Memories of Stoke-on-Trent people - Mike
WELL! SOMEONE HAS TO.
Although I “emigrated” from the Potteries to Nottingham in 1966 when I was twenty years old I still have a warmth, an empathy and a strong sense of belonging to the city that I knew so well from the late 1940’s to the mid 1960’s.Living my daily life in Nottingham the changes here have seemed insignificant and gradual but being away from the Potteries for many years seem awesome and drastic by comparison..
When I first came back with my wife I made a beeline for Old Hall Terrace in Hanley, the first home that I remember from 1948 to 1953 but it was gone Wiped from the face of the earth. All that remained was ten yards of cobbles at the top of the terrace and then…..nothing!
I should not have been surprised really as the houses were in terrible condition. The only running water came via a cold tap in the yard and the toilet to was further up the yard. Two up and two down, no electricity, the only light came from a gas mantle in the front room, candles provided the light in the kitchen and we went to bed with small oil lamps. I still remember going to bed on a winters night, the shadows from the lamps dancing on the walls and ceilings like ghostly apparitions that enticed your imagination to conjure up all manner of frightening scenarios. By the time that you entered the cold, dark bedroom made worse by the linoleum floor that was as cold as, and felt like walking on a frozen lake, you were glad to retreat to the comparative safety of your bed where you could hide from the shadows, both real and imaginary under the blankets.
My Grandparents who lived at 4 Old Hall Terrace. Hanley
Grandfather: John Carr. Grandmother Lilian and my mother was Eva
Although I have many memories from this period there are some memories that seem to jump out at you with irritating regularity and one which I recall was the Christmas of 1949 when I was 4 years old. I was in Hanley accompanying my Mother doing some last minute shopping and remember walking through Lewis’s Arcade. The late afternoon was cold and dark but passing by Huntbach’s the light emanating from the windows shone like a beacon, warm and welcoming .In the distance the remnants of a carol could be heard from the Salvation Army in the Market Square. As we approached they were huddled in a circle stamping their feet to get the circulation moving. Upon resuming with Hark the Herald Angels Sing I clutched my Mother’s hand tightly as we watched them call down Christmas from the cold dark sky. I didn’t know what this scene meant to me then but I think I do…..now.
Our house and several others on Old Hall Terrace was owned by Mrs. Fogg who also owned the corner shop (later taken over by Mr. Grundy) which as I recall had an array of glass jars on the shelves brimming with all kinds of sweets. The rent on the house was seven shillings and sixpence per week (thirty seven and a half pence)
My memory often drifts back to this period of my life and the strange thing is that it seems like yesterday and it seems like a thousand years ago at one and the same time. I can remember that the Co-op still delivered milk and bread by horse and cart and the same mode of transport was used by a local ice cream man. Joe Delicata who advertised his presence by blowing a bugle. Another character who I remember well was Mrs. Chadwick the stick woman who as her nickname implied eked out a living selling bundles of sticks which she chopped with a giant cleaver. White hair in a bun ,long grey dress that hung all the way to the floor and a white apron were the only clothes that I ever saw her in. She lived off Elizabeth Street down the Opening (opposite the grocery shop owned by Mr. Cross where I would go to fetch a gas mantle for a shilling (5p). Her house was over-run with chickens. Every evening she would make several trips to the off-license at the top of Hillcrest Street, returning with a large jug brimming with ale and although on her final journey of the night she would be staggering home she never seemed to spill a drop.
When it was time for a haircut I was unceremoniously whisked to Mr. Cappers barber shop on Bucknall New Road. I never realized then what a small shop it was .It could not have been any bigger than 10ft by 8ft.I recall that he only seemed to discuss football with the more mature of his clients.
Some of the other shops that I recall on that particular road were the Chinese laundry, a small shop that seemed to specialize in used army boots at seven shillings and sixpence (37 ½p). Mr. Salkow's hardware shop and Mrs. West's cloths shop where on special occasions we were kitted out with new clothes which were paid for weekly. Every week my father sent me to fetch 2 ounces of St Bruno rough cut Empire blend tobacco .I dreaded going because I had to go past the “rocks” and we all dreaded meeting the “rocks gang”. I never did discover whether they were real or imaginary.
The school that I attended was Birches Head Roman Catholic. The headmaster, Mr. J.F.Hogan was a very imposing figure who ran the school with a rod of iron. There were many occasions when I stood nervously outside his study waiting to be caned. In fact that was the only reason that small boys went to his study. I remember one occasion when I was thrashed in front of the whole school, My hands swelled so much that I was unable to grip a pen and I had black, blue and yellow bruises on my legs and backside. This punishment was meted out for scrumping apples. I was at this time 11 years old.
My journey to school was not undertaken by car but it was a lot more fun and adventurous. Imagination would run riot via the environment around me. The whole area had a labyrinth of back alleys and passageways which could stimulate the most dormant imagination in a small child. I could be Flash Gordon on the planet Mongol one minute and riding the plains as Roy Rogers the next. There was no horizon. Anything was possible.
In the early part of 1953 my mother greeted us with the news that we had been allocated a new council house in Bentilee although her main concern was the huge increase in rent that would have to be paid nineteen shillings and sixpence (97½p). A huge increase from the rent that was paid to Mrs. Fogg.
Moving day was greeted with great excitement even allowing for the fact that we did not have the luxury of a removal van. What few possessions we had were transported courtesy of Mr. Wilton our local coal merchant via his horse and cart.
Bentilee was an entirely different world to Old Hall Terrace. We had electricity and hot and cold running water a real bath and not one but TWO inside toilets. What luxury! At that time there were fields to play in and trees to climb. We even had a gang hut which we lit with candles and then frightened ourselves to death telling ghost stories. We had expeditions to and around Mossfield Colliery and in the summer months we helped out at Stanways Farm. Our horizons stretched much further than television, computers and the latest video game.
Upon leaving school and not wishing to plump for the regulation choice of pit or pots I started work for Brittains Paper Mill near to Ivy house. My pay was four pounds two shillings and sixpence (£4.37p) for a forty hour week. Where I stayed for a year. I then obtained a job with a small firm of plasterers. Eric Tute &Son at Etruria. This was a retrograde step really as my hour of work increased to 52 and my pay was ten shillings (50p) a week less. The main source of work was doing property repairs for the National Coal Board which usually involved replacing cracked bedroom ceilings. A small hole was removed from the ceiling and I would have to climb into the recess and kick down the ceiling with my feet. The room would soon fill up with black choking dust and I would go home in the evening blacker than any coal miner. Needless to say I did not stay to long in this job.After work the ride home on a Stoniers bus was usually more than a little hair raising because by the time the bus reached Ivy House it was usually full but undeterred the conductor would mostly accommodate the waiting crowd, passengers would be standing in the aisle upstairs on the stairs and it was not uncommon to have a dozen of us hanging on the open platform
In 1962 I started work for J&G. Meakin at the Eagle Pottery as a platemaker on piecework and although the work was hard with Saturday morning overtime I was taking home £10 per week. I made lots of friends and the workplace always seemed to have a warm friendly atmosphere, holding none of the stresses and pressures of our workplaces of today.
J& G Meakin entrance
It is of course impossible but there are times when I long to bring back the past, even yearn to sometimes but I realize that the Potteries of my early life is only a mythical city in my mind and looking back at the hardships that we endured compared to the standards of today I am still of the opinion that we have lost more than we have gained. We are certainly not better people because of these gains.
I miss so much of those far of days, the smoke from the kilns, the hiss and roar from the steam trains shunting to and fro around Hanley Deep Pit, the shrill blast from the factory hooters enticing the people to their labours, long summer holidays with expeditions to the canal armed with a bottle of water, doorstep dripping sandwich ,jam jar and fishing net.
The Potteries is often derided but I feel that there was a beauty in those grim landscapes and I am so grateful to have been a part of those landscapes and those people and that time.
I am proud of my heritage and proud of the people that I come from.
Some time ago I was asked where I came from. "The Potteries” I replied. ”Well!Someone has to“ he said but I am so thankful because that “someone” was me
June 2000 (updated: March 2006)