How often I’ve heard the words, “if only they’d written it all down”, when someone who’d had an interesting, or just a “normal” life, had cropped up in conversation.
Some people did write it down. My late mother-in-law, Laura, didn’t write her life story but, in her amazing travel diaries, she said everything she needed to for us to remind ourselves of what made her tick and how her lifetime’s experiences had equipped her to make interesting and astute observations of life around her. My dad has also written about his early life in East London and opens up a completely different and more rough and ready but still caring world than we in the quieter villages and small towns would recognise.
I can’t match Laura’s efforts but I’d like to put on paper
something about my background, my home and community and, mainly, the people
around me. These shaped me. As an only child, I observed and absorbed a lot in
my early years in Lymm, albeit from a position of reserved solitude and painful
shyness that set me up nicely [sic] as a watcher rather than a doer! Don’t
forget – in the late 1940s and 1950s Lymm was exciting – I didn’t know
anywhere else! Well, maybe Warrington [shopping with my mum], Blackpool [being
spoilt by Auntie Gladys] and Altrincham [posher shopping with Gran Edwards].
I was born on 2nd of June 1946 on Auntie Gladys’s settee at 33 Booths Hill Road. This was a small terraced house on the site of what is now Booths Hill House retirement home. It opened straight onto the pavement alongside the main road. My mum was very poorly after giving birth to me and I’m told that Auntie Gladys looked after me for the next six months.
My mum’s and dad’s home was 46 Newfield Road, the
bottom house on the right hand side as you travelled downhill from Booths Hill
Road. My Grandad Edwards was the tenant of the house with my mum and dad being
part of his and Gran’s family. As
an end terrace it was larger than the other houses in the row, having been
extended to include a separate hall with a small bathroom above. It had a long
front garden like the other houses but also had an unsurfaced yard and wooden
outbuildings running down to Moston Street. Grandad ran his coal business from
the yard and there was also space for them to keep twenty or more chickens to
supply fresh eggs.
Grandad had been born in Diddlebury in South Shropshire then moved to Clun near the Welsh border. Gran, born Ada Beddoe, was from Welshpool but lived most of her early life in Montgomery. She had been in service in that area and she often mentioned Brompton Hall as the residence at which she worked as governess to the family’s children. Once married, they moved to Bridgnorth where my Uncle Ed was born in 1906. They then acquired a smallholding in Lower Whitley and finally moved to Lymm. From their home in Newfield Road, Grandad rented the field on which 10 Statham Drive, home to our family, now stands. In those days, he grazed his horse there.
My mum, Ada Wilhelmina [“Billie”, to most local people] and her younger brother, Ernest [my Uncle Ern] were born at 46 Newfield Road in 1916 and 1917 respectively.
By the time I was born, Uncle Ed had married Gladys Cheetham and, in 1937, they had had their only daughter, Hilary. Auntie Gladys had worked as a fustian cutter in one of Lymm’s traditional workshop industries. You can still see the former workshops on the second floors of a number of properties in Lymm, for example, in West Hyde and the best preserved one in Church Road just on the Altrincham side of its junction with Elm Tree Road. Fustian was a lower-grade form of velvet and the cutters had to work for 10 to 12 tiring hours per day. Lymm, then, was not always the “soft” and comfortable place that we see today. The atmosphere of the workshops is described very graphically in papers written by the Local History Society which are well worth reading. Uncle Ed had worked for the Co-op but was called-up to serve in the Second World War when he was 33. He resumed work at the Co-op after the war. In 1946, when I was born, the Co-op was almost certainly the biggest shop in Lymm Village. It was a large grocery shop with a separate butchery.
From leaving school in 1930, my mum had worked in the tool-making industry for Wilkinsons, first at their factory in Lymm and then in Warrington. My dad was born in the East End of London in 1922. He also served in the war and was eventually stationed at Thelwall Camp that was close to where the Little Manor now stands. His move to this area meant that he was able to meet my mum and they were married at Lymm Church in 1944. After being “de-mobbed” he worked as a lorry-driver, starting with Leicesters’ Transport in Burford Lane.
Uncle Ern had worked with my Grandad in his coal business but was also called up for service in the war. He was stationed for at least part of the time in North Africa and the Gulf area where he learned to drive with a free-and-easy style that never left him! After the war he returned to the coal business and was able to drive the business’s first lorry which replaced Grandad’s horse and cart. He married Edith Appleton [Auntie Edie] from Oughtrington and they went on to have one daughter, Jean, who was born a year after me.
My dad came from a much larger family in London. My Gran and Grandad Estall came from the East End. They had three sons of whom dad was the oldest and three daughters of whom Auntie Marie was older than dad. The other boys were my uncles, Joe and Pat, and my two other aunts were Rose and Mary. There was an extensive network of cousins, some of whom lived in the same house as dad at various times to ensure that none of the family homes was unduly overcrowded.
Gran and Grandad were bombed out of their home in Bow during the war and when I first visited them at the age of about three, they had been re-settled on the top floor of a three-storey block of post-war flats in Millwall. Meanwhile, Auntie Marie had married Uncle Alf and was settled in Forest Gate near West Ham Football Ground whilst Auntie Rose had been evacuated to Oxford and had married Uncle Mac who worked at the Morris car plant. Each of those couples had one child, Marcia and Michael, respectively. When I first visited London, Uncle Pat was still at home but later moved to Liverpool, married Auntie Mary and they had two sons, Patrick and John. Joe and Mary were still at home and remained unattached for many years until Joe married Eileen and Mary married Ashraf who we have come to know so well.
Grandad Estall died in the 1950s and I was 13 before I went to stay with Gran again. I began to really appreciate the difference between her surroundings and way of life and ours in Lymm. It was much more rough and ready and, whilst she did not have her own garden, I could see all the goings-on of dockland from her balcony. She and Auntie Mary looked after me very well and Joe had time to show me all around London, mainly on foot, so I got to know parts of the city like my home area.
I visited Gran several times in my teens and early twenties
and stayed with her when I sat my professional exams in the city – and that is
Back to Lymm and a bit more about 46 Newfield Road. This was an end-terraced house so I probably thought it was a cut above the other houses in the road. It was not only larger as a result of the extension that the owner had built, but also had the yard at the side.
Although the yard was there for a purpose – as a store and “bagging-up” area for coal and to provide space to park the coal-wagon and later the lorry – there was enough extra space for it to provide a play area for myself and my friends. I once measured it as 19 yards long, so it could be used as a cricket pitch with wickets chalked onto the shed door. Fast bowlers had to start their run-up from the “croft” – the waste ground on the opposite side of the road – and had to be careful not to collide with cars, bikes or elderly ladies carrying shopping bags as they accelerated towards their delivery. This was a makeshift facility but one that no other house in the road could match.
The other feature that marked our house apart from others in Newfield Road was the bath. Other houses in the road had only tin baths that had to be filled with buckets of
water from the kitchen which, in most cases, doubled up as the dining room. This meant that the whole house was out of bounds to visitors at bath-time. We had the luxury of the bathroom and I can remember that relatives and neighbours occasionally came to our house to have a “proper bath”.
On the ground floor, below the bathroom, was a hall opening out to the covered porch. The hall had also been added as part of the extension and was therefore something that the other houses didn’t have. It allowed visitors to come into the house, often to deal with business matters, such as paying for coal, without having to come into the family’s own rooms. Later on, after I was born, it provided a quiet area for answering the telephone. I remember that we were one of the first families in “Newfield” to have a phone installed. For many years, trusted neighbours used to make emergency calls from our house; for example, to the doctors or to call out tradesmen.
In most ways, however, our house was typical of all others in the road. It had two main downstairs rooms; the “front room”, as we called it, which opened on to the hall, giving the room a degree of privacy which other front rooms did not enjoy. By 1946, my Gran and Grandad had already adapted the front room as their bedroom, due to my Gran’s inability to use the staircase safely. The room had its own coal-fire and the main item of furniture, apart from a very high feather bed, was the “wireless” [the radio], which was an enormous wooden structure that could only be moved by two strong adults. You could tune in to any one of three stations, all operated by the BBC. The Light Programme was the least formal and serious and had plays, light orchestral and band music, the early beginnings of what we now call “chat shows” such as “In Town Tonight” and sports commentaries, all delivered in “Oxbridge” accents.
The electricity meter was also in the front room. The lights simply went out if you forgot to keep it topped up with coins. I think it took threepenny pieces in 1946 but I remember it taking one-shilling coins [now 5p]. It had to be unlocked and the coins taken by the “electric man” on a regular basis.
The other room was the living room, which we called the kitchen. I think that this was because it had housed the sink and the water taps before the house was extended. By 1946 these had been removed to the rear extension, giving us more real “living space” than the other families. There was a coal fire that was part of a “range”. It heated a boiler that, in turn, provided heat for the oven that was set alongside the fire-grate. Two swinging cast-iron arms could hold separate pans for cooking vegetables. I do not remember these being in regular use because we eventually had a gas cooker installed in the “scullery”. I do, however, remember that we toasted bread and teacakes over the fire, using a wire toasting fork. I was allowed to do the toasting because the worst that could happen was that the toast would be burned to cinders or would fall on the fire. I often ruined toast in one of those ways and things only got worse when we eventually got a TV and I “had to” divide my attention between viewing and toasting…in that order!
There was a large dining table in the centre of the room which the family sat at for all meals until May 1953 and the arrival of the said “box”. Another important feature was the “rack”. This was a wood and metal structure strung across most of the width of he room about a metre from the fire. It was used for drying clothes and was operated by pulleys, allowing the “housewife” to hang the clothes at arm height and to draw them towards the ceiling to make room for further clothes at a lower level. The drying clothes effectively divided the room into two compartments so that, if you walked into the room, you could not see the faces of people standing on the fireside of the rack. The word “rack” might suggest an instrument of torture. It was; one of the perils of being about four feet tall was that you could walk head-on into the cast-iron rack-holders at the ends of the wooden slats over which the sodden clothes were hung.
Both the main rooms were carpeted, but not wall-to-wall, and there were also various rugs, especially along the coal delivery and ash removal routes to and from the fires.
Wallpaper was colourful, with any number of variations on the theme of brown with brown, with hints of restrained orange in the borders!
The “scullery” was actually the kitchen and washroom. It was to become a fully-fledged kitchen shortly after my birth with the introduction of the gas cooker. In 1946 there was no washing machine. There was a “dolly-tub”, a large iron basin set into a brick mount. Washloads were put into the tub full of hot water and “agitated” by the “housewife” who had to wield the wooden “dolly” to move the washload around to ensure every item was cleaned. Once rinsed under a running tap the individual items were passed through the rollers of the “mangle” which were operated by a manually-operated handle. I was warned early on of the danger of passing my hand through the rollers!
Upstairs there were two bedrooms. My mum and dad had the back bedroom which overlooked the small back yard. When I was allowed my own room I had the front bedroom. This was a good deal for me since it was lighter, facing the daytime sun, and overlooked the road, a row of front gardens, the uncultivated open ground known as the “croft” that acted as an unofficial adventure playground and, beyond the croft, the gold-beating works from which I could hear the metronomic thud of gold leaf being pressed to almost microscopic thinness. All the neighbourhood’s daily activities passed by my bedroom window. Being nosey, I spent hours taking it all in.
I haven’t mentioned the toilet; the “lavvy”. I won’t dwell on it as I did a lot of that in my childhood. It was in a small brick building of its own, just across a small yard from the scullery door. It was a flush toilet but was unlit and unheated. A small paraffin “stove” was available at times when there was a risk of the water supply freezing and of pipes bursting. Minimal illumination was provided by a beam of light which passed from the scullery through the narrow gap between toilet door and doorpost that could be afforded by leaving the door slightly ajar. It goes without saying that, as I moved into late childhood and had important pieces of homework to concentrate on in this most tranquil of locations, some parent or grandparent would thoughtlessly switch the scullery light off!
Looking a little way beyond our house, Newfield Road was the “spine” of a little network of streets that fed into Booths Hill Road, which was part of the A56 Warrington-Altrincham road. It was, in every way, the main road through Lymm. In 1946 the first motorways were still years off and, despite the fact that not many families hah their own cars, there was a fairly constant flow of vehicles along the road with fairly packed buses taking Lymm people to work or shop in the two towns. Booths Hill Road was the main shopping area of our part of Lymm and I became familiar with most of the shops and other businesses as I was taken around and later found my own way further afield. More about that later.
There were 23 houses in Newfield Road, with no houses fronting onto the side opposite our house. There were something like 30 houses in Moston Street, which was also a street of terraces, and about 14 houses in Hawthorn Avenue which was an extension of Newfield Road beyond Moston Street and contained larger semi-detached Council houses which had “mod. cons.” This whole area was known as “Newfield” to many local people. With probably between 2 and 6 people per house there would have been maybe 300 people living in this tightly-knit community in 1946. Almost everyone would have left their home once or more each day to go to work, school, the shops or to go out in the evening in the days before the TV kept people in. Most of those journeys started on foot or bicycle so there was a constant movement of people up and down our road – and there were an awful lot of interruptions as so many of them stopped for “chit-chat”. I’ll say more about what I learnt from the people in the area and how I became part of the community.
I won’t say much about Lymm as a whole because it was years before I found my way around the village and began to understand the part that it played in my life.
I do know however that, in 1946, it would have been much more of a working village than it is in 2004, with an unimaginable range of shops, businesses and local services – and that people got to know each other through “face to face” encounters, rather than through remote communications systems. Hardly any working-class people, for instance, had access to a telephone. There would have been some TVs, there was a cinema, there were certainly no computers or “mobiles”, but there were pubs, meeting halls and meeting-places – shops, churches, doctors’ surgeries! – everywhere.
So that’s the little world of Lymm, Newfield and “number 46” that I was born into. What did I begin to make of it all?
I suppose I can remember the places and people around me from about the age of four. That was in 1950 and still only five years after the end of the war in Europe. Although it’s artificial to divide time into precise periods, my experiences from 1950 to 1957, which were gained mainly within a mile of our house, can be pretty well “packaged” as having taken place within the protective arms of a close-knit family and watchful working-class community. In 1957 I moved into the bigger and wider world of Lymm Grammar School which was almost two miles away, was of metropolitan proportions, with around 650 pupils and where I had to contend with the relaxed and self-assured manners of mainly middle-class people.
I’ll ramble, in no particular order, about all sorts of
experiences that I can recall, which have influenced my view of things and which
I hope bring out the warmth, character and individuality of peoples’ lives in
an era when, for most people I knew, “quality of life” owed more to personal
relationships and community than to possessions. But I will say that, even then,
older people would let children know how lucky they were to have everything they
could possibly want whereas they had had to make do with virtually nothing.
My Gran and Grandad played a big part in my life before I
went to school. There were no playgroups or nurseries so Gran and my mum looked
after me at home, where I had a dog, Chummy, and a cat, Tibby, for company. Mum
would take me to see friends that she had probably made at the “welfare”
when she had taken me for my check-ups. They had children of my age who became
my pre-school friends. One in particular was Roger Stevens who lived in one of
the terraced cottages on Canal Bank just along from Statham Drive. Mum did not
drive so she had to walk me there in my pram through Barsbank Lane underbridge.
She used to tell me many times that, in my first winter, 1947, which was one of
the most severe on record, she was able to take a short cut across the frozen
I did not see a lot of Grandad in the week as he was out delivering coal. It was a dirty and dangerous job so I had to stay out of his way. He did sometimes give me a ride on the front of his cart behind the horse. When he moved on to a lorry, which Uncle Ern drove, I sometimes went to Lymm Station with them to collect the day’s supply of coal. It was always a hive of activity; coal was then the main fuel for homes and businesses. One of the features of the Bridgewater Canal at that time was that there was a constant stream of coal barges travelling between the Lancashire coalfields and the Ship Canal entrance at Runcorn.
Grandad had set routines. He started work early but always came home for a cup of coffee at exactly 11 o’clock. Gran made his coffee so that he could drink it at the right time. I don’t remember anyone else ever drinking coffee. It was Camp coffee, made from chicory and made as a hot milky drink to fortify manual workers. Grandad kept his flat cap on throughout the day but I remember that he took it off and held it in his hands just once when he came into the house for his coffee. He was listening to the news which sounded very solemn and simply sat in silence with his head bowed, cap in hand, for about five minutes before he put his cap back on, stood up and went about his business. My mum explained that the news was that King George VI had died.
Gran and Grandad did not converse with each other in the
easy manner that couples or close relatives do nowadays. When anything more than
a very basic message was being relayed or specific request made, my Grandad, in
particular, would say to me “ask your Gran or let your Gran know that…”.
They never criticised or complained about each other to anyone; I just think
that, originating from very remote and orderly rural communities in the 1880s,
they had been brought up to communicate only what was essential to keep
day-to-day life ticking over. Men socialised with men and women with women.
Grandad was a warm and lively character among his bowling friends at the Crown
and I once remember him running across the grassed quadrangle of the almshouses
in his home village of Clun to embrace one of the elderly residents whom he
recognised as a one-time boyhood friend. Gran was a well-loved person in Lymm
who thoroughly enjoyed evenings out with her friends at whist-drives and, later,
One thing I was aware of from the moment I started to go with Gran and mum to the shops was the existence of ration books. Certain foodstuffs, particularly meat, were in short supply for some years after the war and each family was allowed to buy only a limited amount of them. Their ration books were stamped to show that they had used up part of their allowance each time they made a purchase. We were very lucky to have chickens to supply fresh eggs to supplement our adequate but rather limited diet. I wasn’t aware of hardship; I was just living normally as I believed everyone else did. It now seems to be accepted that absence of unlimited amounts of meat and butter actually made people healthier and there was one bonus for young children like me; that was the “National” orange juice that was available specifically to children. It was the best-tasting drink in the world and it puzzled me for years as to why my Grandad and Uncle Ern used to walk all the way to the Crown to drink whisky and beer!
This was an age in which waste was not an option. Everybody had to plan things out so as to not run short of things before they could be replaced. There were also no credit cards and, whilst it was possible to borrow money, it was regarded as a humiliation to be in debt and to be known to have debts. All children in an area like Newfield, which saw itself as being a caring community, were expected to be watchful for opportunities to help people rather than to help them only when ordered to. So, if an older person was seen to be struggling to carry a heavy shopping bag up the street, I would be expected to stop whatever game we were playing and offer to help.
As I began to look a bit more widely around Lymm I could see that there were areas that were much different to ours. Area such as Eagle Brow, Church Road and Lakeside Road contained much larger houses. I had no reason for thinking that the people lived differently but it soon dawned on me that some familiar features of life in Newfield were absent there. For example, there were no children playing in the streets and I was not aware that anyone hung washing out on lines as everyone did in Newfield – strictly on Mondays of course.
These areas were inhabited, for the most part, by middle-aged people whose children had grown up, played in their own large gardens or, as I eventually discovered, were away at boarding schools and were therefore distanced from the kind of community life that I had come to accept as the norm. I’m afraid that I used to join in the teasing of private school children waiting for their school buses in what we thought of as “Billy Bunter” uniforms – striped jackets and hooped caps or the restrained burgundy of “Alty Pig-Sty”, known to them as “Altrincham Preparatory School”.
I actually developed a sneaking regard for these rather superior people who must have been successful to get where they were. My Gran, in particular, held people of “class” in a high regard and I imagine that this came from her background of having worked in the service of wealthy families to which she must have developed a strong sense of loyalty. If, however, I tried to impress her by saying that I had visited a well-off family’s house in what she would have called the “more select part of Lymm” but it turned out that the family had merely “acquired” its wealth through business initiative, she would dampen my enthusiasm by informing me that “they were nobody when they first came to Lymm”.
At the other end of the scale, there were council houses. A few of my early friends lived on the small council estates that were dispersed around Lymm. The houses were modern, light and spacious and I naturally though them superior to our own home. I assumed that the families that lived in them had “got on”. Gran put me straight, warning me that, although some of the people were decent, many were “scroungers” and somehow afforded these homes even though they were “work-shy”. Some were even suspected of being Labour voters which was proof that they “wanted something for nothing”.
I looked up to Gran and, with hindsight, can see that hers and Grandad’s opinions were inevitable since all the trusted people who had influenced them from birth were dyed-in-the-wool “Empire Loyalists” who regarded unswerving obedience to the Monarch as the only acceptable basis for living a decent and respectable life. Grandad was a member of the Conservative and Unionist Party which must have had “no-nonsense” right-wing views. Remember that they would have only read newspapers which proffered those same opinions and that they would not have been exposed to any contrary opinions except for those expressed by “cranks” and “troublemakers”.
They were very strongly pro-Church of England and warned me
about the dangers of getting too close to people whose hidden agenda was to
snatch me away to a rival, but still Christian, religion; that is to say,
Catholicism. Non-conformists, such as Methodists and Baptists, of whom there
were quite a number in Lymm, were not considered to be a threat because they
were well-meaning and merely harmlessly eccentric. They were also likely to have
voted Liberal which was seen as ineffectual but, at least, not hostile. Gran and
Grandad took the Daily Mail as did all right-thinking people who were not too
clever for their own good.
Lymm was generally a conservative community and I was not aware that there were any subversive forces at work. Indeed, I was completely unaware of the concept of subversion. This was evident from the stable and unthreatening character of the village. In the early 1950s, even teenagers were very compliant. Older boys could be “boisterous” but were discouraged from bullying smaller kids by the sure knowledge that anyone was likely to let their parents know if their behaviour was getting out of hand. Once word got back they would be “kept in” with smackings available for serious crimes such as swearing at anytime or shouting on Sundays!
Working-class people stuck together and almost all shopping was done in the village, except for bus trips to Warrington to buy some items of clothing or larger household items. Quite a lot of shopping also took place in Altrincham which I detected was Gran’s preference since it had a few more “select” shops which were apparently frequented by a slightly “better class of person”. Altrincham was more of a farmers’ town in those days and I imagine that rural people would have given it an air of calmness that Gran felt comfortable with. There were no superstores but I suspect that, had there been a Sainsbury’s in Altrincham and one in Warrington, Lymm people with allusions to status would have qualified the announcement of a shopping trip by confirming that they were visiting the Altrincham store “of course”.
Back to shopping in Lymm! The village had many more shops than it has nowadays and these were intermingled with a whole host of services. Bridgewater Street, Eagle Brow and The Cross were lined with real shops.
The one shop that almost everyone used at one time or another was the Co-op in Rectory Lane. To my young eyes it was an enormous emporium. There were several counters at which you could buy different types of foodstuffs and household goods and the butchery was entered by a separate door. Two features marked it out from every other shop in the village; the little elevated cashier’s office at the back of the store from which small cash “capsules” travelled back and forth between office and individual sales’ points, with payments travelling one way and change the other and the sawdust which covered the floor and gave the shop an unmistakeable character in terms of suppressing the sound of people walking around the store and providing the Co-op with a unique but not unpleasant odour. And it matched the breadcrumbs that coated the sumptuous hams that were machine-sliced in the cold meat department. It was a highlight to go there with mum because it was so busy and varied compared to any other shop.
My Uncle Ed was “under-manager” at the Co-op. He must have been extremely well thought of because, although the Co-op was an organisation that was proud of the caring, sharing principles that had guided its formation and Uncle Ed was equally proud of his staunchly Conservative family background, he nevertheless became a fully-fledged manager in later years after a spell as assistant manager at Grappenhall. Many of his fellow managers were Labour councillors at Warrington. Soon after he had been appointed manager at Lymm he suffered a near-fatal accident when he was knocked down by a car virtually outside his front door on Booths Hill Road. One of his legs was severely damaged but he was back at work within a year and continued as manager for 12 or13 years until he retired aged 65.
As a family we were members of the Co-op and this entitled us to receive a “dividend” on all our purchases in Lymm and at the Co-op’s larger furniture and clothing stores in Warrington. I first remember the “divi” being 7.5% which meant that we received what would now be a huge “cashback” payment each “divi-day”.
We did the equivalent of our big shop each week through an
order placed on Thursday morning for goods to be delivered by van on Friday
evening. I used to check in the goods as Albert England, our regular delivery
man, brought the various boxes into the house. With five people in the house we
used to clock up a huge bill, sometimes nearly three pounds. At that time my dad
probably earned around £10 or £12 per week!
There were a number of other traditional grocery shops, notably Millings which occupied the premises which in recent years have housed Baci Italian restaurant and others that were well-known such as Burgons and Bowdens.
There were greengrocers such as Porritts and Wheelers and butchers, including Jones’s near to the Bull and, most memorably, Mercers’ which stood on the present site of the little sitting area alongside the Lower Dam and was flanked by a precarious-looking wooden walkway cantilevered out across the water. There was a fishmongers, Wareham’s, where there is now an office services shop.
The shop that is now Sexton’s was a bakery as early as the 1950s, but was then Moody’s. Next door to that was Hember’s electrical goods shop which would then have been a quite new type of shop with most families only just beginning to recognise the benefits of “new-fangled” household goods such as washing machines and “hoovers” and, indeed, being able to afford them. To help people to afford these things, “hire purchase” or, as more sceptical, usually older, people called it, “the never”, came into more widespread use. Instant credit was still years away.
Next to Hember’s was probably the most exciting shop as far as I was concerned. This was Gray’s which was a games and gifts shop. It had everything to keep school-kids occupied; from sports equipment, with probably as many cricket bats as footballs being bought in those days, to board games and jig-saws. There were no electronic games and families used to generally play board games together in the evenings when there was still no distraction from the telly and, in our house, you could start to play once Gran had finished listening to Mrs Dale’s Diary. Hence, most families had a “compendium of games”.
Even after we had got our telly, we still played board games since, apart from anything, the BBC used to transmit programmes for only part of the evening. I remember one Christmas that we could not find ours or Auntie Gladys’s compendia. Since we didn’t have the spare money around to just go out and buy a replacement, my mum said it was a shame but we would not be able to play games over the holiday. Auntie Gladys, however, saw my face drop and, as ever, gave me the money to go to Gray’s to buy at least one game such as ludo, which I remember was my favourite. She gave me a pound note and said I could get the game of my choice but that she would want some change.
A game of ludo would probably be around 3 shillings [15p]
but I spotted a compendium for 16/9 [84p] and thought this was a good deal since
we would have all the games we wanted and Auntie Gladys would get some change. I
took it back home feeling very proud of my achievement. But, for a split second,
even Auntie Gladys looked as though I had robbed her of all her worldly goods
but she would never scold me. My mum was less forgiving and impressed upon me
that I had wasted half a week’s grocery bill and that I must repay Auntie
Gladys by no longer taking the little gifts of sweets and ice-creams that she
used to supply on a very frequent basis and certainly couldn’t expect Uncle Ed
to keep forking out 9 pence [a whole 4p!] for me to watch United.
Accessed by a narrow staircase alongside Grays’ shop was Bert Gray’s first floor barber’s shop. This was strictly a men’s’ and boys’ shop as males went to barbers and women went to hairdressers. I don’t know if this was enforced by law but what I do know is that the whole equilibrium of Bert Gray’s shop would have been destroyed had a woman set foot on the premises. The reason was simple; they would not have been able to contribute intelligently to the daylong debate about cricket that would only draw to a close at 5.30 pm. Boys who interrupted the adults’ conversation would be given daggers by Bert. Personally, I would listen in as I had already begun to listen to radio and TV cricket commentators like Rex Alston and, especially, John Arlott, who painted pictures with words about everything surrounding the game and the cricket ground. I assumed that cricket was played by everybody, everyday in places where the commentators’ almost comatose “burr” fitted in with the unhurried pace of the game; places like Hampshire and Somerset. It was therefore like listening to poetry when Mr Johnson, father of one of my best school friends, Andrew, was holding forth in Bert Gray’s.
Mr Johnson had moved to Lymm from near Yeovil in Somerset and his precise but good-humoured drawl seemed to epitomise everything about lazy days in rural England. Apart from listening to him and other cricket luminaries in the barber’s, I would sometimes catch the drift of their conversation through the open window of the Fleece when I passed by on a summer afternoon. In those days, there was strictly no admittance to boys! When I used to visit Andrew’s home in Manor Road I would be happy to just observe him and his dad listening to the cricket and I found it easy not to interrupt.
Mr Johnson was a gentle, undemonstrative man with no
“edge”, and someone whom I would probably now call an “intellectual”
since he seemed to have thought everything out. With the more jolly, but still
unostentatious, Mrs Johnson [ “Sylvia Hinds as was” to my mum], he lived in
a comfortable and unfussy house that I could relax in.
Mr Johnson was also probably the first person I mixed with who spoke with
an accent that was distinctly different to the one I had got used to in Lymm
[apart from my dad’s, which was pure cockney to me] and, I suppose, helped to
set off my lifelong fascination with the different ways in which people express
themselves in our amazing language. As a stalwart of the British Legion, he was
also an associate of my Uncle Ed, its chairman and later president, and my dad
who was the Legion’s standard-bearer at the packed remembrance services in
Lymm Church in the early post-war years.
I’m digressing, but that’s me - so I’ll continue. In the 1950s, one of the advantages of not having “instant” entertainment available was that you had to draw on your imagination to invent games that could occupy you through long holidays. Andrew and myself adapted an early commercial cricket game, Howzat? to produce our own game of “dice cricket” through which we could play a county cricket match with different numbers on the dice representing runs and a “5” indicating an appeal for a dismissal and different follow-up numbers being appeal turned down or various kinds of dismissals. We then devised weightings to give our favourite batsmen a better chance of scoring a century.
This episode tells us two things about two “bookish” 11 or 12 year old boys in the late 1950s; firstly that the one with the original idea was destined for Oxbridge and that the one who added arithmetical confusion to the game would infest future debates about town planning issues with similar unfathomable mysteries and, secondly, that every match would be fought out by imaginary Lancashire and Somerset teams of which I, for one, can sadly remember the players’ names to this day.
Andrew’s grandmother, Mrs Hinds, was Landlady at the Church Green Hotel. Whenever there was a test match [a cricket international] at Old Trafford, the England team would stay at the Lymm Hotel. Their presence attracted hordes of autograph hunters each morning and evening. People in and around the game, including past international players, would also visit Lymm in the evenings to mingle with the current players. These were relatively relaxed times for sport and groups of well-known people would stroll around the village and call in at different pubs for a quiet pint away from the hub-hub of “the Lymm”. There were always Test players in the Church Green and they returned year after year knowing that it was a local gathering place for cricket followers.
I remember, with a sense of embarrassment, if not outright
shame, one evening on which Andrew and myself were deep into a game of dice
cricket in a room above the Church Green’s bar. Andrew’s Gran would often
call him down to grab any important autographs that were there for the taking.
This particular evening, she called with almost trembling reverence that two
older cricketers had just walked into the bar. Since their names meant nothing
to me [that is to say they were not members of any current county or test team],
I was happy to carry on playing. Andrew knew better: he shot downstairs and
secured the autographs of the two said stalwarts of a bygone age. As for me, I
can only place on record the lamentable fact that I did not manage to stir
myself to have even the briefest of audiences with [Sir Jack] Hobbs and [Sir
I was talking about shops in the village! There were more specialist shops than there are nowadays and I particularly remember a small jewellers, Spencers, in Bridgewater Street and other shops that seemed to be rarely open but appeared to have been there for ever; one which comes to mind being Miss Rouse’s dress shop in Eagle Brow. The window display was fascinating with dresses that would have graced a Jane Austen costume drama! There was also another kids’ favourite, the Candy Shop, opposite the Cross; this being well-placed to intercept infant and primary school kids on there way home from Pepper Street schools, located on the site of what is now the car-park and village hall.
I cannot describe the village without mentioning Savilles’ ironmongery, just below the Fleece. This was one of the mainstays of village commercial life and was stocked with everything that local businesses and households needed. The two Mr Savilles, senior and junior, who ran the shop with self-confident and apparently relaxed efficiency, were well-known figures in the community and were among Lymm’s most revered amateur sportsmen. I remember that, on the few occasions I watched cricket at Oughtrington Park, Mr Saville senior held court in club blazer and tie whilst his son would come in to bat in the middle of a crisis and “swashbuckle” his way out of it; his immaculately Brylcreamed hair totally undisturbed by his ferocious hitting!
Mr Saville junior [Paddy] was to become one of my mum’s
main work contacts for many years when she managed Rees Jones’ wholesale
warehouse which supplied tools and materials to his shop. I remember her being
very formal with him. That was the way it had to be in business, especially as
the shop owners of the time all had a decidedly middle-class bearing. Mr Saville
was however another “real” Lymm person and my mum always seemed to take
pride in dealing with local people “made good”.
The village was much more than a shopping centre. There were more banks than there are now, with each of what were called the “big five” having a branch. There were quite a few accountants’ and solicitors’ offices which were essential for the wider range of small businesses, such as Grandad’s, then operating in Lymm and I think I’m right in saying that there were also local branches of Government offices such as the Ministry of Food.
There were three pubs – the Spread Eagle, Bull’s Head
and Golden Fleece – but no wine bars or takeaways. You could enter a pub only
if you were aged 14 or over and, even then, would have to stay away from the bar
area. Generally, only drinks and crisps were available although some pubs had
cold pork pies. Children under 14 had to stay outside and could have pop and
crisps brought out to them. In reality, this did not happen because the pubs
were still regarded as “escapes” for men and no place for women and
children. I did not see this at first hand because my dad was not a pub-goer.
Women would occasionally be “taken” to pubs on special occasions by their
husbands. They would sit down in the lounge area out of earshot of adult male
language in the bar area and would have their drink – usually a sweet sherry
– brought to them by their husbands, who would have bigger or stronger drinks
than would have been considered too much for respectable women to take. A
chivalrous age, you see! There were
a few women who, reputedly, went to pubs on their own but they would often be
refused service and would be regarded as brazen or too forward and, according to
my Gran’s generation, “asking for trouble”.
As people began to have access to a car, the “run out” to a country pub came into fashion and this enabled the whole family to go out together. The procedure in this case was for the husband to park the car outside the pub and then to bring a tray of drinks and crisps out to the family who would stay in the car to consume them. Groups of families might drive out in convoy which would allow the men to go into the pub for their beer, whisky and cigarettes; this being socially acceptable as the wives and children would be “company for each other” in the car park. The men would come out occasionally to take further orders. Suitably fortified with alcohol, they would then drive the family home, safe [or unsafe] in the knowledge that there was no danger of being “tested” on the way home. The “good old days”. I was fortunate as long as my dad was driving since he did not drink, but I can think of other “good sports” who didn’t feel similarly constrained.
The village had one dental practice, Mrs Flanagan’s, in a
large house eventually demolished to make way for what is now Somerfield’s.
There were various tradesmens’ workshops and offices and, of course, the Post
Office which was exactly where it is now.
So what did the village not have that it has today? There were no restaurants or takeaways nor even a fish and chip shop in the village itself. “Ordinary” people only eat out on special occasions , usually at pre-arranged “do’s”. There was too little spare cash around for most people to depart from the domestic norms. Nearly every household consisted of an extended family and there was always someone – mother or grandmother – who did not have a paid job and who had the time, skills and respect for the need to live economically to prepare proper food at all mealtimes. Most food available in hotels and restaurants that would have been available to, and appealed to, working people would serve only recognisably British food – roast dinners and “hearty” sweets. Very few people had travelled outside Britain and would probably have shunned the extra choice that foreign dishes might have offered. And there was a feeling that “there was nothing like home cooking”.
The only “eating-out” that I remember my parents or myself experiencing was at pre-arranged events at which standard fare was served. These would include the more expensive wedding receptions and annual dinners for members of different organisations such as, in mum and dad’s case, the British Legion or May Queen dinners around Christmas and New Year. The other kind of “eating out” events which I was able to join in were the “hotpot suppers” which were held in schools to support local organisations such as Statham Lads’ Club. I enjoyed these as the hotpot and apple pie that was served without fail was recognisable, enjoyable and filling and I could help to clear up and qualify for seconds. There seemed to be any number of elderly ladies in Lymm who could provide the post-supper entertainment thumping out well-known singalong tunes on an upright piano with all the power that could be mustered from those formidable arms and fingers that all lady pianists had built up through decades of toil in machine-shops.
There were no estate agents in the village. There were more prosaic “Chartered Surveyors and Valuers” who would have dealt with the many agricultural and private estates’ transactions that took place in a rural area. Otherwise, relatively few people owned their own homes or even aspired to do so and few people moved outside their own area for new jobs. There was just no need for the level of estate agency work that exists today.
Finally, there were no car parks. There were few cars and
anyone shopping by car would simply park the vehicle in the road, shop and drive
off. This did not cause a problem since there were too few passing cars to form
a decent queue! There were however constant streams of pedestrians and cyclists
between the village and all parts of Lymm and most shops and suppliers had
inexpensive delivery arrangements. There were also mobile shops of all kinds.
The whole village came to a standstill on Wednesday afternoons; Wednesday being
“early closing” day, and on Sundays when all commercial and retail activity
Other parts of Lymm were busy shopping and meeting places, especially the stretch of Booths Hill Road and Church Road between the top of Newfield Road and the bottom of Elm Tree Road. This was almost a linear emporium, such was the range of things you could buy and was known locally as “Top Lane”. It served the day-to-day needs of the large working class areas of Newfield, Cherry Lane, Barsbank, the Elms Farm estate and, increasingly, Statham which was then only beginning to expand beyond its roots as a small farming community. “Top Lane” was where most of my shopping trips with Mum, Gran and Auntie Gladys took place.
Lets see what it had to offer. There were five grocery shops, a greengrocers, electrical goods shop, two bakeries, a butcher, a newsagents, painting and decorating store, two sweet shops and a wool shop together with a cobblers, two pubs, two fish and chips shops, a cinema, the Labour Club, the “welfare” and the vets.
Top Lane was a hive of activity on Saturday mornings when I used to shop with my mum or Gran and, later, on my own. Our regular grocery shopping was done at Clare’s which later became Seymour Meads, one of the small grocery “chains” that were then taking over from family businesses. I used to shop from a list which would include very basic requirements such as “cheese”. In the early 1950s there was no choice in a small shop. The cheese was automatically Cheshire and stood proudly as a huge block on one end of the counter. All transactions were in cash and you had to develop arithmetical skills at an early age to make sure you were getting the correct change.
Sometimes I would cross the road to shop at Mercers Store which opened on to the narrow footpath via three or four very steep steps that provided young public-spirited boys with the opportunity to help elderly ladies into the shop and to carry their laden bags down the steps on the way out. This shop was known in the neighbourhood as “up steps”.
The Greengrocery was run by “Torry” Platt and Mrs Platt who were always busy but amiable and, like many shop-owners, lived next to the shop. They seemed to work harder than people in other shops as they had to alternate between cleaning fruit and veg and weighing, serving and taking money. Everyone used fresh, usually local, produce in those days although tinned fruit and veg did exist.
For my personal requirements, I would shop at Irene Jones’ sweet shop which was in a row of houses set back behind a wide pavement towards the bottom of Cherry Lane. Mrs Jones had what seemed to be an abrupt manner and it took me years to realise that she was usually winding me up. She was a friend of Auntie Gladys who lived only about four doors away and, as a friend of the family, I was occasionally invited into the living room behind the shop for a drink of pop or an ice-cream. I was a bit wary of this because she had a fearsome Alsatian which was the only breed of dog I stayed away from and her husband, Arthur whom I took time to get used to as he seemed grumpy and didn’t want to be disturbed. Eventually, he introduced me to his racing pigeons, which were housed in a loft in his garden just beyond his pig-sty. I became one of the crowd that gathered at weekends to see the birds “clocked-in” from races that had started as far afield as St Malo or even San Sebastian in Spain. Arthur also introduced me to air rifle shooting in his garden. I’m surprised that I took an interest in it but Auntie Gladys put a stop to it and, I suspect, gave Arthur a ticking-off for even thinking of the idea.
E.W. Gardner’s ironmongery was somewhere else I shopped at. Mr Gardner was a very precise and formal man who was yet another acquaintance of Uncle Ed through the Legion. From about the age of seven, when I first shopped on my own, he would say to me “Good morning sir; how can I be of assistance?” There was a separate painters and decorators shop, Thomasons, on Church Road, which also dealt in what would now be called DIY products. I only went there when Grandad needed things for small repair jobs around the yard. But then if you needed, say, four 2-inch nails you could buy exactly four, counted out of a large jar.
Otherwise, the farthest I remember going to shop was to
Daniels’ cake shop at the top of Eagle Brow where a could choose my own cake
from the display in the window.
The real attraction of the area was, however, Jean’s Supper Bar, the fish and chip shop at the corner of Cherry Lane, where there is now a small traffic island. On Friday evenings, I used to take orders from the family and buy our tea there. This was a genuine fish and chip shop, as they all were until the 1960s. The choice was restricted to fish, chips, mushy peas, fish cakes, pies and puddings. At the end of lunchtime or evening you could also buy batter-bits, the scrapings of over-fried batter left in the vats.
There was a small café at the back of the shop where you
could enjoy extras like bread and butter and a cup of tea with your meal. I
remember that, from about 1956, this was permanently occupied by the then new
teddy-boys and, I suppose, substituted for the new-style coffee bars which had
reached Warrington but not Lymm. Smaller kids would not have been welcome as
they would have intruded in what was the “cool” atmosphere being created by
the pioneers of Britain’s first stab at youth culture.
I have said that the pubs were strictly off-limits to children but I was smuggled into the Anchor just once in 1954 when I would have been 7 or 8. Joe Heywood, the landlord, was one of the very few men, if not the only man, who had played for both Manchester United and Warrington [rugby league] and his son, Roland, was by now Warrington’s physiotherapist. In 1954, Warrington had won all four cups for which they could compete and the four trophies had been loaned to the Anchor for a few days. They were lined up on top of the piano in the bar and I was allowed in to marvel at them. I’m sure I had my photo taken alongside them but no evidence has been retained. Just to show what a small world we then lived in, it later turned out that Joe, apart from being one of Uncle Ed’s best friends, was John Earle’s uncle. And, typically of the times, the Anchor was known to most locals simply as “Joe’s”, with the Crown, across the road known as “Sid’s” after its long-serving landlord, Sid Pemberton.
Most men who were regular drinkers had a very strong
allegiance to one or other of these pubs; it took me a long time to appreciate
that their “regulars” really belonged to different clubs so that they knew
who they would meet there on particular evenings or weekend lunchtimes. For
years I had found it peculiar that Grandad and Uncle Ern, who lived at 42
Newfield Road until about 1950, crossed the main road to drink at Sid’s but
often crossed the road just as Uncle Ed was crossing in the other direction for
an evening at Joe’s. When I later began to analyse the “culture” of our
area, I could see that the Crown attracted mainly local businessmen and their
supporting fraternity whilst the Anchor tended to attract “ordinary” working
men. There were obviously strong allegiances to different “brews”; a
subtlety which was lost on me at the time!
Lymm Cinema, or “Picture House” was situated on Church
Road, on the site of the present nursery. I used to attend the Saturday
matinees, which were, more often than not, “Cowboy and Indian” films with
early Disney Documentary-style films and Sherlock Holmes-type mysteries adding
some variety. These were well attended; they were a novelty and there was no
competition for miles around. Whilst I always paid, more enterprising customers
used to enter stage left from the Gents once the film had started. There was
also an element of audience participation as on-screen gunfights would be
augmented by early teenagers careering across the stage firing “caps” at
each other. This was an early sign of the cult of teenage disobedience which was
given a “kick-start” by the “Teds”. Adults attended in the evenings,
dressed up to watch “weepies”. Older people still called the cinema the
“drill-hall” as military drill training and recruitment had been the
building’s original purpose.
My Gran had her own nearby social and entertainment centre. This was the Labour Club, on the first floor above Mr Leather’s cobblers at the top of Newfield Road. There always seemed to be whist drive or a “social” on and, until we got the TV, she seemed to be out at one event or another most nights. I suppose that this was the
ladies’ alternative to the pub; without alcohol!
I must mention the “welfare”. This was based in the former Nags Head pub at the corner of Church Road and Eagle Brow. I don’t remember much about it as I was taken there for my check-ups only as an infant. It was where my mum must have renewed acquaintances with friends who were also new parents and made new friends. It was probably a very basic facility but must have been a revelation to the first generation of parents who were able to count on proper support for the health and welfare of their children without having to run to the kinds of expense that ordinary people could not have afforded. I was one of the “cosseted” generation and I now know it.
Outside the village and our neighbourhood centre were all sorts of other community facilities and workplaces that members of our family either used or spoke about. Until 1974, Lymm had its own “urban district” council which ran all sorts of services for the village, such as building and renting council houses, street-cleaning and even some aspects of planning. The council offices were in the turreted building at the junction of Whitbarrow Road and Brookfield Road. The lending library was in one of the large rooms and I used to use that on Friday afternoons on my way home from school. The village also had its own water company and the fire engine was stationed at the side of the council offices. Amazingly, Lymm also had its own gas works and I remember how the gasholder dominated the Pepper Street area with the works being situated opposite the site of the present Ravenbank School.
The main council officials were treated with something
approaching reverence and were recognised as among the most important and
influential figures. I remember the annual tour of inspection of the condition
of the streets that the District Surveyor, Mr Dobson, used to carry out, on foot
and with a clerk at his side to take notes. I think that only the doctors and
various retired high-ranking military personnel who lived in some of the grander
houses would have been as highly regarded.
I recall that there were three doctors in Lymm who provided both free treatment under the then new National Health Service. Our family doctor was Dr Sissons who ran his practice from a large semi-detached house on Church Road. All doctors seemed old and superior and to have unchallengeable knowledge. Dr Sissons had attended to my family for years and seemed very human and approachable. I went to him with all the usual boyhood ailments and, whilst I was always nervous, never experienced any real trauma. I often had coughs and one of the features of the waiting room was that virtually all male patients and some female ones would be smoking - out of regular habit or to calm their nerves before seeing the doctor. I think I was expected to hold back my cough in case people felt I was letting them know that their smoking was causing it. It would have been considered disrespectful to make a point in that way, remembering that, then, there was no suspicion that smoking was either a primary or secondary health hazard! Alcohol consumption was not then regarded as something that would cloud professional judgement; my Grandad would often suggest to the doctor that, before carrying out an examination of his chest on a home visit, he settled himself down with a glass of whisky. I don’t know if he ever accepted!
I remember having to visit Dr Wraith’s surgery just once when Dr Sissons was unavailable. Dr Wraith was, to say the least, a larger-than-life character. He lived, and ran his surgery from sumptuous premises which were subsequently converted to Brookfield care home in Brookfield Road. Prior to visiting him, my only sightings of him had been of his ostentatious drives around the village in his open-topped silver “Roller” [was it a “Silver Wraith”?], he aloof and resplendent in blazer and cravat.
I entered his surgery with my mum, my cough and extreme trepidation. I could just make him out at the far side of the vast room, shrouded in the omnipresent fug of cigar smoke. He had his back to us. Without deigning to face us, he barked, “well, what’s the trouble? My mum replied for me. “He’s got a cough that won’t clear up, Doctor”. Dr Wraith, still not facing us, retorted, “A. He can speak for himself and B. He won’t get rid of it until he learns to straighten himself up. Here, get this from the chemist” [prescription is handed to mum over his shoulder – consultation is over and we exit!].
Lymm also had two dental practices apart from Mrs Flanagan’s. Not that I would have known since I was petrified at the thought of dental treatment or even inspection.
Only the threat of treatment by the school dentist
persuaded me to have a bad [and was it bad!] tooth extracted at Mr Bradbury’s
in Lakeside Road. Even then, I only agreed to go on condition that Auntie Gladys
took me; If I screamed [and I undoubtedly would], she was the only person who
would not make a joke of it in front of everyone. I had gas; it went like a
dream. When I came round, I couldn’t believe the offending tooth had gone. I
was 23 before I eventually went to the dentist’s without Auntie Gladys.
Lymm had more churches than it has today and was I a churchgoer! Well; not exactly. All children of respectable families were sent to Sunday school. Our family was staunchly C. of E. so I went to St Mary’s. There was no church hall and Sunday school was held in the vestry before the main afternoon service. I loved crayoning and never really progressed spiritually beyond doing increasingly more garish drawings of Joseph in his “coat of many colours”. Failing to show any appreciation of the bigger picture, I gradually lost interest and, one sunny Sunday afternoon, decided to spend my collection money on an ice-cream from the van by the lake. After a guilt-ridden few days, I owned up to my un-Christian deceit. My mum’s reaction was to thank me and to tell me that, in owning up, I had clearly been taught one good lesson at Church and that I would not have to go any longer.
There was no reason for me to go to any other church but I did hover in the background at the Sunday evening outdoor services which took place on Newfield Road. These were evangelical services and went with more of a swing than traditional church services. They were led by our next door but one neighbour, Mr Griffiths. After “upgrading” to a marquee located on the croft, Mr Griffiths, with the support of his family and others in the Evangelical movement, set about building a large wooden mission hut on the land next to the croft at the lower end of Newfield Road.
The Griffiths family had moved into 42 Newfield Road after Uncle Ern, Auntie Edith and Jean had moved to Elm Tree Road. They were happy, outgoing Liverpudlians with two boys, Stephen [a year older than me] and Jonathan [a year younger]. Their home was happy, lively and uncluttered and I remember them as people whose main concern was to enrich community life. Steve and Joe’s grandfather often turned up to help build the new church and local people outside the evangelical movement also chipped in. Basically, I think it just gave people a lift as it was an entertaining and community-spirited project. Steve and Joe were bright, thoughtful lads who were inquiring and mischievous and were good friends of mine. They were not only among the high achievers at “normal” school subjects but also left me standing in both practical matters and their love of nature, which was quite alien to my more “utilitarian” approach to life. They were right but I didn’t realise that at the time.
Whilst I was never in serious danger of being “saved”, I did quite often turn up for Mr Griffiths’ Thursday evening children’s services. These were great, as we sang upbeat songs like Jesus wants me for a sunbeam or more emotional ones like The old rugged cross, had quizzes, with sweets for prizes and had “magic lantern” shows of “natives” and “the jungle”, given by missionaries. There was also an annual coach outing to a park on the slopes of Helsby Hill.
Mr Griffiths was a genuine man of peace and, as a conscientious objector, had not taken part in the war in any military capacity. This was only a few years after the end of the war and a lot of people in Lymm were still hostile to people who had refused to fight. My dad, however, remembered Mr Griffiths as someone who had taken a farm-labouring job and had worked hard in the face of taunts and threats. Having got to know Mr Griffiths as one of our most decent and helpful neighbours, my dad would speak up for him whenever the subject arose.
Evangelism had obviously been a strong force in Lymm from
well before the Griffiths family arrived. The movement produced some charismatic
leaders who provided entertainment as a bi-product of their religious zeal; none
more so than “Holy” Joe Pennington. Mr Pennington had some association with
the new church in Newfield but had been pastor at an existing church in
Partington for some years. He was regularly to be seen at the head of the Lymm
May Queen procession with his band of fellow devotees, carrying banners with
messages exhorting the onlookers to come forward and be “saved”. His
exchange of good-humoured banter with the roadside audience was part of the
event. If there was a public event, he was there. On my first visit to Old
Trafford, there he was, outside the ground, vastly outnumbered, but still making
his point. In later years, as I “downsized” to follow Altrincham, he was
there again patrolling the turnstiles and, now, he could invite individual
supporters to share his conviction that, unlike the goalkeeper, our Lord Jesus
never failed to save.
As for clubs, it would be misleading to think of these as places where people “went clubbing”. There was the handily placed Labour Club at the top of Newfield Road. The Conservative Club was a grander affair in a large detached building in Whitbarrow Road backing onto the canal and which, after some years as Rees Jones’ warehouse and offices, was converted to apartments, with a new club built alongside it. The large function room was often used for wedding receptions and other celebrations. I remember that, at events at which adults got “merry” and boys were not allowed to be too boisterous, I could interest myself by taking in the wonder of the floor-to-ceiling painting of ships on a tempestuous sea which encircled the room.
There were other “clubs” which were off-limits for me
such as the Masonic Hall opposite Lymm Church, although we hired it for various
family events. There was also the Golf Club which, as far as I remember, was
very much an “escape” for businessmen. Most organisations did not have their
own “homes” and held their gatherings at members’ homes or in rented
There were probably a lot more jobs in Lymm in the 1950s than nowadays. The fustian-cutting works and salt works [in Heatley] had all closed but the gold-beating for which Lymm was known carried on until the late 1970s.
I best remember Rees Jones’ warehouse where my mum worked from the time it was set up in 1953. My mum had worked in the tool manufacturing industry from the 1930s and, when Rees Jones’ was set up, its directors, who were aware of mum’s appetite for work and her experience of the industry, asked her to manage the warehouse, with Mr Elliott as the Managing Director. She was able to do this as I was then 7 and could be trusted to walk to school with my friends.
Rees Jones’ first premises were in Henry Street, off Eagle Brow. The warehouse was on two floors and seemed enormous at the time. When I look at it now I realise how small it was and that it would not suit modern warehousing needs. It was on my way home from primary school. This was a clear advantage to me as I could call in and pester mum for money for ice creams and sweets. This was usually forthcoming, especially if I offered to help the delivery man, Mr James, to carry boxes downstairs for his deliveries next day. Sometimes, I would have a day out to help Mr James with deliveries and collections and got used to navigating him around the streets of the fascinating foundry areas of Sheffield and the Black Country and to ironmongers’ shops in most of the Lancashire and Cheshire towns. So that was my lifelong passion for maps [if not ironmongery] settled!
Mum was passionate about getting her work done and making sure the firm was a success. She used to bring the day’s invoices home in the evenings and I used to double-check her mental arithmetic as she added up the bills. We could both do this at a phenomenal speed. In time, the company bought a “comptometer” [a calculator] which was small enough to fit into the back of Mr Elliott’s Jaguar so, on some weekends, he would bring it to our house to save on mental arithmetic. But I simply turned my attention to trying to “beat” the comptometer. So there was another obsession in the bag!
Rees Jones’ opened my eyes to how business worked or, at
least, how it looked. There were distinctly different dress-codes for the
warehouse staff [overalls] and Mrs Elliott and the secretary, Maureen, who wore
neat fitted suits, high heels and their hair “up” and had the appearance of
people I had only otherwise seen in films. Mr Elliott wore a suit but was often
out on business, which was either to meet “travellers” [reps.] or to discuss
business with other companies’ directors at golf clubs, which I soon
recognised as business locations and not just places where balls were knocked
about with sticks!
In the years before the majority of families had access to a car, Lymm people benefited from all sorts of door step delivery and collection services and I got to know many of the people who visited our house or passed along Newfield Road on business. Albert England from the Co-op was our most regular caller and I remember him with affection; he never seemed to be in a hurry, even though he must have had a tight delivery schedule. He drank his cup of tea in the time it took us to check the delivery against the order.
Another regular and welcome caller was Joe Blinston who was a coal merchant by day, operating from a yard which subsequently became the small car park alongside what is now the youth club. On Friday evenings, Joe delivered fruit and vegetables on his lorry and parked up by the Newfield Road/Moston Street junction under the light of the gas lamp. Not unlike Albert, he went about his business cheerfully. His assistant, who bagged up vegetables and would carry heavy loads to peoples’ homes, was Thomas Brooks. Thomas was a lovely, humble chap who would have been described as “slow” in the terminology of those times. He was a member of an old Lymm family well-known to my Gran and Grandad, always came across to the house to say hello to them and, without fail, came to wish us all well on his Christmas morning rounds, staying long enough to bring us up-to-date with the past year’s events in his family and to drink a large whisky. Thomas was one of a number of men who had had no education but slotted into the community as valued citizens and took enormous pride in their work.
The daily visits from the various ice-cream men were popular. I can just recall the last ice-cream tricycle which took a massive effort on the part of the driver to pedal it up the road from a standing start. To avoid confusion, his name was Lewis. His rivals, all of whom had vans, were John Lewis, Arthur Lewis and Lewis Bros. Each announced his presence by ringing a hand-bell through the serving hatch. The ice cream was of amazing quality, was always vanilla-flavoured and was served really cold. For many years there was a choice of wafers and cornets of different sizes or you could have a bowl filled. The only “extra” available was a squirt of raspberry. The association of raspberry and ice cream with a taste that would be beyond most peoples’ imagination now that we have “choice” [sic] may explain my continuing love of raspberries! In many ways, the “good old days” may be a bit of a myth – but not where ice cream is concerned.
Door-to-door selling was commonplace. Pegs and lucky
heather were regularly on offer from sellers who were described either as
Gypsies [sort of acceptable] or Tinkers [unacceptable], depending on where you
were coming from. A large Indian gentleman with strikingly angular features and
a flowing grey beard called quite often but I don’t recall what he had on
offer. He had a good nature and no one seemed to show any prejudice against him.
There was no reason why they should, but it was extremely unusual in a village
to meet anyone from a different culture who spoke English as a second language.
The attitude of many people towards Afro-Caribbean people as opposed to those with an Asian background was, however, an eye-opener as I was to learn one Saturday night in one of Lymm’s pubs some years later. I went along to the pub on Saturday evenings with Uncle Ern and his mates who talked football and horses. There were plenty of “regulars” and people visiting for the first time would be noticed. The all-male group, about 10 or 12-strong, in the bar area, rarely change from one week to the next. It was a very conservative and, by and large, harmless group of small businessmen and managerial and supervisory types. Her Majesty, flatteringly frozen in time at around the age of 25, overlooked the gathering from her frame behind the bar. She wasn’t a topic of conversation since she’d neither played for United nor run at Haydock. But the bar attracted the kind of clientele that would have felt more comfortable in her presence than, say, any of the renowned union leaders of the time.
And then, one evening, a West Indian man, 30-ish, neatly attired and not threatening, walked in and towards the bar. The next few seconds were like a freeze-frame from one of those westerns where the “baddy” comes through the swing doors, the bartender stops drying the glass in his hand and looks pensive, The tough-guy places his mug on the bar with calm deliberation and his bar-propping acolytes give almost imperceptible but knowing glances to each other.
Back to reality, a large and grumpy man who, whilst
counting as a regular but, for eternity had spent his evenings sitting on a
bar-stool and sprawling uncaringly across the whole of the bar caressing and
gulping down a succession of double scotches, joining the conversation very
occasionally to grunt his agreement with anyone who had hinted that the country
was going down the nick and that it was “their” fault, did exactly what a
tough-guy does; he sat away from the bar and made a show of putting down his
half-finished drink. The landlord made eye contact with the other regulars and
received silent assurance that none of them was going to openly disagree with
the tough guy. I was in a corner just mesmerised by the scene. The landlord
double-checked, lowered his head, shook it forlornly and said sorry. The visitor
left quietly. The tough guy glanced briefly at the Queen as though seeking, and
apparently receiving, her thanks for his misappropriated display of loyalty.
Consumption recommenced. No one thanked the tough guy nor said anything at all
to him. He left, but not in an obvious hurry. A murmur ensued and life returned
to normal. This was a shameful episode but, at that moment, I wasn’t as
shocked as I should have been.
Back to deliveries and collections, we had doorstep milk deliveries, as now. The one difference was that we had top leave a small plastic token on the step each morning
for each pint we wanted. We had to buy these in advance from the Co-op. Only very occasionally would any of these go missing; it was simply understood by most people that they must not be stolen. Our newspapers - Daily Mail and Manchester Evening Chronicle on weekdays and Saturdays, News of the World on Sundays and the Warrington Guardian on Fridays – were all delivered by the “paper boy”.
Every couple of weeks, the “rag and bone” man would travel round the neighbourhood with his horse and cart to collect and redundant or waste material – clothing, fabric, utensils etc – for selling on for recycling. Everyone could here him calling, “bone, bone” to announce his arrival. There would also be impromptu calls
from a man selling wild rabbits from his bike. He would have shot these “up fields” which was the open land behind the houses on the other side of Booths Hill Road towards where Cherry Tree School now stands.
Most families’ financial affairs were conducted at the
doorstep; always, to my recollection, in cash. Our house was rented, initially
from a private owner and later from the Council. In both cases, the rent would
be collected every two weeks. The “man from the Pru” used to collect our
regular insurance payments at the door whilst there were collections for other,
more obscure, “clubs”, such as the Tontine, which, as far as I know, was a
savings scheme from which you withdrew your accumulated funds to pay for
What, as much as anything else, gave Lymm its character in the 1950s was the multitude of –mainly unofficial and unmanaged – byways and unused open spaces that provided playgrounds for all sorts of activities and adventures. I discovered these one by one as I progressively ventured further afield.
In my early years, my social and recreational life centred on the “croft”. The croft measured probably no more than 50 by 30 metres yet, in its wild state, it provided, as the occasion demanded, a theatre for epic Second World War battles or a feature-length western. The chosen scenario would depend on what we had last seen at the pictures. Air battles were a favourite as boys loved to charge around making “raspberry” noises with their arms outstretched and could make spluttering noises as they were shot down. For a western, the boys simply had to run around slapping their thighs to imitate a horse and its rider. The croft also offered challenging routes for “trundles” which were either wooden hoops or bike wheels that you guided and accelerated or decelerated with a stick.
The croft made an ideal set for “Robin Hood” adventures as I learned to my cost. The willows, apple trees and scrub provided us with our own Sherwood Forest. The willows had the strength and flexibility that allowed us to make bows and we had penknives for sharpening arrows. Things once got a bit too realistic for me. As I bobbed my head out from behind a tree that was offering shelter from the advancing Sheriff’s men, an arrow struck me across my eyebrow and drew blood from my eyelid. My mum was called and, within seconds, she was running to Dr Sissons’s with me and a trail of blood close behind. I may have been able to ignore the pain temporarily to accommodate the adrenalin rush, probably brought on by the realisation that I would be, for once, a wounded hero. I couldn’t however ignore the screams coming from the open door of one of the houses higher up Newfield where the bare backside of the perpetrator was being spectacularly thrashed by his father!
The girls tended to stay on the footpaths or the road which were more suitable for, say, re-enactments of glamorous American weddings or the Coronation and they would not damage their mums’ high-heeled shoes on the rough terrain or scuff their trains and dresses against tree roots or abandoned bikes. They could also skip; boys couldn’t!
Once I could be let out of my mum’s sight, I venture to more mystical locations that I had heard the big boys boast about. There was, for instance, the “sand-hole”, a series of small pits dug out by the boys and interconnected by narrow trenches covered by corrugated iron to form tunnels. The sand-hole was on the embankment on the upper side of Barsbank underbridge. Two risky activities were available; crawling through the dark and almost air-free tunnels and seeing how close to the highest part of the embankment you could get before jumping down to the road. My failure to complete these tasks marked me as a “safety-first” type for life. Well, let’s be more precise; a whimp!
In the opposite direction was the, then, Statham football pitch which sloped down towards the canal from Moston Street backs. This is where I first saw a proper football match, with some of my small friends’ dads playing for the team. They all looked like Stanley Matthews, with razor-sharp off-centre partings and Brylcreamed hair combed back. I remember Uncle Ern playing there. He must have been reaching the veteran stage by then. Although he seems to have been regarded as not much of a player, older locals used to tell me that, in a pre-war Cheshire Senior Cup semi-final, he had scored a “wonder” goal from the half-way line to put “Lymm JU” into the final against the even-mightier Crewe Alexandra.
The little Statham pitch was an interesting venue. From experience of the at-least 30-a-side games that our unofficial local team [anyone who turned up could play and we could call on talents from Newfield, Elms Farm Estate and the other side of Booths Hill Road], any pretence at free-flowing football was hampered by the footings of abandoned building projects that protruded above the grass and, more fundamentally, the lengthy delays incurred by the ball being booted into the canal and allowed time to drift to the far bank whence it might be thrown back by any fisherman who was not too annoyed at our interrupting his sport. The leather ball was then too heavy, so we had to blow up a spare, hoping that the bladder was not punctured or terminally corroded. This was all academic as far as I was concerned because I was destined not to shine at football; my legs didn’t bend in the right places to kick those old-fashioned balls properly and I fell into that category of also-rans, just above boys who wore specs and read nature books.
Beyond the football pitch was the waste tip and then, towards Maltmans Road and the village, a large private garden owned by the Ridgway family. This was then bought out by the local council and turned into Lymm’s first public park. This was just at the time when my friends and myself could make use of a proper park, with sandpit, swings, slides and grassed areas where we could put coats down as goalposts. And there were toilets and a cold-water tap. A retired man, Mr Higgins was the first park-keeper. He kept order too! Nobody rode their bike too fast, stepped on the flowerbeds or ran to get ahead of the girls in the queue for the big slide when he was around.
The big attraction of the park for Joe, Steve, myself and our friends was that, at the bottom end of the bluebell wood lay the canal bank; not the tow-path side but an ill-maintained part of the bank, largely obscured by rhododendrons and with secluded inlets where the bank had collapsed. These provided ideal harbours from which we could launch reed boats made by bending back the stalked end of a reed allowing the stalk to pierce the top end of the reed to form a sail, the finished article proving to be remarkably buoyant and stable in the strongish breeze that was needed tarry it out of the harbour and onto the high seas of the canal. Given a prevailing easterly and no passing narrow boats to cause them to capsize, we could often follow the “racing” boats to way beyond the “tip” end of the park.
Since few of our play areas had “official” names some would simply be identified by the name of the friend who lived nearest to them. One such was “David Ainsworth’s field” which was the spare ground at the end of John Road which the Council had left undeveloped and un-maintained when it had completed building the “white” houses on Elms Farm Estate. It was rough ground but there were no passing cars to disturb us and we could play football or cricket whenever we liked. Only David’s parents’ garden was under serious threat of invasion by stray footballs. It was a neat, well-maintained garden and, it’s probably fair to say that most children in the 1950’ did not go out of their way to annoy adults by using their gardens as extended play areas. We only played there when David was involved as it would otherwise have seemed to be an intrusion on his parents’ privacy. The field was later developed for Council flats and another quite secret corner of Lymm was lost.
David became a good companion over many years. We joined Manor Road Tennis Club together and he was, for many years, the only driver and car-owner among the “Altrincham Four” who used to follow the “Robins” to wherever the Cheshire League action was taking place. So I can thank him for opening up a previously uncharted world that embraced Northwich, Macclesfield, Hyde, Runcorn and the like!
The May Queen Field was probably Lymm’s best-known open space, probably because so many people visited it for the May Queen Festival but also because it doubled up as a school playing field, with the lower part serving the Pepper street School “huts” and the higher part beyond the twin oaks serving the old Grammar School. It was also a short cut from the village to the Crescent area. Older Lymm people often called it the Labour field, due, I assume, to its past role as the place where labour would gather to be allocated work for the day.
Across Pepper Street from the May Queen Field and bordering the canal was the fairground. This was a rough, fairly uneven field owned by Silcock’s fair. The fair would set up for a week, ending on May Queen Day. It was extremely busy on Friday evening and Saturday after the May Queen procession. The fairground was also used once a year for the Circus which was an old-time affair with parading animals and the still traditional array of “freaky” people being exhibited. I remember going to the Circus just once. I would spend about an hour at the fair around Saturday teatime when one Morris troupe after another was performing on the May Queen Field!
I soon worked out without the aid of a map that Lymm was bisected by the Bridgewater Canal and that you could connect up most parts of the village by walking along it. The section from Statham underbridge to Lymm Bridge was the one I first became familiar with. In the 1950s, this was a lot less developed than it now is, with most of the Statham Avenue area still to be developed. I remember there being a succession of coloured wooden gates at the backs of the older houses on Statham Avenue. The rural peace was broken only by the row of cottages opposite the football pitch. Beyond the cottages was Little Farthings which seemed to be the centre of Lymm’s damson trade. This eventually became part of my “scenic” route to primary school and eventually to the Grammar School, when I discovered the long and less eventful stretch beyond Lymm Bridge.
The other big linear walk that I discovered early on was the one that took in the “Bongs”, starting way beyond the stone bridge at the upper end of Lymm Dam, and the Dingle, connecting the main road to the village. This was amazingly varied with a number of unofficial play areas along the way on both sides of the lake. Most peoples’ favourite spot was the deep “bowl” behind the church which you could run or cycle down out and get out of control, knowing that the up-slope would stop you. And there were the sandstone cliffs, with the “nursery” cliffs for the likes of me on the church side and the “expert” cliffs opposite. Even then, this area was within easy reach of the ice-cream van.
With the whole summer holiday to go at, there were all sorts of different routes around the dam and bongs and we were able to imagine the area as a jungle with secret paths and lake crossings, such as the combination of small bridges just before the big bridge that signals the start of the top bongs. The top bongs really did seem miles from civilisation, with much rougher, less well-trodden paths and small streams hidden by undergrowth. The small, secluded bridges all had names, such as Scholar’s Bridge and the Woodpecker Bridge, but I’ve never researched their origins.
I used to assume that every town and village had this fine range of natural adventure areas, but it soon became clear why so many people, especially from the Manchester area, used to take a bus-ride or cycle-ride out to Lymm for their outdoor weekend enjoyment.
The more obscure parts of Lymm that we used to walk to included the cut-off branch of the River Mersey off Pool Lane, where the old concrete barges were already decaying and the “Delph” which was a disused sandstone quarry at the entrance to the field path leading to Oughtrington Church. This came into its own when I started Grammar School, as it provided an adventurous diversion from my walking route.
Manor Farm, at the junction of Whitbarrow Road and Pool
Lane, was added to my circuit of adventure playgrounds from the age of around
seven. This was Raymond Broadsmith Senior’s farm and I was introduced to it by
Hilary who, by then, must have been engaged to Peter. There were attractions
such as mounds of hay and we could take supervised turns using the mangle for
shredding turnips. Mrs Broadsmith was a “hands-on” farmer’s wife. She had
a quite refined manner but was invariably outdoors, doing heavy farm work.
In September 1951 I started school in the reception class at Lymm C. of E. Infants. Mrs Ward was my first teacher and around 35 of us were packed into what is now the bar seating area of the Village Hall. I was introduced to school milk, which we drank with our “lunch” at morning break. We took in our own lunches which were stored in a cupboard in the corner of the classroom. Our playground was at the back of the school on what is now the right-hand side of the Pepper Street car park. This was a daunting place for a five-year-old. The wall which surrounded it and is still largely there today seemed so high. Two playground ladies sat on a form against the back wall. The toilets were in a brick enclosure on the left side, backing on to the big boys’ playground. For a long time, I was too scared to walk across the playground to go to the toilets; so much so, on one occasion, that, with my back to the wall, I –well! – soiled myself and one of Hilary’s friends had to be brought from the top seniors’ class to take me home. This was an unfortunately memorable example of the state of fear and apprehension that seems to have been built into my character; something that one can’t simply shake off. I know; I’ve lived with to this day.
We ate our dinner – at lunchtime – in the school canteen at the entrance to the May Queen Field. Mrs Brooks cooked proper two-course dinners. There were always scoops of potato and you could have up to three as you progressed to the top of the school. What there wasn’t was choice, but this was accepted and children usually “ate up”.
I moved up to Miss Waldron’s class and then to the “top
infants” where I was taught by Mrs Jones who was a very pleasant but
commanding figure. Her class occupied the near half of what is now the main room
in the Village Hall. A huge coke-fuelled boiler stood halfway along the back
wall and the caretaker often had to walk through the classroom during lessons to
keep it stoked up. It was in this class that my left-handed awkwardness showed
up when I was asked to tie up my loosened shoelace. I couldn’t figure it out
because it had been impossible for any right-handed person to instruct me
back-to-front; I simply couldn’t do things in mirror image. Andrew Johnson had
to tie it for me. But, then, he went on to Oxbridge!
“Standard 1” of the Junior School was in the classroom half of the canteen building. Mr Holt was my teacher. He spotted my talent for being able to name any capital city in the world and, one day, arranged for me to go to the top boys’ class, taught by Mr Scott. These were 14 and 15-year old boys since there was no Secondary School to go to if you did not pass for the Grammar School. He stood me on his desk and asked the boys to fire the names of countries at me so that I could name their capitals. I answered every one. There was a second round but, just before it started, I was warned by one of the local gang-leader’s acolytes that, when he named a country, it would be in my interests not to know the capital. Of course, I duly obliged and forgot that Paris was the capital of France. Mr Scott was not daft and immediately saw what was going on. I assume he gave the culprit a “thick ear” to use the term employed for Mr Scott’s standard disciplinary technique.
I spent the last three years in Mr McGowan’s class in the
bigger hut. We were sat in positions which reflected our last exam results. I
was usually between third and eighth as first and second were “booked” by
– yes – Andrew Charles Johnson and Steve Griffiths. In the last of those
years we sat the 11-plus, which consisted of papers on Arithmetic, English and
Intelligence. I passed.
I was on my way to Lymm Grammar School. Many of my friends were on their way to other destinations. About 70% of my year group went to the new Secondary Modern, set up in the old Grammar School building in Grammar School Road. A few went to “posher” Secondary Moderns, such as Bradbury Central in Altrincham or Stockton Heath. Those who passed for the Grammar School but whose parents may not have wanted co-education for them could opt for Altrincham [separate boys’ and girls’ schools] or Sale [boys and girls in one school but in single-sex classes]. A few of my year went to Altrincham. And then there was Andrew Johnson who won a scholarship to Manchester Grammar School and was son able to recite Greek to me!
For the first time, I needed a uniform. I learned that, while most people bought theirs from the Co-op in Warrington, they were noticeably less classy than those purchased from Manners’ by the discerning minority. Auntie Gladys was in no doubt that I had to start at the top so I did. Folklore dictated that you would be introduced to the Grammar School by being thrown over the school wall into deep bushes. I missed out on that pleasure because I moved into the very first year group at the new school in Oughtrington Lane. Grammar School took me into the Sixties but I’ll stick with the Fifties for now.
My Grandad and two uncles were football followers. Uncle Ed and Uncle Ern were Manchester United supporters and were pretty much regulars at Old Trafford. My early spectating took place, more modestly, at Lymm Rangers’ ground next to the park. I would usually go with Grandad and stand on the raised bank at the Catholic Church end. Grandad followed the action intensely but silently. He always had one hand on my head and tense goalmouth incidents were signalled by a gradual tightening of his grip on my cranium.
Lymm Rangers moved to a new pitch in Cherry Lane around 1957 and attracted bigger crowds. Village football pitches were created in strange qways and this one had two eccentric features. It was rhomboid in layout as this was the only way of fitting it into the field. It also had a pronounced drop into one of the penalty areas so a ground shot from outside the area could take off into the air before it reached the goal. I watched them for a couple of seasons there, where I stood with one of the Grammar School prefects, Harold Myatt, whom I used to walk to the Grammar School with at his breakneck pace!
I did occasionally go to Old Trafford with Uncle Ed and Mr Burch. I remember that I had to stand at the front in a very packed crowd and had to be wedged into place by a policeman. It was taken for granted that the nearest adult would undertake to look after me. I recall seeing games with the “giants” of the day; Wolves, Newcastle and Chelsea but missed out on seeing Portsmouth who had a really formidable team. Liverpool were then in the Second division and inconsequential. From about the age of twelve I would travel to Old Trafford by train from Lymm. This was not a problem as I was assured that if the big boys would be sorted out by one of the dads or uncles present – and they were; a slap across the side of the head and no court proceedings.
One Saturday, Uncle Ed and Uncle Ern took me to watch Altrincham play Stalybridge. I don’t know why and I wasn’t that impressed, but it was the prelude to a more sustained spectating career in the Sixties!
On non-football Saturdays, Uncle Ed and Uncle Ern sometimes
took me to watch Rugby League at Warrington. There were quite large crowds;
often more than 20,000. The first match I went to was a pre-season challenge
between the English champions, Warrington and their French counterparts, Stade
Albigeois, which tied the announcer in knots. We used to have seats which
enabled me, as a small boy, to miss all the tries as the men stood up and
obliterated my view.
For many people, a big change in their lifestyle came about as a result of acquiring a television – a “TV”. Our family’s first exposure to the TV was when we went in shifts to watch the funeral of King George VI on Mrs Walker’s 8-inch black and white screen in Grove Avenue. Mrs Walker’s was a neat impeccably tidy terrace and the TV was in the window bay of the small front room. Everyone marvelled at the spectacle, guided as ever by Richard Dimbleby. This, above all, acted as the prompt for us to have a set installed for the Coronation.
We ordered our set in good time to ensure its delivery for the 2nd June 1953. That’s to say we ordered it around mid-April! The set, an Ultra, arrived on the morning of 5th May. It was enormous, with as 12-inch screen set in a massive wooden cabinet. I heard that it had cost us £70; this compared with my dad’s weekly take-home wage of about £10. Work out how much that would be nowadays! I seem to remember that we positioned the set along one of the side walls in the “kitchen”.
After plugging in the set and allowing the required “warm-up” time, the monochrome image gradually gained strength and there it was, one of the best-known programmes of the early days of TV – it was “Test Card C”. Test Card C actually did nothing. The only action was an allusion to transmission waves radiating from the top of a transmitter. Its purpose was to allow viewers to check the picture quality, particularly the clarity of contrast between different shades of grey. I watched enthralled until it disappeared at mid-day and the stern announcement of the resumption of transmissions in the afternoon.
I will always remember the afternoon transmission – it was the Cup Final at Wembley between Blackpool and Bolton Wanderers. These were two of the country’s really famous teams and Blackpool were my favourites, simply because Stanley Matthews played for them. I sat on the kitchen table on my own – I don’t know where Grandad was, but I suspect he was listening to Raymond Glendenning’s commentary on the “wireless”. Bolton were leading 3-1 at half-time, which is where Mr Potter comes in. Mr Potter lived across the road in Moston Street and ,it seems, his TV had been delivered that morning. He had been watching the football and his TV had over-heated. He was a Bolton fan and didn’t want to miss seeing them win the Cup. So he asked to watch on our set. I told him that I supported Bolton, too – in fact, I did, because I now saw that they were better than Blackpool. Blackpool won 4-3, so there!
There was only one channel – the BBC. It transmitted in the evenings from 7 o’clock until about 10. 15 with Saturday established as the big viewing night when it would close down at around 11 o’clock to accommodate a spectacular variety show which would have a mainly “formula”structure involving a compere, a comedian [or comedienne, if Hylda Baker was on], a male singer in a lounge suit, a female singer in a big party dress [or frequent changes into ever more exotic dresses in the case of Alma Cogan], an exotic group of singers and instrumentalists [typically Dorita y Pepe or Los Paraguayos], a ventriloquist and an “action” act such as jugglers or a lady wearing “next to nothing”, as my Gran would say, [a sequinned corset] who tore a telephone directory in half, which various know-alls claimed was illegal. Finally, a line of glamorous dancers would appear, to make the show flow between the main acts. There were no pop groups as these were not really invented until around 1957 when skiffle and rock and roll came in. There were however both male and female singing groups like the King Brothers and the Beverley Sisters. There were frequent views of the live orchestra in the pits and of the usually quite formally-dresses audience.
Sunday was definitely prosaic, with programmes running from 7.30 until 10.00, followed by the “Epilogue” in keeping with the calm and solemnity of the evening. There were frequent “interludes” between programmes. These were scheduled in the Radio Times but there would often be announcements to the effect there was a technical difficulty and that the next programme would start as soon as possible. The only interval entertainment for several years was a film of a canoed moving gracefully along a tree-lined river, with the interval ending as the view around a bend was tantalisingly just to unfold. When a fault was announced and the “voice-over” apologised for continuation of the interval I always hoped that, just this once, the boat would pick up at the point it had reached so that I could see round the bend. Of course, they just re-ran it from the start!
There were children’s programmes from round 3.30, with the feature programme at 4 o’clock to entertain homecoming primary school children. For a while, my favourite was Bill and Ben, because I could cover my eyes in fear when the gardener was on his way to catch them. I never did learn that the whole point of the story was that he never would!
The Coronation was as momentous as expected, appreciating that the majority of people were seeing London “live” for the first time, never mind a moving, talking
Queen. I think people really could interpret the colour after a while, using black and white pictures as a monochrome canvas to which they could apply their imagination.
We had our first TV dinner in the form of a continuous supply of party sandwiches, many of which were consumed by Joe Griffiths who, throughout, sat cross-legged about two feet from the screen, silent and enthralled with his thumb in his mouth
It was after this that the life-changing decision to re-arrange the kitchen was made to accommodate tele-viewing. This involved positioning the set across one corner of the room and exporting the centrally-placed table to the far end of the room to allow the five-strong family to share both the fire and an uninterrupted view. A policy of “lights out” was quickly introduced to give the whole thing a “cinema” feel and to give the relatively weak images a fighting chance. Grandad stuck, by and large, with his wireless in the front room. The advantage of this was that he could listen to the programme rather than to my Gran inaccurately repeating every word that was spoken by actors, newsreaders and commentators. He was theoretically deaf but that didn’t stop him from correcting her until it all became too much and he left the room! And the TV dinner became the norm – in the dark.
I was quite an avid viewer and was happy to slip into an indispensable technical role. One of the perennial problems with TVs of that era was the propensity for the “vertical hold” to gradually lose – well! its hold. This resulted in the picture “rolling” up and off the screen at a fairly rapid rate of acceleration. There was a way of holding the problem at bay. One of the many knobs below the screen was inscribed “vertical hold”. There were instructions as to remedial action for the phenomenon I’ve described. These were to the effect that “ a small, infinitely patient and attentive schoolboy should be positioned to the left of the screen [facing] and, upon initial indication of impending “roll”, signalled by “picture wobble”, shall turn the knob almost imperceptibly clockwise or anti-clockwise, in response to continuous visual monitoring of the stability of the picture”. It didn’t actually say that but my mum obviously read between the lines and saw that as the only solution in an age when there were no “remotes” and the principal viewers were sufficiently immobile to have missed whole programmes making the repeated effort to make the adjustments themselves. But it was work and I could look out from my perch at the side of the screen and see contented faces – unless I lost concentration, which could happen towards the end of a long evening.
In 1956, we began to receive ITV programmes. This heralded the conversion of our family to fully paid-up telly-addicts. Everybody liked the adverts: “ Enjoy 1957 with Heinz 57 Varieties” one advised cheerfully. There was more “entertainment” and lots of “tales” for mum and Gran and less of people with furrowed brows agonising over the issues of the day. I realised that we still had the BBC when I switched on for the Cup Final! But “fun TV” was a helpful backcloth to my mum’s constant homework for Rees Jones and there were chuckles of satisfaction from Gran, whose evenings out were now a thing of the past.
We never looked back and, once Grandad had passed on in
1963, we became one of the first families in Newfield to have a second TV – in
Formal and informal ceremonies, festivals and all sorts of other events coloured my early years. Of the year-round calendar of events, Christmas was the biggest and most memorable. For some years the took part in the ritual of going to bed early on Christmas Eve to avoid bumping into Father Christmas who would of course have not delivered my presents. I was always up like a shot on Christmas morning and had my stocking to explore in my bedroom before I was allowed downstairs. My presents would be waiting for me and, as an only child, I remember being the centre of attention. With aunties and uncles a-plenty, I did very well out of Christmas. There were, of course, no enticing TV adverts for presents but there were still treasured “special” presents, such as new bike that I got on one occasion. There were selection boxes galore and a good choice of board games.
Once the Father Christmas ritual had passed by and I had become interested in geography, word must have got round that I would always welcome new Ordnance Survey maps. Whatever other presents I may have received, I would always start Christmas Day by poring over the most interesting of my new maps. This also got me through the afternoon when I had to be reasonably quiet as the ladies watched the Queen or a feature film on TV.
Christmas morning was enlivened by a string of visitors who called by for a few minutes for a sherry or a whisky. Christmas Dinner usually started after the Queen’s address and signalled the introduction of the turkey - circa 25lb – which would reappear in various guises over the following three or four days. A 3 o’clock start also enabled Uncle Ern return from the Crown in time for the latter stages of the meal.
Christmas Day tea was a sort of “High Tea”, eaten around 6.30 pm. There was a strong tradition of adults’ claiming that there was no room for any more food since they were still digesting dinner. But they ate anyway. It consisted of cold sliced turkey and pork with stuffing, apple sauce and various members of the pickle family, such as piccalilli, gherkins and beetroot. Then the trifle was served; the ladies saying “where on earth are we going to find room for it” – and then did. After loosening their belts for an hour, Uncle Ed, Uncle Ern, Grandad and Uncle Percy Appleton moved on to the pub. My dad wasn’t a yuletide drinker so he could relax and act as waiter for the ladies. Apart from my mum, there was Gran, Auntie Gladys, Auntie Edith and Jean - until their religious convictions forced them to pass on Christmas – and Mrs Appleton, whom I took time to get round to calling Auntie Edith. She seemed rather formal and edgy but had to always look out for Percy who had suffered physically from his experiences in the First World War. The ladies played cards in the years before the TV took over Christmas and I tried to drag them away to games that I wanted to play.
At closing time the men returned to turkey, stuffing and apple sauce sandwiches and tea.
On Boxing Day, Auntie Gladys hosted ourselves and a
slightly different mix of people, including Hilary and Peter. On the following
day, it was Auntie Edith’s turn.
New Year’s Eve was low-key for us. I imagine my Gran was getting past partying and, apart from Grandad, who went to the Crown, we stayed in and either went to bed to hear the church bells ringing in the New Year or, as the TV took over, watched Andy Stewart [There was a soldier, a Scottish soldier] and Chick Murray being very Scottish! In later years we went to Manor Farm where Mrs Broadsmith’s farmhouse catering, especially the sherry trifle, was something special.
Later still we
would go to Pool Farm for a big knees-up for Peter and Hilary’s family and
friends. The big room was set up as a domestic “disco” – the first I had
encountered. In the early 60s, as people began to travel for “Costa”
holidays, this providing the opportunity for some of Lymm’s early
international travellers to introduce elements of acquired Spanish culture.
Among the prominent exponents were Dorothy and Bill Gallop. The rest of the
party-goers would beg Dorothy to take to the floor to dance in Spanish style
while Bill stamped and clapped like a torreador. The party-goers gasped as she
shook her skirt to reveal at least her thighs. They marvelled at her command of
Spanish when she would intone with whole phrases such a “Y viva Espana” or
“Una paloma blanca” in exactly the right place. Then they would really cut
loose and sing along with her. It was fun, they were clapping like Spaniards do.
They had been transported; they weren’t just laughing, they were in Sitges!
Dorothy and Bill were rare uninhibited stars in the Lymm constellation
– they were from Warrington!
Next up on the calendar was Pancake Tuesday – rarely “Shrove”. As far as I could see, everyone ate pancakes on that day. You would have been considered eccentric otherwise.
Easter was mainly a school holiday for me. I didn’t go to church for the important festivals but on Palm Sunday, the Sunday School class joined in the main service. Good Friday meant that we all ate fish instead of meat. Catholic families still ate fish every Friday and we usually did the same as there was always a good selection at the fishmongers. But on Good Friday, Anglicans ate fish very much as a rule. I liked fish anyway so it wasn’t an imposition as it appeared to be for some people.
There was no official Mayday holiday as there is today so
the next festival was Whitsun , now replaced by Spring Bank Holiday. Whitsun
meant more in industrial towns where there were “Whit Walks” – parades
involving most churches. For us, it was the time when preparations for the May
Queen Festival were reaching their peak.
The May Queen Festival was the main community event in Lymm’s calendar. I was particularly aware of it since my mum and Auntie Gladys were on the organising committee, Uncle Ed was the president, Dad was a gateman on the day and Grandad used his horse-drawn cart, and later his lorry as a decorated float.
Preparations really began around February when the “Queen” and “Rose Queen” were chosen in what, by village standards, was a quite glamorous event held in the cinema. Candidates for Queen had to reside in one specific “ward” from the four wards into which Lymm was divided for Council elections. Candidates for Rose Queen had to be residents of one of the other wards with wards supplying Queens on a rotational basis. This all seemed very bureaucratic but it gave everyone a single chance to be Queen or Rose Queen within the qualifying age-band, which I think, was 12 to 16. From that moment onwards, all I remember was that my mum and other ladies would meet at least weekly at our house to make paper flowers for the floats.
On the Friday evening before the event, our yard was a hive of activity as Grandad and Uncle Ern cleaned all the coal dust from the lorry [“wagon”, as we then called it] and the “structural” components of the decorations would then be assembled. By around 7 o’clock on Saturday morning, I could hear mum and her team fixing the “soft” decorations. Spectators would soon gather to see how the ensemble was shaping up. When everything was completed, the decorating team would stand back and agree that it was just a little bit better than they had ever done before.
For my part I think I made six appearances as a “character” on our float. The first, I remember well, was as an “Old English Gentleman”, wearing a black top hat. I was then a sailor and a Chinaman on the “Willow Pattern” tableau. My three final appearances were as a footballer – really! The procession went along the same route as ever but there were bigger crowds, with fewer counter attractions. I recall quite large numbers arriving by bus from Warrington but, of course, with no out-of-town DIY stores there was nothing more interesting to do.
There were far more floats than in recent years, with many “street” floats like our own. There were also many individual walking characters. What was true of all of them was that great care had been taken in making the decorations and outfits. For a lot of people, that must have been one of their main activities over the weeks leading up to May Queen Day. This made the procession around the field quite spectacular for its times.
The final part of the day for mum and me was to help count the “takings” at Vera and Herbert Brookfield’s house in Church Road. With Vera at the helm, this was a highly charged event as communal breath was held to see if takings had exceeded the previous years. By the following Thursday or so the official photographs would appear in a shop window in the village and crowds gathered to have an early glimpse and then, perhaps, order their favourites. Such was the importance of a village carnival in that era.
The next event on the annual calendar was our summer holiday. Dad was given a set week in August to take his holidays. This was the case with most working people. The majority of working-class people who could run to a holiday had either a week’s full-board at a guest-house in a seaside resort or went self-catering to a “chalet”, usually on coastal flats such as along the North Wales coast. Other people might have days out by coach, rather than actually stay away from home. The few who had cars were lucky enough to be able to travel to their week’s holiday in their own time and have extra days at weekends when they could take friend or relatives for a run out.
We were among the lucky ones with my dad having a Ford Eight. If you see one now it looks incredibly tiny. Nevertheless, mum, dad, me and Auntie Gladys and Uncle Ed would set out in it each year on the four-to-five hour journey to Blackpool where we always stayed at the Empress Hotel just beyond the sumptuous Cliffs Hotel on the North Shore. Why so much time to get there? Firstly there was no motorway and everybody drove to Blackpool on a Saturday. It was always hot and slow-moving older vehicles were susceptible to over-heating, especially when occupied by five people and their luggage. From Lymm the “bottlenecks” were predictable, starting with Latchford swing-bridge, which had to deal with both a higher level of shipping and also trains. Then there was the constant stopping and starting on Kingsway which had to do the job Thelwall Viaduct now does. Winwick Road to Newton-le-Willows was a relatively free-flowing stretch but I had to be alert not to see Winwick Hospital which you were not allowed to mention in those days. Uncle Ed would observe, “You’re doing well Tom; past Winwick within the hour”.
The most famous bottleneck was the staggered crossroads in the centre of Ashton-in-Makerfield which you could be approaching for anything up to half an hour. This was where dad kept his fingers crossed that the radiator would not boil over before we reached our pre-planned re-filling point in an unmade residential street in Bryn. The residents cheerfully provided cans of water for holidaymakers and we could have our flasks of tea while dad waited for the radiator to cool down. Half an hour crawling through Standishgate where chatty Wiganers would keep us in conversation, then a smooth run for what seemed like miles until we joined the mile-long queue to pass under the single lane railway bridge at Euxton. Finally just an hour’s crawl along the Preston dock road and we could see the Tower [I had to be first]. By two o’clock we would be in Beth’s Café in Gynn Square and mum would soon be telling Auntie Gladys she was spoiling me letting me have the chicken, chips and peas at three and sixpence.
The Empress was a typical small hotel with around 12 rooms and 25-30 guests. We went full-board with a cooked breakfast, three-course dinner at 1 o’clock and tea, usually meat and salad, bread and butter and a sweet at 5 o’clock. This was an enormous amount of very good food but the sea air enabled everyone to cope with it; so much so that, as soon as we’d walked across the prom, down the steps to the sands and struggled to get the deck-chairs up, Auntie Gladys would buy a pot of tea with bread and butter to replenish us after the walk and to give Uncle Ed the gee-up he needed to bowl a few overs at me and to give dad the strength to give me a piggy-back along the shore. Then, Auntie Gladys would warn us that we’d better be on our way back up for dinner. There was a repeat performance in the afternoon or we would take the tram to the Tower, the piers or the pleasure beach.
Auntie Gladys always booked shows or a visit to the Tower circus for each of the six nights. I must say that I really enjoyed these opportunities to see live performances by people I’d only otherwise heard on the wireless; gtreat names of the time like George Formby, Albert Modley, Morecambe and Wise, Alma Cogan and Jewel and Warris. At one show on the pier when I was perhaps four I had cried for much of the first half so Auntie Gladys took me for a walk around the adjoining rooms. The worst possible thing happened; Ben Warris came by and said “hey, give him here a minute; I’ll cheer him up”. No he didn’t! A few years later, I “bottled” it at one show when sensational new compere, Bruce Forsyth, thrust the mike under my nose, expecting me to interpolate the words, “living doll” [on my own] in the then new Cliff Richard hit. Not I - silence!
Upon leaving a show we became aware of the sea air and the drifting smell of fish and chips and rarely resisted. “Just the ticket; we can eat them and still be just in time for Mrs Corner’s Horlicks and biscuits if we catch the next tram”.
We met people from all parts of the country and made quite
long-lasting friendships which were sometimes kept going by visits from families
as far away as Scotland.
We often used other days to take my friends with us on days out to Southport, New Brighton or into the Cheshire countryside. I liked Southport which had a long beach, the world’s most fabulous fish and chip restaurant and offered the chance to go for a ride out to sea in a wartime DUKW.
New Brighton was already dying and I once complained about the absence of a table-cloth in a café, having been accustomed to Blackpool and Southport standards. But it had a great pitch and putt course.
Cheshire was great for taking bats and ball and a picnic and dad could stretch out by the car while we played. I remember that we once drove for hours without a map and then came across the perfect picnic spot. Dad said it was surprising what you could find if you were a bit more adventurous and looked farther afield. In fact we had reached High Legh by the “great circle route”.
Just a couple of times, I went with Uncle Ern, Grandad and Uncle Ed to Clun. We drove down the A49 at speed [to put it mildly]. Uncle Ern borrowed his boss’s Vauxhall Velox, with go-faster fins and Grandad would travel “shotgun”, urging him to touch 90, which he did with ease and abandon. We were entertained to real country food by Auntie Pattie, Grandad’s sister and her son, Bill, took me up into the Shropshire Hills on his agricultural rounds. This was a different world from a bygone age and said a lot about Grandad’s usually reserved demeanour.
We also visited Grandad’s other sister who lived in an old cottage which had been engulfed by new development at Hale near Liverpool.
I was taken to stay at Gran Estall’s flat in Millwall at
about the age of four but don’t remember it. There is somewhere a picture of
me on her balcony. My most vivid recollection of visiting Gran Estall was in
1959 when I was dropped off by dad on one of his overnight lorry journeys to
London and was indulged by my Uncle Joe who, as a post-office sorter, had every
afternoon free to show me around London and, on Saturdays and evenings, took me
to football matches at West Ham, Leyton Orient and the somewhat spooky Millwall,
where I remember him slapping his protective hand across my mouth when he feared
that I was about to show some loyalty to Cheshire by cheering a goal by Crewe
Bonfire Night was an important event for the whole of Newfield and the croft was ideally placed as the centre-point for the bonfire itself. The local children and teenagers used to start constructing it around a month ahead and would use up all the scraps of wood from the croft and collect disposable items from around the houses. Families used to set off their own fireworks in their front gardens whilst one or two of the dads would arrange a bit of a display on the footpath alongside the croft. Most of the rockets were launched from there and kids would run free with their sparklers on the street. It was all harmonious apart from occasional banger “raids” by lads from other areas who usually asserted with pride that our bonfire was not as big as the one in their street. There was always a selection of bonfire food. There was always talk of the prospect of scrumptious baked potatoes being harvested from the base of the fire but I was only aware of totally inedible ones i.e. cinders. But the parkin was never less than mouth –watering, probably because it was always craggy and home-made. Home-made treacle toffee was also on the menu. There was something recognisable about bonfire night as a true neighbourhood festival.
From a personal point of view, the annual Remembrance
service at Lymm Church was a familiar event. Dad was the British Legion’s
standard-bearer and, for days in advance, he would clean and polish the standard
which seemed amazingly heavy. I realised he was doing an important and solemn
job and the whole event had a far higher profile than nowadays with the war
having ended only a few years earlier and most
of my friends’ dads having served in it and stayed together within the Legion.
The presence of the considerable number of officers who had retired to Lymm and
arrived at church to salutes added to the gravitas of the occasion.
My own and my friends’ birthday parties were an endearing
feature of life. There were, of course, no commercialised parties and their
success depended on the simple matter of your mum’s ability to supply large
quantities of homemade meat-paste butties for anything between 12 and 15
children and then to provide copious quantities of butterfly cakes, jam tarts
and a choice of jellies with evaporated milk. My own parties seemed to go down
well; my mum had the catering sorted out and we had the space of the front
garden and the yard to work off the calories. Parents did not stay around
because I doubt if any of my guests lived more than 50 yards away.
Weddings were few and far between in my early years but I do remember Hilary and Peter’s wedding in 1956. This was accompanied by a ritual which would seem strange today. For some days, all of the wedding presents were laid out quite formally in Auntie Gladys’s front room and people called at the house for a cup of tea and to view them. I don’t remember the formalities of the wedding itself but I do remember the sense of humiliation I felt when I arrive d in my neat short-trouser suit only to notice that Graham Gibson was wearing his first-ever long trousers – and he was in my school year! I attempted to mask my inferiority by minimising the gap between the tops of my socks and the bottom of my trousers but this involved continuous and infuriating adjustments. This is what makes you feel guilty later on when you realise that your parents were actually pulling out the stops for you.
Hilary was pretty much an older sister to me and I had the
special privilege of being invited to join them on one day of their honeymoon; a
drive out in Peter’s car. We drove to Llangollen and Peter had booked lunch at
what was, to me, an incredibly posh hotel. The spaciousness and genteel waiter
service was something I hadn’t experienced before. I don’t remember the
exact details but I think my meal cost 11/9d, compared to say the1/9d that I
would have paid for egg and chips in Blackpool. I was anxious to tell my mum.
When we got home and I told her she wasn’t at all happy that I’d allowed
Peter to spend that much on me. I did not appreciate the enormity of the
imposition that I had placed on what should really have been a very private
event for them. With hindsight, their kindness seems incredible.
One type of event that I remember with affection was the
garden fete that the owners of many of the big houses used to hold each year in
their gardens. The hostesses were invariably the wives of the retired military
officers. The two that I remember most clearly were those at the homes of
Colonel and Mrs Palmer in Cherry Lane and the Dawson-Kents at Bridge House in
Oughtrington Lane. There would be produce stalls and a whole range of homemade
outdoor games to play. Impressionable mums, aunties and grandmas would manoeuvre
into position to pay homage to the lady of the house as she did her rounds. My
Gran felt a sense of attachment to the “gentry” from her days in service. I
remember once walking along Booths Hill Road with her when a well-dressed lady
called from across the road, “Good afternoon Mrs Edwards and how is Mr
Edwards?” Gran couldn’t get home fast enough to report to mum that Mrs
Palmer had “condescended” to acknowledge her.
Life in Lymm was enriched by a variety of interesting, sometimes “larger than life” characters. Maybe I noticed this because I was an impressionable child but there was probably a greater sense of individuality about people in an age when they would not have been “homogenised” by constant exposure to media images. I’ve already described lots of people who played influential parts in my early life but I’ll briefly mention some other people whose individualism shone through.
My dad encountered all sorts of memorable characters in his lorry-driving career. The early drivers were self-styled “kings of the road” and this often showed in their no-nonsense lifestyles and sometimes-eccentric demeanour. On Saturdays or Sundays dad would drop in on various drivers and I often went along with him. Two of the fraternity stand out.
“Lol” Willis lived in gregariously Bohemian style in what is now a much-enlarged house at the end of the drive which leads towards the Trans-Pennine Trail from Camsley Lane, just on the Warrington side of the canal bridge. In Lol’s day the house was hidden within a forest of rhododendrons and the railway ran just 30 or 40 yards from the house. One of the attractions for me was to listen to approaching steam trains and get an unfailing wave off the driver. Lol and his wife, Hilda, were happy-go-lucky, completely unfussy folk whose home lacked, let’s say, any of the order and tidiness of the houses I was used to visiting. It was almost mystical and the smoke from their log fire that you could see across the tree-tops added to that illusion.
They had two daughters and a son, Melvin, who, even at my age at the time, was carrying out “man’s work” around the premises, such as chopping wood. Lol and Hilda came into their own as managers of one of the Morris dancing troupes which used to compete at the May Queen Festival. This was one of the real no–nonsense jobs,as “respectable” Lymm people seemed to regard the girl dancers as “common” or even “flighty” and there always seemed to be an assumption that they were looking for the chance to get local boys into their changing-rooms [team coaches] for a bit of “messing about”. They thus had be strictly managed. Lol was one of the squad of gatemen that my dad worked with on May Queen Day and he was always cheerful with the paying customers.
Tom Higgins was another charismatic driver. He was single and lived with his parents in the house at the bottom of Burford Lane which sides on to the canal. I could hear the water lapping up against the house wall just below the window each time a boat passed. Tom was well-read and articulate but, as a son of Ordsall, the tough part of working-class Salford, he used to converse in an unfathomable dialect with his brothers who often visited at the same time as dad and me. His nephew was apparently called Robin but was always called “Raygobin.” It seemed that the whole family could add the “ayg” sound to almost every word in a sentence to the bafflement of any non-Salfordian present; So, “ How’s waygork traygeating you Taygom? “ to my dad. Dad had worked with him for years and seemed to be able to follow this. But Tom still turned it on to wind me up. I have no idea if that way of talking still goes on in Salford. I’d like to think it does – among themselves!
Another driver was Frank Southern who later became a
driving instructor. He lived in Manor Road with a big family. It was a tribute
to the camaraderie among drivers that we often used to go for drives out into
Cheshire with Tom and his family; made easier by the fact that lorry drivers
were among the relatively few working-class people who had reason to drive and
therefore often owned their own cars. I remember Frank as a talkative, open
character who shared my dad’s driving route to London and back.
One of my mum’s best friends from her school days was Joyce Davies who lived with her husband, Oswald, and family in Orchard Avenue. Mum could literally talk all afternoon on the phone to Mrs Davies, who was a talkative, very outgoing person. Her husband was more reserved and was, at that stage, progressing in his civil engineering career. Their son, Neville, was in my school class. They moved to a bigger house in Grammar School Road and I was aware that Mr Davies was becoming a increasingly successful businessman, although I did no know what that meant. I assumed that they were too “posh” for me to mix with but, as soon as I started at the Grammar
School, Mrs Davies invited me for tea on my way home and this was often repeated.
Mr Davies was usually working in his office but never failed to come out and chat to me and then to apologise for having to do more work. He was the first man I ever saw on the phone in the back of a chauffeur-driven car. He became chairman of one of the biggest civil engineering contractors in the country and “built” the M6 motorway. He treated Uncle Ed to a drive along the empty motorway in his “Jag” before it opened to traffic. He later saved Warrington Rugby Club from oblivion when he became chairman and was then knighted. The main point is that his family maintained real friendships with all the people they had known for years, came to our family parties and were “ordinary”. To show just how ordinary, I recall one occasion when they were at one of Hilary and Peter’s parties at Pool Farm. Grandma Laura had found a welcoming companion to exchange local stories with and, after a while, fell into an almost reverent whisper, saying “I believe that that Sir Oswald Davies and his wife are here, but you wouldn’t notice because they say they’re just like you and me. By the way, we haven’t really introduced ourselves”. I don’t need to say the rest!
Lymm people, generally, did not seem to begrudge Mr and Mrs
Davies their wealth or high profile because they could see that they had been
nurtured by, and remained, part of the community.
Another completely different kind of person who left her mark on me was “Auntie Ivy”. Auntie Ivy was a friend of Gran’s who use to walk down once a week from her home in Booths Hill Road for afternoon tea. She was a lovely, amiable lady and as Gran’s main source of contact with the outside world once Gran had become too immobile to get around. We always had a Hovis loaf in for their afternoon teas and I would serve it when I had got home from school. What I didn’t realise until later years was that Auntie Ivy and her husband had come from Northampton to live and work in Lymm but, at first, had no house of their own. They had “lodged” with Gran; something that seemed to have happened without any fuss in earlier years and which must have helped to build the close friendships of the kind that Gran and Auntie Ivy enjoyed.
Across the road in Grove Avenue lived the Vernon family. Mrs Vernon lived with her single son, Fred, a serious man and keen golfer and single daughter, Lucy, who was good friend of mum’s. Lucy was one of the last people I remember who spoke in an old Lymm dialect when conversing with other Lymm people like my mum. If I was present, she would often stop in mid-sentence an ask me if knew what a particular word or phrase meant. She would use terms such as “oo’s gen wom” which meant “she’s gone home”. My mum could slip seamlessly into the same mode.
Our next-door neighbours were Frank and Irene Smith and
their daughter, Josephine who was a year or two older than me. Frank was absent
for much of the time a he was still a serving Sergeant-Major in the army. When
he returned he stayed in military mode and, with his “bark” and pencil-slim
moustache, was rather frightening. If Josephine was playing out I could hear him
scream “Jo-seph-ine” whilst standing to attention at the front door. By
contrast, Irene was an almost giddy person who was among the most amiable and
chatty ladies imaginable. She might call round for a natter with my mum after
tea and say that she could only stay for a few minutes because she had arranged
to visit her sister. More than once, she completely overlooked her appointments
and stayed until towards midnight. The only frightening thing about her was her
repeated promise that she would give me a bath one evening. But it remained just
a promise. Once Frank came into “civvy-street” he gradually mellowed and I
remember him turning into a softie with an engaging Plymouth drawl.
One couple I must include are Jim and Jean Kidd. Jim originated from Edinburgh but had joined the Warrington Borough Police force – yes, it had its own force. Dad had got to know them and for many years our families used to exchange visits for tea or drive out into the countryside together. They became virtually inseparable from mum and dad and eventually went on coach holidays together over a number of years. The biggest and most important part they played in my life was to introduce me to Laura when she came to our house with them on the eve of her dad’s passing.
I could go on and on but will leave it there as far as
memorable characters are concerned.
All in all, Lymm was a varied community and I took it for
granted that all communities were as unthreatening and “cosy” as this. But
when I began to think about the background that, for instance, my dad had come
from I could see that not everyone had had the “sheltered” upbringing that I
had. The whole idea of “broken” families would have been beyond belief or
perhaps they were simply not spoken about. In any event, I just assumed that
everyone was looked after by a caring mum and dad with Grandparents and other
relatives as “back-up”. It is no surprise that children – and especially
only children like myself – who had come from this background were
ill-prepared for conflict and competition, settled for a quiet life and escaped
the indispensable opportunity to become street-wise. In my case I feel so much
for my mum who suffered such distress during and after my birth that the arrival
of a sibling was out of the question.
My move to Lymm Grammar School in 1957 was a culture shock as I was suddenly in the midst of 650 mainly larger and more self-assured people. There was also an air of “gravitas” about the place with most teachers donning gowns and a small minority occasionally wearing mortar-boards. One of the more relaxed touches was however provided by the Headmaster, Mr Canney, whose usually comatose dog used to slumber its way through the day in the main corridor outside his office.
My first form-room was the Balcony Room in old part of the school. This was such a pleasant room with views over the playing fields and woodland that I could easily drift away from the subject matter. I did however have to get used to going to lessons rather than lessons coming to me. I enjoyed lessons in some of the far-away haunts such as the Geography Room but was daunted by all the unfamiliar equipment in the Science Labs.
It soon became apparent from school reports that I was only prepared to succeed at the subjects that interested me – and those began with Geography and ended with Maths – with little in between.
The culture of the school was very middle-class and many fellow pupils clearly belonged to “dynasties” of which umpteen generations had attended the school. I wanted to be like them but couldn’t. I remember that, in one lesson, the teacher took a poll of where people were going for their summer holidays. Early responses included mention of France or obscure villages in Devon or Cornwall. I realised I couldn’t say “Blackpool” in front of 40 people so I settled on the “Fylde Coast” as a means of disguise. Yet I loved Blackpool. So what was I up to? Yes; I was “bottling”.
Sport was another distinctive feature of school. I had been almost obsessively put off water by the family, except dad, and basically refused to learn to swim. Most of our family were rural people who simply saw no need to swim and I was too timid to buck the trend. I suspect that, only if Auntie Gladys had cajoled me, would I eventually have taken the plunge. But I don’t think it was her forte either.
Cross –country was a feature of the winter sports calendar; the school having a standard route which took in the tortuous and muddy path through Helsdale Wood. This doubled up as a bike-shed for those who needed a quick smoke out of sight of the school. When the girls were admitted to cross-country in later years its recreational opportunities were allegedly broadened. I was usually a bit of a straggler, the penalty for which was that Commander Bradbury, the History master, could easily catch you and try to talk you through any problems you were having with history.
The school concerts reflected the early post-war culture of
community singing led by “Gus” Hunnam, the charismatic Deputy Head. The
party piece was always a synchronised rendition of “It’s a long way to
Tipperary” and “Pack up your troubles [in your own kit-bag] ” between the
two sides of the audience.
I was privileged to be part of the pilot form trip to Ty’n y Felin in February 1959. We took four steam trains from Bank Quay to reach Valley Station and went by van and then on foot through the late evening snow to arrive at a barn with no electricity but a few candles. This was “Tynny” in 1959. “Gus” was in charge and assured us that wartime hardships were more extreme than this. Singing and table tennis by candlelight would make us feel at home. We got on with it while Jake Newman, the Biology teacher, read nature books in the one seat in the corner.
During the day we walked the perimeter of the island on Gus’s standard rations of a compressed block of dates and a wedge of cheddar. I had to take my turn at frying bacon the next morning after spending the night in a windowless upper room with a blanket and prison pillow. After Blackpool it was a new kind of holiday experience for me.
My “O” level results bore testimony to the uneven-ness of my performance. I achieved 100% in Maths and 85% in Geography which, I was told, was the equal highest in the Board area and 15% higher than the next best in the school. Apart from that, I got a goodish History pass and scraped through in English Language, Art and French.
I went on to “A” levels and played too much tennis after school. I was not on course for good results as I was lazy. I was a bit of a disgrace to my parents. I was given a place on a Town & Country Planning course without the need to pass “A” levels so I gave up studying and just passed Geography. I had always assumed that, if I was going to have to work at all it would be as an accountant, but that was not to be. The lure of maps beckoned!
From about the age of 14, I played tennis regularly. I joined Manor Road Tennis Club which was the poor relation of the main Lymm Tennis Club and attracted a much broader mix of people which suited me. My main playing partners were Andrew Johnson who gave a running commentary of every shot when playing, David Ainsworth and John Sutton who became my doubles partner for the couple of seasons I spent playing in the Warrington League. In 1962, I won the Davies Cup, single-handed! No, this was the Oswald Davies Cup for under-16s. The following year, I ventured outside the confines of the club’s competitions and entered the Lymm Open Championships which gave me my first and only chance to play on grass. I lost in three sets.
The peak of my career was to take part in the Northern
Junior Championships at Didsbury. I actually won my first round singles against
an even more nervous lad from Urmston. I had flattered to deceive and was given
a lesson in the next round by the captain of Manchester Grammar School. I
remember that, in keeping with those sporting times, he asked me if I would care
to have a drink as his doubles partner’s dad was buying. I declined as I had
to get a lift back to Lymm. On my way out, I saw who was buying; it was the
father of Stanley Matthews junior, who was then a true rising tennis star. I
gather his dad played football!
For winter entertainment I was an intermittent football follower without any real sense of allegiance. United was expensive for a schoolboy who already sponged too much off his parents. If I was going to follow any team regularly, I wanted to be able to see them play away to give Saturday afternoons some variety.
I was curious about the middle – semi-professional – level of football which attracted decent crowds but not too big to lose any sense of identity. I had followed reports on Altrincham’s games in the Altrincham Guardian and could see that other clubs in their league were making a name for themselves by reaching the main cup rounds. “Alty” were on their last legs and about to disband when I saw an advert for free entry to the Good Friday 1961 match with Bangor City. I went along and it was dire. However there was an announcement that two local businessmen were willing to rescue them and start the next season with a better team. I bought a junior season ticket for 10/6d [52 p] and made my mind up to travel by bus to all their games. David Ainsworth took me to the first couple of games, not intending to become a regular. I won the lucky programme prize at the second game. It was presented by Peter Swales, the new chairman, and it was a season ticket. I asked if I could have the money instead and was told, “Sorry, find a mate to give it to”. So David got a season ticket and I got transport to all the remaining games.
For several years, a motley Lymm foursome, made up of a
gentle giant, Arthur Jackson, who had been a no-nonsense centre-half in pre-war
Lymm teams, George Shakeshaft from Rushgreen Road and ourselves followed
“Alty” around the warm and unthreatening homes of the Cheshire League teams
where we could mingle with the opposition supporters in what seemed a very
In 1964 I started work in the small planning section of the Borough Surveyor’s department of Warrington Borough Council. I was very nervous about the whole idea of working with adults whom I had not met before. I had been given a junior assistant’s job without an interview thanks to Auntie Gladys using her influence with people within the Council. I had an introductory interview with Mr Brown, the Borough Surveyor, who quickly dispatched me to John Hammond, the Chief Planning Assistant, for a more detailed briefing. I knocked and entered Mr Hammond’s office and heard a voice say, “well, sit yourself down”. I could not see Mr Hammond on the other side of the desk but a voice came from the floor behind it, asking if I minded if he, Mr Hammond, remained lying on his back while he interviewed me as he always rested it at that time of day to ease his lumbago. And so the eccentricities of working in planning had begun!
I gradually got into the routine of work on the basis of
having respect for my elders. My mentor was Leo Hindle who looked stern, with a
pencil moustache, but turned out to be very gentle. I looked up to him and he
was a real Warrington hero who had survived Japanese Prisoner of War camps and
gone on to gain a winner’s medal in the 1950 Rugby League cup final.
After a year I went on a full-time planning course at Liverpool College of Building and began to gain enough confidence to see that I could qualify as a planner. In those days the course was not recognised for the award of a degree so I had to sit my exams over two years in London. I passed those ahead of anyone else on the course and started in a “proper” job at Warrington. Ironically my colleagues who had failed to pass “externally” stayed on at what became Liverpool Polytechnic, and then John Moores University, and gained the degrees for which the course had been accredited in the meantime.
I won’t go into detail about my training but will tell
one little story. This concerns my exams in London. These took place over as
week and were held at the London University examination centre in the city. I
stayed at Gran’s flat in Millwall and Auntie Mary made sure I was awake and
out in good time every morning. On the last morning, however, I overheard Gran
telling her that she had decided to let me sleep on because I looked too tired
and they couldn’t keep putting me through all that! Mary ordered her to make
sure I got up and so saved me from failure!
I was a slow learner at all things practical but realised I would have to become personally mobile at some stage. I had three attempts before passing my driving test at the age of 19. I was given confidence for the final test by my dad having snored his way from Anglesey to Lymm while I did my pre-test practice drive the day before passing. No theory test in those days, which would have been a lot easier for me!
My first car was a beat-up old Ford Escort van, XTC 624, which soon expired in a cloud of fumes. I then bought a brand-new Mini 1000 with the help of a cut-price deal arranged by Uncle Mac through the Oxford works. For Catherine and Laura’s information, Mum and me drove this almost round the clock and she learnt to drive in it and passed her test in it – a heck of a lot more quickly than I had. We were on the road!
So; that’s about it as far as my “early” life in Lymm is concerned. After that, I was no longer alone!
Meeting Laura was to open up a world of other people who were new to me and spread my net some way beyond Lymm, even though we were to end up back here.
© Ian Edward Estall, 19 April 2005