One hundred years ago today my beloved Grandad was born. I nagged and nagged him to write down his memories. He managed to do this up to the age of 9!
With the commencement of memory, you are able to recall parts of your life. The great war was declared on Tuesday, August the fourth 1914 and I was born, I was told, on the 29th, which was also a Tuesday, January 1918. The great war ended on Monday, November 11, 1918, armistice was signed. The house I was born in was 29 Ingleby Street. My memory commenced at the age of three as near as I can make it, it may have been earlier. I can recall riding in a pram having the sound of horses as they clip-clopped along the streets, the sound of the iron trimmed wheels as they rolled over the cobblestones. I lived at three back of 29 Ingleby Street. I was not a robust child, due, no doubt, to the shortages and I suffered ill health. Children, the Victorians decided, should be seen and not heard. I did not think I was noisy but I was often hushed and if I failed to keep quiet punished. There was one brass tap in the yard which was shared by the three homes since there was no water in any of the homes or toilets, one outside toilet was shared by three families so you always had to have a Poe under the bed or chamber. The tap in the yard had a round knob which you have to press down to get the water to flow, which it did with some force. When I was thirsty I would have to hang onto the tap with both hands, it took my full weight to operate it, I did not get much to drink but I did get very wet. I was, however, growing a little every day, so I did finally grow out of this problem.
At number 27 there was a man who we saw occasionally we regarded him with some awe. He had, we were told, been gassed in the war. He had no bed or blankets, he slept on the Chaise Longue with old coats for covering, very little or no fire, a basin he spat in. He had developed consumption. By the time I had reached five years of age he was not there anymore. I felt great sympathy for him and only as I grew old enough to understand that he was a young man who had died in a most disgusting fashion. It was about this time I nearly killed my sister. She had been bought a small broom, a replica of an ordinary broom. I picked it up and began to sweep with it when my sister perceived me she began screaming and crying. I did not want the broom but I was angry at the way she was carrying on. I raised the broom over my head, "shut up or I will bash you over the head with it." My mother had arrived on the scene, brought there by the noise, "you dare" she said. She could not have said a worst thing. The response was instantaneous, my sister was knocked screaming to the floor. Naturally, I had a beating for it which I thoroughly deserved.
I started school at five and a boy had to march into class with a girl. A girl came and stood by my side. I looked her up and down and said: "I’m not marching you into school, you’ve got a hole in your knickers". Looking around I said to another girl I’ll give you a sweet to marching to school with me she accepted. I was 100% little snob but my education had begun and if the clock could be put back I would be proud to march her into school.
The Victorians were very clever and forward-thinking people. The terraced houses were called back to back houses for this is what they were. They were built in a continuous line with an entry which opened out into the yard, in the yard was a building known as the wash house. It contained a boiler with a coal fire to boil the water, a table constructed with blue bricks on which to wash clothes and to provide a working area. At the back of the wash-house was a toilet on one side and on the other was a place for refuse and ashes from the fires.
The front house had two doors, one in the street, a front door, and one in the entry, a side door. The house at the back had one door, it was similar for the houses at the back of the yard so one area would accommodate six families. It was my dad’s practice to take us some Sundays to our other grandmother, Granny Woods. I was too young to understand that my Gran had remarried after the death of my grandfather but my grandad Wood was as nice a man you could wish to meet. I would be dressed up in my best clothes and I had an uncle Billy and an Aunt Nora who was my step grandad’s daughter. She was learning the piano and they were better off. They would insist on dressing me in Nora's frocks to keep my best clothes clean. Apart from this my Gran always made me welcome.
Ingleby Street was about 200 yards long, it was about halfway up the street, a hill that joined Monument Lane at the top and Spring Hill at the bottom. Looking down the hill from Monument Lane on the right was the Palace de Danse, on the left was the Doctors, a very old man, his name I believe, was Dr Trout. There were a few shops and a small public house which was on the Doctor's side about halfway up the street. On the same side was the passage that led to the infant school and a little lower was a small fish and chip shop. The street was wide because it joined a Spring Hill at an angle. In the middle of this was a small island on which was a stone horse trough about 2 foot six wide and 6 feet long, 3 feet high. There were a number of these troughs about so that horses could if allowed to, relieve their thirst. Opposite our entry was a small general shop for sweets and groceries. On the bottom and corner of Spring Hill was the Queens Head next to the Queens Head was the faggot and peas shop. They served dinners in there, you could also take away. We rarely had any and just to write about it makes my mouth water. Scrupulously clean, freshly prepared and wholesome in every way. Then came a clothes shop next Uncles where each Monday a queue would form so that clothes, usually a man’s best suit, would be pawned so that wives had money for food. Then it was George Bains, the cake shop, butchers, greengrocers I don’t remember them all. It was much the same on the opposite side. The shop I remember most was the Maypole, the street opposite ours was George Street West which led to a small playground. Just before Christmas each year the Palace de danse would put on a party where we would play games, sing, listen to dance music, get an apple and orange and a small gift so we were sure of some pleasure about Christmas time.
There were two incidents of note that took place while I live there. The one very tragic. The people who kept the small pub had a very pretty blonde daughter. She was being put to bed on one cold evening and she stood in front of a big fire. Her nightdress ignited and she was burnt to death. They allowed everyone who wished to file past her coffin, which was glass topped. She was about eight years old. Her face untouched. She was dressed in a nightdress and looked for all the world to be fast asleep. My eyes filled with tears as I realised the finality of death for someone as beautiful and as young as she.
The next incident was at the small chip shop. I was walking down the street when I heard a scream. I was startled. A woman appeared in the doorway of the chip shop. There was a very loud bang, the sound of breaking glass and the young woman flew through the air to land on her knees in the middle of the street and chip shop was enveloped in flames. She did not appear very badly hurt though very badly shocked. The Fire Brigade soon arrived and put out the fire.
Your world is full of noise which you hardly notice but with which you become familiar. The motor-vehicle was on the streets but the numbers were small and the horse would dominate the scene for a few years to come. The tram and the electric trolley bus were the public transport. The trains being the next important means of public transport. Then it was the push bikes turn and last, the motorbike began to appear in ever-increasing numbers as with the motorcar.
My world was an ever-changing place and still is. House lighting was by candle, kerosene or gas paraffin and kerosene or lamp oil as they were commonly called. Some of the lamps were quite efficient but the gas mantle gave the better light and the oil lamps went out of fashion. Just as on your bike if you had one it was paraffin lamps first then acetylenic lamps came next and electric lamps and dynamos.
The fireplace was the central place in any home. The fire grate, as it was referred to, could be used for all your cooking. The grate was polished with black lead, dampers controlled its function and it usually had cleaning doors, very small access places in which you had tools to insert to remove ash and soot. There were plates inserted into the flat top of the grate and if you wished you could lift one out to boil a kettle or saucepan.
Saucepans of my early days were made of cast iron and if dropped would shatter into pieces. These would vanish as aluminium came into fashion, the grate would have a guard called a bow. It was some 2 foot 2 inches high and was fixed to the wall on either side of the grate by two hooks. It could be lifted off. It was very useful for drying all kinds of articles. It was a favourite place to sit on. The grate would have the sheet iron piece called a draw tin when the fire went low it would be used to increase the draught and has caused many a chimney fire, some of which could be quite spectacular and if the Fire Brigade attended one of these they were quite ruthless. Regardless of damage, they would send a streak of water straight down the chimney so for some people misfortune could strike both ways. It must be said for some that they did it deliberately to avoid paying a sweep to do the job. In front of the bow would be a rug, home-made. It was made from discarded clothes which would be unpicked and cut into strips about 3/4 of an inch wide by 2 1/2 inches long. These would be threaded by a Bodger into a piece of hessian stitched into position then backed by another piece of hessian. These rugs, when well made, were very good and if your mother yelled "get off that cold floor" you knew where to go. Of course, it had to be kept clean so you did not walk on it in dirty boots. That’s why it was the centrepiece of every household. You would riddle the ashes and burn them, they were saved sometimes to relight the fire because it took less wood sticks to light ashes than coal. Sugar bags were made of a heavy blue paper. These were ideal for filling with slack coal that had been crushed by breakage with these the fire could be the banked to last a long time, indeed when you became skilled you could make a fire last eight or nine hours. Colds were not so prevalence as they are now because the open fire would ensure that the air you breathe would be fresh.
My granny Mitchell was a small woman and as a child, I never went to my mother, when hurt it was always to my Gran she would love me, so it was always her lap that I sobbed in.
My Gran had a vice if you can call it that it was always hard times and money was short but my gran loved having a bet. She knew her subject and had some success. My grandad, I never called him that for I spent time in his company, I called him Pop. I never knew for sure exactly where he came from, it was, I think Glasgow. His liking for his national drink brought him financial ruin. He was a man of skill though through his failure was always looked down on. He was of medium height and build, balding grey hair turning to white, much as I am now. I loved him for the time he spent with me.
On Sunday, I don’t know how old I was but I was an early riser so I started taking a cup of tea up to my mum and dad. The kettle was too heavy for me to lift and pour into the teapot. I used to drag the chair up to the stove. Doors were never locked, I would go down the yard to fill the kettle, lift it onto the chair and then the stove. At first, I had trouble lighting the gas because I wasn’t quick enough the gas would go bang, blow out the match and not light but I got better with practice. I would tip the kettle to pour water into the teapot then I could put the teapot on the stove and lift the kettle to finish filling it. I could not walk upstairs so I went up by lifting the cups a stair at a time but as time went on these problems vanished.
I was going into my six year when I decided to go to my granny Woods on my own, I was not asked by the conductor to pay any fair on the tram. The terminus was in Edmund Street where the tram would change over to the return line for the tram to load up for the return journey. Just below the tram terminus was a passage, Eden Place which led from Edmund Street to Colmore Row, on the corner was a news vendor for Sunday papers, just round the corner was two pavement artists war cripples [unreadable] as the man who played zither in Colmore Row at the other end of the passage. To my young ears he was very good, the sound reverberating along the passage and sometimes mingled with the signs of the church bells. The man who played the zither dragged himself about on a wooden platform mounted on casters like those used on furniture. He was without legs but he was a man of great spirit and courage for these were real hard times, you would see many cripples from the war, men who twitched and jerked about and became very agitated at any loud noise. These things, even when you were only five years old, you accepted with sympathy, part of your normal world. I would go down Colmore Row, of course, I didn’t know the names then, crossover to Saint Phillips Cathedral, walk past it and go down Cheery Street to Martineau Street, the terminus to catch a tram to Saltley. I would get off at Duddlesten Mill and walk down to my Grans. I knocked on the door at the front of the house, hello Gran, she looked at me, where's your dad? I was indignant, I came on my own. I was too young to know that my Gran who had not greeted me with her usual warmth was filled with consternation by what I had done did not meet with approval and I began to feel some misgivings. It was I think about an hour later that my dad arrived, he was angry, he came in the back way, "have you seen our kid", "yes he is here". I did not hear anymore so I can only guess, I think Gran had words with him, dad came in and I expected to be beaten. "what do you think you doing", "I came to see Gran", "don’t you ever do anything like it again, if you’re going anywhere you tell me or your mother first", "yes dad", "right let’s go". He had come on his bike and I had to sit on the crossbars to ride home, which was pretty uncomfortable but there the matter ended.
My Granny Mitchell had three children living with her. Ruby the youngest then Herbert and Ethel, my other uncles and aunts were either in Service or married. Ruby was just two years my senior but she has the advantage of saying I am your aunt. Then there was Herbert, he was somebody who I thought I could look up to for help and guidance. Some of the things he subjected me to it’s a wonder I am alive. I now know that he had a sadistic streak in him. It was he who caused me to smash out my front teeth. He nearly drowned me and he thought it quite funny. I went with him to the public swimming baths for the first time. He took me out of my depth and kept dunking me under the water and holding me under. I was swallowing water and I could’ve drowned. I made sure when I got out that he never got near me again. He thought it was hilarious. He played football and he would take me with him and I had to guard the clothes for the players.
If I was deemed to be naughty my mother would lock me down the cellar. The first time I was terrified and crying and I was told to shut up or I would not be let out not only that I was told how the bogeyman would get me and it became one of Herbert's pastimes to hide in the dark and spring out on me as I went past. It was he that cause me to smash out my front teeth. I had a large wooden train which needed some strength to pull. I was trying to pull him on it when I was able to move it he would just put his feet down so that’s how I lost my front teeth. Well, that was my uncle Herbert. All in all, I think I had a pretty terrifying childhood, luckily I grew out of it though some fears remained for a long time.
Dick had arrived on the scene I was made to look after him, rock the pram, wheel him up and down. Sunday afternoon I would have to take him in the pram and then by the hand for walks of at least two hours and if I came back too early I would be sent out again. Sometimes Lily would cry but I could do nothing except comfort her.
I think I was eight going on nine when I first started to fetch the cold and very hard it was too. I would have to go to the wharf on canal side. Here you would take your place in the queue to wait for the return of the two-wheeled barrows that you carried the coal in. I think when I first went 1 cwt of coal cost 1/8 pence by today’s money 8p. You had to leave a deposit on the cart or barrow as they were called so you had to hope you got one that would not be too hard to push. The wheels were never oiled except the pusher who wanted to make pushing easier. It was weighed in a big scoop, the same as the one used for weighing sweets. You paid for the coal and left a deposit which was chalked up against your barrow number. People were different then you could always have someone who would give you assistance if you needed, it the first thing to do when you left the coal yard was to arrange the coal so that it balanced over the axle then you did not have to carry a heavy weight on your arms, then it was just the slog home and return barrow.
In winter I often cried with pain from the cold. I used to suffer chilblains at this time, and they were almost on bearable, mostly my toes. The only relief was from rubbing dripping on them. Growing up I did not know all my relations because they lived in other places only now I have found out them all. My Gran Mitchell had 14 children, the eldest was Elsie then Violet and a boy called Herbert who drowned at the age of seven, Millicent also died aged two then came my mother, Dolly, Sid, Mabel, Alfred, Muriel, Ethel, Herbert and last Ruby from whom I received the order of the family. Most of the girls went into service, it was when they came home that I came to know them. Violet was at Colwyn Bay, she was joined by Muriel. Mabel was down at Margate. When they came home they brought with them a Holiday feeling of happiness with little presents for everyone plus money to buy sweets not that people could afford much but they were happy occasions which created a pleasure for all. It was different with my Granny Wood. Her home was by the standards of that time well kept and wealthy. When I first went to Gran's Liz and May still lived there as did Bill and Nora. Uncle Jim was married otAunt Nell and Iris was their first child and Nell's, mum and dad, we called Gran and grandad Rudge. Aunt Liz and May soon married leaving Bill and Nora at home. Nora was only a few years older than I and she took piano lessons so there was always a sheet of popular music to be found. So my liking for music started at Granny Woods, we had a wind-up gramophone, his Masters Voice, of course, which we would play mostly on a Sunday evening. Our records then we’re nearly all overtures or marches I was allowed to be the winder upper and record changer. Still, it afforded quite a few hours of pleasure for all at home.
I was always getting the cane for being late at school, the fault was usually Dick. It was my job to keep him entertained so when it was time for me to go to school, he did not want me to go, so one day I took with me to prove that I was telling the truth when I said my brother was the cause of my being late. It was not a good idea though looking back the teachers allowed him to stay and they were very good the problem was Dick, he had the nickname of moaner. I had to do my schoolwork and the teacher's entertained Dick which wasn’t easy so I was very glad when school ended so that I could take him home it did have one good effect Dick decided it was not so good going to school so I was not caned so often. You could not be a second late as soon as the bell went a teacher would stand by the door and you would be told to "stand over there". Children would march from the playground into school and the teacher would fetch a cane, cane you and send you to class.
There were some tough neighbourhoods and you could be faced with having to make a quick decision run or fight. Such was the time that my Granny sent me to get some potatoes. I was confronted by a lad much bigger and beefier than me, "you can’t come past here" he said. I hit and he went down crying. I did not wait to find out why I chose to run as fast as my legs would take me. I did not go back the way I came but the following day I forgot, going past where he stopped me, he had a bandage round his head "mom here’s that kid that hit me,". I did not wait, I was gone. Not all my encounters ended so favourably to me. I was frequently on the receiving end but I always reckoned that I could and did hold my own.
It was about this time that I decided to go with Grandad Rudge. He was my dad‘s brother's wife’s father, his father in law, but we called him Grandad. He worked on the LMS railway as the parcels delivery man. It was a separate service. The cart was like a bread van with no doors. Where the doors would have been hung a rope with a knot on the end this was for the driver's mate to hang on. The system was simple, the cart would be loaded at the "docks" so called, for they were loading platforms. The parcels would be loaded so they would follow on each delivery, the boy's job was to hang on the back of the cart and ensure the safety of the load and to assist in unloading it. It was a fast service and the horse would fast trot, it was not a heavy draught horse like most but more like today’s police horses. On a warm day, they would be lathered in sweat. I had asked Grandad if I could go with him several times and he had said yes. So one Saturday morning I got up quickly taking care not to wake anybody, it would be about 5:30. By the time I got to town, it was gone 6 o’clock, they started early in those days. I had to walk from town to where they lived and I worried whether I should miss him. I decided to risk going down back street with which I was not familiar and turning one corner I bumped straight into him. He was very surprised to see me. For a while he had promised to take me, he never thought he would have to. However, in those days people kept their word. When we got to the yard I had to wait a very long time, he had to go harness the horse, go down to the dock pick up the cart and his mate, check the notes to see how they had arranged the first drop and we were ready for our first 8 o’clock delivery. About 10:30 am we stopped for breakfast. They went to the pub and I sat on the cart. It was pretty cold so I began to walk around. There were a number of horses and carts outside the pub and one decided to take off on its own. I ran and jumped on his head to hang on the bridle. It didn’t make any difference it took me as well. A man passing stopped it and backed it up to the place that he had left. Learned my first lesson it is the reign that you hold not the bridle. Grandad had to work all day so he went home about 12:30 to drop me off and get some dinner. Dad had been looking for me but since I had met him going to work they didn’t know I was with him. They told me to wait until dad returned as he intended to call in on his way home as he had gone to see if I was with Gran.
Uncle Jim worked in the steelworks opposite where they lived. Dad returned, he was not pleased, for me it turned out to be a long day but no worse for with a few drinks inside him all Dad wanted to do was relax. Dad did not forgive and forget readily, he would remind me of one of my misdemeanours. When I was nine Dad bought me a secondhand bike, though I did not know it my mechanical education had begun. It took me several days and lots of bruises, skin off my knees but I mastered it on my own. I forget what happened to it for when we moved from Ladywood to Pipe Hayes I did not have it. It was now that I would lose 12 months or more of my schooling, Paget Road School was in the process of being built, and that’s a lot of time to lose from school. I had two years in which to make up the time I had lost. I was a loner not by choice but condition but I did make friends and enemies for the next two years. I did a paper round. I was sent on an errand and jumped over a fence I lost 2/6d so I got a paper round so that I could pay it back. This would be the time of my life when I would be at my fittest. I don’t know how I fitted everything in. I ran most places. I had more space and freedom, that was missing at Ladywood. It was late summer when we move to Pipe Hayes, we were in for a very hard time. There were few people in the road when we moved in, the road was unmade, when it rained it was mud everywhere, it would remain so throughout the winter. It was a hard winter.
Dad was an active Labour member and meetings would be held at home, Dad due to his active role in the labour movement had a hard time getting employment. He did any work he could get, mostly gardening and some part-time work at a chemist's. It was here that he started to learn names in Latin. He applied for and got two council allotments so I had to help with the work on the allotments. In retrospect, Dad was a very capable man and without any doubt, he taught me voluntarily and otherwise quite a lot, though I was eager to learn, Dad was weak in mechanics while I learned them quickly. My youth did not give me the understanding, that I now have, only the passing years have done that. My early knowledgeable years I do not remember my parents showing me any affection, indeed when I was about seven years old my Dad picked me up onto his knee and put his arm around me, I burst into tears, that ended my Dad showing me any affection. Dick was the apple of Dad's eye as I came to realise this I was very resentful but he was a hard worker and I knew he did his best for us in very difficult times. I accepted that that was the way it was. Mother was always occupied with first Lily and Dick and finally Jim. I was very shy, quiet and being the eldest a loner. Hard times made me willing and hard-working in this I suppose I took after both my parents. Having a sense of humour was important though it always got me into trouble when I gave it a little help. My two years at school were happy years. I was fit very active always up to some mischief or other.
I live three back at 29 Ingleby Street my Granny lives in 29 she was a small rotund lady who I loved indeed in times of stress. I turned to my Gran for comfort which she was always ready to give. My aunt Ruby was two years my senior so she was part of any growing up. My aunt Ethel and uncle Herbert were older and taken with doing their own thing. We did not have electric but we had candles and gas, dark nights and rear homes were separated by a freestanding wall my uncle Herbert thought it was great fun to hide behind the wall when it was dark so he could leap out on me when I was passing. My shrieks of fear only added to his enjoyment. At the age of 10 I was able to fetch 1 cwt of coal this meant going to the wharf on the canalside, here you have to wait for someone to return the two wheelbarrow which she used to transport the coal home you have to leave a deposit on the barrow which you collected when you return to the barrow. I used to suffer from chilblains and I would be crying from the pain suffered through cold weather the pain was quite severe. It was about this time I had my first bike I had to teach myself to ride it, it took quite a long time but once having learnt it I could not understand why it had taken so long, a week or more and I have the scars to prove it. I was nearly 9 years old...