IN the days before out of town housing estates and out of town centre supermarkets Roper Street was a hustle and bustle of every conceivable trade and shop. The street could boast its own ice cream factory and was the home of the town's first ever 'Talkie' cinema (For our younger readers until 1923 movie stars were literally speechless!)
Roper Street, running down to the then busy shipping port was named after the early rope makers who needed a good long street to unwind in, or should we say wind up their vital products.
The picture palace in question was the Empire, now but a memory as upmarket fashion outlet Vixen, owned by Debbie Holmes, now stands where the queue of movie-goers used to wait for the doors to open.
One of the street's former 'stars' was wooden clog maker Lancelot Brew, who even got a 'name check' in the one hit wonder, Clogdance by local rockers, Violinski.
John Mason, who's electrical store has been repairing and upgrading appliances in the street since 1963 says he is the proud owner of a miniature pair of wooden clogs, beautifully hand-made by the late clogger.
John has built up a vast collection of memories and photographs from the town's history and framed copies of many are available at his store. An unusual picture included in his archive is one of a mob of fans cheering as the then TV star John Alderton from the Please Sir show officially opened Whitehaven's then town centre Co-op store. John recalls how he was left somewhat bemused when one of the butchers shops in the street came up for sale; "I was ready to put in an offer and spoke to the elder members of the family to be told they were only selling ' to a right and proper person' whoever that might be! Needless to say the shop then lay derelict and unwanted for many a year!"
Typical of the ups and downs of fortunes in the street is Brian and Dorothy Holt's art shop, catering for artist supplies, framed prints and picture framing. When the Holts took over almost 30 years ago the beautiful unique shopfrontage was derelict and burned out after a fire at the previous business of motor cycle repairs. The Holts brought the building back to its former glory and it continues a bonus to the townscape.
Oh and the ice cream factory? Well Albert Cross, whose family runs the busy Crosses Cafe, describes how his father Celeste Croci came to Whitehaven in 1895, changed his name to Charlie Cross and built up a thriving empire of coffee shops and ice cream sellers. Each day the bright red and white ice cream vans would stock up from the ice cream factory at the rear of the Roper Street cafe. Albert can rattle off the changing fortunes of the street, we reckon he has enough lively memories to create a rival TV soap to Coronation Street. Quick getting writing Albert! Notes by DS 2009.