Older Barnsley townsfolk fondly recall the bright red lettering of the “WE SUPPLY ALL BUT THE BABY” neon sign that also featured a huge white and yellow stork holding up a baby in its beak. Sadly unlit and partly damaged this sign, an historic part of Barnsley’s business heritage, languished on an inside wall at the Elsecar Heritage Centre for several years waiting for the time when it could be restored to its full glory. At long last this important project is now nearing completion.
The stork was originally erected at 17 Cheapside, Barnsley, above a draper’s shop first opened by Edward Bailey in the early 1880s but so far our research has not established exactly when it first became a famous local landmark. The original shop was closed in 1968 but the Bailey family opened another one selling baby linen at 5 New Street, Barnsley and the memorable sign was reinstalled. This shop finally closed in 1998 and there was doubt that the stork could survive as the new owners of the building wanted it to be removed. A new home was needed but nobody seemed to want to take on the hassle and cost of moving it. This is where the Coddswallop Trust stepped in, the first stage of rescuing this unique bit of “Old Barnsley”. The sign was safely mounted on a wall in the old museum and remained there until our move into our new premises three years ago. Recently by a lucky chance the work of Neoncraft Ltd, a Leeds based neon sign specialist, was featured on BBC’s Look North and the final stages of the restoration project began to fall into place.
Neoncraft Ltd is co-owned by Chris Timmermans and Pete Bickerstaff. Both men have many years of experience in the neon industry and specialise in the renovation of historic signs and the manufacture of new ones. When we contacted him Pete was fascinated to hear about the stork and was keen to see the basic pictures of it on our web site. He believes our sign to be an important example of the increasingly rare neon sign maker’s art, possibly dating from the 1930s or 1950s.
Careful measurements and rubbings of the original design were taken. All the glass tubing had to be remade and the electrical wiring and transformers replaced in order for the sign to conform to modern electrical safety regulations. All the other parts of the sign have been left as untouched as possible to preserve its authenticity and period charm. Neoncraft completed all this work for us at a materials only final price of £1800, an extremely generous gesture for which we are very grateful. We are now busily raising funds to cover the cost of the project. A short preview of the newly revitalised sign took place in early July during the Summer National Weekend.
September 12th saw an official re-lighting ceremony when Barnsley’s own “Dickie” Bird kindly agreed to perform the switching on for us at 11.30am. From now on Bailey’s Stork will be lit up and on public view every day, whenever the Antiques Centre is open. We working hard to attract local TV, radio and press attention for this unique local interest event. Past and present Barnsley residents were invited to contribute their memories of the sign and the two Bailey’s shops it advertised for so many years.