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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