Looking Back with Cooper Harding

THIS view of the northern side of Thirsk Market Place offers a prospect which, above shop front level at any rate, has changed little in the 36 years since the photograph was taken. Of the four public houses seen, three are still in business, though the one on the extreme left was then the Red Bear. That name was changed (to great local indignation!) in the 1990s, when the pub was re-styled to catch James Herriot devotees as the Darrowby Inn.

Next, with a star suspended at second floor level, comes the Royal, beyond that is the White Swan now closed, whose yard then gave the sole means of vehicular access to the rear of the premises on this side of the square. Both the Red Bear and the White Swan display the sign for Magnet Ale. This was brewed by the renowned John Smith and described in a CAMRA article as “delicious but rare dark beer”.

At the far end is the Black Bull, one of the very old building on the Market Place with a timber framed interior. The main focus of this view though is the double frontage of Fox’s, now divided once more into separate premises. This shop was run by one of the best known trading families in the town. Five generations back, in 1834, Thomas Fox was in business here as a grocer and appears in successive census returns as a tallow chandler, a cheese factor and a provision dealer. By 1881 however, the business had passed to his son John who was a journalist and musician and the shop had become Fox’s Music Warehouse, selling instruments and sheet music.

As a reporter, John Fox covered local stories for both regional and national papers, but he is also recorded as the composer of popular songs that were performed in the music halls of the day. He was the leader of a junior fife and drum marching band and directed a small amateur orchestra which performed as the oddly named Adullamite String Band. The Adullamites were a mid-century breakaway group from the Liberal party at the time of the 1867 Reform Bill. The term has a biblical origin and was used scornfully to describe a band of malcontents. Were Fox’s string players renegades from an earlier amateur group? The records are silent on the point.

l Apologies for the misleading headline on the last Looking Back (February 29) - ‘Snowy day on the French boulevard of 1930s Front Street in Sowerby’.

In pointing out our error, Cooper Harding says it is clearly a summer’s day as the trees are in full leaf and the bright sunshine is casting short shadows. The reason the road looks white is because streets were not routinely tarred in the early 1930s, he adds.