October 10, 2015 by Stephen Bentley
Childhood Images: Accrington, Lancashire
Childhood Images: Accrington, Lancashire
I was born in Accrington, Lancashire in 1947. My mother gave birth to me in the family home at 36, Newark Street. I say family home but it was my grandparents’ home Billy and Jane Cornwall (nee Southworth). My Mum had been raised in that street along with her siblings and had met my Dad through living in that street. Other family members also lived in Newark Street. At the time of my arrival into this world my Dad was working as a police officer in Liverpool having joined that force in 1946 following the end of WW2. When I was 12 months old Mum, Dad and me moved to a new council house in Huyton, Liverpool. I was raised there and left Liverpool when I was about 23 years old. I am proud of my Liverpool roots and was thrilled to hear my friend’s Dad accept me as a true Scouser though not born in the city. It was a real accolade as the friend’s Dad was born and raised in Liverpool and had been a docker (stevedore) all his working life.
The fact is that I am a native of Accrington – an Accringtonian. To say “you can take the lad out of Accrington but you can’t take Accrington out of the lad” is true of me. Why is that so? The answer lies mainly in nostalgia. Many happy childhood days were spent there – in my Grandmother’s home (the same house where I was born), playing in the cobbled streets and exploring scenes that were vastly different to my Huyton home. Huyton, or at least the part of Huyton where I lived, was new. It was part of a large Liverpool City Council housing scheme to rehouse families whose homes were destroyed by Luftwaffe bombs during the war with Germany. Accrington and Huyton were worlds apart.
When I first thought about this article I had a few angles as to how to approach it. Sport and particularly football has always been a love of mine. So I could have gone down the route of writing about Accrington Stanley. That is an article in itself. But no – the childhood memories theme was the winner as I have so many of them and they are vivid. The memories and associated images conjure up the magic of my childhood. They also remind me how lucky I was to be surrounded by a loving family. And I include all of you in that remark whether living or dead. To the ones that are at peace I say this – thank you for making me who I am today. To those who are still here – you know I love you as members of my family.
First a little about the town for those not familiar with it. It lies about 20 miles north of Manchester. The town is commonly and fondly called “Accy” by the locals. It is contiguous with Church and Oswaldtwistle and I make no differentiation between the three areas. Accrington is a former center of the cotton and textile machinery industries. At various times coal and lead were also mined there. The town is also known for making the famed and distinctively NORI red building bricks. Accrington NORI bricks were used in the construction of the Empire State Building and for the foundations of Blackpool Tower. It is well known for its football team Accrington Stanley F.C. subtitled “the Team that Wouldn’t Die”. Some noteworthy people have either been born there or have associations with the town and include England cricketers Mike Atherton, David Lloyd, Graham Fowler and Eddie Paynter; Mike Duxbury, a former Manchester United player; Coronation Street actresses Vicky Entwistle(Janice Battersby) and Julie Hesmondhalgh (Hayley Cropper) (a nod to my good friend Carol) and Mystic Meg! I must not forget to mention James Hargreaveswho was born in Oswaldtwistle. He invented the spinning jenny which revolutionized the cotton industry.
My childhood memories of Accrington would not be complete without a discourse on Grandma Cornwall’s home at 36 Newark Street. It was a typical stone built, solid terrace house with a slate roof. It was imposing and substantial especially by today’s modern buildings standards. Its hub was the living room with sofa and armchairs. Grandma had her sewing machine in there. I used to love crawling under that machine and playing with the solid and intricately made iron treadle. It would rock back and forth, up and down. I trapped my finger in it one day and for ever more after refrained from that playful activity. Granddad Cornwall’s armchair was under the window that overlooked the back yard. That was his chair! There was a large sideboard with numerous drawers. In one of those drawers Granddad kept his watches. Old watches that he would tinker with and try to repair. Grandma always kept medicines and potions in another drawer. Ugh! Scott’s Emulsion – how I hated the taste of that medicine!
These were the days before TV sets and a large radio sat upon the display area of the sideboard. Saturday afternoons at 5 pm we all had to be deathly quiet. The radio was turned on and as soon as all present in the room heard the signature tune that sounded like, “ derrum derrum derrumdedeedum …”, we all knew that this was the time for the football results on the BBC. Granddad would sit in his armchair with his football pools coupon and pencil ready to check if he had won ‘owt on t’ pools! Woe betide the man, woman or child that spoke during this holy ritual. Any utterance would be met with a loud “Ssshhhhh!” from Granddad. My Dad and uncles would often still be in a local pub at this hour. Wise decision! Men, a few beers and good company usually means chatter. Granddad would have torn out the few gray hairs remaining in his head!
On a Saturday afternoon this room was also the hub of family social gatherings. My aunts, uncles and cousins would all pop in and spend some time at Grandma’s each and every Saturday whether or not the Bentleys were visiting. My mother’s siblings were an opinionated bunch (it must run in the family). They would discuss everything and have an opinion on everything. They were also a fun bunch. They had that dry Accrington humor. Politics invariably were discussed and usually when the men returned from the pub. I think that was so partly because my Aunts Hilda and Nellie enjoyed teasing my Dad. Uncle Richard, the baby of the siblings, was always serious when discussing politics. Politics was a natural thing for them to discuss. They were all hard workers and definitely working class. Politics affected their lives and of course this was an era of vast social and economic changes following the cessation of hostilities in WW2. I’m happy to report that the fun took precedence over realpolitik!
These Saturday family informal meets also served another useful purpose. My cousins Joan and Kathleen would drag their new fiancé along to meet the family (I almost typed Fokkers!). I recall meeting two of Kathleen’s beaus. The first one I did not care too much for – too smarmy by half! But Peter H was a man’s man (I was only about 12 at the time) and I liked him a lot. Joan stuck to the one man – Gerald. A man who reminded me of my own father in so many ways. I was impressed with Gerald soon after first meeting him. He took me, my brother and cousin Michael to watch him play in a football match. He was a goalkeeper – boy, he was good and saved a penalty kick in that game. Respect Gerald!
Lancashire Hot Pot
Further on towards the back of the house was the kitchen, scullery and pantry – no refrigerators then. Grandma’s plain and simple food was the stuff of legend. Lancashire hotpot was probably my favorite dish. She baked her own bread and made marvelous cakes. The bread was called a muffin in Accrington. Not those stupid little things you Americans call English muffins! No – these were substantial round bread cakes about 8 inches in diameter. Delicious and I can smell right now that bread being baked! On our arrival Grandma would have her home made cakes displayed on a cut glass cake stand on a small table in the kitchen. A white ceramic milk jug was an ever-present. I will always remember that jug for the reason it was covered with a muslin bead fringed cloth to keep out any flies. That cloth intrigued me and I loved the feel of it in my hands! To complete my memories of Grandma’s working area I also recall a clothes rack suspended from the ceiling and secured by cord. It could be raised or lowered by hand and used to dry clothes indoors. A necessity in the often damp Lancashire climate. A large tin bath lay in the corner of that room. There was no separate shower or bathroom.
A door lead out into the back yard from the kitchen. A short stroll and you arrived at the outdoor “privy” – WC. Come rain, hail, snow or wind this is where you went to relieve oneself. This is where I also smoked my first cigarette. Granddad smoked Woodbine cigarettes. He had sent me to a nearby shop to buy him 5 Woodies. I decided to smoke one of them and really thought he wouldn’t notice! Still with my mind reeling from my virgin inhalation of tobacco, I handed over the pack and change to Granddad. Maybe he could smell the smoke on me? He opened the pack and quietly remarked there were only four and not five. He just smiled at me and said nothing more.
That yard was a reflection on his hoarding instincts. It was replete with various sizes and lengths of timber, a little like all the watches and watch parts in his drawer indoors. These were still days of post war austerity in Britain. Food rationing was still in place for a good number of years after WW2. Maybe he was just being prudent in his hoarding habits?
I recall other features of the house I was born in. There were the old gas mantle connections still in place on the walls. This was a house built before a public electricity supply existed. Lighting, both internal and the street lamps outside, were gas fired. Accrington, just like many other towns and cities had lamplighters who performed their duty to light then douse the street lamps. I was also led to believe these men also acted as “knocker-uppers.” I am aware that my American readers will laugh out loud at the use of that phrase. It has a different meaning there! The gas lighting system was abandoned following the introduction of the supply of electricity. Lighting by gas remained a subject of chatter to my family for many years in those “do you remember when” moments and thus indelibly stamped on my inquisitive young mind.
Yes, this house is and always will be part of me. Or rather its memories will remain as it no longer exists. It, and many more like it, have been demolished to make way for more modern (read – featureless and boring!) houses. The Accrington of my childhood no longer exists save in my thoughts.
But it was outside the door of 36 Newark Street where my most vivid memories lie.
To be continued ……..
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