A LANDMARK in Bolton that has been enjoyed as a shopping venue for almost 200 years is still going strong.

While the name has changed Beales still aims to provide the same personal service it did when the store began life as Whitakers (Bolton) Limited in 1829.

Fans of the television historical drama Mr Selfridge cannot fail to have been wowed by the beautifully laid-out counters and impressively dressed shop assistants.

Here we have photographs that show Whitakers in Deansgate, Bolton, was as smart and luxurious as any London flagship store and could very easily rival its counterparts in the capital.

Whitakers started life in 1829. Mr Richard Stockdale (who would later become Mayor of Bolton) opened a drapery shop at 22, Deansgate.

In 1840 John Whitaker was born at a small farm at Appletreewick near Bolton Abbey.

He came to Bolton and it is hard to imagine these days but he was just 12 when he started work as a bound apprentice in the drapery business.

After some years in the town he opened a business in Tyldesley in partnership with a Mr Cain. These two then bought Mr Stockdale’s business and in 1874 Mr Whitaker bought out Mr Cain and the business became John Whitaker.

He was not, however, allowed to remain long in one place and twice he had to move to make room for town improvements before he established his growing business on its present site.

In 1902 John Whitaker died as the result of a tragic accident.

He was then aged 62 and the business was taken over by his son, also called John. When John died, in 1934, the business was taken over by his sons, Sidney, Frank, Percy and Bernard Whitaker.

In 1907 the present Tudor building was opened and in 1912 the firm was turned into a private limited liability company and became Whitakers Limited. It would be eight years later that the brother bought an additional site in Old Hall Street and the premises were extended to become the store it is today. Of course today the store no longer retains the name Whitakers — it has been Beales since 1996 — but store director Alison Cash is determined to keep the memory of its long and illustrious history alive in the hearts and minds of Bolton folk.

There are many local people who will have shopped at the store for more years than they can remember.

Beales still keeps an archive of material dating back 100 years — to a time when the store sold everything from pet products to a separate men’s and boy’s shop.

Shop assistants would stand behind wooden counters waiting for customers to approach and buy the latest perfume or soap and a beautifully carved wooden staircase can be seen leading customers from the ground to the first floor.

“This staircase still exists but it is boarded-up now,” explains Alison. An iconic symbol of the store is surely the turret at the front of the building. Back in 1907 (as one of the images shows) this was used as the Town Cafe/Tearoom with elegant tables and chairs dotted around the room, decorated with pretty plants and even a bird cage.

The store won several prizes for its window displays and always kept up with the fashions of the time as the photographs show.

A souvenir brochure, produced in 1955, talks about Whitakers’ expansion with the Oxford Street household and hardware store being its latest addition.

With the addition of this department a new home had to be found for the mens’ department and this was found in the lower ground floor — with a direct entrance from Old Hall Street.

The brochure said: “This men’s shop has been appreciated by our regular customers who have brought along their friends and the directors feel that this new men’s floor in contemporary style, where you can walk round and look, without purchasing, will be well patronised by both men and their wives.”

Today shoppers will pay a visit to Beales for fashion, fragrance and luggage. They may pop in for a coffee or light lunch and enjoy browsing the various departments — there are some things that never change even with the passage of 200 years then!