Preston's Flower Queen hits 60 years in business with a 'forget me not' promise
Flower queen Margaret Mason has celebrated 60 years in business in Preston with a “forget me not” promise.
The city’s longest serving retailer has pledged never to shut up shop in Friargate despite Covid having forced her to work from home for almost two years.
Margaret, 85, is keeping her much-loved window displays refreshed as she plans a return to the store where she has served her loyal customers for six decades.
“I don’t ever want to see it shut,” she said as she celebrated her 60th anniversary with a specially-made cake bearing a model of her distinctive yellow and white shop front.
“I always want to be there for people to be able to come in and choose some flowers.
“So the shop is going to reopen, although it won’t be quite like it was.”
Most of Margaret’s work is now based in a barn at her home in Freckleton. But she wants to maintain a presence on Friargate as a “thank you” to the people of Preston and beyond who have supported her business for the past 60 years.
“I just want to show how grateful I am to the thousands of customers who have kept the business going all these years, some of them generations of the same family,” she explained.
“We’ve had a lifetime of loyal support from so many people who have come back time and again over the years and asked us to provide flowers for the special moments in their lives.
“They are not just customers to me, they are friends. In this job you get to know them and their families and see them at important times in their lives, some joyous, some sad.
“We have shared births, christenings, weddings and funerals with them as well as numerous anniversaries and birthdays. It’s been a real privilege to be part of their lives at times like that.
“I don’t think people realise just how much I have appreciated it.”
Margaret opened her first shop at No 81 Friargate in 1961, just in time for Christmas. And she can remember clearly that first day in charge of her own business.
“I paid £1 a week to rent it,” she said. “It was tiny with just one room downstairs, with two above. It had no back door, just the front entrance.
“Looking back at my records I took £47 that first day, which was a fortune to me in those days. I also booked four weddings, which I thought was incredible that anyone would trust me to do the flowers on their big day.
“I kept that shop for 30 years and I don’t think the rent ever went up to more than £6.
“After a while I was able to buy No 85, then I bought 84 and then 86, all at different times. Each time I took the front off and put a new one on as I expanded to what it is today.
“I never bought No 81 because it belonged to a brewery and was part of the Duke of York pub. Eventually they took it over again and later it became part of a chip shop. But it will always be a special place for me because that’s where I started my business.
“Over the years I consider I’ve had a lot of luck and I have been very fortunate with the people I have known.”
The last couple of years have been difficult for Margaret’s business in Friargate, with Covid, the roadworks for UCLan’s new University Square project and now more roadworks to pedestrianise a stretch of it.
When restrictions were eased on retail she considered reopening fully, but has so far been reluctant to return as the shop was before.
“No-one knows what Friargate is going to be like once all the work is finished,” she explained. “There was always through traffic along the street, but now that’s not the case. There isn’t the same footfall any more.
“I wouldn’t close it altogether, it’s too dear to me. But at the moment I’m waiting to see what things are going to be like.
“Our window displays have always been very important to me and still are. We have an online shop window, but it’s not like having the ones at the shop itself.
“Friargate used to be a lovely community and was always bustling and busy. The atmosphere was marvellous. Now it’s different. I still love the place, but it’s different.
“I do miss it. I miss the comings and goings. I have such happy memories of more than half a century there and all the people I have got to know. I worked hard and it didn’t come easy.
“I would have loved to have continued in that shop had things been the same. But we will still have a presence there, I’ll still be in Friargate and that’s what is important to me.”