POPULAR: Dennis Connelly with daughter Pauline at the family toy shop
POPULAR: Dennis Connelly with daughter Pauline at the family toy shop

SADNESS has been expressed at the death of a well-known, respected and jovial businessman who enchanted generations of children at his family toy store.

Dennis Connelly, of Barnard Castle, has died aged 90. He was born in Jarrow and came to Barnard Castle in the 1940s when his family home was bombed.

They stayed in Barnard Castle after the war. He married his wife, Eileen, and they set up home on The Bank, living above the toy shop, which was then known as Ascough’s Toy Shop.

Daughter Pauline said: “He worked at Barnard Castle School for many years and at Swinbank’s and was at Glaxo for a time before he came into the shop. It was my mum who wanted to change the name to Connelly’s.”

The couple ran the business for more than 30 years and hosted regular fundraising coffee evenings in the gardens adjoining the Castle grounds.

Ms Connelly added: “Dad loved talking to people and couldn’t be happier chatting to customers or people on the street. When he wasn’t working, he was always busy repairing things. But he loved his fishing and would often cast way over the other side of the river.”

Although a keen sportsman, enjoying badminton, tennis, fishing and ping pong Ms Connelly said he wasn’t too competitive.

She added: “He just enjoyed playing the games. In the 1950s he started an archery club which he enjoyed as it was something completely different.

“He only really retired when he went to live at Charles Dickens’ Lodge, but he would still visit the shop in his scooter most days.”

Ms Connelly had been able to spend time with him on his 90th birthday before lockdown and had continued video calls throughout.

Hundreds of messages of condolences have been expressed on social media following his death with many sharing memories online.

Marcus Bainbridge said: “He was one of Barney’s originals and best I grew up with – a genuine man who always seemed to have a smile and a word for you and never seemed to stop still for long. A wonderful trusted man I was pleased to grow up knowing.”

Chris Franklin added: “He was one of the nicest people anyone could have met. He played a massive part of so many people’s lives and childhoods. He will be sorely missed.”

Town resident Mark Carter said: “I remember all those many years ago when I went to the infant school at the top of the Demesnes and I used to call into Connelly’s Toy Shop to buy some sweets and many joke tricks, top trumps and other games.

“He was always so helpful and it’s something I have never forgotten. He really was a true Barnard Castle legend in my eyes and I’m very sad to hear he will be no longer with us.”