When young Ralph met with Gracie Fields

Cheeky Ralph Snape with his wife Joyce
Cheeky Ralph Snape with his wife Joyce
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Following the Guardian’s feature about the day the famous Gracie Fields came to Chorley, Ralph Snape tells of the time he unexpectedly came face-to-face with her as a youngster.

‘We had a look inside the car, and there was Gracie Fields!’

A mischievous 10-year-old Ralph Snape didn’t realise what a commotion he and a pal would cause when they stopped a car carrying none other than the nation’s sweetheart in 1938.

As reported in last week’s Flashback, Dame Gracie Fields visited Chorley to attend a Sports and Gala Day in the grounds of Lisieux Hall in Whittle-le-Woods.

It was a celebration of the large construction project of the Royal Ordnance Factory being built, but young Ralph, who has been a Chorley councillor since 1976, didn’t have much interest in attending the event.

“Everyone was dashing to go and see Gracie Fields,” he said. “I lived in Wheelton and she was staying in Prospect House at Lower Wheelton.

“It’s where Sir John Jackson lived; he owned most of Wheelton, like the factories.

“Anyway, they were doing some repair work on the roads at Black Lion Brow, and the highways mob had a cabin at the top which had a ‘stop’ and a ‘go’ signal for traffic.

“My neighbour Harry Grimshaw was a bit older than me and he said ‘let’s go in the cabin’. Then he said ‘Jonny’s coming over the hill in his car, let’s stop him!’

“We saw Sir Jonny’s car so we put the stop sign up, and we walked up to the car, and in the back seat was Gracie Fields!

“He was bringing her home after the gala, and we just came eye to eye with her.

“We had a good look and then turned the sign back to ‘go’, but Jonny was doing his nut – he was going mad!

“She was smiling, but he certainly wasn’t. We must have been rum little buggers to do something like that!”

- Read our feature about the gala day here.