After several years gathering dust the Blacklers Santa, once a Liverpool Christmas institution, was put on display again this week at the Museum of Liverpool.
The five metres high Blacklers Santa was created by artist Peter Blazey in 1957 and was displayed every Christmas until the store in closed in 1988. The focal point of the Great Charlotte Street store’s grotto, it captivated the imagination of visiting children and has now been restored thanks to a £10,000 donation from medial mogul Phil Redmond. It will now be on display annually at the popular waterfront museum.
The Blacklers store was first opened by Richard John Blackler and his business partner A B Wallis in 1908. After Richard’s death in 1919, his widow Margaret took over her husband’s share of the store. After being gutted by fire following an air raid in the May Blitz of 1941, Blacklers managed to keep going. They moved quickly to acquire a number of smaller temporary premises from which to operate in Church Street and Bold Street. Blacklers had trouble of another kind in 1941, being fined £8 for purchasing eggs from a Welsh farmer at higher then the government controlled price. Their defence, that it had been done to feed staff and not for profit, was dismissed by magistrates.
Twelve years after the air raid, a fully renovated store on the original site re-opened in 1953. The 1950s was a resurgent decade for Liverpool and Blacklers played its part in this, employing over one thousand people. Amongst these employees was Beatle George Harrison, who as an apprentice electrician there before the band went on to greater things. Margaret Blackler died at the age of eighty five in 1957, the same year that the Blacklers Santa first went on display. She was buried alongside her husband in Allerton cemetery.
Margaret Blackler had no children and her god-daughter Vera Kingston became the major shareholder. After Vera died in 1983 the store fell into the hands of private owners and closed just five years later. In the early 1990s, the city’s first Wetherspoons pub, the Richard John Blackler, opened on the site.
The Blacklers Santa fell into disrepair for over twenty five years, leaving on the head, hands and boots intact. Following Phil Redmond’s donation Peter Blazey himself carried out the restoration work, having made a career of creating grottos. Blazey told the Liverpool Echo that it was like recreating his youth, and Phil Redmond and his wife Alexis joined him for the unveiling at the Museum of Liverpool in Mann Island on 15th November 2016.