open doorways you could see the sacks of cattle foodstuffs and bales of hay. On Saturday mornings, if you waited outside the gates the drivers would sometimes pick you up and take you out on their deliveries. There were usually two of us and we were more than willing to help with the unloading at farms, which were sometimes only a few miles from the town.


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Photos of Pyenest Street

Howard Place and Snow Hill