Arthur and Charlie Brett
Fish and Chips!

Arthur and Charlie BrettBrett’s Fish and Chips shop in North Lane, set in its old stone cottage and colourful garden, has been a Headingley landmark for nearly a century. This row of small cottages (originally four) was built by a local stonemason in the 1850s on a field bought from the Cardigan Estate. Just one-up one-down, with a shared privy in the yard behind, they were meant to house workers serving the wealthy occupants of Headingley’s mansions and villas. Over the years the tenants included gardeners, dressmakers, and often women taking in washing from the big houses - fresh water ran under the cottages (still flowing beneath a manhole in the backyard) and the long front gardens were good for drying. But in 1921 the pattern was broken when Arthur Brett bought one of the cottages with a new project in mind.

The Brett family had first come to Headingley around 1899 from Rastrick, attracted like many others by the work opportunities this fast-growing suburb offered. They settled in the newly-built Trelawn Terrace and set up a joinery firm where the young Arthur began work. Soon he branched out, acquired a horse and cart and set up in Bennett Road as a carting agent, ferrying people around, helping them move house, transporting heavy loads. Then came the First World War and like so many others he joined up. When he finally returned, he hit on a new scheme, selling fried fish and chips, a takeaway meal which was fast becoming popular, bound to find plenty of takers in this expanding suburb with its close-packed workers’ housing nearby. He bought the cottage and founded an enterprise which ninety years later still bears his name.

Every day he took his horse and cart down to Leeds fish market and brought back fresh fish for his shop. Soon he was accompanied by his young son, Charlie, who learnt the business at his side. They expanded, in the 1930s taking over the cottages next door and making space for a restaurant. Always popular, the shop was open for long hours – during the Second World War till 1am, to serve the many late night war-workers. In time Charlie (‘’Charles’ on Sunday,’ he liked to joke) took over the business and ran it for many years, a familiar figure in his long white apron, always ready with a cheery greeting, and still fondly remembered by  his old customers.

Charlie Brett and his brother Jack were both motorcycle racers, winning top prizes in the TT races and abroad – the yard behind the cottage used to echo to the deafening noise of their bikes revving up. But it was through cricket that Brett’s became most well-known. The queues outside were extra long during matches and many of the players were devoted customers. One of Charlie’s fondest memories was of the great Yorkshire and England batsman, the immaculate, Brylcreemed Herbert Sutcliffe, parking his Rolls Royce outside and coming in for his order, which always included two fish for his dogs. In the 1970s John Arlott, the BBC cricket correspondent, was persuaded to try Brett’s and loved it. From then on during every Test Match he ate there with the England team, and when he retired he took it over for his farewell party. He remained in affectionate contact with Charlie Brett for the rest of his life.

Ill health finally forced Charlie, very unwillingly, to retire. Although the shop and restaurant are now under separate management, the Brett name has been preserved and Charlie Brett’s daughter, Jane, still owns the terrace and tends the wonderful garden, a small oasis amid the traffic and an example of continuity and stability in the midst of the now increasingly transient population of Headingley.

Eveleigh Bradford
July 2010