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:

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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1 comment:

Richard Abbott said...

Funnily enough I walked past Inverforth House today, formerly known as The Hill - William Lever's home on the edge of Hampstead Heath for about 20 years. Odd that he should turn up twice in one day!