| Tim Rowbotham
I’m fascinated by Tim Rowbotham’s shop. He owns and runs the Ironmongers on Bradford Road, near to Drake’s chip shop, the Post Office, and opposite Shipley United Reformed Church. The small space inside the shop is packed to the gunnels with ladders, spades, sledges, rope, tools, nuts, bolts, and nails – you name it for DIY and Tim stocks it, or can get it for you very quickly. His link with Saltaire is that, since Luty’s closed down, opposite Gordon Terrace, Tim’s shop is probably the closest for Saltaire residents to travel to. But don’t all rush at once! With 2 customers in it, there’s not room to turn around. It’s a shop with bags of character, and so has its owner. [Tim Rowbotham's shop. Mouse-over image to enlarge.]
Tim has an old fashioned approach to business. Take something broken or damaged to him and he regards it as a challenge to try to repair it, rather than trying to sell you a very expensive modern equivalent. He’s got lots of practical skills. He puts this down to having been brought up in a predominantly male environment after his mother died when he was 11 years old. He says that he was “put out” to relatives who were very practical (his Dad was in the timber trade, his granddad a carpenter, and his uncle a mechanic) and was told to “make yourself useful”. He soon found that he needed to understand the processes involved if he was going to make a good job of his “helping” and if he was going to get praise and an invitation to return. Cannibalizing machinery for its components is a good way of learning how something works. He combines the skills gained with a real feel for people, especially the elderly and disadvantaged. He tells the story of one lady who took a small aluminum milk pan for repair, and for once Tim advised her that it would be cheaper to buy a new one. She explained that this had been the first item she’d bought after escaping from Nazi Germany and settled in this country. Tim riveted the handle back on!
He occasionally does small jobs “on site” in the village, but most of his repairs are done in the shop.
Tim has 3 main groups of customers:-
• senior citizens who affectionately remember this sort of shop where you can get practical advice and help – and where you can buy small numbers of items such as small numbers of screws, nails, or washers.
• Children and teenagers whose skateboards have broken and they want help to repair them.
• Local builders who can buy just the amount of materials they need to finish a job, and don’t have to bulk buy.
Tim only became an ironmonger in 1998, taking over the shop from Liam Cunningham. He’s always been enthusiastic about old tools and wrenches, timber and plumbing as hobbies. In fact, Tim’s profession is a scientist – a water microbiologist. After doing his PhD at Bradford University he was employed at Bradford Royal Infirmary and then at Leeds Public Health Laboratory, where he became fascinated with legionnaires’ disease. He did routine testing for the disease, but was also a research scientist. The Americans had thought that the bacteria which cause legionnaires’ disease were free-living in water. Tim discovered that in order to grow, the bacteria needed to have a parasitic relationship with amoebae. Amoebae eat bacteria, but the ingested bacteria had found a way to avoid being digested. An amoeba is full of nutrients which the bacteria can use, and it offers protection in otherwise hostile environments. The bacteria multiply inside the amoeba. The amoebae live in the slimes and deposits in water systems. Legionnaires’ disease spreads most from cooling towers, whirlpool baths, showers, and hotel hot water systems, or anywhere with poorly maintained plumbing systems. Tim has suggested that the infected amoebae are inhaled in droplets of water.
Tim published a number of papers in international journals between 1980 and 1998, and has even had a species of bacteria named after him – Legionella rowbothamii.
Tim’s career in Public Health ended with compulsory early retirement, aged 50 years in 1998, and Liam’s invitation for him to “mind the shop” came as a stop gap. When the phone rings in the shop Tim still doesn't know whether it will be about microbiology or ironmongery.
His wife, Daphne, sometimes helps in the shop. Their children have followed Dad’s interests. Jenny was in environmental health, and now forensics. Chris was an electronics engineer who has retrained as a Maths teacher.
So now things are turned on their head – Tim’s hobbies have become his business, and his science has become his hobby. One thing’s for certain – he’s passionate about both!