Published on April 4th, 2021 | by All Things Warrington0
Wally Barnes (1925-2013)
The irrepressible ‘Warrington’ Wally Barnes – charity fundraiser and ghost story writer.
If anyone summed up the spirit of what it means to be a true Warringtonian it was ‘Warrington’ Wally Barnes.
Prolific fundraiser and ghost story writer Wally often spoke of his immense pride at being part of a community he described as “the most caring and giving in the world.” And if anyone was qualified to talk about the town’s generosity it was Wally as over years the Warrington public helped him raise thousands of pounds for worthy causes.
In the late 1980s I worked for a short-lived local newspaper called ‘Warrington Sport’ where I got to know Wally first hand. Although he could be demanding and was prone to tell a yarn or two – if you ever had a conversation with Wally it was never a short one – his energy and enthusiasm were contagious and he was a fascinating person to talk to.
Night of the champions
Every week Wally would call me up to discuss his latest fundraising venture: “Hello me old mucker, I’m organising a special ‘Night of the Champions’ at the Railway Club next month*. Everybody from the local sporting world will be there, try-scoring sensation Phil Blake from the Wire is coming and so is Warrington’s very-own Sunny Lowry, the first British lady to swim the English channel. Ex-boxer Johnny Barnes is also coming and I want you and your photographer there too. Only £2 a ticket and all proceeds will go to worthy causes. Meet me in the White Hart tomorrow afternoon and I’ll tell you all about it.”
I attended the night in question and although Wally spent more time chatting to old friends and acquaintances than he did compering the event, it was a resounding success with lots of worthy causes benefitting, from individual families going through tough times to large charitable organisations such as Help The Aged, The League of Friends and The Royal Society of St. George.
Popular local history author
In addition to being a much-loved fundraiser, Wally was the author of a number of popular local history books including ‘The Battle of Burtonwood’ which recounted a famous Home Guard training exercise that took place at Bewsey Bridge in 1942, ‘The Battle of Buttermilk Bridge’ and ‘The Battle of Arpley Meadows’.
His most enduring books however must be the four volumes he published under the title ‘Ghosts, Mysteries and Legends of Old Warrington’. Few local history books have the ability to make people laugh out loud but Wally’s ghost books are the exception, partly because they recall often dubious tales passed down from generation to generation but mostly because Wally’s wit shines through at all times, both in his words and in the cartoons he produced to illustrate them.
Who can help but giggle at Wally’s tale of local ladies man ‘Dandy Dick Peabody’ who in the late 19th century enjoyed a string of dalliances with a succession of local beauties? After years of ‘playing the field’ Dandy Dick, the ‘Don Juan’ of Warrington, refused to admit he was getting old and after a final, exhausting fling with a barmaid from the old Golden Grove pub in Lyme Street, he dropped dead in the Lower Angel. But according to Wally that wasn’t the end of the story. Ever since ladies in the Barley Mow, Blue Bell and Lower Angel have reported having their bottoms pinched when nobody is around – perhaps the ‘Phantom Bottom Pincher’ is the ghost of Dandy Dick Peabody in disguise suggested Wally. Nobody knows for sure but thanks to Wally and his love of storytelling, interesting characters from the town’s past – some real, some imagined – are here to stay.
Without Wally’s books, people like Frank Norman, a man who played gramophone records on a pram he wheeled around the town centre in the 1940/50s (a real person) and ‘Spring Heeled Jack’, a legendary figure said to prowl the streets of Orford in 1927 (probably an urban myth although Wally believed he was a real person) could easily be lost in the midsts of time. We owe a great debt to Wally for keeping such memories alive.
Larger than life!
Towards the end of Wally’s life, he spent many hours recounting his tales to captivated audiences in schools, community centres and nursing homes where his personality never failed to shine through.
Like many of the people he wrote about, Wally was a larger than life character who will be missed by many.
I, and most of Warrington, will remember him fondly. Life was never dull when Wally was around. Warrington will be a duller place without him.
Why not visit the Ghosts Section of All Things Warrington which is dedicated to the memory of ‘Warrington’ Wally Barnes.