GRANGETOWN IN TIMES PAST
St Marys School
Mick Traynor - Boer War Recruit + Others
Streets and Buildings
World War One 1914 -18
Parish, Priests and Processions
Street Stories + Characters
1925 Ladies Parish Outing + More
A Tale from the Duckie + other stories
World War Two 1939 - 45
Messages from Home & Abroad
Shops and Shopkeepers
The World of Work
Upstairs and Downstairs...
The Board School
Pochin Road Infants School
Leisure & Sports
Grangetown Boys' Club
Sir Wm Worsley School
Maps, Plans & Aerial Photos
St Peter's Senior School
St Matthew's Parish
Eston Grammar School
Trolley Buses TRTB
Grangetown Methodist Church
Contact Information for Grangetown in Times Past
Links for Grangetown in Times Past
BLACK OR BROWN SIR ?
One of the residents of Vaughan Street in the thirties, was Jeff Power, a professional footballer who played for Sunderland Football Club of the First Division. Of course in those days, wages for footballers were as pitifully small as the labourers in the Steelworks. So his situation was the same as those around him, except perhaps for the cleaner air of the training ground and the opportunity to travel to different towns and occasionally the larger cities around Britain, for away matches.
So it was that one Friday noon, he was contacted by a member of the club, in person - telephones were in very short supply - and told that he had been picked to play in the first team against Arsenal the following day. Hastily, preparations began for the trip to the capital and the rest of the family members joined in, to ensure that he was suitably attired and ready for the great journey.
It was discovered that his only pair of brown shoes were looking much the worse for wear, and his father, an enthusiastic and unusually domesticated gentleman for those times, suggested the idea of using many coats of black boot polish to cover the brown shoes, in order to produce a highly polished and satisfactory black pair, in which to travel. This he did to everyone’s great satisfaction, and Jeff set off.
The weather was poor with constant drizzle and penetrating rain but Jeff hardly noticed it during the long trip to the great metropolis as he thought of the match ahead and the chance of staying in one of the top London Hotels. Meeting his team-mates at the station, he chatted animatedly and laughed and joked all the way to London , looking forward to the evening meal ahead at the Hotel.
After the meal he retired to his room about 9.30 pm, which he was sharing with another team-mate, and they both raised their eyebrows in astonishment when they were told by the staff at the Hotel that they had to leave their boots and shoes outside their bedroom door, so that the Hotel’s bootboy could clean them.
Imagine Jeff’s surprise and embarassment , when he was awakened about half an hour later by a soft knock on the bedroom door and on opening it, discovered a uniformed member of the Hotel staff holding his shoes up to his nose and whispering in audible tones,
“ How would you like these doing Sir, BLACK OR BROWN !”
The backyard toilet in every street in Grangetown was housed at the end of the yard near the back door, usually next to the coalhouse. They were normally distempered, with flaking pieces peeling off in the higher regions and the pipes were covered in a coarse, dark brown, rusty, insulating material which housed any spider willing to live in the icy regions of damp, plaster-peeling streaks.
The toilet seat was often loose but served its purpose for the short time anyone wishing to use it during the icy winters and was often a silent refuge in warm summers, especially if you wished to avoid being seen by anyone or wished to stay out late playing Leevo or Hide and Seek.
It was occasionally used as a refuge for the local street bookie who nervously stood on the corner of the alley, with his large hands fluttering, in the pockets of a grey suit, as deep as any I’ve ever seen.
“ Why is Billy O Brien in our toilet mam ? I enquired one summer day.
“ Is he ?” mam replied. “ You should call him Mister O’Brien.”
A DO !
One night during a “do” in a certain house in Vaughan Street, one of the disabled members of the party needed to use the toilet and although he had two wooden legs; with help, he was able to negotiate the grey cobbled stones to the toilet and tend to nature’s call. The man assisting him duly went back to the party and promptly forgot all about him as he was called on to do a turn for the lively crowd engaged in drinking, swapping jokes and stories.
As he performed and sang his sixteenth verse, one of the party, who had drunk more than was good for him and in desperate need of a call to nature, staggered down the same dark yard, pulled open the lavatory door and grasped the two protruding wooden legs facing him, shouting as he pulled,
“ Who put this BLOODY barrow here ?”
Street Games of the Forties
Street games were mainly played at the rear of the first house in Holden Street on the tarmac road leading to the Works. After thousands of workmen had earlier walked in almost military fashion; their nailed boots echoing and clattering against road and path to the smoke-laden steelworks, children, after a breakfast of fadgies and and chocolate spread, would set up their goal posts, using the lamp post and a coat for one goal and the kerb and coat for another. Two teams would then be chosen in the usual fashion, after chucking up to decide which person could pick first. I would be cajoled into being in for the first goal as I was the youngest and later scolded for allowing the other team to score.
" You let that one in on purpose.You'll have to go in for another."
It was true. I hated being goalie. How could anyone with any sense dive on the hard road to save a shot. I was amazed that anyone could do it. But some did and we cheered and applauded them- if only to ensure their continuing presence between the posts. We were cute.
On other occasions, we chalked a goal on the pitch black wall of number two
God help those who lived there ) and bashed a ball in the direction of the wall, playing three-pots-in and penalties. (pelanties to us ).
Each sporting season, of course, the game on the black wall changed to cricket, where I honed and perfected my bowling skills, tennis-usually with a hand instead of a racket- (only the college lads owned those) mon-a-kitty, montakitty to some ), the madhouse, queenie queenie ( when the girls were around ) dillies - where the girls played again - and ; one hand one bounce.
Mallies (marbles ) was usually played in the muck. The black muck was our sand. We dug in it, built castles with it and shaped it lovingly into hills and holes for the marbles to avoid and fall into. We stacked bricks on it and generally used it as our preschool nursery activity. But even we felt ashamed that our muck was black whilst normal mud was brown. That was how near we were to the sooty grime from the steelworks.
If a council tarmac machine and steam-roller came down to repair the road, it was an event in which hundreds of youngsters participated. Crowds of them lined the sides of the road and stared admiringly at the great, gleaming steam-roller with its large steam-driven wheels and chimney pipe and ogled at fumed-filled tar bins spilling out oozing black liquid onto the cold grey road. Everyone sniffed the tar with great satisfaction and many played with sections of it after it had cooled. On one occasion my young and beautiful curly-haired brother somehow got involved with the wet tar, dipping his fingers into it and spreading it all over his face and hair. When he returned home to face his mother, she sent for half a pound of butter from Popsy's, the Laing Street grocer, stripped him naked and soaked him in it. For weeks his hair was matted and sticky.
He had the face of an angel and the cheek of the devil. He was the first one of the family to stand outside the works gate asking for bread from workmen's boxes as they left the gates at four o clock after a days work. He always got the best and was usually given a cake by a grinning workman covered in soot. We only asked for french chalk, to mark out the road and pavements with jumping and hopping games like itchy bay or to fill in the middle of the imitation wicket stumps chalked on the black wall worn out by continuous hits by the well-worn tennisy ( tennis ball ).
At the age of three or four, he toddled into the Co-op Stores in Whitworth road and stole a tin of treacle ( Tate & Lyles Golden Syrup ) with his partner in crime the curly-haired blonde, Georgina Collins. They were discovered later sitting on Georgina's step, each with their own tin, lids prised off, due to the inventiveness of sweet Georgina, happily tucking into the tins, blissfully unaware of the horrific crime they had committed. When the offending pair were brought before the Co-op management, by shocked and horrified older family members, it astonished the older family members to find that there was very little fuss made of the incident. One law for angelic faces, I presume.
The play area near the railings was also a battleground against Wood Street. Word would go out that there was going to be a clemmy fight the following day or Sunday afternoon. Clemmies would be collected quickly and stored safely near the railings or alley. However, the clemmies, which were meant to be made from clay, often became stones, bricks and pieces of tarmac in the heat of the battle, resulting sometimes in serious injury for some members of the opposing street. There was no malice involved in the battle, just a series of long, high throws with heavy clods of clay or smooth polished stones from the muck, until all our weapons had been used up, to lie in no man's land in between opposing forces. In some cases the battle finished early if an unsuspecting child was struck with a stone which opened a wound on the head. This happened to our angelic brother on one occasion, and the adults intervened, quickly bringing the war to an end.
The “Robin Hood” season was preceded by a visit to the Lyric cinema by one of the older lads to watch the film, the making of a bow and arrow by same - with help from his father - ( we later found out ) and a trip by all of us, under the subway, turning right on the road to South Bank to head for a wild plantation area opposite the Council Offices filled with bushes of every kind, just under the shadow of the steelworks' blast furnaces and coke ovens.
We kicked the electricity sub-station door as we went past, listened to a ghostly echo, then, in a horde, ran, yelling in fright towards the plantation to select branches for our bows and arrows. This took some time as we had a bracken fight with bracken stems, wielding them as flying axes, under the guise of our latest game -japs and commandoes.
The selection of our branches then began in earnest. We pulled, bent and snapped the sturdiest but springiest tree stems, into strong curved bows, gnawing the fresh, green bark off the branch to eventually end up with a long peeled bow, as smooth as could be, waiting to be bent into shape in order to receive the string which looped from end to end.
The leader of the gang, then proceeded to instruct us on how to bend the bow. Held between the knees and pressed firmly towards the ground, the string was fastened firmly onto a prepared knotch in the end of the smooth cream branch and pulled up from the bottom to be wrapped again around the edge of the branch nearest the archer's face. After a few false starts, the bow was ready to pull.
We listened to the twangs for a while before setting out again to hunt for a straight arrow. A number were selected but many discarded because of knots and protrusions. When the final choice was made, a short piece of wire was wound on the end in a curled roll, to give it weight and enhance its direction in flight. Then the moment came to release the arrow without it slipping off the string too early. It was magic. Watching the arrow soar into the sky, so high that it almost became invisible and then its fall again, produced a thrill which lasted for years. The only worry we had was when it landed on a roof or over a fence too high for us to climb, because a good arrow was hard to find and a thing to treasure.
After our arrows had been lost or lay on street rooftops, someone would start making a kite. This was the signal for the rest of the boys in the street to do the same. We'd study Tommy Hardwick's kite in the passage, made from bamboo canes tied together in the form of a cross and newspaper pasted on top, then race home to do the same. Flour and water mixed together was the paste and within hours, the street was filled with flying kites with long tailings which curled in the wind.
How Do You Like Your Eggs?
Jimmy and Tommy Leneghan resided a few doors away from us in Grange Town in those far off days in the 1930's. They were two bachelor brothers who lived alone in one of the small 'Two up Two down' dwellings, which comprised Vaughan Street.
Their front vestibule provided a meeting place for us boys in wet weather, or Any other time for that matter. We sat on either side of the narrow passage with our legs stretched out and our backs against the wall. Seated like that it would take up to eight small persons or four large ones if we were pushed out.
The brothers stepped over us if they wished to enter their abode. Through this passage was a small front room, which was the main living room of the house with furnishings repeated up and down the street in one shape or form. A large sideboard, a large kitchen table, a couple of small kitchen chairs, a couple of armchairs and the odd 'clippy' mat covering the red and black, square quarry tiled floor, occupied the living room.
In the brothers' case, an old sewing machine stood in front of the window on top of which was a large aspidistra. The room also contained the main means of cooking and heating for the house: an iron kitchen range, with open fire and side oven plus a hob which could be stretched over the coals to take a large iron kettle for boiling water, or the pans for cooking.
The rear room was similar in size to this and contained the entrance staircase to the upper two rooms and was colloquially called the 'Back kitchen' because it sometimes contained further means of cooking, such as a gas oven. But, in those poverty-stricken days of the early 30's very few in the street could afford the cost of the gas or the repairs to the appliance. Thus the mainstay of the cooking and heating was the kitchen range and very often the only source of light, if the occupants ran out of pennies for the gas/electric meter slot.
Of the two brothers, Tommy, the younger, was a small wiry individual and acted as the unofficial barber to the boys in the street. For a packet of small woodbines he would give a short 'back and sides' to any boy or adult male Many times I sat on his kitchen chair cringing at the thought of his non-too sharp shears approaching my childish locks. It was considered to be “sissified” to have hair long enough to run a comb through! Besides there were the economics - Noddy Henderson, the official barber down the street, charged three pence that was double Tommy's asking price.
Jimmy, the older of the two was a thin spare man with grey wispy hair, a straggly grey moustache and wore steel rimmed spectacles. To us, as children, he was pleasant and quiet, with one outstanding talent - he could play anything on the tin whistle or the piccolo - and many musical soirees were held in that passage - Jimmy in the front room playing his jigs and reels and us outside clapping and singing. We knew when he was short of money because the tin whistle took the place of the piccolo - it having been handed over to the local pawnbroker for a while.
He was a man of dry humour, as evidenced by a story that was told of him by my mother and it went thus: He had no female companion to see to his needs but, occasionally the street comic - a great friend of my mother - would occasionally 'muck him out'.
Her name was Maggie Dooley and she would do his washing in the outdoor sink using pans of water from the range. She had the “run of the house” and one morning entering the kitchen she found that he had made provision for his midday meal by placing a pan of stew on the hob and then hived himself off to the Grange Town Hotel or the Middle House as was its popular name, whilst it boiled away merrily.
Maggie and my mother removed the pan and replaced it with a similar one full of the dirtiest pieces of cloth they could find and concealed themselves in the back kitchen to await what they knew was his imminent return. He eventually arrived back rather inebriated, accompanied by another piccolo playing friend in the same degree of inebriation. Jimmy had invited him back to partake in his culinary efforts.
The table was laid very quickly, in this case two plates and two spoons, and the pan was lifted off the hob and placed on the table. The lid was then removed from the steaming concoction. The concealed figures almost bursting with suppressed laughter awaited the outcome. Maggie peeping through the door crack saw Jimmy dip the spoon into the pan and lift out a rag and heard him say without a change in his inebriated demeanour
"Here's a dirty dishcloth for you Mick and one for me!”
The watchers then showed themselves and retrieved the situation!
There was one occasion when Maggie got the drop on him: He was always one for a bargain and in one of his pub visits he met a man with a dozen chickens from a prolific strain of egg layers. In the course of the evening and a few pints later he parted with the cash and arrived back in the street with the birds and announced to all and sundry that he was starting a new paying hobby, that of egg selling. He explained that all of his neighbours could share in the profits by contributing their left over scraps from the table to feed the brood and thereby reduce the costs of rearing them. We all duly contributed and looked forward to cheap eggs.
He kept the chickens on an allotment garden of Jimmy Gorin, another street member, and one hot summer evening Maggie invited all her fellow contributors to accompany her to view the progress of the investment.
We all set off, about half of the mothers and children in the street, accompanied by Jimmy, duly arrived at the pen to see the privileged dozen, which were now almost fully grown and a magnificent sight they were, fortified and nourished by all our willing efforts.
We all gazed solemnly at the creatures through the netting and the fowl looked back at us, and I swear that one of them winked at us before the sound of 'Cock-a doodle-doo' assailed our cars, and was echoed by eleven stretched out throats! We gazed in astonishment before collapsing in laughter. Maggie stood there with tears running down her face before pronouncing to Jimmy
"You wouldn't know a Cock from a Duck!"
We had roast chicken early before Christmas that year and Jimmy had a new name, which pursued him affectionately for the rest of his life… 'Cock Duck!'
AUTHOR : Ged O'Neill
Uncle Johnny and Michael Traynor used to live at 111 St David’s Road following the death of their father and mother. Our mam ( their sister ) used to take me, with her as a child, when she went to clean or cook for them, on a daily basis.
If Johnny wasn’t at work he would usually be sat beside the old black leaded fireplace reading the racing page. He’d say, pretending a suave accent.
“Hello Francois” - peering over his spectacles perched like pinznez on the end of his nose.
It was always a joy to see him or Uncle Mick as they were so humorous, with quick witted one liners and anecdotes.
When I got a good deal older, after Johnny had died, I was treated to some stories attributed to him.
Who's got the most ..?
Johnny’s mother had died and he was given leave from the army to attend the funeral. A wake had been arranged at 111 St David’s Rd attended by a number of Grandad Traynor’s friends - some of which like him had been in the army.
They sat in the front room with the coffin awaiting Johnny’s arrival. During this time a heated discussion started up about who in Grangetown had the most medals and an impasse had been reached.
Names were bandied about as Johnny came in first though the front door and next the living room door.
“Are hello Johnny! Perhaps you can tell us.” A stately old soldier enquired. “Who do you think in Grangetown had the most medals”.
To which Johnny replied as he placed his kitbag on the floor, and without taking breath.
(For the uninitiated the pawnbroker)
A MORTAL SIN!
The Catholic tradition was that you had to abstain from eating meat on a Friday, ( probably not a bad thing to improve the 21st century diet and no doubt something that has already been advocated, by an American dietary guru ). This act was a mortal sin, punishable on death by the fires of hell.
It was a tradition in St. Marys club during the week, to place pies on the bar for men finishing work after a hard shift.
On this particular Friday the pies were placed on the bar as normal. Cheese pies on the left-hand side for Catholics and meat pies on the right-hand side for non-Catholics.
Uncle Johnny (a Catholic) had finished his shift and walked over to the right-hand side, and bit into a meat pie. There was uproar from the left hand (Catholic) side of the room, as a pillar of the church spotted this and shouted, reprovingly.
“Johnny Traynor,! Eating meat on a Friday!” He stood red with rage, shaking his fist.
“I’d sooner commit adultery!”
Johnny looked at the pie in his hand and replied.
“So would I!”
JIP JORDY - Strongman
Johnny Traynor and his friends in the Middle House were getting rather irritated by the antics of a Grangetown strong man called Jip Jordy. He had proceeded to lift up heavy chairs with one hand behind his back and began flexing his muscles and generally behaving in a manner not entirely suitable for the jokey crowd who frequented a particular table of the Public House.
He began to brag loudly about his exploits and whether it was the drink or not, proceeded to suggest that he was so strong that he could lift ANYTHING and ANYONE in the room. Like lightening, Johnny challenged him.
“I bet I know someone you can’t lift, Jip!”
“Never !” shouted Jip in reply..” Just you show me the man I can’t lift ..I can lift ANYONE ..anyone at all in this room!” glancing around at the customers who were now ready for the cutting reply.....and who burst into guffaws of laughter as Johnny blurted out,
“ LIFT YOURSELF UP IN TWO BUCKETS!”
The frown on Jip's face told the tale. The laughter had broken his concentration and he wasn't quite sure why everyone was laughing. The story later produced quite a lot of laughter in local homes and many a lad tried to perform the feat - after borrowing next door's bucket of course !
My Visit To A Millionaire's Mansion
It was early in 1938, my beloved sister, Margaret, wrote home to say that she had permission for me to come to stay, in August when Madam went away.
I think that Madame, Mrs Victor Sassoon, spent the summer at the family seat in Buckinghamshire, a twenty bedroomed, eight bathroomed house called 'The Cottage'. Of course, she may have gone to Scotland for ‘the shoot’. All I am really sure of, is that she was my benefactress.
Margaret was head housemaid of four in a staff of twenty-two. Before she left she was offered the enviable position of house-keeper but Dadda said,
“ What I want for you Margaret is the fulfillment of a happy marriage, not a lonely cottage and a pension at the end of the day."
So on his advice she did not accept the position.
Dadda's wish came true. Still when she was seriously ill in 1977 she would reminisce about her days in service, saying,
“ Come and see... Mortimer Tower's on television. We may see some of object d’ arts I dusted and warned you not to touch in 1938 ”
I, a talkative (in the street they'd say gobby) child of twelve, must have told the town of the pending holiday. Having no best clothes to go in, nor the six and six child's return fare to London did not worry me. Our Margaret would see to all the details. But I knew I needed pocket money, and I'd have to work for it.
Every Thursday dinner time I’d run home from school to Aunt Sally's. She, like all the rest in the street was not an aunt by blood, but by proxy, the proxy of caring for one another, the caring only found in people who have shared hardship and poverty. Aunt Sally would send me to the butcher's for sixpenn’orth of boiling meat.
Invariably I’d have to take it back two or three times saying,
“Aunt Sally said its too fat, there’s too much bone and skin."
The butcher, hot tempered at the best of times, would go red in the face and chunter to hinself. His wife, a gentle person, would pat his arm and say,
"Now then Jack, Aunt Sally's a cash customer.”
Butchers, like all shopkeepers then had a hard time. My friend’s father would take the bare bone of the Sunday joint back to the butcher's side door after dinner, He'd wag the bone at the butcher, threatening to fight him if the money was not refunded.
"Look at the meat on this ! You could sole your boots with it." His more than slightly inebriated voice would ring out through the street
' A local wit who was passing once added,
"Oh no not bone soles, we've just finished with rope soles."
Rope soled sandshoes were the only footwear of many children summers and winters of the thirties. In an another attempt to save money for the trip, my younger brother and I would brush another Aunt's waist-length hair.
"Come along now, crown to waist, a penny an hour and half a crown if you find one," she'd say as she presented us with her mama's silver backed brush. There she'd sit, tall and stately on her oak chair, her arms resting on its waist high curve, whilst our hands and eyes ached as we scanned her beautiful hair for lice.
After three fruitless hours, she'd give us a cream cake each and shoo us out of the door. Disappointed I told my friend.
“You should have told me, you could have had one of mine to put in it.”
We laughed all the way to benediction
Lice were a plague of the times, I presume they came with the straw mattresses, the over-crowded living conditions and general poverty. The fight against these nasty, itchy pests was endless. Girls had their hair cut, in what was called the semi-shingled cut. It was cut straight round the head, an inch above the ears , and the neck was shaved - an appalling sight. Boys' fathers gave them the 'basin cut', the head was shaved bare except for a two inch tuft hanging over their foreheads.
Every night mothers, Mama included, would put their children through the torture of combing their remaining hair with a fine toothcomb. God help those who still had long hair! Shampooing the hair with soft soap, the sort that cleaners used to scrub floors, usually ended the ritual.
Despite all this some children still did not escape the disgrace of having their names put on the Nitty Nurse's list. This child's name would be bandied about the school, for he or she would be called out of class to attend the school clinic. !
At the clinic the child would be given a bottle of mixture. When applied by over- anxious parents, this not only killed the lice, it also burnt the scalp. I can remember girls who had to have their heads shave until the burns healed, and had to wear berets until the hair grew. This was just another humiliation of being poor.
Once a week I'd scrub Grannie’s kitchen floor. It took eight buckets of water to clean that smal1 kitchen because of the grease or the unfinished cement, I’m not sure which. Cement floors had replaced the familiar black and red tiles, a piece of modernization which actually increased the dampness in the walls. My reward for the job was a penny ...or the promise of one.
Rosie would say, "Wash up for us, cock and I’ll give you tuppence !”
Rosie had more crockery than anyone else in the street. Others washed up twice at one meal to spread the few pots around the large family and 1odgers, but not Rosie. She only washed up when every one of her numerous pots and pans had been used.
Before I could begin the mammoth task, I had to light the boiler to get enough hot water. The cast iron boiler, encased in a four foot square of brick and cement, sat in a corner of the yard. I opened its tiny iron door and set the paper sticks and hot cinders on the iron grid inside. Then I waited and prayed the wind was blowing in the right direction to light and keep the fire going, through the one or two hours it would take to heat enough water.
In the opposite corner of the cobbled yard, under the back kitchen window, was a red stone sink with a cold water tap. Here the family ablutions took place. I remember standing at our sink in the winter, shivering in my petticoat, breaking the ice off the tap, grappling with a half pound block of carbolic soap and giving myself a quick lick and a promise before going to school. There in Rosie's sink stood a large enamelled dish filled with pots. Methodically I washed them and proceeded to empty the zinc poss tub.
Zinc poss tubs and sousers were taking the place of the old wooden barrel-like tubs and the heavy poss sticks our mothers used to wash clothes. Next I cleared the wooden table of pots. Those wooden tables were an absolute necessity in yards.
After possing the clothes, they were soaped and scrubbed on the and table, possed again, rinsed in the sink or if white, boiled in the boiler. After wringing them in the monstrous wooden rollered iron framed wringer, the clothes were pegged out to dry in the soot- laden air of the back arch. Whenever the coal-man or ragman came down the back arch everyone had to take their washing down and peg it back out after they had gone. No wonder the women looked older than they were. Washing was like every other household chore then; backbreaking and tedious.
Hung up in everyone's yard wall was a family size tin bath. On Saturday night, in readiness for church the next morning, the bath would be brought in and placed on the clip mat in front of the fire. Water was carried in an iron pan from the boiler, until the bath was six inches deep. The cleanest child was washed first, then another pan of water and the next cleanest child was bathed and so on until all the children of the house were bathed and possibly one or two neighbour’s youngsters thrown in for good measure. Being deprived of bathrooms a lot of people were suspicious of regular bathing. Granny B. would tell mama,
“ Mary Ellen, if you bath them too much they'll get diphtheria!” And she meant it.
I emptied Rosie's bath of the remains of the dishes.
"What do you want for your tea, cock ? " she called.
" Bananas and carnation milk please. "
Mama was in the house.
"Do you see her ?" she cackled gleefully to Rosie as she drew back the heavy crocheted curtains and nodded in the direction of a neighbour. “ She told me her husband baths her in the dish every week.”
Rosie started to cry with laughter. She wiped her glasses, got up and ran to the kitchen. I thought she was going to have an an accident, for she stood in her long clothes holding her heaving stomach with her legs crossed, trying to contain her herself.
It was higgledy-piggledy in Rosie’s, but I loved it. I sat down to eat my tea on the boxed fender that enclosed her fire. Soon that familiar feeling came over me and I dozed off in that easy going atmosphere, tired but happy.
In six months I saved ten shillings. At last the great day arrived. I was ready to go, dressed in a green and white cotton dress, my own dress, not handed down - no five inch hem.It fitted me ! Our needlework teacher, aptly named Miss Betty Bright, was an expert, and I, in-between sleeps, was a pupil with an aptitude for sewing. It was just above the knee in length with a fashionable long, wide sash. White ankle socks with my flat heeled laced up shoe and a white ribboned hair band finished me off.
My sister Mary took me to Middlesbrough bus station. I skipped beside her happily. Our Mary, then close to seventeen, in other circumstances might have been a top model. She had legs that put Betty Grable's in the shade, more graceful and less muscley, if you know what I mean. She had the natural ability of a dancer or gymnast, could swim like a fish, and excelled at the only sports the school curriculum included; netball and rounders.
Those legs glided beside me, clad in seamed silk stockings and five- inch high-heeled navy blue sandals. Her face had near perfect bone structure except for a slight emphasis on the chin denoting her strong character. That pink and white skin was not only due to family genes but also to the daily use of ice cold water and the cheapest of soap. Her green eyes flared or laughed according to her mood. Daringly she had plucked her eyebrows bare and pencilled them in, in the fashion of the day. Her dark brown hair parted to one side bounced down to her shoulders. She was dressed in a navy and white American style cotton dress with a huge circled skirt nipped in to her waist with a broad red leather belt. You could tell it wasn't bought on a clothes ticket at 'Browns’ No it spelt out London-the basement at Selfridges- but still London. Carrying my suitcase with its contents rattling about, she chatted in her quick-witted way to keep ny mind off thoughts of leaving home.
As we passed a friend's house she said,
“Now we don't want you coming home with a Cockney accent. Remember him last year --half a day in Newcastle and he thought he was a Geordie, saying, “Henny can ya tell us where Branigans live?”. He'd forgotten where he lived in a few hours, the big headed lad What he should have said was, Shall I get a stone of tatties in my cap, Mam?"
By the time we reached the bus station, she had me in stitches, but my face changed when she handed me my case, a boxed chocolate gateaux from Meredith's' - ( Margaret's favourite ) and two shillings.
" Mary I had ten shillings." I complained.
" Now don't make a fuss, " she scoldingly replied, " our Margaret will see you all right when you get there. "
I was too excited to care, I got on the bus, found a seat and immediately fell asleep. Well ...after I had told half the passengers where I was going.
We stopped at Doncaster and I awoke to see the passengers leaving the bus. Taking a firm hold on the gateaux and clutching my handkerchief with the two shillings tied in, I followed.
Nippies in black dresses and cute frilly white aprons and caps stood outside a cafe, beckoning to us and saying' " upstairs please ".
In a shake of a dog's tail, I was up the stairs and seated at a table set for lunch. I ordered soup, roast pork and all the trimmings ( I’d even forgotten it was Friday and as a Catholic should have abstained from meat )
“ Two sweets and a pot of tea please ”
I didn't choose coffee because I had never tasted it before and did not think I'd like it.
To my astonishment I was presented with a bill for four shillings and sixpence. Inexperienced traveller that I was, I thought the price of the meal was included in the fare. I started to panic, remembering our Mary's warning that if you could not pay your bill in a cafe you had to stay and wash-up night and day for a week. Perhaps they would send me to jail! If only Dadda was here He'd settle this lot ! His words came to me, Take hold of yourself, The O'Neills always come up fighting for the twentieth round." He could never have applied this to me for didn’t he always say I’d make a damn good crier at a wake. I brushed my tears aside, said my plea-for-help prayer, " Our Lady of the Immaculate Heart pray for me” and scanned the cafe for fellow passengers. I spied a school friend of Margaret's. O'Leary's girl. For the life of me I couldn't think of her first name. I hurried over to her and explained my predicament. Knowing Margaret's integrity she quickly loaned me half-a-crown, saying the prices were ridiculous. She'd only had a cup of coffee.
London... and there she was waiting at King’s Cross. Our Margaret, my lifelong guardian angel. Medium height, petit figure, always neatly dressed in the best quality material she could afford, shoes polished and hair just-so. A rather serious face with Bette Davis’ blue eyes. A smile that lit her face up. She was twenty-two years old and a born lady. A lady to me does not have to have a title. She has to have certain qualities and our Margaret had all of these. She was kind and gentle, quietly spoken and dignified, with a strength of character that could shoulder everyone's problems. She was the essence of discretion and had morals above reproach.
We chatted away twenty to the dozen and it was no time before we reached Kensington and number 2 Albert Gate, opposite the French Embassy - Madam's residence. I can remember it as if it was yesterday although it was forty-two years ago and I've never seen it since. Looking up at that grey stoned five storeyed mansion taking up the whole corner of the road, I couldn't help thinking of our house, two rooms up and down. It certainly looked like a shed compared to this magnificence.
Concrete steps and a mottled marble landing led up to the main entrance leading to heavy double doors with brass handles, sheltered by a canopy supported by sandstone and marble ornate pillars. There on the steps sat a shabbily dressed man. Bars of chocolate were strewn on the ledges of the pillar near him. Margaret explained that he was a chocolate vendor who had Madam's permission to sell his wares there when she was not in residence. She even allowed her chaffeur to occasionally drive around London, wearing his trilby hat, with his chaffeur's cap hidden under the front seat- just in case she needed him. Obviously Madam was an enlightened aristocrat of sorts who was aware of the hard times experienced by the lower classes.
The servants and tradesmens entrance had me in a trance the whole time I was there; it was such a novelty. A pull on the lever on the outside wall caused a bell to ring in the basement where another lever was pulled and the door opened automatically. I could hardly wait to tell the kids in our road. They'd never believe me !
We went down a flight of steps, across a courtyard and through a dark green door into a long, rather dark, high ceilinged corridor. The first thing I noticed was a collection of brass bells high up near the first door. Underneath each bell was printed a name of a room. The names had me mesmorised. How could one old lady use so many rooms ? Large and small dining room, large and small drawing room, sitting room, study, ballroom, conservatory, office, breakfast room, and bedrooms I lost count of.
I was sure she would get lost. I imagined her maid pushing her in a wheelchair and saying, "Madam, do you want to stay in here today and next week I'll take you into the room next door.”
Margaret knocked on a door and a woman invited us into a cosily furnished sitting room. Margaret introduced me to the house-keeper and her husband, the odd job man, and their daughter, a pale faced fair-haired girl about fourteen years old.. I got to know this girl
quite well, for she would take me to Hyde Park where we would lay in the sun an the grass and devour a bag of waffles bought for us by her mother or Margaret. Looking up at the sun I used to think, “Heaven must be like this.”
I had a glimpse into the servant's room, a large bare room with an extra large table and an assortment of chairs of every description. Margaret and I never went into the room during my stay there. She took me into Lyon's Corner House for meals, or would buy food for us to eat in a room which was filled with cupboards full of everything needed for cleaning and polishing a large house.
The kitchens were locked up for they were the province of the chef and cook. No-one dared to trespass even when they were away at another house.
At the end of the corridor was an office that led to a conservatory. Here Margaret introduced me one day, to a man in a pin-striped morning suit. I knew it was a morning suit, for a character who lived out our back, always wore shabby coat with tails that mama said was the remnant of a morning suit. He was the spitting image of King George the Fifth, so we all called him “Your Majesty”. When we came out of the office Margaret said,
" You have now been introduced to a director of the Bank of England. He comes in from time to time to attend to Madam's business affairs.”
If only I had known at the time, I would have taken in every detail of him to compare him with the bank manager-cum-assistant, at the Yorkshire Penny Bank in our
market square. We children must have driven that poor man crazy, putting a penny in the bank one week and wanting it out the next. He was one of the few men I had seen who wore a wig. We didn't say toupee then. It was a dark, gingery red mass of crudely put together thick, straw-like hair. Anyone could see from a mile away that it was false, stuck as it was on the top of his head displaying the back and sides of his own hair. He had a grey and black moustache with waxed ends to contast with the red wig. Our mothers’ hounded him for round silver-like money boxes for their children, which they really wanted for ornaments.
We went up to the top floor in a lift, made of dark polished wood with a pinky sheen, which I was later told, was rosewood. On the top floor were the servants' sleeping quatters and the housekeeper's sitting room. Margaret's room was the last one on the left. To my childish mind it was colossal. Its two double windows looked out over Hyde Park, but I was more interested in the bed than the view. It was painted white and had white sheets and pillowcases and a patchwork quilt. How posh it looked. I looked around.There was a white wardrobe, a dressing table, a washstand complete with jug and basin, two chairs, pictures, rugs on the stained wooden floor and two electric lights.
I couldn't help comparing it with our back bedroom crammed with two black, iron framed beds, one for the girls the other for the boys. Whoever slept near the wall had to climb over two or three bodies to get in. Mind you - we had sheets - they came from Lord Bute’s duster box, retrieved from becoming dusters by my sister Mary who sent them home to us, with the housekeepers permission of course. Mary was one of her favourites.
Our only patchwork quilt was kept with the only flannelette sheets in the front bedroom on Mama's brass bedstead. There they stayed, in case one of us took ill, when Mama would transfer the invalid to the bed, for the duration of the doctor's visit. I never liked brass bedsteads for I once noticed the bed legs were stood in small tins. My spotless aunt had explained to me that this was to ensure that no bugs strayed near the bed.
In winter, like many others in the street, we resorted to the Army greatcoat for a bed cover.
A classmate once said to me,
“ Our teacher sickens me. She keeps asking me if I have a tattoo on my neck.” He continued, “ Can't she see it moves every day ? Its the imprint of my Dad's army coat.
Every morning at Albert Gate, I had my breakfast in bed. I felt like a queen. I slept well there, untroubled by the nightmares which had plagued me at home since Margaret had caught a burglar when she worked at Mansfield Street. I would put my head under the bedclothes, sweating with fear thinking that he would break into our house. Looking back I can laugh at my fears, for as a school friend of mine said at the time,
“ What would he take ? The bucket at the top of the stairs?"
This will sound revolting to you now but I suppose that in those days it saved us from getting pneumonia. In winter a bucket was taken upstairs and left on the landing during the night to save families from having to walk down to the toilet at the bottom of tbe yard. One friend of mine boasted,
“ I was a hod carrier at eight years old. I carried the bucket downstairs to the toilet.”
The toilets at Albert Gate were unique. Three-quarters of the walls were inlaid with rosewood, with matching toilet seat and cover. A pull of a brass handle in the wall revealed a real china wash-basin with gold taps and scented soap, that mama would say was ' the Real McKie ' There were five linen hand towels. I'd stay in there for at least an hour, sitting on the seat cover, polishing the walls with toilet paper, then washing my hands and smelling the perfume.
Our rough, draughty toilet at the bottom of the yard never seemed the same. Our toilet paper was squares of The News of The World which Dadda bought for the racing, and forbidding us to read the rest of it, he cut it up in squares, to be used in what he called 'The House of Commons'.
I can still recall ‘the middens’ and the men who would come in the dead of night to empty them. The children of a witty family along the street would often stay awake, watching from the back bedroom window to shout, “Giddy-up Carnation" to the horse, just as the men were about to empty the contents onto the cart. Bored children in the summer would open the side door of the middens in the back arch. They waited until someone sat on the toilet, sneaked up to the unsuspecting victim and poked his backside with a stick, then ran like mad, in fear of being caught.
In the afternoons Margaret dusted the furniture in the house that was not covered with dust sheets. It was just as I'd seen on the pictures, the once or twice I had been.
A whitish marble square entrance hall with a large hexagon antique table in the middle . Opposite the entrance were three carved double doors with two feet high Japanese vases between. To the right of the hall a marble staircase climbed, sweeping in a half circle to the first floor. Rich red stair carpet muffled your steps as you walked. The beauties of the blue tapestries covering the staircase wall were lost on me.
“Fancy having carpets stuck to your walls.” I said to Margaret.
What a cheek I had, for we didn't have a carpet to our name. Mama had recently discarded the clip mat for a piece of ' Coco ' matting - thick coloured string or raffia woven in a striped pattern.
With all that red, white and blue, I thought that the lady of the house must be patriotic. Indeed she was, for the staircase that led from the first floor had pictures from the top to the bottom of Queen Mary and George Fifth with Madam, her family and friends.
The ballroom on the first floor was to me a fairy tale come true . Pairs of pink and gold lights adorned the peach coloured walls. Chandeliers hung from the embossed ceiling. Small pink and gold basket-worked tables and chairs lined the room. A white grand piano whose famous name eluded me, stood casually at the far end of the room. I would stand at the door and imagine the orchestra playing with me in a crinoline or an Edwardian satin dress held up by a ring on my finger, dancing around the room.
What a difference to the Matthews' threepenny hops Mary went to in 1935-6. She had to sell three one penny beer bottles to get in. Before she and her friend ( who had no mother ) went they had to knead two stones of flour for bread making and all through the dance they had to keep running home to rise and cook it.
Madam used to let the first floor including the ballroom to visiting aristocracy for £200 a night. The money was then given to charity. Margaret 's job was to take the fur wraps and coats to the cloakroom an these occasions. Not once did she ever tell me of the aristocrats escapades.
Madam's bathroom was as big as our two bedrooms put together. Even so, I was disapppointed with it. It had a dark fitted carpet, and clinical glass cases with bathroom and medical accessories in them. I realise now that it was quite suitable for an old lady, but then I wanted her to have have a pink and gold bathroom like the ballroom, filled with all the exotic perfumes I had seen ina magazine. The audacity of me to criticise her bathroom when we didn't even have one- mind you - there was talk in the streets of all of us being moved to council houses with bathrooms. One man said his wife would go unconscious when she hit the water. One woman used to practise washing her feet in the bath. There was no getting in for her. She practised by sitting in the rocking chair and dangling her feet in an upturned stool.
One day we went to Lord and Lady Strickland’s. Margaret’s friend Dorothy, her Ladyship's maid, was getting married to Joseph the Maltese butler. Margaret was best woman at the wedding, I stood at the side taking everything in. Of course we were in the basement at her Ladyship's, but I persuaded Margaret to lift me up so that I could squint at Lady Strickland through the garden fence. She appeared : a tall skinny woman with earphones like bulls horns hanging around her neck. Maybe I was little prejudiced against her Ladyship, for I heard dadda telling mama on my return, that she was an old skinflint. He had had a good talk to her Irish housekeeper, who had also told him that Winston Churchill lived next door. What a snob he must have been. Apparently a piece of paper had blown onto his garden whilst he was sunning himself. He snapped at the housekeeper, who happened to be in her Ladyship's garden at the time,
“ YOU woman ! Pick up that paper! ”
Being Irish, she told him what to do, in no uncertain terms. He threatened to report her to her superiors for insubordination, but she stood firm. You could tell from the way Dadda told the tale that he was proud of this housekeeper.
Another of Margaret's friends was lady's maid to the Kennedys when they were the American ambassadors. I remember her Irish superstition foretelling disaster when the late Kathleen Kennedy's wedding took place outside the Catholic Church. To me the Kennedys have been dogged with tragic circumstances, and a few mistakes that people will not let them forget. As my friend Betty Downey always says,
" Do a million good turns and people forget.
Make one mistake and they'll remember it for ever”"
A relative of ours, Lizzie Riley, came over from America looking for mama and Vaughan Street, when John E. Kennedy was President. On returning home, she sent Mama a large poster of the President. Mama put it on the wall with her collection of holy pictures. I would do the same today, despite what has been written about him since, for if there's anything we Vaughan Street fatty cakes detest, its people who maliciously call the dead and make money out of the same.
Margaret took me one day to Dagenham to see my eldest brother John, his wife Winnie and their two children. John and our cousin Thomas Doyle.Like a lot more from the streets, they had gone to work at the Ford’s factory there in 1935.
Our John was one of the shrewdest people I’ve ever met. He could weigh up a person's character in minutes and he knew exactly what to say to achieve a desired effect. He had a quick brain and a distinctive handwriting style learnt by copying the writing from the bills mama got, unknown to dadda, from the green-groceryman. He was severely handicapped by deafness, the result of having meningitis and black fever as an infant. Black Fever was a killer disease connected with the middens. Mercifully children rarely contracted it, but adults did die from it in the early nineteen hundreds.
Mama never gave up hope when John contracted it, though the specialist did. John was finally able to walk unaided at seven years of age, but he was still weak at twenty.So dadda sent him to stay with our relatives the Foxes in Barley Hill, Creggan, for a year, in the hope that the fresh country Irish air would build up his strength.
John told me later that he was met with a very cool reception from from Uncle Frank. But he brought his shrewdness to bear and found out why and soon had Uncle Frank “ eating out of his hand ”. The reason was this. When Uncle Frank married Aunt Alice, his family, the Donaghys, paid their part of the dowry - which was a heifer,- but the Foxes never paid their part. Over the years Uncle Frank often reproached Aunt Alice about this, but one day Dadda overheard him and threatened to kill him if he as much as mentioned it again. Dadda's words were remembered when John went to stay.
John had a great time in Ireland with his friend from the streets. Mick Conway was over there too and they eventually returned together.
The late Cardinal Heenan officiated at John's wedding, when he was a priest at Dagenham. He and John were great friends. They were both in the parish football team in 1938 and John assumed a rather protective role to Father Heenan, keeping an eye on anyone in the opposition who fouled him. One Saturday he was given some rough treatment by a six -foot three rough-looking ginger haired man. At half-time John, unabashed, approached the giant and warned him that if there any more dirty play directed towards Father Heenan, he would deal with him after the match.
After the match, two priests came over to John, laughing. One was Father Heenan the other the ginger giant.
My halcyon days in London were coming to a close. John's family and my cousins the Doyles came to London for the day and we all had tea, prepared by Margaret and set out in the housekeeper's sitting room.
The day before I left Margaret took me to the Odeon in Leicester Square to see Robert Taylor in ' A Yank at Oxford '. I even had my tea on a tray, which I ate whilst watching the film.
' Dadda Doyle ' who was really my uncle, took me home on the train to save any mishaps. I arrived back in the street clad in a new white silky mackintosh and wearing what I had always wanted - ankle strap shoes. My case was filled with party hats you never saw the likes of , made of coloured celluloid and silver card fashioned into every kind of headgear imaginable - just remnants from one of the toffee parties I’d attended, but I treasured them for months.
I didn't change my accent but I got the name 'Stuck-up' for I couldn't come down to earth and let's face it, my constant bragging and boasting must have really got on all the other kids nerves.
Eileen Rooney nee O'Neill
was one of the many characters that Grangetown enjoyed during the forties and fifties. I once saw him linking the arms of two embarrassed policemen who had been sent to arrest him for disturbing the peace, sporting a huge grin on his face and an exaggerated swaggering walk as they made their way along Whitworth Road from his home in Stapylton Street towards the Police Station. Small in stature and extremely agile, he entertained the neighbours after consuming copious amounts of alcohol of various kinds. Stories and rumours were swapped as people watched him sitting on the roof of his house calmly surveying the crowds below who had flocked from the other streets one Sunday afternoon- enjoying the oos, arrs and gasps of the crowd as he threatened to leap from a window.
“He chopped his stairs up for firewood!” Someone said.
“He has a mattress in the back yard and jumps onto it from the bedroom winda instead of using the staircase.” Another voice interrupts.
“He drinks meths!”
“Meths – what’s meths?” Methylated spirits. He gets it from the Chemists. It’s cheaper than beer.” Someone else interjects.
All of these stories – some of which have ever been verified – sprang to life when Joe Terry was entertaining the crowd. A natural performer with daredevil skills, he was a “spiderman” by trade or scaffolder, whose nimble antics helped to erect numerous tall buildings for Dorman, Long & Co.
I seem to remember he was an accomplished accordion player who couldn’t resist sharing his music with the general public – even though he gave people heart attacks as he jigged in time to the music from the rooftop. He was an extremely likeable man who would have been a stage or circus performer in an earlier age with thousands of adoring fans. As it was, perhaps the lure of “good money” in the steelworks prevented his real talent for entertaining people from being developed – until the “demon drink” encouraged him to shed all his inhibitions and entertain the street crowds of Grangetown. A remarkable man.
Hi John, the story about Joe Terry is OK... He lived at 120 Stapylton Street and was a much-accomplished musician.
I understand that he was a banjo player in Charlie Amers band, and having lost his prospective wife, along with his savings, turned to drink. He played accordion as you say, but was more fun when he dragged his piano into the street and played for the kids. I remember him most (apart from his drunken pranks) for fixing my pushbike and ‘soleing and heeling’ my shoes.