Blackburn is an industrial town in Lancashire, England. This is where I spent my childhood. My family lived in a street of terraced houses. These had originally been built by a factory owner. There were lots of other kids to play with. The children were manly boys. In the street there were three distinct groups or gangs. Here I use the term "gangs" as we did back then and without the more sinister connotations that the word carries today. There are lots of stories I could tell you about my Just William / Tom Sawyer childhood. The older kids dressed differently from the younger ones. From about 12 upwards the boys were in long pants but I, along with the other younger boys wore short pants. I had my first long trouser suit June 1960. It was on holiday that I was allowed to wear my first long trouser suit. When I was about 7 the Church school I attended decided to have a uniform. This was not compulsory so there were children in full uniform and others like me in part uniform. I wore the school cap. My younger brother had the full uniform. When we moved to secondary school the friendship groups changed because we went to different secondary schools. The schools activities took up much of our free time and we
made new friends there. Those who passed a school exam called the 11+ went to the Grammar
School. They had Saturday morning lessons and wore a school uniform.
Blackburn is an industrial town in Lancashire, England. This is where I spent my childhood. There are novels set in Blackburn which describe life in the city. One authoress was especially insightful, but I'll come back to you on her name and titles to her books. Josephine Cox is the authoress you need to read. There is a story about coal merchants set in the poor area of the town. Another book is The Road to Nab End about Blackburn in the 1920s.
Blackburn was not bombed during the War as Manchester and liverpool were. There was
little bomb damage. I think there were two or three incidents when a German plane got lost and released its bombs on the town. There were lots of reminders of the war. The Recreation
ground we played on had an air raid shelter built. This is still there It was a large structure. It was bricked up and we never played in it because of this. in other parts of the town where pillow boxes. Here our gallant home guard manned a machine gun post that was supposed to put the wind up the Panzer tanks that rolled along. The town's air raid warning siren was functional for years. It was sounded at least once a year on Remembrance Sunday November 11th (date of the World War I armistice) to herald the two minute silence. Then you stooped what ever you were doing and stood still for the two minutes to reflect on the war and the boys who did not return.
Readers may want to look at the HBC English 1950s page for background information on what it was like in the era I grew up. Most boys, including quite old boys still wore short trousers in the early 1950s. They were worn for both dresswera and casual wear. Fewer boys wore short pants all year round, but they were still commonly worn in the summer. Corduroy shorts were popular for casual wear and were even adopted at some schools. Styles finally began to change by the mid-1950s. The most notable changes were the declining popularity of school caps and the a shift toward long pants suits. Many schools comtinued to require short pants school uniform. Even state secondary schools often required shorts for the junior boys. Some private schools requited then even for the older boys. Short pants suits became less and less common. While British boys commonly wore blazers and ties to school, many boys rarely dressed up for other occasions. Church attendance, for example, was much less common than in America. As a result, many boys did not have a dress up suit. Casual clothes became increasingly popular Jeans and other American styes were not common in the early 1950s, bit were increasingly worn by teen agers by the end of the decade.
My family lived in a street of terraced houses. These had originally been built by a factory owner. His cotton mill was at the top of the street. There must have been about 100 houses in all, 50 on either side. They did not have front gardens for the houses opened up onto the street. Terraced Houses. These were brick structures made out of a hard red brick called 'Accrington Brick'. The houses were built in a line and each house was joined to the next. They did not have front or back gardens. The front door came out onto the street. The Street where I lived as a child still stands but not the Mill at the top. That was demolished several years ago. There is a book in school showing this type of house. I'll scan it and you can see what they were like. A long-running British TV serial called "Coronation Street" used to start showing an aerial view of these street in Salford. There were lots of other kids to play with. The children were manly boys. In the entire street there were only about three families who had girls. They formed their own friendship group and played close to home. The boys on the other hand wondered far and wide.
The house was built sometime in the 19th century. It had a fire place that had an oven and a round fitment. This provided places for kettles or pans to boil water. There was an oven at the side and lots of cooking could be done in this. Rice pudding was extremely delicious. There was a wash room called a scullery which had been made into a kitchen in which there was a sink and a gas cooker. We did not have a fridge. Our house was rented from a private Landlord. It had gas and electricity supplies. It was heated by a coal fire. So it needed refurbishing and this never happened so we moved house in the 1960s when when dad was more prosperous. There were two other rooms apart from the scullery. These were the living room. In the living room was a space under the stairs for storing coal! However mum did not like this idea. Our coal was stored in the yard by the kitchen door. The coal man came about every 2 months in Winter and left 8 bags of coal. Then there was the best room called the sitting room. There were two bedrooms. These were large rooms and could have been made into smaller ones. Mum and dad slept in one and my brother and I in the backroom. We had separate beds. There was an out house in the back garden. This was where the toilet was. This was still fairly common in working-class areas before World War II. By the 1950s, however, it was becoming less common. There was a small wall separating each house. High enough for mum to lean on when she spoke with gran or our neighbors. We did not have a bath room. Bath time was an interesting affair we had a tin bath. This was placed in front of the fire. Water was heated and made warm and one after the other we had a bath. There was a home made shower arrangement. Dad never bathed in this way. Both he and mum went a couple of times a week to the local public baths. Here was a swimming pool and also slipper baths. They paid for a bath. There were separate rooms for ladies and men. When we moved house in the 1960s we moved to one with a bath room. Mum was not used to this and never liked the idea of an indoor bathroom. Maybe a downstairs bathroom would have been more satisfactory to her.
We had a small back garden. Actually we called it the midden. These we used as a play area. It was flaged with stone paving. Here was a washing line and a place for the dust bin. We also played on the street, especially as we got older. There was also a recreation ground where once there had been swings but these had been taken away. There was the remains of a large air raid shelter. This had been bricked up but providen an adventure course for cycle races. There was a large space for football and cricket and other chasing games. This area is still there and not yet built on.
Next door lived Gran, who rented her home from the same Landlord and next door to her lived my widowed uncle. Other houses in the street where owned by the people living in them. lots of these had bathrooms. A friend who lived 10 doors away lived in a house with no electricity. Lighting was gas mantle. It seemed that the house was his grans who would not have electricity in the place. He used to come over and watch TV when we got a set about 1957.
In the street there were three distinct groups or gangs. Here I use the term "gangs" as we did back then and without the more sinister connotations that the word carries today. The kids who lived at the top end formed one group; those in the middle formed another and the bottom end gang. I, living at the lower end of the street, belonged to this peer group. The membership structure was not quite so rigorous and there was some mixing with children from other parts of the street.
The group I was with attended the same primary school; the older members similarly attended the same secondary school. The age ranges ran from 8 to about 14. It was an all male group. The group consisted of children from about seven families. The reason was simple nobody had a younger sister. The Lingard’s had a much older sister but she was married. The Lingard boys and my brother and I were the only kids that had other siblings in their family. The others were from one child families. We all had a mum and a dad.
There are lots of stories I could tell you about my Just William / Tom Sawyer childhood. One especially amusing one is I learnt to read. What did we do for fun. Wow, that will run into another 14 pages. We played lots of out door games mainly chasing games. We played "six bricks" and other hide and seek games. We watched TV between 5 and 6 o'clock. That was children's TV. Went to birthday parties. Explored old derelict houses. Built bonfires to celebrate Guy Faukes night. We collected conkers which was an autumn game. The joy of having a conker that had survived 3 seasons. We played marbles. Then there was the mischief. Knock and run and other tricks we played. We also went out into the countryside collecting fruit that grew wild. Blackberrying was always good. Went to Ribchester fishing. We went to the cinema on a Friday evening and also to the Saturday rush. ( Children's theater). In the winter went to Manchester to watch a pantomime and visit the circus at Bellvue. We also went to the traveling circuses which came to town. In spring a traveling funfair came to town and stayed a week. We had great fun on the rides. Once a week usually Saturday morning we would go into town to the library and change books. Then visit the art gallery and museum. Yes it was a very full life we had. We also went into each others homes and played board games and shared our toys. I had a collection of toy soldiers and liked playing war games with them. Now before we had a TV we had the radio. Here on the Home service you could hear comedy shows and listen to drama Dick Barton, PC 49 and a space story. These were half hour serials. Dad used to read to us. he often brought home comics. We ran errands for neighbours and got rewards of candy or money which we bought candy with. I also remember my toy soldiers which I loved to play with.
One of my great Christmad memories was the Fergy train set. There could have been a photograph of it. Alas,my camera - A Kodak Brownie 127 - did not have flash and the pictures did not work out. A disapointment at the time.
A train set was my dream toy. I spent many happy hours feasting my eyes on train sets in toy shop windows. There were two large stores in Blackburn in the 1950's which had a large toy section. One was in a Department store called Nevell's. It was had a mock Tudor front and was exciting to entre and visit their toy wonderland. The other toy store had an equally large wonderland of toys. It had two shops in the town centre. A large one and a smaller shop near to Nevill's. There were lots of smaller shops which sold train sets all over town. One shop I enjoyed going to had a display in which a model train ran around the shop window display. The shop itself was a model toy making shop. It sold wood and parts for model making. There were lots of construction kits for making signal boxes, stations and trees. There were model tunnels that fitted together. The houses. signal boxes and buildings were paper craft models. I could see the layout in my mind long before it was built and which craft kits I would buy.
I have worn glasses since a small child, in fact as early as I can remember. As a boy I broke lenses about five times. There may have been more, but I can recall five times. The first glasses I got were wire rims. They didn't hold up to well. I was constantly in the course of normal boyish plzy getting them bent and mishappen. I remember dad being very angry wih me once. He took me to the opticians to have the wire glasses straightened. I went out to play and of course returned with them misshaped. I'd have been angry too if I'd had been dad. Thankfully the National Health was up and going by this time. You got wire glasses. Then plastic frames, but these were not always good designs. Other styles had to be paid for as a private client. You can see me here wearing wire glasses on holiday
I was never a member of the cubs or scouts. Well, I did go to join but one Cub explained that there was a waiting list to join. Not being a forceful person it did not occur to ask to see the adult in charge and have my name put on the register. Some of my friends did join but they were not members long. We were free spirits and enjoyed the freedom to do our own thing. it never occurred to us that there was fun here too. I think because the meeting were held in school was a factor that put us off going. I was a Cub Scout leader years later and then realised the fun I'd missed.
I was reminded by Richard's account about treats and eating on the street. It was also an experience of my childhood that it was not considered polite to eat on the street other than ice cream. Mum or dad would never let you eat buns, hamburgers on the street so I was a model polite boy when I was under their watchful eye. When I was alone and with my friends we did eat on the street. We thought we were being quite daring. We often called into a confectornary shop on the way into the town centre. A confectionary shop makes bread, cakes and pies. This particular shop made small cobs of bread shaped like a loaf of bread. These were good to eat and only cost 1p--old English money. We would walk along the street eating these.
The older kids dressed differently from the younger ones. From about 12 upwards the boys were in long pants but I, along with the other younger boys wore short pants.
When I was about 7 the Church school I attended decided to have a uniform. This was not compulsory so there were children in full uniform and others like me in part uniform. I wore the school cap. My younger brother had the full uniform.
When we moved to secondary school the friendship groups changed because we went to different secondary schools. The school's activities took up much of our free time and we made new friends there. Those who passed a school exam called the 11+ went to the Grammar School. They had Saturday morning lessons and wore a school uniform. This was a blue blazer, short trousers and a blue matching cap. When you were 13 the uniform changed a little, the trousers were long ones. Most boys wore long trousers by the second year and certainly by the 3rd year, It might have been school dress code to stay in short pants until the end of the second year. The Grammar School had a stricture dress code than other schools. Others friends went to a church high school. They too had a navy blue blazer with grey trousers and a school cap. New
entrants wore short trousers but other years wore long trousers. Those who failed the 11+ or did not obtain a place in the Church high School went to one of the town's secondary schools. The nearest one to my home had a uniform. This was green blazer, school cap and grey short or long trousers. The caps we wore was school wear and these would have been in the school colours. I think it was a navy blue cap.
It would match the navy blue blazer. Socks worn to grammar school had a double blue band at the top. The rest were plain grey. The school jersey did have a band in the school colours. Grammar school blazers were blue. The Catholic high school was
navy blue. The Catholic Secondary school was wine coloured. The Parish Church of England high School was navy blue. The council Secondary schools were mostly navy blue. The local authority secondary near to my home was a green blazer. Older boys would wear caps as far as the school gate then it would be removed and put in the pocket. You could get into bother (trouble) if you were seen walking around town without your school cap on. It was often safer to remove as near home as you could. Take off the blazer and you were safe from trouble. It was good fun outwitting authority! All the uniforms included sports wear and this was always white shorts and white t-shirt. If you got to play on the school sports teams then kit bearing the school colours was loaned to you. This had to be washed by your parents after the Saturday morning match and returned pressed and clean to school on the Monday morning. The older members who were 15 started work. They were apprenticed to a variety of trades. Their uniform was a navy blue boiler suit.
One memory leads to another. reading about Albert's confirmation brought my confirmation memory back.
I have a memory of confirmation class. There are no photographs, but I have one of the church. It has been demolished but the war memorial still stands. The church still meets in its social activity building.
Our dad had been brought up strictly. His father was deep into religion. Dad had rebelled at some point.He never bothered about his children attending church. His view was if we wanted go we would need no encouragement from him. We we encouraged to go but there was no repremand it we didn't.
My brother and I went to church on and off. I went to different churches these were where my friends went. One friend attended a methodist church, another was an R.C and another went to a C of E church. I found the actual service uninteresting but the social activities were good fun and places I looked forward to meeting my friends. My friend's name was David. He was the same age as me. He went to the C of E church I sometimes went also. He was a regular attendeer. I was an occasional visitor.
We did not live too far away from a river and this was a favourite place to play. Some times in our play we would get our clothes wet but what was even worse was to see your shoe floating down river just out of your reach to get it and loose it for ever. This once happened to a friend but never happened to me. Boy, did he have some explaining to do. What did happen was getting my short pants soaked when I slipped and fell into a shallow part of the river. In true ‘Just William’ fashion we built a fire to dry the trousers. We did not watch them carefully enough and they started to burn. Fortunately, we saved them but the back had a burn hole in them. I returned home surrounded by my chums so that I would not be embarrassed. Mum had a few sharp words to say when I said that it was only play clothes that had been spoilt!
The Summer of 1959 was the hottest summer of my boyhood. Hot days even to this day remind me of cool thirst quenching drinks. The best was a pop called Tizer. It was refreshing. The gas bubbles got up ones nose and made you sneeze. The taste was of the carbonated fruit drink was out of this world. It gave you a zing and thirst quenching satisfaction. There we were on a long hike in the countryside dressed in shorts and sockless, just wearing seneakers. Thirsty and hot sending into the pub, the boy who looked the oldest because he was wearing jeans to buy the Tizer. He came out faster than he went in. Pubs were no place for children. Then the Pub keeper's friendly wife called us to the back and passed out the bottles of Tizer. We drank and passed the empties back to her. she then returned coins to us. This was the deposit on the bottle. Fortified we went on our way to Whalley to view a Cisterncian Abbey. You can still buy Tizer but it has lost its zing!
I just read Jonathan's account of his family holidays and it reminded me of our holidays just a few years earlier. His was a different experience to mine.
We never visited a campers park for a holiday. We visited the seaside. There were on towns on the East Coast. Whitby, Scarbrough, Bridlington. Each was visited in turn. In 1959. The warmest and sunniest English Summer I can remember we visited the Isle of Man. This broke the tradition and we never went to these places again as a family. I went with my Gran to Brighton in 1961. There was no holiday away in 1960. Dad had a bad accident that year and my twin brother and sister were born. In August 1962 we went to Morcombe for a week. This is near Blackpool.
Oh the fun we had in collecting them. A collection of conkers. A big bag full. The collection could contain conkers from previous years. The harder they were the better. New conkers could not withstand being smacked by conkers made hard. The Children?s game of conkers brought back fond memories of this game. I recall it was a late summer game played in September. This coincided with the start of a new school academic year. Collecting conkers was the first thing to do and this was often an evening activity. Our after school activities did not require that we change from school clothes to play clothes so we did not bother and went conkering in our school clothes.
There are few photographs of me during my growing up. Those that have survived are
school photographs and those taken by street photographers at seaside holiday resorts. Mum and dad did not have a camera nor did the parents of my friends. However, one of the group had a very tiny play camera given him as a birthday present. He took a photograph of the group on sunny afternoon while we played. It seems that the friend still has this picture but I have never seen it. That would indeed be a piece of childhood history!
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