A photo walk across Stoke Fields to Winton's Wood, Stoke-on-Trent
- the parish of St. Simon and St. Jude

Boyhood - continued


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One Sunday afternoon in July was the Sunday School and Patronal Festival at St Jude's Church. The congregation assembled in Seaford Street outside the Church and Vicarage. Led by a drum and bugle band from the Boy's Brigade in Cauldon Road, a Procession of Witness formed up to visit every street in the Parish, stopping for a hymn and a prayer.

Behind the band was the Processional Cross and fully robed choir, the Church Banner and the Mother's Union Banner, the Sunday School children and teachers, the Church Wardens, Sidesmen and members of the congregation. The band struck up and the procession moved off, there was to be no afternoon nap this Sunday. Sidesmen with collecting boxes ran along the pavements, knocking thunderously on every door, upstairs windows were thrown open and disturbed sleepers in vests threw money into the street. It was an  occasion of great humour and a public expression of a simple faith.

The seasons of the year dictated our childish pastimes. Football in the winter months and cricket in the summer. The perennial soap-box carts or trollies, for there was still business to be done at the railway station. The servicemen were fewer, but still in evidence owing to National Service and Britain's overseas territories. During the summer months however, holiday-makers going and coming to the station were equally as grateful to have their cases put on wheels. An alternative was to have  your  cabin  trunk  collected from home some days before departure by Carter, Paterson and Pickfords and to be waiting for you at your holiday destination on arrival. Homeward bound the procedure was in reverse: the trunk was left at your "digs" for collection and delivery home early the following week. A most reliable rail service.

At the beginning of Wakes Week, huge queues would form along Station Road, assembling under large posters bearing letters of the alphabet which referred to special holiday trains. This was a popular theme of the Evening Sentinel at that time of year.

In the early 1950's many of the old street names were altered. In a modern city comprised of six historic towns, it was inevitable that there would be many duplications. Church Streets, High Streets, Market Streets and Park Avenues abounded. The City Surveyor's Department embarked upon a  full scale review of street names. Where there was duplication, the oldest location retained the original name with the also-ran's being renamed, sometimes incongruously to the chagrin of many older residents. St Jude's remained largely unscathed by this modernisation, although the founding father of the streets was snubbed when Ford Street became Crowther Street; Victoria Road became with some logic, College Road and Park Avenue became Avenue Road. Along Leek Road, Poplar Grove the short, steep connection with Ridgway Road became Mawson Grove in honour of Hanley Park's 19th Century designer.    

We spun tops, played marbles in the gutter, and tossed crown cork bottle tops against walls. We bowled hoops or bowlers of varying sizes from bicycle wheels to lorry tyres and made winter warmers - a tin can with a long wire loop, filled with glowing coals whirled round the head until red hot. Most of the time the wire held. I was a member of the Boughey Road Gang, which met in the Backs between Boughey Road and Leek Road, on a triangular patch of black ash in front of a large commercial garage, whose doors had never been open in living memory. Through the cracks could be seen vehicle shapes under dust sheets, but it was always a  mysterious place. We all met around the "pig bin", located there to collect food scraps for someone's pig. We played mini rounders, football and cricket (because it was not a very big patch), mass skipping rope events and many other childish games.

Bonfire Night:
The big event of the year however, was Bonfire Night. Collection began by common consent in September, and by the 5th of November the fire was many feet high. Like the winter warmers, fire always had an attraction for children, but on this occasion, all the adults joined in. The Fire Brigade was only called once. Guy Fawkes effigies were made and hawked round the streets to collect money for fireworks. A favourite pitch was on the pavement opposite Poxon's Field waiting for the workmen. In the November dusk they could be heard tramping up Leek Road from the direction of the Railway Station. Hobnail boots on blue bricks make an unforgettable sound; tired, dirty, be-capped and be-haversacked they trudged home in a remorseless stream, but always more than a few stopped to toss coppers into our hat, they who had little to spare.

The Gang also had a territory already mentioned, Poxon's Field. Reputedly a Corporation depot, for gravel, kerbs, hard tipped material, and the tank blocks from the war years- a kids' paradise. We lit fires, built dens, played action-man type games, dammed the watercourse at the foot of the Sewage Works embankment, little realising that James Brindley and his men had dug it two hundred years previously, as a feeder for the Grand Trunk Canal - remember?

Site of Hanley Sewerage Treatment Works
now part of Staffordshire University sports facilities


We half-heartedly trespassed into the Sewage Works, to catch a ride on the filter bed sprinklers which ran on iron wheels around circular rails. Apparently in the past a boy had fallen off and had lost a leg under the wheels, but we never knew whether this was just a frightener. We called this place the Tanky Banks, and were always on the look out for the Tanky Men, especially Eric who was reputed to be violent if he caught you -  we shouted abuse from a distance. Beyond the Tanky Banks, across the river was Squire Broade's, an expanse of fields still under cultivation or rough pasture, where we could walk through the lanes. Up at Fenton Manor was a girls senior school where our female playmates were destined to go after Cauldon  Road  Elementary  School. Tales of cruelty and harsh punishment abounded.

A rival gang had their territory in the streets behind Winton Terrace near the railway. This was the dreaded Meadows Gang, who sometimes invaded our space via the allotment paths but who were always repulsed. Strange to relate, we never invaded their territory as they were reputed to be lawless and led by a character called Pegleg. In ones and twos we would venture towards the railway always keeping to the opposite side of the road, to indulge one of our greatest passions. Trainspotting!

At a low point on the boundary wall which had been built across the old level crossing during the last century, near to the old Roebuck Inn and behind the modern statue "A Man Can't Fly", was a vantage point where two or three boys armed with Ian Allan's Trainspotting Guide could sit and watch the trains go by. They could also  look  down  at  the  notoriously  low  Glebe  Street Railway Bridge, and hope for an unsuspecting double-decker bus or a high lorry to get stuck underneath. There was also a steam vacuum-operated locomotive turn-table over the wall, where engines could be turned round either by an attached vacuum pump if they were modern, or by a crank handle operated by the crew if they were not. Great fun to hitch a ride, keeping on their blind side, but always with an eye out for the railway policeman. For one penny we could buy a platform ticket and sit in comfort on the station, or look longingly at the Fry'
s chocolate machine long since out of chocolate for these were still days of sweet  rationing.   Alternatively we could print our names on a metal strip if we had a spare coin for the big, red machine with the alphabet pointer and a handle to print each letter. For three halfpence we could buy a ticket to Etruria and actually ride on the train. For twopence we could go to Longport, but that might just as well have been Manchester - foreign territory!

Stoke railway station
Winton Square, Station Road

When a few years older, equipped with cycles, we would ride out for the day to Norton Bridge, Whitmore or Stableford to see the express trains thunder through en route for Crewe Junction and the North, or to London Euston. Compared with this super railway, the line through Stoke was a country lane. All the expresses were pulled by one or sometimes two top class steam locomotives named after Battles, Regiments, Warships, Commonwealth and Empire countries; the stars were the Coronation Class locos - Princess Royal, George VI and other royal names.

Such freedom would be unheard of today, and our only restrictions were the weather and daylight. Nationalisation of the railways meant an end to the liveries of the remaining four companies - LMS, LNER, GWR and Southern Railways. The political implications of public ownership were lost on us, but somehow "British Railways"  did not have the same spark. It rather smacked of the "British Restaurant" in Hanley, where dull food was served up for lunch to office and shop workers, and was the butt of music hall comics.

Probably the high spot of our trainspotting mania was when the newly named locomotive "City of Stoke-on-Trent" visited Stoke Station and was parked for a few days in a small siding below Grimwade's Pottery in Stoke Road.. The public were invited to climb steps onto the footplate and see the driver's domain with  its  firebox  door,  gleaming  pipework  and  levers. The engine was kept in steam, and sat like a large kettle quietly singing on the hob. Enthralling!

Then came the demise of steam and the advent of other forms of propulsion. The first diesel electric locomotive came to Stoke and boyhood was over.

next: the 1950's and decline
previous: boyhood


John Alcock - (c) Copyright 2006