MARIE Walsh had been up since 7.30am to help create the hundreds of famous pasties sold daily from Ye Olde Pastie Shoppe in Bolton’s historic Churchgate.

When we chatted mid-morning, she still looked as fresh as a daisy, answered calls from staff and was always ready for business. It is hard to believe she is now 79 and has had a series of illnesses that would have floored much younger women.

Marie is already well-known in Bolton and beyond through the famous Walsh family that started the iconic home-made pasties shop in the town centre in 1898. What people may not know is that Marie’s own family is firmly rooted in the town’s retail life.

Marie Norton grew up in Bath Street off St Georges Road, one of two daughters of former Bolton Wanderers and Bury FC player Bill Norton and his wife Elizabeth. Her grandfather had an ice-cream shop there and Marie’s earliest retail memories are of standing on an upturned crate serving a cornet to a customer.

When the Second World War broke out, the ice-cream shop had to temporarily close. Her grandfather went to work in Green’s pie factory and her dad made deliveries for the Co-op dairy.

“He worked alongside Bill Naughton (the famous Bolton writer),” recalled Marie, “and he came home one day and said to my mother ‘yon man at work says he’s going to write plays!’”

Her father later opened a temperance bar selling soft drinks, sweets and cigarettes on Churchgate (next door to Ye Olde Man and Scythe) and her mother had a baby linen shop opposite, where the family lived until Marie was 16.

The family then moved to a toffee shop, The Old Toll Bar, on Wigan Road, near Haslam Park, and the family lived there.

Marie first met Jack Walsh – whose great aunt and uncle, Mary Jane and Wright Rigg, had started Ye Olde Pastie Shoppe – at the Palais when she was 15 and Jack was 21. “I was just a kid and Jack wasn’t interested in me,” stated Marie.

“But later, when he did his National Service, and was on leave he used to call at our house because our mothers were friends and eventually he asked me out to the pictures.”

The couple married in 1961 and moved into the home they still share in Deane, working together at the Pastie Shoppe premises which date back to at least 1667. They went on to have two children - Chris, who now runs the business, and Kay who lives in America with her husband and two children.

Marie remembers Churchgate as always a bustling place: “There were two theatres there – The Grand and The Theatre Royal which had the biggest stage outside the West End – and a couple of pubs. There were houses on Churchgate and people used the Pastie Shoppe as their corner shop.

“Churchgate was always a busy place, with the theatre crowds and local people putting up the theatricals. The shop used to be open from 8.30am to 10pm at one time. We always reckoned that when there was competition – like the chip shop, café and the Sandwich Inn – we were always busier.”

She regrets the loss of the theatres and, more recently of the businesses in the offices, although the reputation of the Pastie Shoppe is such that it’s always full of customers.

They come from around the country. The shop sends out pasties as far afield as, ironically, Cornwall and ex-pats from New Zealand, Australia and America make a bee-line for Churchgate and its famous fare whenever they visit.

Marie herself is another keeper of the secret recipe of the distinctive pasties. The pies, pasties and bread are all still baked daily on the premises, and Marie still enjoys serving in the shop.

The business has always supported local charities and Marie is particularly active in animal charities and organisations, both locally and nationally, and has always had pets.

She is president of the Tonge and District Canine Society, where she was secretary for more than 30 years, and vice-president of national body, Irish Wolfhound Society. This latter post means she travels around the country as an official judge.

She was 70 and in America when she suffered a thrombosis and almost lost her leg; she later discovered she had colon cancer. Today, though, she looks the picture of health and has the energy of someone half her age.

Ask her if she ever thinks of retiring and she will answer “Oh, no – I don’t want to stop. I’d just be sitting at home thinking about my illnesses. I’ll just keep going for as long as I can.”

And with that, and a quick straightening of her apron, it was back to the shop, the customers and another batch of pasties.