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On the Batter: Marie Barrow's, Widnes

Political Editor Larry Neild heads off in search of the greatest little chippie in the world .... and ends up in a Widnes back street

Written by . Published on June 1st 2012.


On the Batter: Marie Barrow's, Widnes
 

It has its own appreciation society on Facebook, a fan club spanning every continent, so there must be something about Marie's.

Once it proudly stood in the County of Lancashire, then the mandarins dragged it into Cheshire (boundary changes). 

The tiny chippie is sandwiched between a hair salon and a public house and if you didn't know it was there you'd miss it for sure. It's Widnes's best kept secret.

Such is the secrecy surrounding the ingredients, the two women are not even allowed to travel together on the same single decker bus

It's eponymous owner, Marie Barrow, passed away 22 years ago, but that didn't change anything. 

They reckon her spirit is alive and kicking at the smallest, cheapest chippie, founded when Queen Elizabeth was a mere princess. 

Devotees of Marie Barrow's mixtures - that's chips and mushy peas - pay a pilgrimage to the shop on their expeditions to Widnes. It's become a rite of passage, with third and fourth generations frequenting the place for their regular fix. 

Marie Barrow's chippie is tucked away in Millfield Road, off Peel House Lane, a road non-locals would only use when they are lost. 

For ex-pat Widnesians heading home it's a shrine. There are no last suppers at Marie's - people always come back for more. 

Meal 

Among the regulars are members of Widnes Vikings RL team, currently propping up Super League, and a Widnes born snooker legend. 

Marie Barrow's may be popular, but they don't even open on a dawn to midnight, seven days a week basis. If they did they would be rich. 

Instead this citadel of chipped spuds opens at dinner time - that's 11.30am until 2pm Mondays to Fridays (this is Widnes remember). As a concession they open for tea for a few hours between 4pm and 6pm on Thursdays and Fridays. Otherwise you'll have to cook your own or go hungry. 

Marie's daughter, Elaine, and daughter in law, Ann Barrow, are now the custodians of this world famous famous chippie.

Away from prying eyes they create the most memorable curry sauce and gravy you'll ever taste. The secret recipe was devised over 60 years ago by Marie and only these two people know the recipe.

Such is the secrecy surrounding the ingredients, the two women are not even allowed to travel together on the same single decker bus.

 "If I told you the recipe, I'd have to boil you in oil," says Ann politely. 

One of her bodyguards, who refuses to give her name or pose for photographs, offers me a sample of curry sauce and gravy with a handful of those chips. Both taste out of this world. Their crispy batter is also home made. 

They could charge a premium, but instead they like to be known as the cheapest chippy in town. 

"Everything is done here, by hand. Every day we make the curry sauce and the gravy (using our secret recipe) and we steep the marrowfats overnight so they are really mushy. Our spuds are grown in Lancashire and we have fish delivered daily, " says Ann. 

The shop opened as a small bakery in the 1890s and was taken over by Marie Barrow at the turn of the1950s. Marie had already set her heart on converting it into a chippy. But for many years she continued to bake her own pies, with older townsfolk saying nothing could beat them.

"We must be one of the last of the traditional Lancashire chip shops. We don't do meals, just chips, peas, fish and sausages and of course curry or gravy," says Ann who was taught her skills by her late mum-in law.

Ann BarrowAnn Barrow"Yes, somebody has started a Marie Barrow's Appreciation Society and we have people from all over the world heading to our shop because they have heard about us, but we are just here to serve up nice food at a decent price. 

So if Marie Barrows' is so famous, why don't they milk it in the way Harry Ramsden did? 

"We don't want too," says Ann, "our opening hours were fixed at a time when we had young kids to look after and we've never changed them."

 At times the queue has stretched along Millfield Road and way down a side street. Some regulars are the grandchildren of Marie's original fans. 

Some are from Australia, the Americas and from other continents who have heard about a legendary traditional chippie in faraway Widnes.

 

Larry's verdict

Mushy peas are faultless, you'll never taste curry and gravy like this, the chips are retro 50s and the fish the catch of the day. 

Luckily global fame has not gone to their heads. Throw in a couple of fritters - slices of potato in batter - at just 20p a go and you won't go hungry. 

Mixtures cost £1.40p, £1.50p or super sized (that's large in Barrow-speak) for just £1.60p. A fish dinner (cod, chips and mushy peas) costs just £3.10p. Fish costs £1.70p or £3.10p. 

Marie Barrows
Millfield Road,
off Peel House Lane,
Widnes.

 

 

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11 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

Yaffle ChucklebuttyJune 1st 2012.

Been there, done that, got the gravy all down my T-shirt.
Don't they do fish bits as well small chunks of fish in batter?

Peter BenthamJune 1st 2012.

Marie Barrow's (Or 'Barrers', if you're a Widnesian) at last gets the recognition it deserves! I've lived in Liverpool for over 10 years and it's great, but Widnes does great proper chippies that you can't find in the city centre. It's facebook fansite has over 1200 members. Legends.

Darth FormbyJune 2nd 2012.

On my way!

AnonymousJanuary 31st 2014.

Brilliant! It's fish and chip night too.

AnonymousJanuary 31st 2014.

I used to be able to see Marie's from my bedroom window, people would ring me up to check how big the queue was.

AnonymousJanuary 31st 2014.

Always was a fantastic chippie,and Maries homemade steak pie was THE BEST.My grandchildren use it now.

Zoe StoneFebruary 1st 2014.

Best chippy ever! The times I got there late and missed it too

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