FROM the ‘blow out’ in the building’s cosy corner, to the ballroom where couples danced the night away, to the wonderful array of shops and, of course, the magical Christmas grotto.

Helena House, the mightily imposing Co-op building that was bulldozed in the late 80s, certainly has a place in the hearts of Star readers who grew up back in the day.

Our call out for memories of the department store and venue on Baldwin Street (where Wilkos now stands) generated a huge response.

Many were quick to bring up the main entrance on the corner of Cotham Street, which was known as the ‘Blow Out’ because warm air was pumped out. The cosy corner, which would help keep off some of the chill of a winter’s evening, is where many courting couples would arrange to meet for a night out.

St Helens Star:

But inside Helena House was a majestic place too, packed with an array of shops, a restaurant, cafe and ballroom. And it was around this time of year when things would really get special, with festive decorations and a Christmas grotto creating a magical experience for little ones.

Here are some of your responses.

Pat Jones wrote: “In the 1960s my mum, Dora Jones, worked as manageress of the confectionery shop near the front doors inside the store.

“We used the shop all of the time because there were so many different parts. When I was young, about 8 or 9, I remember watching a young woman demonstrating very fancy ribbons that you could make bows and decorations from.

“Regarding the demolition – years later when I worked at the museum in College Street, they were demolishing the Co-op and I went to take photos of it. I was told by the men working there that asbestos had been found extensively throughout the building so it couldn’t be saved.”

Ken Hughes, recalled: “Going to the Sefton for a few pints before deciding it was ‘time’ to venture into to Co-op Dance Hall! Without doubt the only place worth going on a Friday night in 1961. A beautiful Dance Hall as they were called then; sprung floor, tiny lights in the ceiling!

“Looking at all the girls dancing round their handbags whilst the resident ‘Group’ The Chequers played everything you wanted to stumble too! Fantastic times!

“So much so that when the Beatles played at the Plaza me and my well informed mates still staggered into the Co-op!

“Like all great stories I met my wife in there! She was 16; I was a bit older! (Just).

“We have been married 53 years this year. Two kids, five grand kids, one great grandson! It was the best place this town ever had!

“So we knocked it down! Plaza still there.”

Richard Duckenfield got in touch to say: “While still at school, I worked behind the counter at Rothery Records in Ormskirk Street. It was easily the most popular and best stocked shop of its kind in town – a position the manager, Les Charnock, was determined to protect.

St Helens Star:

“If a customer asked for a record we hadn’t got – usually because we’d sold out – he’d tell one of the assistants to run over to Helena House to buy it.

“It was a clandestine mission – out of the side door, a sprint across Baldwin Street and down to their record department which was, I think, in the basement. A dash back, the waiting customer having been told we were ‘taking it out of stock in the back’.

“Not a ha’penny of profit, but the Rothery reputation reinforced.”

The grotto that brought back vivid memories for some.

Neil Newman wrote: “I remember going down to the basement to see Santa’s grotto it was always full and we had to queue to get in.

“Then go up to the restaurant and have pasty and gravy at the counter sat on a high chair. We used to spend a couple of hours in there just looking. The place was huge then go around the corner and catch the Parr bus home.The town centre was a great place to shop.”

Jackie Pennington wrote: “The magical Christmas grotto. In the mid 60s I was a small child and often visited the Santa grotto in the basement at Helena house.

“We would go down the stairs to the magic train and then travel for a ‘long journey’ to Lapland where we would get off the train to meet Santa and his elves, his Santa our Christmas list, get a present and then magically just go back up the stairs to the entrance. I could never understand why we didn’t take the train back.

“It took me years to figure out how the moving wall mural made that happen! In those pre-digital age days and before parents could take their children on day flights to Lapland, this was the highlight of my childhood year.”

Janice Owen recalled the charming department store: “You could shop in there for almost anything.

“Jewellery( where I got a gold charm bracelet for my 21st Birthday present), footwear(I remember a lady in that department named Maud Clayton she was alway’s very helpful).

“Clothes, food. The basement sold hardware and every year there was the magical grotto. On the first floor there was the restaurant which was really lovely. There was also a hair salon. The architecture of this building was magnificent.”

Dom Swift on Facebook added: “I did quite a lot of research a number of years ago (I do recall the building but was very young still when I last remember it).

“I discovered the building was demolished circa 1988/89 but had lain empty beforehand.

“Wilko was built in 1995, leaving the big fenced off hole in the ground there for 6/7 years.

“I understand there had been efforts to save the original building, but that the roof was in very bad shape, the upper floors were covered in pigeons and fouled as a result and that no tenant could be found. The book ‘Black Gold and Hot Sand’ suggests vandals found their way in, damaging the place in the 80s.”