The story behind the 85-year-old corner Pharmacy on Hartington Street in Barrow

We all have a story to tell and amongst the many local businesses there is always a fabulous bit of history to go with it.

HuddleHub spoke to both Rosalind Leadbetter and Derek Lyon about Coward’s Chemist in Hartington Street in Barrow to find out how the well- established business began.

Being a private house back in 1933 was when James Henry Lyon made a bold decision to convert number 52 Hartington Street, into a shop which he completed along with his 3 brothers.  The corner property, Being a pharmacist and dispensing optician James Lyon made his mark in the community at the age of 31 when he open JH Lyon and ran the pharmacy, building a great customer base and community spirit.

Offering late night opening was rare in those days, and the 7pm closing time proved very popular with many people following  their after work appointments, as there were three doctors surgeries at the time and yet all the other pharmacies had closed at 6pm.  Sight tests were also undertaken at the chemists and Lyon’s even had eye drops to help with welding flash incidents, it’s hard to imagine that happening now!

Derek Lyon, James’s son told us of many hours he spent helping out in the shop “All bottles were wrapped in paper and sealed with red wax which was melted with a Bunsen burner. Used bottles were returned and my job was to wash them then scrape the label off with an old razor. This was how I earned my pocket money” he smiled

 “Everything was hand counted and hand labelled and the only sweets we had in the shop, during the war were Cough Candy. I remember Dad making ointments and bottling it up ready to sell” he added

Living above the shop meant that Derek attended local schools including St James’s  and on one occasion Derek remembers taking German bullets to school to show to his pals after finding them inside cotton wool bags following an air raid attack.

The incident took place in 1941 as Derek recalls “I remember going downstairs into the shop and hiding under a desk as bombs were being dropped in surrounding streets. One landed directly opposite our shop. All of the bottles and glass goods were shattered and I had two weeks off school as there was so much bomb damage in the area”

Sadly James Lyon died in 1961 and as his son Derek did not want to take it over it was sold to Michael Coward. Michael’s father Victor, had a chemist shop at Hawkshead which was also a grocers, Post Office and newsagents and so Michael knew just how lucrative the Hartington Street practice would be. Michael also hand-made and bottled ointments in large two litre Winchester bottles, along with the delightful home-made lemon essence hand cream, which the local ladies loved,  whilst the local children popped in for the tasty selection of Walls ice creams they stocked.

When Michael Coward passed away in 1986 the business was kept in the family but with extra managers brought in to help run it, and in 1991 Michael's son, Simon, took over and he ran the shop for almost 20 years.  He built the business even further, always helping his customers and he developed a real affection for the people of Hindpool.  During Simon's time, the pharmacy industry continued to change from the home made remedies of the old chemist shop into the manufactured pre-prepared medicines we receive today.  Computers also took over many of the roles as they have in all walks of our life.

Over the years the name may have changed, the staff may have changed and even the products may have changed, but to this day Coward’s Chemist still have the original telephone number. Starting at just 1272, the number has evolved to 821272.

Standing the test of time and great change, the one thing local businesses offer above all else is local knowledge and good old fashioned customer care.

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