Liverpool essentials: TJ’s and Abakhan

TJ's in the mid 1990s, with pigeons.

TJ’s in the mid 1990s, with pigeons.

Two major Liverpool institutions in one day? Yes, it can be done. We’ll be visiting a few others before the day’s out too, so let’s go!

This is what me and Sarah call a ‘Saturday Ramble’ these days. A bit like the Friday Walks, but at some point Sarah usually does one of her ‘shopping exhibitions’ – as she will today. These rambles happen to give Sarah a deliberate day off from her funeral work. A lightly planned ramble where we go where our feet take us.

Beginning just off London Road.

Beginning just off London Road.

At Sarah's beloved Abakhan.

At Sarah’s beloved Abakhan.

She wants to knit herself this.

She wants to knit herself this.

So we're here for the wool.

So we’re here for the wool.

I don’t usually come to Abakhan with Sarah, as the glazed boredom of my catatonic stare often irritates her. But today she wants my opinions on the wool, so I’ve agreed to come in ‘for a bit.’

Knowing I'll keep the catatonia at bay by taking pictures for a possible blog.

Knowing I’ll keep the catatonia at bay by taking pictures for a possible blog.

Getting to the wool Sarah springs immediately into world class shopping action.

Getting to the wool Sarah springs immediately into world class shopping action.

Selecting possibilities faster than my camera lens can capture.

Selecting from what even I can see is a fabulous selection.

Selecting from what even I can see is a fabulous selection.

And with the merest hint of ‘advice’ from me?

Arriving at today's finalists.

Arriving at today’s finalists.

At this point my work here is done and I’m free to go while Sarah seriously considers buying the rest of the place. From the days when it was called ‘El Kilo’ it has always been one of her favourite shops. And by the time she leaves today she will utter the defining words:

‘Do you know, I think that’s now as good as Habi was?’

‘Habi’ of course being the lost and lamented haberdashery department that never truly crossed town when George Henry Lee mutated into John Lewis.

Before I leave I take my camera for a walk round.

Before I leave I take my camera for a walk round.

TJ's and Abakhan10

It's got loads of stuff for crafts too.

It’s got loads of stuff for crafts.

But textiles take up most of the floor space.

But textiles take up most of the floor space.

A treat for the observant camera.

A treat for the observant camera.

Stretching as far as the lens can see.

Stretching as far as the lens can see.

A justly popular place.

A justly popular place.

Always busy.

Always busy.

Owned and run by Michael Abakhan.

Owned and run by Michael Abakhan.

In all these places.

In all these places.

Waiting outside for Sarah I hear people looking at the displays saying 'I wonder what I could do with that?' Having that creativity moment.

Waiting outside for Sarah I hear people looking at the displays saying ‘I wonder what I could do with that?’ Having that creativity moment.

Even I'm quite attracted to this material. I love a good lighthouse. Living room curtains perhaps?

Even I’m quite attracted to this material. I love a good lighthouse. Living room curtains perhaps?

There are other fabric shops along here too.

There are other fabric shops along here too.

And while looking at them I get talking to an elderly couple making their first visit to round here in over 50 years.

And while looking at them I get talking to an elderly couple making their first visit to round here in over 50 years.

They explain that they’re living in Skelmersdale now but come originally from the Four Squares, Soho Street. A neighbourhood long gone now but which I remember from my early housing days. They are touched that I pronounce it properly, in the proper Liverpool way they say they haven’t heard for years. ‘Se-O Street.’ They go off to TJ’s, where we’ll be going if Sarah ever gets out of Abakhan.

Eventually she emerges with half the shop in a bag!

Eventually she emerges with half the shop in a bag!

And we walk along to TJ's.

And we walk along to TJ’s.

Though they have shops elsewhere, and are about to have even more, TJ Hughes is a major Liverpool institution and a major part of all of our lives. So it’s surprising this blog has got to two and a half years old and not seriously visited TJ’s ’til today. I nearly went in last week, when, on my way to inspect the new Greatie I’d said:

“When I was a boy, in the 1960s, this was part of Liverpool City Centre. And visits to ‘town’ with my parents would always involve trundling between here and Lewis’s and Blackler’s. Then trundling back the other way if TJ’s up here had the right things at the best price, as they often did and still do.

This part of the city is the friendliest to people without much money to spare.”

Anyway, here we are. This will only be an initial visit though, because one day I’d love to come back and do a major piece about the story of TJ’s and its place in all of our hearts.

TJ Hughes, London Road, Liverpool.

TJ Hughes, London Road, Liverpool.

I won't tell you which department we're looking for. It's for a present.

I won’t tell you which department we’re looking for. It’s for a present.

Sarah walks in like she owns the place.

Sarah walks in like she owns the place.

Which she pretty much does. She worked here in the 1980s, as a store designer, when TJ’s was linked to Owen Owen’s. The other great Liverpool Welsh chain of department stores. Almost the best thing about the job was her Staff Discount Card and the fact that most lunch times she could come down to the store and check for new stock.

It's a beautiful building, still naturally lit in its best parts.

It’s a beautiful building, still naturally lit in its best parts.

At some point I'm spotted Taking these photographs.

At some point I’m spotted Taking these photographs.

Lorraine Clarke, the Store Manager comes to check what I’m up to and we get into a conversation about the blog. She’s very interested that I’ve written about the new Greatie and is keen to hear my opinions about it. I haven’t spoken to a single Liverpool person in the past week who isn’t keen and concerned about Greatie. It matters deeply to us all. As, of course, does TJ’s.

Sarah comes over to talk with Lorraine as well.

Sarah comes over to talk with Lorraine as well.

Telling her she would have ‘ripped her arms off’ to be the store manager of TJ’s.

There follows some deep discussion of the wonderment and culture of department stores and the history still evident in this one. Lorraine tells us they used to have a doctor and a dentist on site for staff and their surgeries are still upstairs somewhere ‘as if they’ve just left.’ There is also evidence of the dormitories TJ Hughes had built for the Welsh staff he’d bring in to run the shop in its early days.

One day I’d love to come back and get a look at these and tell the full story of this wonderful place, maybe with Lorraine’s help?

Before we go, and inevitably, we get to talking about the Christmas Grottos. TJ’s were the highlights of our childhoods. Lorraine is younger than me, so her memories start with the ‘Dancing Waters.’ Mine stretch back to ‘Pinky and Perky’ and ‘Sparky’s Magic Piano.’ Golden days, when TJ’s Grotto was a required visit.

Seen here in 1960.

Seen here in 1960.

I was there. And one of these days, I’ll be back.

Time to walk on.

Time to walk on.

Sarah drops some books off at the Library.

Sarah drops some books off at the Library.

Then it’s time for lunch. Time to introduce Sarah to the Liverpool Quaker’s Meeting House Café.

Just through here.

Just through here.

And into School Lane.

And into School Lane.

This is Sarah's first visit to this particular Friends place.

This is Sarah’s first visit to this particular Friends place.

Though in the early days of ‘a sense of place’ we did a good deal of work at their previous Liverpool location in Paradise Street. And Sarah herself has also visited the Friends at Swarthmoor Hall in Cumbria, one of the places where Quakerism began.

As always, there's plenty to pick from.

As always, there’s plenty to pick from.

The vegetarian café is a joint venture with social enterprise Blackburne House and has become my favourite lunch place in town these past few weeks.

Sarah is extremely impressed and says so.

Sarah is extremely impressed and says so. This is a considerable accolade.

Impressed by quiet style of the place, the quality and generosity of the food, and of course the warmth of the welcome.

Even the toilet is thoughtful.

Even the toilet is thoughtful.

After such a good lunch we need another walk round.

First to John Lewis.

First to John Lewis.

Sadly Christmas and Christmas shopping, which we both loathe, have begun here. But at least the decorations are tasteful and autumnal this year.

Next, it's back to George Henry Lee's.

Next, it’s back to George Henry Lee’s.

Or Rapid as it has been since the John Lewis move to Liverpool One.

This is Sarah's first visit to the building since it stopped being George Henry Lee.

This is Sarah’s first visit to the building since it stopped being George Henry Lee.

Nostalgically walking up the central staircase.

Nostalgically walking up the central staircase.

Always a thing of beauty and expectation.

Always a thing of beauty and expectation.

Here it is on George Henry'd final day in 2008.

Here it is on George Henry’s final day in 2008.

The shop quietly stylish but already half emptied out.

The shop quietly stylish but already half emptied out.

Like 'Kitchenware' here.

Like ‘Kitchenware’ here.

And now? Well though now groaning with predictable Christmas tat, it’s still a good shop.

Here's the new 'Kitchenware' for example.

Here’s the new ‘Kitchenware’ for example.

Still then a delight for department store fans such as Sarah. Not as delightful as TJ’s or Abakhan, of course, but then where is?

On the way home there is one more stop at a great Liverpool shop, Tasker’s on Wavertree Road. By now my always reluctant shopping muscles have entirely failed me and I don’t go inside or take any pictures.

Until we get home and Sarah shows me the sparkly light she's bought for the coming darkling days on the allotment.

Until we get home and Sarah shows me the battery operated sparkly lights she’s bought for the coming darkling days on her allotment.

A good day, a Saturday ramble, together through time.

4 thoughts on “Liverpool essentials: TJ’s and Abakhan

  1. lindsay53

    Lovely Ronnie and evocative. I’m completely with Sarah on this one. You are SO lucky to have Abakhan right in the centre of Liverpool and I would give my eye teeth for a store even remotely like that out here. I used to frequent the North Wales store, revelling in the joy of being able to buy material by the kilo and bags of bias binding and other stuff utterly essential to life!! Sarah, go forth and shop!!

    I also remember Owen Owen when it was on Bridge Street in Chester. It had the most enticing, unusual and appealing deli at street level.
    …and toilet twinning…? Interesting idea. What’s that all about?

    Reply
    1. Ronnie Hughes Post author

      Thank you Lindsay. Abakhan does indeed delight Sarah’s heart. and being right next to TJs means she never visits one without calling in at the other too.

      Sarah was involved with Owen Owen’s in Bridge Street, planning a major re-design of the store. Which sadly never happened, as the chain collapsed and the store was sold.

      And toilet twinning? Much more here, but it’s a charity ‘raising funds to enable people living in poor communities to have clean water, a decent toilet, and to learn about hygiene – a vital combination that prevents the spread of disease, reduces the number of deaths among children, and brings hope for the future. For a £60 donation, you can twin your toilet at home, work, school or church’ with places in need all over the Earth. The one pictured at the Friends café is clearly a compost toilet too, so a double good thing.

      Reply
  2. Sarah Jane

    Oh my, the thought of the surgeries and dormitories in the TJ’s building has me agog with curiosity. I really hope you get to see them. I’d go so far as to get a job there just so I could explore once I’d clocked off

    Reply

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