October 10, 2015 by Stephen Bentley
Childhood Images: Accrington, Lancashire Part 2
Childhood Images: Accrington, Lancashire Part 2
The title of this piece deliberately includes the word “images.” Images conjure up wonderful memories for me of Accrington. Primarily those images are inside my head. I assist you the reader by showing some of them in celluloid or at least its digital equivalent.
Since writing the first part I have asked myself this question – “why exactly do you have strikingly fond memories of your younger days there?”
The best and most truthful answer I can give is that I found out who the real me is there. I was a quiet shy kid but was given metaphorical wings to enable me to fly by most of my close family in Accy. I include my saintly grandmother who I loved dearly. Also in that list are both my mother’s sisters Hilda and Nellie. My Uncle Jack, my Mum’s twin, my cousins Joan and Kathleen are also featured in that list. Many summer school holidays were spent in Accrington either staying at Grandma’s or Aunty Hilda’s home up the hill in Dill Hall Lane. They were memorable simply because I felt free. Mum and Dad would often deliver Peter, my brother, and me to Grandma’s home in Accrington for the duration of the long school summer holiday.
I remember the thrill the first time I was permitted to travel sans parents, with Peter in tow of course, by bus to Accrington. I was about 12 or 13 and Peter 2 years younger than me. That was quite a feat in those days. Huyton to Accy is only about 40 miles but it took 4 or 5 bus journeys to reach our destination. Huyton – St. Helens (sometimes straight through to Wigan), St. Helens – Wigan, Wigan – Chorley, Chorley – Blackburn, Blackburn – Accrington and get off near the bottom of Newark Street on Blackburn Road. And what a disappointment to me if that last bus was a wishy-washy green and cream Blackburn Corpy bus. I wanted it always to be the wonderful livery of the Acccrington Bus Company. I just loved those colors! It wasn’t until researching this article that I discovered the colors were decided upon as a tribute to the Accrington Pals. I love those buses even more now!
On walking in the front door at 36 Newark Street Grandma greeted us as if we were intrepid explorers! For days she would tell family, neighbors and strangers (was there such a thing as a stranger in Accy? – a most friendly people!) she met in the market, the tale of how I solo navigated the epic journey from Huyton to Accrington! I would beam inwardly with reflected pride at my most marvelous and daring achievement.
Most of the roads, streets and alleys in Accy were cobble stoned. That in itself was so very different to Huyton. The cobbles were hard wearing small granite setts. Their greatest advantage, apart from being hard wearing, was they vastly improved our ability as kids in controlling and kicking a football. You had to learn to cope with a quick readjustment of the feet to cater for the sometimes unpredictable bounce. Playing football in the street was our favorite pastime. At the back of Grandma’s lay Rastrick’s foundry where Uncle Richard and cousin Keith worked. It had a large delivery gate which we used as our goal in our games of football and as the wicket in games of cricket. The goal and the wicket were drawn on the solid wooden gate with an old lump of coal. The rules of cricket were somewhat improvised to cope with our playing conditions. If you sliced the ball behind you and over the gate into the foundry, then you were “out”. Again you were “out” if the ball you had struck ricocheted off a wall or structure of any kind and the catcher caught it with one hand! These games outside the foundry would last hours. They also provided an insight into who among us were the better climbers! Once a ball, either football or soft small ball we used for cricket, disappeared into the foundry yard there was always one eager soul anxious to gain kudos within the group who would shimmy up and over the gate to retrieve the ball. Teamwork!
Immediately behind Rastrick’s foundry was the lodge. It was a reservoir. I vaguely recall swimming in there once but only accompanied by an adult. We were constantly warned that it was a dangerous stretch of water to swim in. We heeded that advice. Besides it was patrolled by Bill Dash. He had a fearsome reputation as a watchman. Remember these were the days that a “cocky watchman” or policeman could clip you round the ear without fear of repercussions.
There was an alley that took you up to more scenes of childhood amazement. I believe it was called Saul Street. It followed the lodge but eventually you would end up in Ossy (Oswaldtwistle). Before you got to Ossy a railway bridge straddled the walk way. It was a dank, dark tunnel under the railway tracks. But at this point we could climb up the embankment and watch the trains go by and the shunting of goods trains in the marshalling yards. The sights, sounds and smells were mesmerizing. The clanging of metal on metal from the shunting; the plumes of smoke rising from the locomotives’ stacks; the great clouds of hissing steam pouring from the pistons as a passenger train stuttered away from the station; the smell of the belched smoke. I will never forget them. I fully understand why there are steam train enthusiasts. The clanging from the shunting was incessant. Marshalling in the goods yard sidings must have been a 24-hour operation. Laying in my bed at Grandma’s waiting for sleep to arrive, I could hear that clanging. It was relaxing, soothing and I soon fell asleep worn out by another adventurous day.
There were times when we ignored the attractions of the railway and walked on towards Ossy. This took us past the great cotton mills – 3 or 4 storey stone built monuments to the greatness of the Lancashire cotton industry and the Industrial Revolution in Britain. Some still exist but mainly as a nod to the history of the area and usually now converted into retail parks. My Aunty Hilda and my Mum worked in the cotton mills on leaving school. School leaving age was 14 then. My mother, a quiet and unassuming person, would break out of her shell in later life to inform of her bragging rights that she had been a Jacquard weaver. Apparently this required extra skills.
She had been no doubt protected by her eldest sibling Hilda when first starting in the rough and tumble world of the cotton mill. However, I believe that is where she learned her swearing vocabulary. A vocabulary that was unused until her later stages of dementia! I was probably about 14 when Mum took me into a mill so I could witness at firsthand what it was like. Deafening! The noise from the looms was frightening indeed. No wonder that mill lasses like Mum could all lip read!
We would walk onwards past the mills until we reached the moors outside of the industrial landscape. This was a land of tranquility. To lie back watching the skylarks rise into the blue sky with their distinctive trill was a pleasure even for a young boy mad on sports. We always took a container full of “corpy pop” (water) with us and if we were rich with pocket money then a bottle of Tizer, Dandelion & Burdock or Cream Soda pop was a welcome bonus. In reality it was a long walk. There and back was twice as long! We would arrive back at Grandma’s worn out but ready for her sumptuous tea she had prepared. Tea in the North of England was dinner and dinner was lunch. I add at this point that “we” would usually be me, my brother and cousins Michael and Pat Cornwall.
An alternative walk would often be a trek to Gatty Park and there we would play for hours on the swings, roundabout and the climbing frames. This was a relatively short walk of about 20 minutes from Newark Street. The trip always seemed shorter as we kicked a football all the way there and back! The strange thing is about these memories I can’t imagine what we talked about! These walks through the streets and back alleys of Accy were sheer joy. Sometimes we would happen on something that had not been on our radar before. Like the time we stopped outside a terraced house on Pearl Street (now Pearl Court bereft of the original houses). It was used as a Spiritual Meeting House. One of our worldlier crew knew that involved trying to contact the dead. Yes – you guessed! We would scream like banshees and make ghostly noises with our faces puckered up close to the front window! We never lingered to find if anyone came out to chase us away. We were gone!
All my family enjoy or enjoyed films and live theatre. I was taken at least once to Accrington Hippodrome to take in old style music hall entertainment. Grandma once took me to the flea pit of a cinema on Blackburn road to see a 3-D movie. That was in 1950 something and I still remember the tank’s gun swiveling out of the screen towards me and feeling I could touch the end of the barrel. The most amusing trip to the cinema in Accy was to the old Empire Picture Palace right next to the railway viaduct. It was showing Vincent Price in the “Pit and the Pendulum” an 18 + rated movie. Cousins Joan and Kathleen were the leaders of our group. Both were approaching 17 or 18. I would have been 13 or 14. Michael, Joan’s brother was the same age as me. Peter of course was 2 years younger. It was Peter who concerned us in gaining admittance. Joan and Kathleen dressed him up in an old long mackintosh to cover over his gray short trousers and put a cap on his head. All in an effort to make him look older. He was given strict instructions by our elders to stand on his tip toes at the box office and if spoken to answer in a gruff voice! We got in!
My cousins Joan and Kathleen attempted to teach me to jive. Waste of time! I have never been known for my terpsichorean talent. What they did do was introduce me to songs and artists that I had been unaware of. Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly immediately spring to mind. This lack of dancing talent or to be more accurate lack of confidence to dance was another memory of my younger days in Accy. Accrington Conservative Club was the place to go on a Saturday night if you were at all interested in members of the opposite sex. A live band played and the ballroom could hold as many as 1000 people. I was the proverbial wallflower. Too shy to talk to girls and certainly too shy to ask them to dance. My ‘freedom of soul’ I experienced in Accrington had not yet extended to the art of chatting to girls! I sat on the benches lining each wall all evening long. I hated it! The building fell into disrepair and I believe it has been renovated and turned into a night club. Another vestige of ‘old Accrington’ that has bit the dust.
Many homes and buildings strong in my memory have met the same fate as Accy Con Club. A sad and poignant example of this is the Sacred Heart R.C. Church on Blackburn Road. This church holds a special place in my heart and soul. I was baptized there like many members of my family. My parents and other relatives were married there. I attended Midnight Mass there. And when I was visiting my Grandma when she was sick and confined to a bed in her home I went there to speak to the priest who visited my grandmother every day and said Mass to her. I wrote about my faith previously and this episode in my life played a big part in reinforcing my faith. The church edifice is no longer there. Thankfully my faith remains intact.
The building at the corner of Newark Street and Blackburn Road that housed the surgery of Dr. Harbinson has also fallen prey to the bulldozers. He was the doctor that attended upon my birth. He attended to me in the first few months of what was a sickly infancy. I believe I still have somewhere a receipt from him for money paid by my Mum or Grandma on one of those occasions he attended. This would be in 1947. The National Health Service was not formed until July 5 1948 with its free for all health care.
My preference is not to dwell on the vanished buildings that I knew so well. The memories associated with them can never be bulldozed. I prefer to dwell on the memories themselves. The cobbled streets that rang to the clip clop of horse drawn carts. The driver was either the ice cream man ringing his bell to announce his presence. Or it could have been the man shouting nasally, “Rag n’ Bone any raaagggss bonnneesss!” I prefer the vivid memory of steel tipped clogs clacking their way to the mill or foundry in the early morning.
Above all I prefer the warm memories of dead family members chuckling and telling jokes in that unique Lancashire way of theirs. I prefer to think of Mum and Aunty Hilda singing “Burnley Mashers” whilst pretending they were sparking clogs. I prefer to recall their tales of watching German bombers unleashing their deadly loads on to Manchester and watching the resulting great fires lighten the darkened skies. They would say that they were supposed to be in the cellar below the house in Newark Street.
That reminds me of two great mysteries of my childhood in Accrington. I never got to see or go in that cellar. The other mystery may be one of my own imagination. I am certain there must have been another room at the front downstairs of 36 Newark Street. There was a long hall on entering the front door. The living room door was in front of you at the end of the hall. Immediately before the living room was the start of the steep stairway that led upstairs to the bedrooms. There were two bedrooms, one at the front and one at the rear. Therefore, on reflecting about the physical layout of the house there must have been a room downstairs under the front bedroom. It is strange that I am unable to recall whether there was a door to the front downstairs room off the hall. If I am correct it is also strange that I was never permitted a glimpse of what lay in that room.
I am aware that memory can play tricks. What I can say about my childhood memories of Accrington is that they are no trick of the imagination. Those images are seared into my whole being. They are part of who I am.
PS A useful source of info and all things ‘Accy’ can be found here at Accrington Web
Terraced Houses courtesy of Bob Boaden
Crown ground courtesy of Robert Wade
Accy Con Club Ballroom courtesy of Fragglehunter
Magnificent Steam courtesy of Darrener29
Sacred Heart images courtesy of genuki.org
Accrington Pals image courtesy of Robert Wade
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