Baby boomer Reg takes snapshot of life

Reg Stoddon with his new book outside the former shop. Photo by Darren Andrews.
Reg Stoddon with his new book outside the former shop. Photo by Darren Andrews.

From a bet with industrialist Thomas Storey to a car chase out of Blackpool, a retired businessman has written a book about his experiences growing up as a “baby boomer” in Lancaster.

Reg Stoddon started writing The Last Apprentice four years ago while running Lancaster’s longest continuous trading business.

Reg Stoddon

Reg Stoddon

He starts the story with his pre-NHS birth at the Royal Lancaster Infirmary in 1946, and ends in 1980 with the family moving back to Cromwell Road in Lancaster from Arkholme.

Reg, who started working as a 15-year-old apprentice at G.L Robertson photography shop in Brock Street in 1962, before going on to take over the business, said “things were very different then”.

He said: “The book is about how life has changed so much for my generation.

“There was rationing until I was eight, but because I hadn’t known anything else it wasn’t an issue. The point of the book really is to illustrate that at the time I was born, no-one had anything, even if they had a lot of money.

“Rationing was a leveller.

“You could only buy a certain amount of food, fuel, clothes – everyone was living under great hardship.

“There were constant power cuts, then gradually as time went on, things slowly started to improve.

“Eventually we turned into the first generation of rebellious teenagers. And after that there were a lot of work opportunities. Firms had problems filling vacancies, you could walk into a job very easily. The opportunities now aren’t as plentiful as they were then.”

Reg says he feels that successive governments should have been aware that eventually the “Baby Boomers” – described as such because of the boom in births following World War 2 – would eventually get old and put “a massive strain on the NHS”.

The 71-year-old father of three said he remembers the death of King George, the birth of Queen Mary and the first space launch, and although he never kept a diary, he has a good memory.

“I grew up in Portland Street and was born before the NHS. My mother spent every penny she had having me.

“I went to Dallas Road School and then Ripley. In those days Ripley was a boys school, and sadly it was not the good school that it is today.

“It was one of the poorest in terms of the quality of the education we received.

“When you were 13 you took an exam for technical school, that was at The Storey, which is what I did.

“We got a lot of chemistry and physics, basically we were being trained to run the industry of the future.

“Back then they had no idea that technology and computers would take over.

“There’s stories about nights out in Blackpool with my mates who all worked for Ribble Coaches (now Stagecoach). There’s stories about stupid things I got up to – a police car chase out of Blackpool – and I got away.

“It covers things like settling down and starting a family, when I was 23, and some of the famous people I took pictures of as the official photographer for Lancaster cinemas.

“There’s stories of customers in the shop.

“For example Thomas Storey, who owned Storey’s in Meeting House Lane, bet me a shilling I wouldn’t have his prints back in time.

“You’ll have to read the book to find out who won the bet!

“It’s based on personal experience, and the main characters I met throughout my life.”

Reg added: “I enjoyed writing it tremendously and I think it’s because I never intended to do it, and that’s one of the reasons why I maybe would like to follow it up.”

The Last Apprentice is available at Carnforth Book Shop and online at Amazon, priced at £7.99.

And then it was baby boomers.

It’s based on personal experience. I never kept a diary, but I’ve still got good memory recall.

Lancaster comes into it, but it’s not heavily covered. It’s mainly about the times in which I lived, and the characters that I met.

I worked next door to what was Red Drops Travel in Brock Street, various girlfriends, but there’s nothing too intimate.

Things that happened at school, Later on in life, I started going to night school at the College of Further Education in Morecambe Road. I learned to speak German. When I wanted to learn, it turned out I was pretty good at it. I discovered that I wasn’t terrible at English after all.

I did photography at night school as well.

The tutor laughed when I turned up because he knew me from the shop, and said there’s nothing he could teach me, but it turned out there was a lot I didn’t know about photographic history.

I used to be the official photographer for the cinemas in Lancaster. I photographed June Thorburn and Hilda Baker. I used to take pictures of Z Cars in Lancaster. I photographed Bernard Lee in Lancaster in 1989 who was playing the part of a tramp. Rowan Atkinson visted my house as a student.

There are examples of things that have happened to me with customers.

I also talked about the time Thomas Storey, who owned Storey’s, bet me a shilling that I wouldn’t have his prints back in time.

My wife was from Arkholme, and we moved to Lancaster in 1980, which is when my youngest daughter was born.

There’s one thing that I don’t talk about, but I’ve managed to write it in the book.

It was published in October, and also in Carnforth Book Shop and Amazon.

In the 1960s I spent a week in Russia with my work, looking around camera factories.

He bases the title on the fact that he was most likely the last retail photography apprentice

He started working at photography shop G.L Robertson in Brock Street in 1962, aged 15.

The shop was first established in Cheapside in 1796 as a pharmacy known as Vince and Co., and moved to Ffrances Passage in 1961, changing its name in the process to G. L. Robertson to reflect the current owner of the time whose father had purchased Vince and Co in about 1926.

In the early days of photography in the 1830s, keen snappers would buy their chemicals from the pharmacy - meaning as a consequence it is the oldest firm in the world serving photographers, as well as Lancaster’s longest continuous trading business.