Monday, 17 October 2016

'Grandpa's workshop' - Henry Charles Body

My maternal grandfather, Henry (Harry) Charles Body (1877-1956), was a trunk, dressing case and portmanteau maker in Liverpool and I recently took a photo of where his workshop used to be.  The workshops were in Dukes Terrace, Liverpool.  In the 1950s they could only be accessed by going down a back alleyway (known in Liverpool as an entry or jigger) between Seel Street and Duke Street and my father showed me them when I was very little.

I rather assumed they had since been demolished as most of the adjacent buildings have now been knocked down and replaced with modern structures.  But the workshops themselves are still standing.  Some have been converted into flats, visible from the main road (Duke Street).  .

The three storey ones (which, judging by the windows, Grandpa's workshop was in) are a Grade II listed building and form a small terrace of which the 'front' and 'back' are identical back-to-back houses; the only remaining back-to-back houses in Liverpool.   They were built in 1843.

When I lived in Leeds I lived in a  converted back-to-back which had been knocked through so that there were two front doors and therefore two addresses, one on Royal Park Avenue and one on Royal Park Grove.  That caused chaos for leaflet distributors, postmen, door-to-door salesmen, TV licensing people, etc.

This is the inside of the workshop.  Grandpa is second from the left and one of the others in the photo is his brother Fred, one of his five employees.

I have a few dressing cases made by Grandpa including one he made for my Grandmother.  The outside of that one is alligator skin.  Perhaps part of the enormous alligator skin in the above picture.

 Although he lived all his adult life in Liverpool, Grandpa was born in Jubilee Street, Mile End Old Town, in the heart of London's East End.

Such was the pollution from the factories to the east of Mile End Old Town that when Grandpa was just two years old the area lay for seventeen weeks (November 1879 to March 1880) under a bank of yellowish grey smog with a combined smell of "chemical works, varnish manufactories, match mills, candles factories, manure works,  cocoa-nut fibre and leather-cloth factories, and distilleries..."

This is Grandpa (on the right) in a trilby with Mr Barmby, proprietor of the Rocket Pub in Liverpool.

But I mainly recall him as a man in a bowler hat, never without his pipe.

This photo was taken in July 1945, just before the end of the Second World War and the cute little babe in arms in my big brother GB.

Grandpa and Nana lived on Queens Drive, now the main Liverpool ring road, but, when my Mum was young it was on the edge of the countryside with a view all the way to the Runcorn Transporter Bridge.  Corncrakes (a Red List bird now restricted to  around 1,000 pair in the Western Isles and Orkneys) used to call in the fields opposite.

One of Grandpa's interests was cooking, especially meat which, to my Mother's horror, was often hung for ages in the cellar until it was 'ripe' enough.  He also played billiards and bowls and visited the local hostelries.  Here he is playing in the Childwall Abbey.

  He won so many prizes at billiards he became quite notorious!  The prize was often a canteen of cutlery and the knives, forks and spoons we use at home today are just some of his winnings.  They are engraved with the initials HFB - Henry and Florence Body.


  1. Thank you for that nostalgic excursion into the past! It was a different world then, wasn't it; not necessarily better (the "good old days" didn't really exist, I think) but a lot simpler in many ways.

  2. This was absolutely fascinating, John! Got me thinking about my grandad the butcher and chasing up any photos mum may have. We still have some real back-to-backs in Leeds, mainly built for Montague Burton's workforce.

  3. Such memories! I recall the bowler hat very well. I don't recall seeing some of those photos before though: fascinating.

  4. Lucky you to know you rich and fascinating heritage. Glad that building is still standing as well!

  5. Thank you for the glimpse into your family history! Your mention of waiting until the meat was "ripe" enough reminds me of a person i knew in college whose father would raise one beef cow each year, butcher it himself, and let the meat "ripen" and use that as the family's beef for the year. Some things never change, do they?

  6. What a great piece of family history, loved the photos.

  7. I love the old photos and all the history of your family. I can't imagine what living in England during WWII was like. The building that houses the flats on Duke street is lovely and I bet the apartments in it are too! Thanks for sharing a bit of your family with us!

    1. Living in Britain during WWII was grim - as it was in Belgium, France, Germany and so many other countries. I was fortunate to be born after it was over but those alive at the time had to cope with rationing, bombs (especially where Mum and Dad lived, just a couple of miles from the Liverpool docks where Dad worked and was a firefighter), and the knowledge that close relatives were abroad or in the air or at sea and might never return. And yet the only complaining that was ever done was about the rationing which was still in force when I was born. It was as though complaining about that was acceptable but the real hardships - the loss of loved ones and having your house or your whole street come down around your ears - were things to be borne with typical British stoicism. We are a funny nation!

  8. What a nice surprise to find that building still standing, where the workshop was. And what an interesting profession to have in the family history - well, obviously those items have to be made by someone, but I don't think I ever came across it mentioned as a business/profession before. Also nice to still have (and use) some household items that belonged to one's grandparents - I have some teacups and plates that were my grandma's.


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