Chorley villager who never used a landline or mobile to have phone box dedicated to him
Its days as a means of communication might be numbered, but a Chorley village phone box that is set to be taken out of service will be retained - and named - after a man who relied on it for most of his life.
The traditional red callbox on Pompian Brown in Bretherton might look nothing more than a quaint reminder of a bygone era. But for Eric Dewhurst, it was his only way of keeping in touch with family and friends beyond the village where he was born and bred.
The well-known local, who passed away in 2019 at the age of 76, was renowned amongst residents for using the box as his own personal phone - having never seen the attraction even of a landline, let alone a new-fangled mobile.
“That was just Eric - he was a real character,” laughs his niece Carole Wilson, whose dad - Eric’s late brother, Bill - regularly received calls from the box.
“He even used to arrange for people to ring him there.”
Carole’s sister Elaine Drelincourt said that the family had tried to tempt Eric into a world of communication without coins - but without success.
“We did buy him a mobile once, but he wasn’t interested, he didn't even try it. My Dad was the one person who could usually persuade him to do things - but even he couldn’t get him to have a phone in the house.
“He didn't really like innovation - he liked what he liked and didn't deviate from it.”
Eric's favoured phone box - which was directly opposite his home - came under threat several years ago when BT had previously planned to disconnect it.
At risk of being cut off from anyone living outside the village, the former Leyland Motors worker engaged the help of Bretherton parish councillor Karen Wait.
“Eric came to me and asked if there was anything I could do - so we made representations to BT and the box was saved as a working phone.
“Now they’ve said they want to remove it again - and the sad thing is that with Eric gone, the purpose for it has gone as well. But we want to retain it in his memory,” Karen explains.
Communities are given the chance to ‘adopt’ traditional phone boxes for another purpose after they are disconnected - rather than seeing the longstanding landmarks lost altogether.
Many have been turned into book and DVD exchange points - which is exactly what Bretherton has already done with the box used by Eric. However, the parish council is also planning a personal tribute to the man so closely associated with one of the village's payphones.
“[We're thinking of] putting 'Eric's phone box' where it says 'Telephone' all around the [outside] - that's our plan to dedicate it to him,” Karen explains.
He might not have been hung up on the new - or even old - technology that makes conversation easy, but Eric would never eschew a chance to chat in person.
“Of course, he had to be quite brief on the phone - he’d go in there with his bag of 20 pences - but if you met him in the street, he more than made up for it,” recalls Elaine.
“One of his favourite sayings was, ‘I’ll just tell you this before you go’ - and if you heard that, you knew you were going to be there for the duration. He was a really good storyteller and he'd do anything for you.”
Not a fan of big gatherings, Eric - who never married and only moved one door down from his original home in the village during his life - regularly predicted that few people would attend his funeral. Yet the church was packed.
“I don’t know what he’d have made of that - or the fuss that's being made over him about the phone box,” Carole muses.
“But I think, deep down, he’d have been quite chuffed.”
The pips from the Pompian Brow phone box may have fallen silent with Eric’s passing - but his connection to Bretherton will never be cut.
Please consider subscribing to the Lancashire Post to support local journalism and help secure its vital role across Central Lancashire - many thanks.