Saturday, February 6, 2016

The Grumpy Old Woman and Tall Food




During my daughter’s seven-month stay with us, with our new grand-daughter, our mealtime habits changed. Where once we used to listen thoughtfully to Radio Four, we had to compromise with the chewing-gum-for-the-eyes that is presented on TV over the supper-time period. This wasn’t because daughter is particularly lowbrow or we particularly highbrow. The fact was that the needs of the baby at that time of the day tended to make her rather vocal, so the thread of a story or a nuance of comic timing  came off a very bad second to her demands. So we perforce became visual rather than aural consumers of the broadcast media at mealtimes.

As a newcomer to the early evening TV time slot I was very surprised by how many cookery programs are put out. I’m now aware of how fashionable food is, and how vital is its presentation. Inconvenient plates of vast acreage are placed lovingly before the foodie, bearing a concentrated and astonishing array of edibles garnered from all corners of the globe. I know globes don’t have corners, but you understand what I mean.  

I admit that many of these arrays look delightful. Tastyvision and smellyvision have yet to reach us, so on a TV food show colours are everything. And colours we are given, along with facial and vocal expressions of delight from the people who actually get to touch-smell-taste the products of the many celebrity cooks. What piques me, though – and piques me even more when I am just occasionally out there, dressed up and paying for it – is the excess of presentation that food seems to need, as evidenced by the catering profession.

I did see one well known foodie person on TV disparaging a wannabe chef for producing “tall food”. And rightly so. Not only is it so 1990, but a plate a foot wide with a tower of tiny edibles tottering in the middle is a waste of effort on everyone’s part – chef and customer alike. Chef spends time assembling the edifice, while customer has to calculate how he can safely eat it without the whole thing collapsing into his neighbour’s lap. I have to say that the critic, for once, got my applause. I don’t want to puzzle out how to deconstruct le gros bonnet’s presentation. Stick it all on a plate – prettily if you must – and just let me eat it.

Drizzles of any kind are irritating, too. Weatherwise they are neither one thing nor another; wet without making an effort, so I don’t want anyone to drizzle on my grub for me, thanks; whether with olive oil, mayonnaise, sundried tomato purée, brown sauce or anything else. Give me the choice of doing it for myself.

“Coulis” are snob’s blobs. Smudged artistically into a plate with the back of a spoon they are an insult, as are dots, squiggles or stripes of sauce like punctuation marks around a central noun of food. If you really are offering me a nice sauce to complement your dish, give me enough of it to let me pick it up and eat it. I’m of the opinion that this drizzle-smudge-squiggle school of presentation is no more than a cheap cheat; using very little material to create a pretentious dish. It offers me food in such a stingy way that I couldn’t even slide a palette knife under it. If I want not to eat food, I won’t put it on my plate in the first place. Don’t ask me to pay for it just because it has been painted onto a bit of porcelain.

And puddings – as opposed to desserts. A proper pudding needs a pudding dish. Pudding dishes are designed bowl-shaped so you can get your spoon into the duff and consume it sumptuously, down to the last puddle. Their sensous curves are meant to collect those juices or sauces to be scooped up and savoured at the end of the whole delicious experience. Serving a pudding on a flat plate defeats that satisfaction. You’re not giving the waiter much chance, either; how’s he supposed to control custard when he brakes or turns a corner?

Finally, there’s a pointless tendency in fashionable eateries to present you with a miserable little spot of pud surrounded by, not even drizzles, but dustings of cocoa powder or icing sugar. If the drizzle-smudge-squiggle is mean, this miserly dusting is just plain pointless. You can’t eat such culinary daftness. It is impossible to pick any of it up unless you lick your finger, wipe the plate and suck it.

Join me in exorcising this ghostly pretence at food. When your pudding is eaten and coffee is imminent, the proprietor, chef and/or waiter will be unctuously hovering, all-but prompting you to say that everything you ate was simply lovely. Don’t be swayed by their desire to be praised as well as paid. This is your cue to sigh ostentatiously – if necessary, several times – and then say loudly and with deep regret, “I do wish you had washed the plate.”


Friday, December 18, 2015

Port Sunlight in the 1920s: Part 9. The darker side of employment disputes (Reg Keen)

Your Grandad used to work in the centre of the printing room under a notice "Letterpress Printing". He was a "letterpress machine minder". Under the sign "Printing Room" in white was the part of the room used for "paper ruling", its output intended for ledgers, school exercise books and other writing stationery. There were high bridges up near the roof for official visiting parties of sightseers, who could thus watch what was going on without getting in the way of the workers or risking danger from machines or trollies etc moving between them. Official parties under the control of an official guides passed through the whole factory every quarter hour or so. Guides wore white coats and gloves and peaked uniform white caps with a label on the front in gold saying "Guide". It used to take about 40 minutes to do the trip. At the end a box of sample products was presented to each adult member of the party according to sex. I don't know what ladies got; men got shaving soap, white toilet soap and a booklet of comments.

As you know only workers in the factory could live in the village. Grandad started work in the printing room in 1897, and got married in 1907. When he asked for tenancy of an estate house, he was offered and accepted 10, Primrose Hill, which we moved into before I started school (about 1911 or 1912). We all enjoyed our village life, and in 1922 your Grandad received a gold watch for 25 years' service with the firm.

However in the 1920s disaster arrived. Every summer we used to go to Rhyl for one week's official holiday, and that year was no different except that while we were away, an official strike was called, of all printers in Britain. Dad was told that if he wished to take a few extra days' holiday it would be all right, so he decided to hang on till the Wednesday of the following week (even though we had to find fresh digs). We arrived back at Bebington Station about 7.30pm and three of Grandad's works mates were waiting for him at Primrose Hill. They grabbed him and told him the strike was still "on" next day and demanded to be told what he was going to do next morning at worktime. They wished to remain "solid" and what was Grandad going to do? Some of the bosses with the help of apprentices were able to carry on a small service of printing, but that was all. They assured him that none of his other works mates had so far turned in for work, and they pleaded with him to stay out with them. After some discussion Grandad told his mates that if they were all staying out he would stay out with them as an official member of the Typographical Association union.

Next morning those three blokes went into the works and asked if they could start work again and agreed to instruct the apprentices in the job. Your Grandad and five of his other mates nearly blew up when they found out what had been done and that they had been left "holding the baby". The group stayed out on strike for about three months but with the help of some non-union newcomers to the works the firm staggered on almost as usual. Without any warning Grandad got an official letter from the estate office informing him that he had no right to an estate house and that it was wanted for some other worker, so GET OUT. Grandad visited the office and offered to pay the rent outstanding (rent was normally stopped from wages each week, so with not having any official wages we had not paid rent even though Grandad had called in the office and offered to pay it each week).

Meanwhile the strike had ended and Lord Leverhulme had agreed to take EVERYBODY back to the old jobs with NO VICTIMISATION of any sort. The last six men then applied for reinstatement, but nothing happened, in spite of the agreement signed by "His Nibs". Within a month or so a summons was deilvered by a copper and an estate office agent who said, "Here is your notice to quit, Mr Keen." We had seven days to get out, but houses were not easy to get even in those days so NO DICE at that time. Then Grandad had to appear at the County Court in Birkenhead to state why he had not shifted as ordered. The learned judge asked who owned the house and was told, "Lord Leverhulme." The old guy just grunted, then asked, "And who is Lord Leverhulme?" - and that within 3 miles of the huge factory! The Court was taken aback, as they say, but nevertheless the Judge ordered us to clear out of the house completely within 14 days OR ELSE! So Grandad had to pick up any old house he could. He used all his savings to BUY one for £300 before we could be put out on the street by the broker's men. The house was 64 Cobden Street in Tranmere, a slummy area but there wasn't much choice.

Grandad and his Union wrote to Leverhulme and reminded him of his agreement weeks earlier, but got no satisfaction. Those half dozen men never got back into the factory even though they were the cream of the staff employed there. During the next few years they all got responsible jobs with other firms; Grandad and another bloke named Teddy McGleave both got bosses' jobs at Griffiths in Birkenhead, but they both wanted to get back to the village - without any luck.

We lived in Tranmere till 1937 then moved to Bebington to a newly built house, and the old house in Cobden Street was bulldozed into ruin not long afterwards; now it's a wasteland of bricks and grass.

The big "cheat" always rankled with your Grandad. He was always a very straight man who never broke his word to anyone and always played the game at all times - he was perhaps too straight for many creeps he had to deal with - and he presumed everyone would play fair with everyone else the way he did. He never imagined Lord Leverhulme would not keep his word, and he always lived in hope that it would come right in the end. Even when he died, there in the inside pocket of his suit was a letter from Leverhulme refusing to honour his agreement. Poor old Grandad. He learned an awful lesson during those years, that it was never good to trust anybody too much at any time, because not everyone would keep their word. It was all a terrible blow to him and he never recovered his old self. He developed a great hatred for anything to do with Sunlight except the football team, which then played on the Oval. He did go to watch them every week he could, but that was all.

END

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Port Sunlight in the 1920s: Part 8. Clatterbridge, the cop shop and club outings (Reg Keen)

Reg Keen, my father, wrote to me in 1978 about his childhood in Port Sunlight.

During my schooldays lots of lads wore their Dad's old caps, usually with a tuck made in the back with a big safety pin to stop the cap from falling over their eyes ("gone dark early today, mate?"). These days it's chic and "liberated" for girls to wear the same style.

During the days of the training ships (before my time though) there was a fourth ship in the Sloyne called HMS Clarence after the then Duke of Clarence. There are no sailing ships left these days. Gone also are all the dozens of fishing "smacks" which used to sail in and out with the tides. Some of them used to get into the midnight race to the Isle of Man along with the yachts from the Royal Yacht Club (HQ in Bedford Road, Rock Ferry). Hundreds of spectators used to gather from about 10pm onward to watch the start of the annual race, all done in the dark unless there was a moon. (More about the Royal Mersey Yacht Club here: http://www.royalmersey-yc.co.uk/about/history/)

New Brighton Pier is now being demolished (1978). It used to be a well known place in the '20s and '30s. There used to be a one-legged man who would dive into the river as the ferry steamers arrived at the landing stage; he'd shout, "Don't forget the diver, ladies and gents!" and that was how it came to be a catchphrase on Tommy Handley's ITMA radio show (It's That Man Again). Tommy was a local bloke and knew all about the one-legged diver.

At New Brighton there used to be "Ham and Egg Parade" where that delicacy could be purchased at any time. They also had a tower, higher than Blackpool Tower. The tower was pulled down in my school days (1913-1922ish) but I can remember the tower. There was also a smuggler's retreat near Egremont called Old Mother Redcap's but it is being bulldozed to dust and its history with it.

The Battery at New Brighton was an official fort, built by the authorities to protect the river approaches along with the batteries at Seaforth. They never fired their guns much at any time. During WW2 we had metal towers built in the shipyards and towed out to the Bar and lowered onto the sandy seabed. Their guns were to protect the docks from aircraft and bombs. New Brighton Battery is being turned into a museum.

There were no passenger transport services of any kind in the village in my schooldays; it was all shanks' pony at all times. The New Chester Road was always muddy and messy. At weekends, horsedrawn waggonettes took loads of men from the local clubs and pubs to the Chester area to booze and play bowls (no darts in those days) and on their way back at night these blokes badly needed to spend a penny but there was no place to go so they took turns to stand on the lower steps of the waggonette and let it go into the churned up mud. It caused a lot of hilarity among the spectators, about the nearest they got to modern day streaking I suppose. Lads used to turn cartwheels alongside the vehicles and call out for money, which the semi-drunk passengers often threw in the mud for them.

When the Lady Lever Art Gallery was being built, the great Troubles were on in Ireland. One night Grandad was on his way home to Primrose Hill after visiting his lifelong pal Jim Parr. It was about 10.30pm and as he passed the Art Gallery building site two coppers pinched him and took him to the police station in Grove Street. Some buggers had been starting fires at the site at night and Grandad was suspect for being out so late at night, He was held at the cop shop for nearly two hours before he finally cleared himself and could go home.

About that time (or a bit later) the Mersey railway was losing money hand over fist but they must have had advice from somewhere because they suddenly cut the fares from 1s 3d return to Liverpool, down to 6d return, and all other fares pro rata. Within weeks they had started to stack the profit in heaps there was so much of it - extra station extensions were built, new trains purchased - but still the cash rolled in. To compete with them the Corporation had to reduce fares on the buses and ferryboats, and that went on until the Mersey Railway was nationalised - then everything went back to something like the old rate. There must be a lesson in there somewhere.

You asked about decorations put up when Royalty visited the village. I found a photo of the old house while sorting through a box of other snaps: people made paper roses fastened together with wire. That was about 1918/1919 I think. The Diamond that I referred to earlier, in front of the Art Gallery, was renamed King George's Drive and Queen Mary's Drive, now enclosing rose gardens and fountains etc. Road names also tell you where the streams ran in the village, River Street, Shore Road, Brook Street, Bridge Street etc; also names like Greenbank Road and Windy Hill explain themselves, so does Primrose Hill (but possibly a reference to Disraeli's Primrose League?) The houses called "The Anzacs" were named after the Australia and New Zealand Corps in the First World War. Bolton Road was a tribute to Billy Lever's birthplace; "Soapy Bill" became "Darcy and Hulme" when he was given Honours early in the 20th Century. In the churchyard a crypt was built, and the bodies of Lord and Lady Lever are now in the monument. She was a much loved lady in the village at all times.

Don't forget that Charles Dickens came to visit Mr Mayer at the old house in the park and there is still "Dickens' Walk" under the horse chestnut trees, always a pretty sight in summer.

Clatterbridge in those days was just a few scruffy buildings out in the country. It was then under the control of the Poor Law Guardians and used as a workhouse. Men and women were separated there after years of marriage. Another building was an isolation hospital. In 1942 the Yanks took the place over  - calling it "Clarrabridge" in their accent - and it was all modernised, jointly with the local people - and look at it now - 1100 beds and counting.

One other photo, of the "Marx Brothers" in full dress is of my Uncle George in his Smithy yard with three of his "boys". Nunks is the bloke standing behind the big hammer, next to the man with the horseshoe in his hand. I spent many happy hours in that yard letting off fireworks etc and wallowing in the wonderful smells of the working smithy. They really were the good old days.

More in the next... 

__________

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Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Port Sunlight in the 1920s: Part 7. Sunlight soaps, scrumping and smallpox (Reg Keen)

Reg Keen, my father, wrote to me in 1978 about his childhood in Port Sunlight.

A magazine called "Progress" was published monthly at the Sunlight works and printed in the printing room there. It kept the village folks informed of local events and so on. I think it is now (1978) called "Sunlight News".

Products that I can remember being made included:

Lifebuoy Soap; pink, for ordinary use - probably better described as "red carbolic".
White / pale yellow soap for washing laundry, everyday jobs etc.
Lux flakes for laundry washing
Monkey Brand, a type of abrasive block like a solid version of "Vim", very gritty; size about 2 and a half by 1 and threequarter inches with the name "Monkey Brand "stamped into each block onboth sides. They were packed in orange coloured paper with a monkey's face along with the brand name and the instructions for use printed in black. Adverts said in large type "remember that IT WON'T WASH CLOTHES". It was about the only cleaner of its type in those days when pumice stone was not easy to get - and it was more useful.

There were some powder type cleaners available but none seemed as popular as modern products of that sort. One big drawback was that all the workers who were engaged in packing the stuff used to suffer from constipation and so work in that department was not popular.

The same factory also made a dye called "Twink" which was excellent for dyeing materials, such as straw hats; it sold in small brown bottles, a bit bigger than medicine bottles.

The printing room where Grandad worked for many years did a lot of outside jobs like chocolate boxes for Barker and Dobson's "Viking" chocolates; the lids were embossed - the title of the brand was depressed on the inside and so "stood out" on the lids. Paper ruling was another frequent job, ie, ruling paper sheet for making cash books and ledgers. A lot of general printing was done for sale in local shops for all sorts of purposes.

Another aspect of the factory was making "oil cake" cattle food in the department called the oil cake mills near the firm's docks beside the Pool. Presumably the oil was used in the soap making and the residue sold as feed.

The company made wooden boxes to pack their own products, to send away from the factory in their vans or by steam barges via the Pool to Liverpool for the docks or by train from local goods stations. The railway lines went to most local factories including the "Maggie Anne" works (Planter's Margarine works) which later became "Stork" and later Van Den Burgh and Jurgens. I think they dabbled a bit in the candle works too but I am not certain.

You remember the "tram lines" up at Storeton? Well, that stone was dug out to help build the wharves at Port Sunlight for loading and unloading the barges. The old waggon lines led from the quarry past the school grounds of what is now Wirral Grammar school; they passed down what is now Quarry Avenue under the bridge near the General Offices in Greendale Road and then on to the little dock area opposite Poets Corner by where the Bridge Inn now stands.

It was a great place for us kids to play around and explore and so always remembered. All us lads had an "inside knowledge" of the area and the steam trains which ran regularly from the factory and the oil cake mills down the New Chester Road cutting to the margarine works and then to Port Rainbow to start the products on their export trips. I knew several drivers on the trains.

In addition to the stone from Storeton Woods some stone came from the big quarry by the windmill (now demolished). It was a grand place for "niggers' funerals" (blackberrying) - a great spot for whipping fruit of all kinds - scrumping apples was a common pastime, even along the footpath from Mayer Park towards Ellen's Lane. (A bloody big black dog chased me on one occasion when I was about 12.) There were lots of allotments around and some kids spent hours digging under the potato haulms to get at the spuds underground, then the kids lit a fire on any handy spot to bake the spuds for eating. The plant would hang on for a while, but next day it would have drooped and withered, giving the game away to passers-by. The sabotaged plants were removed, being no use any more. I never dared to join in that lark because my old Dad suffered too much from similar predation on his allotment at the back of the houses on Primrose Hill and I knew how much it used to upset him to have spent money on seed potatoes and then not get any crop worth mentioning. But lots of kids in those days were underfed and needed those unofficial picnics. You were lucky to have shoes on your feet every day and not to have to wear "reach-me-down" pants (usually your Dad's old ones cut short). That was even the case in the "posh" area of Sunlight Village, and it was much worse in New Ferry around Olinda Street and Woodhead Street (now mostly pulled down). Woodhead Street is now a car park near Berkson's shoe shop.

I remember many scares about smallpox in New Ferry area while I was at school - usually from a patient escaping the isolation hospital near the brickworks. There were great panics and the streets used to be sealed off, so shopping had to be done by friends, or the local police, while the folk living in the streets concerned stayed in their houses until the groceries etc were delivered over the table-type barriers across the streets. On one occasion an escaped smallpox patient was found at dawn in a gents' toilet in Woodhead Street. The police took him back to the hospital then workmen piulled the whole place to pieces and removed all signs of the "utensils", then the remains were burned with a sort of flame thrower and finally sprayed with disinfectant. A lone bobby was posted to keep the nosey kids away (and some adults) - although most adults kept away without any warning, they were all so scared of the dreaded smallpox.

More in the next... 

__________

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Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Port Sunlight in the 1920s: Part 6. A picnic at the Manor (Reg Keen)

In those days the river was full of ferry boats as well as other ships including sailing ships. There was the service to New Brighton and Egremont, a service to Seacombe, a service to Woodside, plus another to New Ferry and Rock Ferry. Finally there was a service of small paddle steamers to Eastham, all very handy and interesting to Sunlight village residents, who attended in hundreds by steamer or bike to collect thousands of the beautiful bluebells every spring weekend. The Ferry Hotel is all that is left of Eastham Ferry service and buildings nowadays, worse luck.

Another well-known picnic spot was and still is Raby Mere, and it has boats on it even now.

There were always organised picnics during summer, usually transporting people sitting on wooden forms fastened to a coal cart, but NOT for the village children. We usually had a big band to play at outdoor events, and there were some fine ones in the area. Port Sunlight Silver Band, Tranmere's Gleam of Sunshine, Bromborough Pool's Silver Band and Cammell Lairds' Band - alas most of them have now gone into limbo.

Once each summer the whole village went by coaches (charabancs) to Lord Leverhulme's home Thornton Manor, all very posh - but when the dozens of coaches had been filled, the enclosed works lorries were brought into use to help out. Inside those it was dark, noisy and smelly and the trip could not end soon enough. The coach children were very chuffed, but the lorry kids were not so pleased.

On arrival at the Manor the kids all got books of tickets for trips on various rides, including a sail on a motor boat of which there were two in use, the "Mauretania" and the "Lusitania", both flat bottomed, white painted, slow moving barge-like ships. It was all very interesting to us kids. Everyone did as they liked and a good time was had by all. At tea time all the kids trooped into huge marquee tents erected on the lawns and they all got the same meal: bread and margarine and a bag of cheap cakes from a Liverpool caterer's.  Last of all we got an enamel mug of hot stewed tea.
Thornton Manor (Gerald Clarkson collection)
Then followed more "rides", then organised games on the grassy field in front of the Manor. One one occasion a lucky lad had won a cricket set, a bat, three wicket stumps and a ball, so everything was laid out for a game. At this point Lord Leverhulme himself arrived, clad as usual in light clerical grey including his "topper". Being in a sporty mood he at once volunteered to join in the game. He grabbed the bat and took up his stance at the wicket, shouting, "Come on, boys, bowl at me." That is just what they did, but instead of the regulation ball he was expecting he received what was then called a "Berlin Pancake", a roundish, greasy, sugary, jammy cake withdrawn from some kid's picnic bag. It flew through the air and just missed the immaculate topper and spotless suit. His Lordship looked very shocked, and he quickly dropped the bat even though he had not hit a single ball, and nipped away saying, "Thanks boys, good luck," then he was GONE. To the kids it was the highlight of the day, bowling cakes at his Lordship and after he had paid for them too. I can still see it happening, I'll never forget that day at the Manor.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Port Sunlight in the 1920s: Part 5. Wartime and the reformatory Ships (Reg Keen)

Reg Keen, my father, wrote to me in 1978 about his childhood in Port Sunlight.

During the First World War many aircraft were very active over the village. Many Royal Flying Corps planes flew over as well and some crashed; one landed on Highcroft where Highcroft Avenue now is. I ran all the way from school to Highcroft at 4pm to see the "scout" plane land - it was very closely guarded by police all day. Lots of small planes used to fly up and down the long straight roads of the village, Central Road, Poolbank, etc. They scared the daylights out of us kids at times.

The village showground (now The Oval) was used to accommodate troops on their way to the bloodbath of Flanders. The Cheshire Regiment and the local Bantams (all under about 5 foot 3 inches in height) and many others camped at the same spot, till, about 18 months before the war ended, a gale one stormy night wrecked the camp, and the place has been more or less a dump ever since.
The Oval (posted on Facebook by Diana Parker)

Troop trains ran from Bebington and Port Sunlight station en route to France or Egypt. Two of my relations started out from there, and luckily both returned safely. There were always huge crowds to see these men board their trains, usually led by Major Ormerod (before-mentioned). There was a band stand on what was called The Diamond and when the war ended all the village gathered to rejoice in the victory to which it had given so many lives. The War Memorial to the men was erected near the open air swimming baths, one of the original buildings in Port Sunlight at its inception.

If I misbehaved in any way while at school my parents would threaten to send me to a training ship named "Clio", on station in the Menai Straits. Even the slightest misbehaviour was given as a reason for sending me to the "Clio" and it scared the pants off me. She was a reformatory ship like the three stationed in the Mersey: the "Akbar", the "Indefatigable" and the "Conway". Only the last two were on station in my school days. The two big training ships were always of great interest in the Mersey along with all the schooners and steamships anchored in the Sloyne area of the river.

I used to watch the crews holding their races on the river during summer months and wondered if, very soon, I would find myself rowing for a "Clio" crew in the Straits. It was a nightmare to live under such threats. On one occasion my bag was packed and put by the front door ready for the police to come and collect me for my punishment. Eventually when I left school the threat was dropped and I forgot all about the training ship until last week when a photograph was published in the Echo of the old "Clio" in the Straits. I have cut it out to keep as a memory of my schooldays.


More in the next... 

__________

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Sunday, December 13, 2015

Port Sunlight in the 1920s: Part 4. Sunday is Funday (Reg Keen)


The Boys' Brigade was very popular with the villagers and their bosses, and the Brigade used to go to camp in the Isle of Man each summer, often at Laxey. Grandad used to tell me about the tricks they used to get up to at camps. His favourite (being the Big Drum) was to tighten up the outer skins of the drum and then march through the small old fashioned villages banging away like hell to the great annoyance of the local populace. When they left the village he slackened the skins again to save splitting them.

The Band of Hope was organised by the churches, and each church often had their own mob. They would meet on Friday nights for all sorts of genteel games, like Ludo, Musical Chairs, three-legged races etc, then a bit of polite singing, usually hymns or similar ditties, and if you didn't sing you didn't get a (stale) cake or a swig of cold stewed tea. The thrill of that soon died away and the lads joined the Scouts; the girls never bothered much with such organisations to avoid trouble.

The country round about was very sparse except for some farms, commons, lanes and big houses - like the walk from Bebington to Raby Mere without the new housing estates. New Ferry was very like it is today but without Grove Street School; the Park was as it is now too and New Ferry Road (then New Ferry Lane) was well used by folk walking down to the Liverpool steamers (every 20 minutes). That service kept the place alive till a tanker ran into the pier during my later schooldays and that finished off the service for good.

At weekends the lads used to visit the shore at New and Rock Ferries to wander about with shoes and socks off (those who had socks!) in the thick slimy mud, singing all the popular songs to the passengers disembarking from the ferry boats, and then shouting, "Spare a copper please!" The passengers would throw pennies, always edgeways into the mud and out of sight so the kids would have to forage beneath the slime to try and grab the cash, which was very scarce in those days. It was a well known game at that time - early '20s.

Other games, on land, were: Pussy four corners, Marbles, Tip Cat, Throw the can (an improvement on Kick the Can, better aim!) - it was easier to knock off the bobby's helmet if you threw the can with a brick stuffed in it!

We also played cricket and football, fives, releavo and weak-horse; and with fag cards, cherrywags, hoops, tops. A favourite game was to tie two adjacent doorknockers together then knock at one door and run like 'ell. A harmless gag was to get two empty wooden cotton reels and two lads would stand either side of the footway in the darkness of evening and go through the motions of winding cotton onto the reels, shouting at homecoming passers-by to "Mind the cotton please!" The antics of the folk were a good laugh as they dodged the imaginary cotton. Another trick was to collect a ball of mud, wet it and divide it into smaller balls to throw at house windows where they flattened and remained stuck.

There were few street lamps (gas) in those days so there was a lot of scope for polite mischief but there was no rough stuff or damage done to property. We all knew that Billy Lever would soon "fix" you if you got too venturesome.

Number 10, Primrose Hill, was a 5 roomed house plus a small pantry and a bathroom, but no water laid to it either hot or cold. When you wanted a bath you had to light a small coal-fired boiler in the back kitchen, which heated water in a "copper" above it. The water then had to be ladled into a bucket and poured into the bath. Laundry was done the same way. It was a hot, stuffy, steaming, smelly and dangerous system especially when young children were present. After bathing or washing was completed the dirty water had to be ladled out and poured down the outside grid in the backyard. All very tiring. There were three bedrooms upstairs and nothing else, no toilet - that was at the very bottom of the backyard. It flushed but there was no light or any refinements, just a big nail with small newspaper bits strung on it for eventual use. All water was cold water, from a tap in the back kitchen - no pumping required.

Grandad had a rented allotment in the land behind the enclosed "backs" at 2s 6d per year rent. We also took up some flagstones in the back yard and planted flowers right outside the kitchen door,  Some tenants kept hens in their allotments, which was allowed.

There were ice cream carts and donkey rides on New Ferry shore from the pier offices towards Bromborough Pool, at the foot of what was known as the Shore Cliffs. In the second world war there was an anti-aircraft battery there, very near what was years ago the Isolation Hospital (treating smallpox), for ships' crews arriving in the port of Liverpool. Barnes' Brickworks were near the hospital (Grandad worked at the brickworks when he was 12).

Every year there was a walking race from Woodside to Ellesmere Port, organised by a relation of my family, Harry Thompson. His son Harry Junior won the race on several occasions.

Schoolboy football was very much in evidence. Church Drive Boys played at the Poolbank enclosure (The Tins, painted red) in the centre of the village. Most local schools also had teams and provided the lads for the local "town" teams such as Bebington Schoolboys, and Birkenhead Schoolboys who included the great Dixie Dean when he was under 14 years of age. He was the greatest centre forward ever in this country, scoring over 60 goals in a season.

More in the next... 

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And, rather less specific  - "Castles, Customs and Kings - Volume 2" by English Historical Fiction Authors, edited by Debra Brown and Sue Millard, is available at:


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