You can see what it must have been like for me at a tough council school but I survived among all the clogs and pit boots etc. My years of bliss had come to an end when aged four I was sent to the council school just up the road. I remember thinking that this marked the end of an era and that things would deteriorate from then on. There was something in that but I have had a very happy life in the succeeding 76 years.
Next door lived the Wilkinson’s who had two daughters still at home. Ethel the elder was about my age. Her younger sister was Eunice. Ethel and I played together. I well remember her breaking off one day saying in dialect,” I’ve got to go in to wesh pots”. I never washed crockery until very much later on in life. I would be about 19 at the time I first washed crockery. I was staying with a college friend in Ayrshire. He looked across at me quizzically and said, “You have never washed dishes before have you?” He showed me how to shuffle the plates rather as you shuffle cards, and wipe each side in turn which is of course much quicker than tackling each plate separately. I have never forgotten.
Behind our house was a slaughterhouse. It was run by Mr Walker who was a very kind and nice man and a pillar of the Methodist church. I am sure it was illegal even in those days to allow children into a slaughterhouse but he used to invite me to visit the slaughterhouse on the rare occasions when there was a bullock or cow to slaughter. A rope was passed round the animal’s horns and through a hasp on a stout wooden block. Slowly the animal’s head would be pulled down until the head was resting firmly on the block. A captive bolt pistol was then used to stun the animal. I think it was a very humane method Mr Walker adopted. There was always a strong smell of blood in the building. A huge wooden tub full of very clean water was there. The water was used to wash the various tools used in the slaughter. There was always also a strong smell of dung. In retrospect I cannot imagine why I was ever allowed in the place but times were different then and I suppose, being a countryman, my father thought I ought to know about such things.
My favourite game at home in the back yard next door was to throw a tennis ball against the slaughterhouse wall. It was a huge wall and I never succeeded in getting a ball to the top. It was important not to throw the ball so high that it would be lost. Balls cost money and I might have to wait quite a while before I got another one if I lost that one. I used to play this game for hour after hour and I became very good at catching.
Sam Wilkinson who owned next door was a coal miner. He had converted his coal house into a small rabbitry where he kept prize English Black and White rabbits. Any which failed to win prizes were eaten! I had to be very quiet when one of the does was about to give birth. He did very well with these rabbits and pictures of them adorned the walls of his house. At least the walls in the kitchen and dining room, I was never allowed in the parlour of course. He had served in the First World War (WW1) and had sent home lovely silk postcards which looked very fine in the frame in which they were kept.
On the other side next door was a public house. At night I would lie awake listening to the conversation of the people who had just left at closing time. They would argue about anything, topics such as the number of matches in a box for example. The sound of trains shunting coal wagons at the nearby Cinderhill sidings carried on through the night as well. I used to long for them to stop.
Our road was formerly called Quarry Road. It was paved with granite setts which made for an uncomfortable cycle ride. A great treat was to be taken to school in a carrier bike. My father had two of these both emblazoned with the slogan “JACKSON FOR CYCLES”. I was often late for school, what boy wasn’t? I loved to be whizzed up to school in the basket of one of these bikes. The low gravity one was best, the basket on the other one was rather high off the ground and I suffered from vertigo!
A feature in Bulwell on hot summer days was the water cart. This sprayed water to lay the dust. Immediately after it had done this there was a lovely fresh smell to the road and the dust was certainly laid, at least for a time. Another thing I used to love to see was the steam roller. This was a mighty engine giving off its own smells. It was much larger than current day rollers. Brewer’s drays used to deliver to the Red Lion, the pub next door. The drays were pulled by magnificent Shire horses. The chaps manning it were always brawny. Their job was to get the very large beer barrels through a trap door into the cellar. Sometimes this was done by a hoist attached to the rim of the barrel by steel grapples but the smaller barrels would be dropped off on to a sandbag. The barrels were of course wooden barrels made by people called coopers. The barrels were bound by steel bands. On the side was an opening through which a wooden spigot would be hammered in when the barrel was broached.
One day, someone, perhaps a collier who had been refused drink, tried to blow off the roof of the Red Lion. The person used dynamite sticks and the resultant noise was heard as far away as Hyson Green several miles away. There was only the thickness of a brick wall between my bedroom and The Red Lion but I slept soundly through the whole thing. As a result of the explosion much soot came down from the chimney into my bedroom but even that did not awaken me. The Red Lion licensee was a Mrs Hickton who had taken over from her deceased husband, Bill. She had a son named Ron who would have been perhaps 30 years of age. I used also to go into her chicken run and dig for worms. The hens always crowded round me like autograph hunters round a famous footballer. The soil in the pen appeared to me to be only sand but that could not have been right for worms do not live on sand and there were plenty of worms there.
The beer came from Shipstone’s Brewery which was on the road going from Bulwell to Nottingham Centre. Travelling past the Brewery there was a very distinctive smell of malted grain and hops. Also on that road you passed the gasworks which had another distinctive smell. On the road to the Raleigh Cycle Works was Players Factory. From that came the very pleasant smell of tobacco. Virginia tobacco came in large wooden circular crates. Tobacco is fine to smell but keep away from the smoke especially if you are the smoker. I smoked from age 16 until age 45 some 29 years. I should have had more sense. My father never smoked and of course neither did my mother. That would have been something in those days, a woman seen smoking in Bulwell!
Two other vehicles seen in Commercial Road were noteworthy, the milk float and the ox cart. The milkman had a smart cart pulled by a trotting pony. The milkman stood on the back step behind several large milk churns with measuring ladles hooked on to their sides. Pints or half pints were ladled out into the buyer’s jugs. Mother never bought from him, she thought the bottled milk from the local co-op was more hygienic. Farming, particularly dairy farming was in a precarious state at the time and a milk round was almost the only way to make a dairy farm pay. A rare treat was to see the ox cart. This was a publicity stunt for Oxo cubes rather than a serious way to transport them. The vehicle was pulled by two Hereford bullocks with lovely white foreheads as all Herefords have
Nottingham had the “Goose Fair” every year. Traditionally geese were driven from as far afield as Norfolk. The geese’s feet would in the early days be tarred to protect them from the rough surfaces of the road. But no geese were around in the 1930’s. Goose Fair was held on what was called Nottingham Forest, which was a park really. Steam engines were there to generate the power needed to run the amusements. There were dodgems and various terrifying rides. Stalls would sell brandy snaps which Mother allowed but she never allowed me any other kind of food.
Mother was always rather genteel. Not so we males. When we had damsons in custard for desert we used to delight in spitting out the stones so as to hit the coal fire which was blazing away behind us. The stones made a lovely sizzling noise. Mother was appalled and did her best to try to stop us. We had some plates which we discovered were slightly imperfect in that they were not quite flat on the table so they could be spun. Dad would say “I’ve got a spinner!” and by spinning it would proceed to demonstrate that he had one. I did the same whenever a “spinner” chanced to be placed before me on the table.
Coal mining was the only career open to most of my school friends at Quarry Road Council School. Their destiny was “to go down the pit”. There was also, in Nottingham itself, Players tobacco factory and the Raleigh cycle works but not many boys made it to these. Towards the end of my stay at Quarry Road I remember asking my father “Shall I have to go down the pit when I leave school, Dad?” He smiled and shook his head. “No, you won’t be going down the pit” he said
Perhaps 95% of the children at the school were the sons and daughters of colliers. Many of the miners’ sons had cleats and studs nailed on the soles of their boots to be in line with “me dad’s pit boots”. I always wore shoes. Shoes were the mark of cissies but my mother insisted I was not to wear boots. Despite all this I got on well with the rest of the boys and girls. I am afraid some were very rough and not very clean. But when you are that age you do not notice such things. It is only later that class and race prejudices arise and then they must be got over!
Terence Woolley at his wedding
People who were at school with me in 1934 (see photograph above) were George Bott, Terence Woolley, Roy Denning, Eric Moon, Ernest White, Edwin Thornhill, Ron Marriott, Chrissie Pavior, Kenny Ledger, Percy Rhodes, Freddie Saunders, Alan Dawes, Barbara Brown, Ivy Cliff, Ivy Atter, Audrey Wilson and Kathie Fletcher. Roy Denning’s mother had died and he was looked after in part by “Queenie” Denning his brother. Queenie Denning was a homosexual which must have been hard for him living in such a macho town as Bulwell. There was another homosexual in Bulwell, Queenie Hughes. The two were good friends most of the time but occasionally quarrelled to our amusement. Alan Dawes lived at a public house called “The Masons Arms” his father was the licensee and the pub was on Commercial Road only a few yards away from where I lived. Bulwell supported a lot of pubs. Joyce Sim’s father was a pork butcher, also on Commercial Road. Her brother was a champion swimmer and attempted the channel, I cannot remember if he succeeded. Joyce fully expected to become a swimming champion herself for she proudly showed me her webbed foot. With webbed feet she thought she could swim like a duck!
Me aged eight after getting my specs
About the age of eight I joined the wolf cubs. I joined with my school friend Roy Denning. The cubs met in a room at the Bulwell Church Institute where my father used to play billiards. My great friend Terence Woolley refused to join the cubs because his father thought the cubs were a military organisation. This was of course because the cubs had been founded by Lieutenant-General Lord Baden-Powell the hero of Mafeking (1899-1900) a town besieged by the Boers in the Boer War. Baden-Powell wrote a book in 1908 “Scouting for Boys”. That is not a title anybody would dare to use today but in those less sophisticated days it was quite proper. My father also thought that Baden-Powell as a military man was not quite the thing but he allowed me to join the cubs. I took great delight in wearing the uniform. When I passed the tenderfoot (the first exam.) my mother proudly sewed the tenderfoot badge on my green pullover and cap. I never achieved high office in the cubs. I never became a “sixer” or a “second” as the patrol leader and his deputy were called. I left the cubs but cannot remember the reason for so doing. I never joined the Scouts.
I can claim to have met Lord Baden-Powell. I was among a group of cubs who were assembled in a field near Newark. We did not really know why we were there. A man was standing in an elevated position in the field but we took no notice of him. Soon a group of scoutmasters formed a ring round the chap standing some way off on a box. The scoutmasters linked arms. At a signal we were told to rush excitedly towards the ring of scoutmasters. It was very much a stage managed affair. I suppose the chap (who was of course Baden-Powell) did speak to us but whether or not he did so and what he said to us I cannot now recall. I was impressed with the bearing of the great man who undoubtedly had charisma. I was at an age when you just did without questioning whatever your mates did.
My life at this time was orientated to my father’s business in which from an early age I played a very peripheral role. I used to stand by in the shop but my job was merely to call out loudly “Shop!” when a customer entered. From early morning until late at night we never closed, certainly not for lunch or dinner as it is called in Nottingham. Many times I have seen a dinner grow cold when a customer arrived at an inopportune time. I did use to serve petrol winding the handle up and releasing it to let down a gallon at a time. Fortunately there was a counter which clocked up the gallons pumped so you could not forget how much petrol you had put it.
My parents’ life and hence mine, followed a very regular pattern. Thursday afternoons the shop was shut. It was to do with some regulation by the Nottingham Chamber of Commerce. Every Thursday we used to drive to Papplewick, a village a few miles away, where dad had bought a five acre field. The land was out in the open and was well away from the industrial Bulwell fumes. Once arrived there my mother used to take in deep breaths and say “The air is like wine” but I do not think she had ever drunk wine in her life. My father had paid sixpence a square yard for the land. Entry was through a gap in a hawthorn hedge beneath a lovely oak tree. There had been a gate at one time but that had long ago disappeared. It never was replaced in my time. Driving in the field was like driving on a switchback. There was nothing on the field at that time save a railway carriage which had been converted to a dwelling house and in it lived Mr Gadsby who ran a chicken farm on part of the land.
We also went on Sunday afternoons to Papplewick. Sunday mornings I went to the Primitive Methodist Church Sunday School when I was old enough. Mum occasionally attended the morning service there but not often. There was a Sunday School in the afternoons too, and the teacher told me off for not attending. “You go to school mornings and afternoons during the week don’t you? So you must attend here on Sunday afternoons too.” Mother used to go to the evening service and I well remember falling asleep snuggling against a black fur Astrakhan coat she wore.
Holidays were always spent at Burgh-le-Marsh in Lincolnshire. This arrangement started before I was born. To save money my father had bought a tent and camping equipment such as a camp bed and primus stoves. Friends in Bulwell recommended they camped in a field owned by Amos Johnson who was the owner of the very small farm named “UANDI” pictured below. You can see my father’s Ford car (he always had a Ford) on the far right. Soon the Johnsons said it was not right for them to camp and offered to put them up and this arrangement continued for many years.
Amos Johnson’s farm
The farm had only two bedrooms and access to the room the Johnson’s slept in was through ours. There were just two fields and neither field had much grass. Instead of grass there were numerous plantains. There were also numerous cow pats. I used to try to play cricket there and it was not very good because the ball had to be continually cleaned. Amos kept one cow which I used to watch him milk. Milk would be taken to the separator and cream would come off. The cream would be used to make butter which would be sold in the market. There was a small yard fenced off and the surface was mud. I had the idea of bringing back sand from the sea shore. Bucket after bucket of sand brought by me from the beach and laid down in this yard effected no improvement at all. It remained muddy.
I remember one exciting incident. There was a girl aged about 20 staying with the Johnson’s one year. She used to talk to me a lot. I found these chats a little dull. Her sole topic was the films of Tarzan featuring Johnny Weissmuller. From conversions overheard I gathered this girl had been sent to Burgh to get her away from someone. A young chap turned up on a motorcycle one day. I was with him near his machine when the carburettor caught fire. Showing great presence of mind the chap threw his mackintosh over the flames and put the fire out otherwise the whole thing would have gone up. I was very impressed. He of course burnt a hole in his Mac. The young man must have been the undesirable lover.
Once I remember we took Amos to Spilsby Market where Amos bought a pig which we transported back in a sack. It was probably illegal to do this even in those days! Amos was what was called locally a “shepherd” but it wasn’t sheep he herded but cattle. Usually the cattle were Lincoln Reds, a dual purpose breed that is for both milk and beef. Amos worked every week for the firm of auctioneers who owned Burgh market. Simons, Ingoldme