Geoffrey Shryhane’s Wigan World

Geoffrey Shryhane
Geoffrey Shryhane
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A LAST link with the Wigan Observer from “the old days” has been severed with the death of Mrs Lillian Harlow.

Born in 1925, Lillian married Tom Harlow just after the war. The Harlow family had strong connections with the Wigan Observer when it was owned by the Wall family.

Tom and his father Bob gave great service to the paper – and sadly they died within a short time of each other in 1979. Tom was 61 and Bob, 86.

Lillian – who had lived in the same house off Belle Green lane since her marriage – also had a great affection for the Observer, and in the days when printers worked unsociable hours, she often turned up to make sandwiches and cups of tea.

Colin Harlow, son of Tom, said: “Everybody liked my mother who would do a good turn for anyone.

“She loved the Observer social life and was proud that both her husband and Bob had served the paper so well.”

“FEED the birds, two pence a bag.” Now which musical is that from?


No, not a James Bond blockbuster. No, not A Taste of Honey. No, not Gosford Park.

That’s right – Mary Poppins.

But what about two pence a bag?

Today, two pence worth of bird seed wouldn’t feed a sparrow for five minutes.

As an enthusiastic feeder, I’ve learned over the years that the birds are more than a little choosy.

Some cheap stuff containing wheat isn’t to their taste. I’ve written before about the delights of garden birds...and as spring has now sprung, the garden is alive with a dozen varieties.

Joy of joy is watching the starlings sloshing about in the bird bath. Talk about “Splish, Splash, I was taking a Bath.”

Their wild aquatic fluttering – sometimes three at a time – is so fast it’s almost impossible to photograph. So much water is washed away, the bath has to be renewed several times a day. I’ve made a delightful stick for my own bath.

That said, I’ve not seen many blue tits this year.

I CAN never hear the Beatles hit Strawberry Fields Forever without thinking back to one of Wigan’s saddest child deaths.

When the number was top of the pops it coincided with the disappearance of a little lad from Ince ... Stephen Shepherd.

The badly bullied boy who went to the local secondary modern school found his way to the strawberry fields of Newburgh and, legend has it, lay down in a ditch and died.

It was 1966 – and when the timid lad who lived with his granny near Ince Bar disappeared, after going to the Court Cinema on King Street.

Police searches drew blanks.

It seemed that the lad had simply disappeared into thin air.

Many weeks later, a farmer discovered his badly decomposed body in a ditch in the wilderness of fields at Newburgh.

There was no doubt – it was Stephen. Only one shoe was found.

The story emerged that on a summer’s day, Stephen had enjoyed a “fab day” picking strawberries at Newburgh. For a few hours, he was happy.

It didn’t take long for the authorities to confirm that the lad other pupils called “specky four eyes” had been bullied and abused. Other lads had broken his arm.

Was Stephen Shepherd murdered or did he go back to the strawberry fields in a vain bid to capture that happy day?

We’ll never know. But I’d like to think lessons were learned from Stephen’s death.