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.

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