A photo walk across Stoke Fields to Winton's Wood, Stoke-on-Trent
- the parish of St. Simon and St. Jude

Boyhood

 


next: boyhood - continued
previous: St. Jude's 1900-1939

 

The author can now take up the narrative, based on personal knowledge and recollections. Although this is intended to be about St Jude's and not one person's reminiscences, it is inevitable that a certain amount of nostalgia will intrude. For that I crave indulgence but offer no apology.

The late 1930's saw preparations for war although to a small child, life remained unchanged. Holidays to the seaside, visits to Hanley Park and shopping in a large perambulator. An early memory involved going with the ladies of the family to the Jubilee Hall in Stoke Town Hall, to be issued with our new Ration Books. An air-raid shelter in the back yard, siren suits and Air Raid sirens, visits to the shelter shared with neighbours during the Black-Out, with the sounds of aircraft overhead and the All-Clear siren afterwards.

Seaford Street had a large communal shelter and a static water tank built at the side of the street. These tanks were a fatal attraction for some children as they were about six feet deep with no means of escape once in the water. Dire warnings were issued and the tanks covered with wire netting in an attempt to stop trespass. This measure was not always successful. Gas-lit streets were dark during the Black-Out, which was enforced by street wardens, and everyone not "called up"  for the armed forces seemed to be involved in the war effort.

Home Guard, Air Rid Precautions (ARP), Civil Defence, Womens' Voluntary Service (WVS), Auxiliary Fire Service (AFS) and Ambulance Drivers were all neighbours doing their bit. Even school children were encouraged to play their part. At Cauldon Road School, books and other comforts for the troops were collected and National Savings was a patriotic duty. Milk, orange juice, cod liver oil and drinking chocolate powder were issued as dietary supplements.

The Territorials or "Terriers"  as they were affectionately known, were immediately mobilised along with reservists from the other Services. Initially men between 18 and 26 were called up for armed service, but gradually the age was increased to include older and older men. Men in certain specified "reserved occupations"  were barred from military service; mining, heavy industry and transport were included with others. Women too were directed into war jobs, some actually into the womens' sections of the armed forces, the WRNS (Wrens), The ATS and the WAAFS, while the Womens'  Land Army, munitions and certain industrial work also needed labour. Some men were in the frustrating position of having been too young for the First War and were now too old or otherwise disqualified for the Second War, and took the only alternatives open to them. Only the very old, the very young or mothers with families were seen in the streets during the daytime, whilst at night the remaining men after a day's work took on their auxiliary roles. King George VI paid tribute to them at the end of the War.

Stoke Railway Station was a hive of activity, and was always thronged with men and women in uniform. A small boy with a soap-box cart, if he positioned himself at the top end of Victoria Road, or along Leek Road could  always  earn a few coins by transporting  soldiers' kit bags for the final half mile to the station. It also worked in reverse when the men came on leave. The fare was by negotiation depending on the distance involved, but it was touching how generous they were, and how grateful. The Red Cross coffee stalls and the WVS were always on hand with refreshments.

Winters seemed long and harsh, while summers seemed endless and hot and we spent our days in Hanley Park without let or hindrance, always of course keeping an eye out for the "Parkies"  who despite their advancing years  and  sometimes  disabilities,  could send a gang of small boys flying for cover. Band concerts were frequent events in the Park at week-ends, the tell-tale sign being a canvas  coin-collector  at the gate, reminiscent  of a Field Wash-Stand, manned by a Bandsman.


The bandstand in Hanley Park

Membership of the Choir and Sunday School at St Jude's was as natural as breathing, and took up all Sunday, with a choir practice in the week. Sometimes a funeral or a wedding on Saturday could earn a halfcrown. Too late for the morning cinemas in Stoke or Hanley, but one could always catch the afternoon show at the Princes in Wharf Street, between the canal and St Peter's Church.  There were patriotic collections of all things aluminium to build Spitfires, and iron garden railings were compulsorily cut down and carted away for the War Effort. The stumps of these railings could be seen for years afterwards; even today if you look carefully at the forecourt  walls  of  some older  houses,  they  are  still in evidence.

Legend has it that despite good intentions, much of the accumulated metal was never used for its intended purpose. For iron railings to be spared from this fate, they had to be of special architectural or historical significance, and another legend has it that the newly erected ornamental  railings at the Orthopaedic Hospital in Hartshill ( known as "the Cripples"), which depicted children engaged in all kinds of healthy activities became a contentious issue. Apparently the Hospital Board's architect was also appointed to oversee the activities of the Metal Salvage Board, and engaged in correspondence with himself, on one hand as the Appellant, and one the other hand as the Confiscating Authority. The Hospital won and the railings are still to be seen in Hartshill.


ornamental  railings from the Orthopaedic Hospital in Hartshill

 

During the war years, even children were surprisingly aware of the progress of the conflict, Newspaper headlines, grave news broadcasts on the BBC,  newsreels at the cinema with aerial  photographs of bombing and sea landings; ending of course with the sports reports; Brylcreemed footballers wearing incredibly baggy shorts and iron-hard, studded boots as we boys could confirm, being equipped with smaller versions for our desperate games in Hanley Park. The Drill Hall at the top end of Victoria Road, housed an anti-aircraft battery of real soldiers, and we could see them inside at their drills and see their neatly made-up beds and equipment. 


Shelton Drill Hall - top of Victoria Road (now College Road) 

In the last remaining field this side of the River Trent, known as Poxon's Field not far below the Terrace Inn, was a stock of all manner of concrete defence artefacts, road materials and cylindrical tank obstacles. German prisoners of war  worked in the field, guarded by soldiers with rifles and fixed bayonets - how closer to the war could you be? The soldiers and prisoners were quite affable, and a barter system developed whereby chocolate, cigarettes, soap, badges and other mutually attractive items were exchanged.


Location of Poxon's Field
now part of Staffordshire University Car Park
the terrace houses in the background are on Leek Road

Every tradesman who did the rounds of our streets had a horse-drawn cart. The milkman, the baker, the coal man, the green grocer, the fish monger, the dustbin and paper salvage collectors and the rag and bone man, As I recall there was only one car in our street, owned and driven by our next door neighbour Bob Machin who ran a saw mill near Limekiln Bank at Bucknall. I sometimes begged a ride as far as Joiner's Square during the lunch hour, and would then scamper back to Cauldon Road School in time for the afternoon session. Such was the novelty of motor cars! The smell of leather, oil and petrol lingers in the memory to this day.

Then one day it was all over. Bells rang out, there were flags and bunting everywhere, and impromptu parties for the children in every street. Trestle tables, urns and  food materialised as if by magic. The party food would be considered pathetic by  today's standards, but what an occasion!

A Victory Parade marched up Stoke Road to Hanley, and then down again. An endless column of marching men and women from all the regular and auxiliary forces and organisations, interspersed with vehicles of every description, even a tracked Bren gun-Carrier. There was also Beating the Retreat by an Army Band or Corps of Drums, up and down the Esplanade below the Pavilion in Hanley Park.

The transition from war to peace had little effect on children, although for some it meant meeting their fathers again after years of absence, for others it meant having no father at all. Few people had mourning clothes, and loss was expressed by a black armband or a black patch sewn onto the sleeve. Men with wooden legs were a common sight, as were pinned-up empty sleeves. In the years of austerity after the war, we can have no idea of the effect constant shortages and  continued rationing had on our grown-ups. Clothes were handed down worn and patched, socks were darned (who darns today?), shoes or boots were soled and heeled with thick leather and then studded and steel-tipped for longer wear. We  must have sounded like an army coming out of school. Our blue belted raincoats went by the generic name of  "Burberries", but they were hardly fashion items. And so we moved on from the 1940's.

The built environment of St Judes had changed little, although gas street lighting gave way to electricity and householders were being encouraged to buy their homes and to obtain improvement grants from the Corporation, as the City Council was always called. Sculleries, glory-holes and outside W.C.s were "knocked through"  to provide indoor plumbing and bathrooms, and some people went on the lists for the new Council Houses which were springing up.

We bought our house for 250 and I regularly had to take the new monthly mortgage payment to the offices of the Stoke-on-Trent Permanent Building Society in Liverpool Road, Stoke. Two elderly, balding, bespectacled gentlemen sat at a table under a window at the far end of a long, unlit room, to be approached noisily across  bare floor boards. It was positively Dickensian. After handing over the payment book, the transaction went something like this:-

1st Old Gent. "Alcock,  Account  6774. Amount Two pounds three shillings and ninepence"

2nd Old Gent. "Hallcock, sixtyseven-seventyfour, two-three-nine"

No 1 would take the cash which he would carefully count into wooden bowls watched by No 2 who would enter the the details into a large ledger with a straight, wooden, steel-nibbed pen (just like we used at school). No 1 would enter the details into our account book with a fountain pen, carefully blot it and return it saying:-  "Thank you sonny. Good morning"  "Good morning" added No 2. 

Back across the floorboards and  into the light of Liverpool Road. With the morbid curiosity of a small boy, I always hoped I would see Mr Albert Lownds the butcher, who had a shop where the Fowlea Brook ran under Liverpool road. Mr Lownds had an enormous growth on his face, literally the size of a football and he used to visit our next door neighbour Jack Machin. They drank draught beer from Feazy's and sang old music hall ballads. I often wondered whether his cheek was hollow and could hold lots of beer. One day Mr Lownds appeared with a bandage round his head but no lump. He died soon afterwards.

Frequently cattle and sheep were driven up Victoria Road (now College Road) from the railway station to the abattoir at Mayer's Field. When I say driven I do not mean in motor vehicles, I mean on foot, in large herds which escaped down the side streets and caused no end of a spectacle. Similarly when the circus came to town, the animals arrived by train and were paraded along Victoria Road to their temporary home at the top of Hanley Park.


next: boyhood - continued
previous: St. Jude's 1900-1939

 


John Alcock - (c) Copyright 2006