Copyright © 2012. All rights reserved.
The moral rights of the author and editors have been asserted.
I was always interested in fishing when I was a boy and this interest lasted many years until well into the 1930's. To begin with, I would catch “Jacksharps” (sticklebacks) using a garden cane, a matchstick for a float, and a length of black cotton thread with a small worm tied on the end. I don't remember ever using a bent pin. The technique was to judge from the movements of the float when a fish had got a good grip of the worm and then quickly pull it out before it dropped off. With luck the victim would fall on the bank where it could be grabbed and put in a jam-jar of water. Sticklebacks erected their spines when captured so had to picked up carefully. Later I owned a 3-piece rod made of cane with a brass ferrule on each section to prevent splitting, the top piece was made from some kind of hardwood and the whole rod had metal rings for the line. The rest of my equipment was basic, a line, a hook on a short length of gut, split lead-shot to weigh it down, and a float which I made from a piece of cork and the quill from a feather. My friends had similar gear. Sometimes, we were sufficiently optimistic to carry a tin-can on a string for our “catch”. All we ever got were a few roach, an occasional carp, dace, newts and of course, sticklebacks.
The “Clayhole” near Derby Road was very accessible and a popular place for roach fishing and I once saw a very large specimen which must have been some pounds in weight caught here by an older boy with proper fishing tackle. The “Brickies”, off Marsh Hall Pad, were better for newts and pond creatures such as caddis worms, pond scorpions, and large water beetles. One of the “Brickies” pits seemed to be a dumping ground for rubbish and one of our amusements was “ponking” at floating tins with small stones. We only were able to catch sticklebacks in Robinson's pit. Potential fishing pits existed over much of Farnworth and Cronton and together with a few friends I would go round the countryside looking for likely ponds. The pits I have named were about the only ones we could approach without trespassing and many of the pits we explored in farmer's fields were too overgrown to be of much use. There was also the risk of being chased by the farmer which was not conducive to the quiet relaxed state necessary to enjoy fishing properly.
One of the most successful pits lay in the grounds of Cronton Colliery and was probably private. We went there several times, the gate watchman not taking any notice of us as we walked in and out. This pit was rich in dace and we never failed to catch a number of fish which we took home in our tins of water. I once went there on the crossbar of Father's bicycle, despite his misgivings about trespassing, riding past the watchman's hut as if we owned the place. I caught a number of fish and we returned home safely without being stopped although some time later we heard that some trespassers had indeed been summonsed for illegal fishing in the colliery grounds.
After much pestering Father said I could have a pond in our back garden and we started to make one. It was a bowl-shaped round hole, perhaps 3-4 feet across and our first attempt involved the use of “puddled” clay (which cost nothing!) I had a wooden box mounted on pram wheels which we used to fetch quantities of clay from an exposed bank along the road to Kelsall's Wood on the west side of Birchfield Road. This was a laborious job but it was done and our pond lined with a layer of several inches of puddled clay. We then filled it with water using buckets, producing a muddy pool, which, to our disappointment, was found to be empty next morning, only a few small (worm) holes showing where the water had gone. After vain attempts to make the lining waterproof Father got hold of some cement and gave it a lining which held water and moreover was not muddy. We kept a few fish in this pool but they didn't thrive and it wasn't long before the pool was abandoned as far as fish keeping was concerned.
Not far from the place where we got our supply of clay for our garden pond, on the north side of the track to Kelsall's Wood, there was a fenced-off area surrounding a garden of plants and shrubs with a splendid large pond in the middle. This was the private property of Colonel Sayce, a fiery gentleman who lived not far away in Victoria Avenue, near Farnworth station. Once, rather cheekily, two of us called at his house to ask permission to fish in this private pit. A maid came to the door and relayed our request to the colonel. After a short interval she came back to say “NO!”, not altogether to our surprise.
During a holiday at Southport in 1928 I first came across the delights of crab fishing, when, with a string tied to a cod's head from a fishmonger, I would sit on the concrete wall of the marine lake and haul up a few small crabs. It was only when we were on holiday that I was able to do any more “sea-fishing”, and I remember fishing from Blackpool pier using a hand-line which Father bought me. On a wooden winding frame was a substantial brown line with a round lead weight and a paternoster carrying two large hooks on gut. Using this from a pier I managed to catch a whiting which was rather too long to fit into my seaside bucket without marked curvature of the spine. We later dropped it back into the sea. Apart from the risks from other anglers’ hooks, the main problem was getting hold of bait and I paid many visits to a fishing-tackle shop in unsuccessful attempts to get some. They were always “waiting for it to come in”, so I never did manage to get any from this source but must have got some from somewhere.
In the early 1930's while we were on holiday at Douglas I.O.M. I had an exciting trip on a boat to fish for mackerel. The sea was not particularly rough but the boat was lively and I greatly enjoyed the outing, although I only caught one rather large mackerel. When we returned to shore, the boatman passed a string through its gills and I carried home in triumph with the idea that it would be a nice present for Grandma Adams. Needless to say it didn't keep very well and had to be disposed of before the end of the holiday, so Grandma never got her fish.
Norman and I went fishing in Douglas harbour when we were on holiday in the I.O.M. in August 1933 and were left to our own devices for the afternoon. We could see shoals of small fish swimming near the harbour wall but despite our best efforts we failed to catch any and when Father and Mother arrived we were reduced to having our photographs taken holding the mackerel we had brought to cut up for bait.
By this time I was at the Wade Deacon Grammar School and several of my friends were also anglers. The leading exponent was Ralph Wainwright who lived in Runcorn and he introduced us to the splendid catalogues of Hardy's of Alnwick, the country's leading manufacture of fishing tackle. I don't know what they thought about the sudden interest in their (expensive) goods in the Widnes area but some of us sent for their thick glossy catalogues which had many colour illustrations of salmon and trout flies and very up-market fishing rods and other equipment. There were also illustrated accounts of fishing in various parts of the world with pictures of large catches. At that time there was a thriving sport of tunny fishing off Scarborough and the large fish caught dwarfed the fishermen who caught them. I read and reread these catalogues many times although they had little to do with my modest activities in the angling line.
In 1938 we all went on holiday to Bethesda, staying in part of a cottage at Bryn Eglwys. I had the idea that we would have fresh trout for breakfast each day, so Norman and I went down to the river Ogwen early in the morning of our first day and started to fish. We were sufficiently unsporting as to use worms as bait and soon managed to catch a few small trout which we carried back and had fried for breakfast. Delicious! As the cottage was at about 750 feet elevation, it was quite a hard pull up the road back and we gave up having further trout for breakfast. Mr Jones, who lived in the other half of the cottage, showed us the way to a large pool nearby where I had some attempts at fly-fishing but with no success.
The only other fishing trip during this holiday was on Llyn Ogwen. We hired a rowing boat and all four of us set out on this big stretch of water. Mother dropped a knitting-needle in the water but as the water was very clear and not very deep at that point, we were able to recover it. We only had one rod so took it in turns to fish. Neither Norman or I had any success but when Father tried, he hooked a trout. In his excitement he lifted the rod violently, flinging the poor fish overhead in a wide arc to come off the hook and vanish in the lake. We then found that we had drifted to the east end of the lake and had a hard pull against the wind to get back to the boathouse. No fish but a pleasant outing!
I sometimes went to a cinema, “the pictures” as we called it, usually with Father as Norman was too young to go at that time. The films were all in black and white and silent, any conversation being shown by words on a blank background at intervals throughout the action. This caused some difficulty in following the story. We saw our first “Talkie” at the Premier Cinema in Albert Road in 1929, and it seemed a great novelty at the time although the American accent was hard to understand. Later on, I remember seeing a colour film at the same cinema; a fantasy about divers in armoured suits fighting in the deep sea. I couldn't make head or tail of the story but it was exciting and was the first colour film I had seen.
Once, when Father and I went to see another exciting film, I got so involved with the story that I chewed a hole in the peak of my cap down to the rubber lining. This was a family joke for many years. We also went to the Alexandra Theatre, the only purpose-built theatre in Widnes, where repertory companies would perform popular plays, usually melodramas and dialect comedies of the genre of “Hobson's Choice”. They must also have had variety performances, as I remember seeing a stage version of the Indian Rope Trick - not very convincing! It was said that Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel had once performed here. It later became a cinema and it was here that I remember seeing “Snow White” in the 1930's.
With a few friends I would sometimes go to the Saturday matinees at the “Bozzadrome” which was on the opposite side of the road to the “Premier”. I suppose it would be classed as a flea-pit; in fact, on one occasion I actually watched a louse crawling on the neck of the boy in front of me in the queue at the box office. The admission charge was not very much and the cinema would be packed out with children, chiefly boys. Bags of peanuts were sold and the shells thrown about freely as the nuts were eaten. I don't remember any ice-cream being sold at these performances. Some boys would bring small turnips to gnaw at during the films and the residues of these were also thrown about. The performances usually consisted of a main feature film supported by a number of “shorts” which often included a “Western” serial where the hero was left in a “cliff-hanging” situation at the end of each episode. This was to encourage attendance the following week to see if the hero had escaped. There were also comedies, usually of the “slap-stick” variety, and perhaps this is where I picked up my continued liking for Laurel and Hardy films.
Some semblance of order was maintained by a severe lady who prowled around carrying a red-painted stick. It was usually rowdy before and after the films but was fairly quiet during the performance. (When I went to the Wade Deacon Grammar School in the 1930's, the Physics laboratory had been given the original electric motor that had been formerly used to drive the projector at the Bozzadrome and it was a surprisingly small machine.)
There were eight cinemas in Widnes eventually, and I went to each of them at one time or another, especially in the 1930's. The older cinemas were the Premier, Bozzadrome, Co-Op, Alexandra, Picturedrome and Century. The Regal and the Empire were built later in the mid 1930's. There were also two cinemas in Runcorn, the Scala and the Empress but I only went to these when I worked at Widnes Laboratory.
Another place of entertainment in the 1930's was the Borough Hall where boxing and wrestling matches were staged. I only went here a few times to see “wrostling” but this was after I had started work and went with some of my working friends. The wrestling was really a kind of pantomime, the exponents showing every sign of committing grievous bodily harm on each other but it was only play-acting and I don't think anybody got seriously hurt. Nearby the Borough Hall was the Black Cat billiard saloon which had a rather disreputable reputation and I only went inside this place a few times as a spectator and not to play as I was not attracted to this smoky place.
On some Saturdays, we would go to Grandma & Grandad Adams' house in Belvoir Road where the adults would play cards. Father's brothers and their wives would also be there and they would play Rummy or Matrimony for ha'pence. After several hour's play a few coppers would have changed hands and Grandma would be delighted if she had won about five or six pence during the evening. Their house, No.36, was a “two up and two down” and must have been similar to their earlier house in Witt Road. The front door opened on a short lobby with another, glazed, door opening into the parlour which was full of furniture but little used. I can remember it being used as an overflow when there was a family party. (for example in 1955 when they celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary.) On a sideboard to the left as you entered the parlour was a large glass dome covering a group of glass birds and artificial flowers, and in the same room was the family Bible and Grandma's postcard album which I was allowed to see sometimes.
The next room was the living room with a high, black-leaded grate with an oven, and a flight of stairs in the left-hand wall, leading up to two bedrooms (I don't remember ever being allowed upstairs). In front of the grate was a home-made rag-rug, and Grandma invariably sat in a chair near the window to the left of the fire. On a corner shelf was a wireless set that had been made by Uncle Mark; I was there when he arrived with a parcel and unpacked the components that he was to use to build this set. For some years, there was a single bed under this window when Great-grandma Davie was being cared for, presumably until she became too much for Grandma to cope with.
A door from the living room led into the back scullery where there was a gas-ring, a sink and water supply, and here food was stored. From the scullery a door opened into a tiled yard where there was a wash-house with a copper, dolly tubs and other laundry utensils. When I was young I would play a game of “Pints & Quarts”, which involved sloshing cans of water from one container to another. There were also bars of Gossages' Magical Soap and Blue-Mottled Soap to use in blowing bubbles. (These large bars of soap cost about 2 1/2d per bar.) At the bottom of the yard was the W.C., by a door leading to the back entry, a narrow alleyway between the backs of the houses and which was paved with stone setts.
When I was a little older I played out in the street with any other children who happened to be about. When collecting cigarette cards was all the rage, we would go down Albert Road accosting anyone we saw smoking, asking them for any cards they had. I got quite a lot of clean, new cards in this way. There was hardly any road traffic in Albert Road apart from the occasional bus, and virtually none in Belvoir Road so the streets seemed much safer then.
The front door was usually left open during the day and it was the custom for us to open the lobby door with the greeting “Anybody In?”. They always seemed pleased to see visitors. Uncle Frank and Aunt Ethel with Hilda, their daughter, lived further down the street, on the same side. We called to see them at times, as well as Uncle Mark and Uncle Arthur and their families who lived down West Bank but more often saw them all at Grandma's. I liked Grandad who told me stories about catching sparrows (possibly to make pies) using a riddle and crumbs, and brought me a big lump of quicklime from Gossages Soap Works once, when I wanted some for a chemistry experiment. He worked at Gossage's until it closed down in 1932, Uncles Frank and Tom and their families moved to Port Sunlight at that time. Grandad had an allotment where he grew vegetables, and Grandma would send him down to Widnes market when she became housebound. He would have a shopping list and had to account for every penny, going back to correct any mistakes. (Auntie Effie once told us, “Grandma would skin a gnat for its hide”.) But in later times, she would give me a penny when I called to see her, and I always felt badly about this as I knew that they were not very well off.
Grandma Adams suffered from rheumatism badly. One of the weeklies, John Bull, I think, had an advertisement offering a free trial sample of a remedy for this complaint, “Elasto” (the slogan being - “Elasto will lighten your step!”) All the family rallied round and sent off for free samples so as to supply Grandma with a fair quantity of this panacea. I should imagine that the manufacturers thought the Adams family a decrepit crowd! In the 1930's, Grandma had a pet budgie which was tame enough to be let out in the room and would sit on her shoulder.
Uncle Norman and Aunt Winnie lived in a bungalow at Sankey and we sometimes visited them, travelling by train from Farnworth station. Uncle Norman was a businessman in the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company and sufficiently well off to be able to run a small car, (a two-seater), quite a luxury at that time. Sometimes he would run us home in this car, and I travelled in the “dicky-seat” where I got plenty of fresh air! At this time, cars had running boards often with a petrol can strapped on as a reserve supply as one of the main hazards was running out of fuel. (Our first car, a 1936 Morris 8 also had running boards). On the odd occasion that I travelled inside the car at night I used to think that the instruments should have been more brightly lit, not realising, at that time, that it was more important to be able to see where the car was going. This was the first car that I ever remember riding in.
The Sankey bungalow was very modern and neat. On the mantelshelf, Uncle Norman had two small wooden aeroplane models with rotatable wooden propellers but although I was shown them I was not allowed to play with these nice ornaments. The bungalow was close to a working farm with cattle and I could play in cow field beyond the garden. To reach this I had to go through the farmyard and once, walking back through the farmyard one day, I was chased by a herd of geese who were very aggressive to a small boy trespassing in their yard. I got a few hard nips from them before I escaped.
As a family, we went several times to Belle View Zoo at Manchester, travelling by train from Farnworth Station and completing the journey by bus. Apart from all the animals which were of great interest to me, there were grand firework displays at night. We watched set pieces of many fireworks across a sheet of water, presumably a safety measure to keep spectators at a safe distance. We had to stand to see these displays and this was very tiring at the end of a busy day. I have a vivid memory of one splendid display which represented the Relief of Lucknow and was very impressive with a background stage set of buildings and fortifications.
During these visits to the Zoo we would have a general look round and then while Father and Mother sat down somewhere I wandered round on my own. Once, while stroking a rabbit through its wire netting enclosure, the creature bit my finger and made me jump. My favourites were the monkeys of course and I would have dearly liked to take one home. At rare intervals we were visited by Uncle Tom when he came home on leave from his Army service in India (at one time he was stationed at Mhow which I was later to visit on my own account). He told us how the monkeys in India were commonplace and I begged him to bring me one home the next time he came, but he never did! (I was always fascinated with the way Uncle Tom managed the stairs in our house at Farnworth as he was almost always in uniform and wore spurs on his boots which meant that he had to come downstairs sideways!).
We would also all go to visit Uncle Joe, Aunt Nellie and Joey at their home in Park View, Nantwich, opposite a large open field called the Barony. Our journey would take us by bus to the Transporter Bridge, across the river on the Transporter, and then on foot to Runcorn Station where we would catch a train to Crewe and finally by bus to Nantwich. I remember that on the train journey we passed over a high viaduct (over the River Weaver), and there was sometimes a swan's nest down by the water. I always used to look out for this landmark from the train. We would sometimes go for the day and at times got a ride back to Crewe station at night in a car. If it was a family gathering, the car would sometimes be Uncle Norman's. His car was the first and only car that I had a ride in during the 1920's. He must have had a four-seater at this time as we all managed to fit inside it.
We were all at Nantwich in August 1927 when Norman was five months old, and Joey had a tent set up on the Barony over the road from his house. I think we only played in it at “camping-out” during the day and I certainly didn't sleep in it although Joey could have done. We stayed with Uncle Joe and Aunt Nellie for a few days at times and I went out with Joey playing in fields nearby and exploring the countryside with other boys. I have a vivid memory of being chased by a farmer when were climbing a tree in one of his fields. On our country walks we looked for birds' nests and found several including that of a robin in an old kettle at the bottom of a hedge. Joey wouldn't let me take any of the eggs and said he would give me some from his own collection to take home. Needless to say, on the morning of our departure he had gone somewhere and I didn't get any.
Joey was well off for toys and I was shown some of them but don't remember playing with any of them apart from a model cannon which fired match-sticks. He had a rather fine model steam-train but as it required to be fired up to work, I don't recall ever seeing it in operation. We went for walks as a family group along the River Weaver around Nantwich, and also visited various relatives in the town who were unknown to me. One family had a large dog-kennel in their back yard and we played in this until the large dog came and jostled us out. At one house, in I think, the Beam Street area, I was taken to see a very old bed-ridden lady and was told - “You probably won't see her again as she is very old”. I don't know what the old lady made of this remark!
Uncle Joe was involved in the local cricket team and we spent several afternoons at the cricket field where he was playing. Auntie Nellie was busy with other ladies in the pavilion cutting sandwiches and making tea while I passed the time at the edge of the field. Uncle Joe had a stove-heated greenhouse in his garden and we always went to see the growing tomatoes which were quite a novelty to me as a boy. At certain times of the year, when we were there, he would go out at night and stoke up the boiler against frosts. He had been wounded during the War and Aunt Nellie preserved the piece of shrapnel that had been removed from his shoulder; I saw this several times lying on cotton-wool in a small box. When we were at Nantwich at one time, we listened on the wireless to a ceremony which I think must have been the unveiling of the War memorial at either the Menin Gate (24 July 1927) or the Memorial of the Somme at Thiepval (16 March 1932), and I remember being very impressed by the solemnity of this occasion.
Uncle Joe had a car and once we were taken on a picnic outing to Bickerton Hill. Here, we had a good time, running wild in the heather and bracken, playing hide and seek. My most enduring memory of this outing was of the many very itchy midge-bites that I came home with. Father told many amusing stories about Uncle Joe's early motoring adventures, usually of breakdowns and having to walk home. Some of these stories were probably rather exaggerated. For example, on a motoring trip to Blackpool he was supposed to have had a mishap with a cow on the road, and was not aware of it until he received a summons to attend a court in Warrington. On his way there, he was delayed by a breakdown and was penalised for non-attendance in the police court on time. He was very active in local affairs and was elected Chairman on several occasions. We were at Nantwich on one of these events when a civic service was held in the Parish Church and Uncle Joe had some difficulties in fixing his very stiff collar, finally wrecking it beyond repair. Father nobly lent his and wore the badly crumpled one himself!
Although not so frequent as our visits to Belvoir Road, we would sometimes go to Liverpool to see Grandma and Grandad Hinde at their house, 50 Chatsworth Avenue at Aintree. This was always an interesting journey. We would get the train at Farnworth station and travel to Liverpool Central, then down the subway to get the electric train to Orrell Park station, or sometimes took a tram-car to the end of Rice Lane; Chatsworth Avenue was only a short walk from either of these places. This area of Liverpool was quite built up with streets of terrace houses separated by back alleys but there was one small open patch called Stanley Gardens, a rather grand name for a small area with a few bushes and small trees which is probably built over by now. We often returned home at night by tram from Rice Lane and I remember that on one or two occasions we were held up by crowds of people in Scotland Road watching drunks fighting in the street.
50 Chatsworth Avenue was at the left end of a row of terrace houses separated from the next block by a side alleyway that ran through to Haddon Avenue, the next road to the north. The houses that fronted on both avenues had an alleyway between their backs, and metal hatches in the yard walls enabled coal deliveries or dustbin collection from each house without the need of entering the yards. The house was bigger than that of Grandma Adams with a small front “garden”. The front door opened into a hall with a staircase on the left side and rooms on the right. The first room was the parlour with the Hinde family medals in a glazed frame over the fireplace, and on one side wall, a black lacquer panel with coloured figures and flowers painted on it in Japanese style.
The next room on the right was the living room with a central table and chairs and a large fireplace with a mantle-piece. This held some ornaments which included two brass boxes which had been sent to the Troops by H.R.H. Princess Mary for Christmas in 1914. (They had originally held chocolates, cigarettes and a Christmas card.) There were also two model brass fenders of slightly differing designs, and these I was allowed to play with. All the brass-ware was kept well polished. Along the wall opposite the window into the yard was a large, teak sideboard with the drawers fitted with folding, recessed, brass handles. This had originally been a large desk (possibly on board a ship) and Grandad had fitted it with feet and converted the central kneehole space into a cupboard with a floor and double doors. (I still have one drawer of this desk to hold tools in my shed.) On top of the sideboard were two knife-boxes, one, probably of the early 19th C and a family heirloom had been stripped of its interior fittings and was used for letters and papers, while the other, of simplified design, was perhaps a more recent replica and was also used for storage (which had possibly been made by Grandad).
On the wall of the living room, to the left of the fireplace, was a large framed colour print depicting a seated old soldier watching a boy with a wooden sword drilling before him. A door from the living room opened into the kitchen and from here there was another door into the yard and back gate. Grandad had a large workshop in the yard and when I was a small boy, he would let me play in it, hammering nails into scraps of wood to make “boats” and other toys. He was a skilful carpenter himself and made many useful household objects such as I have mentioned before. (Uncle Tom had also been interested in woodwork and at one time I had some pieces of his fretwork. One piece was an unfinished “Lord's Prayer” cut out of a much decorated plywood panel.) A low wooden fence down each side of the yard enclosed a narrow strip of garden at either side.
I would sometimes be called on to run on errands for Grandma, usually to a nearby shop for bread or some other commodity that had run out. In those days farthings were still in use and as the price of a loaf involved an odd farthing change, I was allowed to keep it. I also took messages to one of Grandma's cronies, an old lady who lived nearby. Her name was Mrs Bewley and I always liked to listen to her as she spoke with what we called a Scottish accent, although I believe she came from the Berwick area.
Grandma had a wealth of “curios” which she had picked up during her life abroad, and over the years some of these were given to me for my “museum”. A sawfish saw, two small stone “chatties” (model cooking stoves) from India, a pair of twisted metal anklets from Palestine (Arab workmanship - I saw some similar ones in the Jordan exhibition at Liverpool Museum in 1991), Turkish Army uniform buttons, a Turkish brass seal, and the “aeroplane” souvenir already described, and many other small things. There was also a small Celluloid crocodile (possibly designed for use as a paper knife) which held a small pencil with a negroid head in its jaws.
One of her prized items was a large wooden box, elaborately decorated with porcupine quills and inlaid with ivory on the outside, containing a partitioned wooden tray. The inside of the lid was inlaid with ivory and the word SATARA. (Satara is a town in the west of India about 60 miles south of Poona in the Western Ghats.) There was a story behind this box. It had been bought by a poor soldier in a rash moment, to send home to his wife as a souvenir. He soon regretted his purchase so Grandad bought it off him so that he could sent the money home to his wife who would find it more useful.
One interesting custom at this time was to arrange for the local radio station to broadcast a message on the occasion of a child's birthday. I was at Aintree on one of my birthdays when the wireless was switched on at the appropriate time and the announcer wished me a happy birthday and directed me to look in a certain drawer of the sideboard where I found a birthday present. I thought it was magic!
Sometimes we would spend several days with Grandma and Grandad Hinde, and were there over at least one Christmas. At this time Father was on shift work and could only join us later in the day. As it was getting dark, Grandad heard a noise in the yard but when he went to investigate there was no one there. Shortly afterwards there was a knock on the front door and Father appeared in some sort of whiskery disguise which he had put on in the yard workshop before coming round to the front door. Of course, everyone recognised him! My Grandparents had a small artificial Christmas tree fitted with tin holders for candles which were lit at tea time. We later inherited this tree and it was used every year, the custom being to have the tree on the table at Christmas Day tea time and have our meal by the light of the candles. During the meal the candles burnt halfway down and the remaining halves were lit during tea on Boxing Day.
Grandad Hinde died suddenly. He was in the habit of going out for a mid-day drink before dinner and on this day he was walking up the yard to the back door when he collapsed and died. Grandma was waiting for him and was watching him from the living room window. This was a very sad time and Mother and I stayed with Grandma for some days. Grandad was laid out in a coffin in the parlour and this was the first time that I ever saw a dead person and was impressed by the waxy appearance of his face. The funeral took place at Nantwich where other members of the Hinde family lived.
We all travelled from Chatsworth Avenue to Nantwich by car in the morning for the funeral at the Barony Road cemetery, Nantwich. We were met by a military escort and as well as some bandsmen there were a detachment from the Cheshire Regiment, a firing party of 12 men, and a bugler. Grandad's sword was carried on his coffin. All I can remember of the occasion was the firing of three volleys over the grave, after which I managed to acquire a spent brass cartridge case from the many that lay on the ground. I did not let on about this at the time and my conscience troubled me afterwards, especially as I was told that all the empty cartridge cases would be collected and any deficiencies would get the soldiers into trouble. I kept quiet about this episode.
After Grandad's death, we would go to Liverpool to see Grandma more often, and I recall staying at her house for several days at times with Mother. When Father came over, we would go off into town to see places of interest, usually on the trams which ran all over the city at that time. We would usually travel on the upper deck (reserved for smokers) so that Father could smoke his pipe: some trams were open on top, very pleasant in fine weather, while others were enclosed with a small, open part at each end of the upper deck. Here, one could sit out in the fresh air and look over the side of the tram at activities in the streets.
Trams were connected to the overhead electricity supply wires with a long arm ending in a pulley which ran along the wires and this had to be moved from one end of the tram to the other when the direction of travel needed to be reversed, as the pulley arm had to trail behind the vehicle. The tram driver accomplished this by pulling on a rope attached to the spring-loaded arm and walking with it to the other end of the tram, an operation that I always watched with interest. When the direction of the tram was reversed in this way, the seats on the upper deck could be swung back so that the passengers faced into the direction of motion. Trams were fitted with a mechanical, foot-operated warning bell in the driving cab, and the speed was controlled by a handle which had to be given many turns when starting off and stopping, the drivers seemed to be always winding this handle as I recall.
My fare to anywhere in the city was one penny and with the ticket I could have stayed on the tram all day. Father and I would go to the Pierhead to see the great liners and the ferry boats and sometimes travel on the Overhead Railway (The “Docker's Umbrella”) to Seaforth passing all the docks which were usually busy and full of shipping. Once or twice we would get off the train at one of the dock stations, looking at the moored ships and peeping into some of the big warehouses alongside the quays. Some of these held piles of goods and I remember seeing a mountain of brown, unrefined sugar that had been discharged from a ship moored to the quay. I don't recall any restrictions on our wanderings around the docks in those days although there was plenty of activity in the area. The Overhead Railway closed at the end of 1956 and was demolished in 1957, but I was able to travel on it from its terminus at Dingle to the other end at Seaforth with a party from the Merseyside Scientific Society from Widnes Lab in the 1950's. We also visited the workshops at Seaforth where the electric locomotives and carriages were built and repaired.
At times, we would take the ferryboat to one of the piers on the Wirral side of the river, Seacombe, Egremont and New Brighton, where I would play about on the muddy, rocky foreshore and catch small crabs which did not survive the journey home in my bucket. One ferry passed near the anchored training ship, H.M.S. “Conway” and this was always of interest to me. She was a large, wooden warship built in 1839 as the “Nile” and was fitted out as a training ship for the merchant navy. (Old boys of the ship included John Masefield and Chptain Webb the first man to swim the English Channel, later to be immortalised in a picture on a matchbox).
This old ship was moved from the Mersey on the 21st May 1941 as she was in danger from enemy air attack; she had nearly been burned with incendiary bombs which had been scattered liberally over Merseyside, and a parachute land-mine had fallen nearby. She was towed to the Menai Straits where was moored and continued her work. Unfortunately, while being moved for some repairs through the dangerous waters of the Menai Straits, she was caught in a tide race and wrecked in April 1953. After some salvage attempts, she was destroyed by fire. Her anchor is kept at Liverpool Maritime Museum and a mast from the ship is preserved at Egerton Dock.
Another of our regular treats was a visit to Liverpool Museum, where I never tired at looking round the exhibition galleries - Egyptian, African, Zoological and Botanical. Also there were lots of splendid ship models which I delighted in. Grandma once gave me an illustrated advertising brochure describing a world cruise on the Cunard steamship “Franconia” and I found this absolutely fascinating. Not only did it describe in detail all the places to be visited but it also advised what souvenirs and exotica to buy at each place. I read this from cover to cover many times.
On our journeys to Liverpool by train, I was always interested in the slot-machines which stood on the station platforms. At Farnworth station there was a machine that delivered a small bar of Nestles chocolate for a penny and at this time the wrappers contained coloured picture cards which I collected. Although only a few of these cards came my way I remember one series showing pictures of the Tutankhamen discoveries which had taken place not many years before and as a result, I became very interested in Egyptology; I think that my interest in archaeology dates from about this time and it was encouraged by the visits to Liverpool Museum. At some stations there were large sea-mines, relics of the first World War, painted red and converted into collecting boxes for nautical charities. Other features were machines for embossing letters and numbers on narrow aluminium strips in a similar manner to the present day Dymo labeller, and for a penny I was able to make a strip with my name and address.
An old railway locomotive, the “Lion”, was preserved at Lime Street station and we saw it on several occasions. This veteran, reputed to be the oldest locomotive in the world, began hauling trains on the Liverpool and Manchester Railway in July 1838. After nearly 100 years of service it was restored and appeared in films, particularly the 1952 Ealing comedy film, “The Titfield Thunderbolt”; at present it is on show in the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry.
On our visits to Aintree we usually did some shopping in Liverpool before continuing our journey, and on one occasion I bought a John Bull printing set with small rubber type that could be set into a small wooden block to print words. In my enthusiasm I decided that I would print my own encyclopaedia but the tedious nature of this work soon dampened my interest and I never got beyond the first page.
There were only a few children in the area of Chatsworth Avenue as most of the houses were occupied by older people, but at times I would spend some time in the back alley playing with one of the neighbouring boys. As I grew older I began to find our visits to Aintree rather boring and didn't look forward to them as much as I had done earlier. There was not much to interest me in the built up area of Aintree but we did go out a few times to Seaforth Sands, near Waterloo, a rather muddy stretch of sand and dunes, a poor substitute for the real seaside. I believe that much of this area has now been developed as a container depot. I also remember going to Aintree Racecourse to walk along the canal and across the course on a Sunday when not many people were about, but we never went to any of the race meetings.
Not all of our visits to Liverpool took us to Aintree as we had many shopping trips on our own account. One of our first ports of call would be Lewis's cafeteria for cups of tea and waffles - thick, square, dimpled pancakes served with butter and honey - delicious! But how my shoulders used to ache after carrying brown paper carrier bags loaded with shopping all day! There were some interesting shops in Liverpool and I enjoyed looking round them. The big department stores like Lewis's and Blackler's were of interest, especially the toy departments. In Blackler's there was a large rocking horse and on the central stairway, a marble fountain which I always liked to see. There was also the attraction of Hobby's toyshop with Meccano and Hornby trains! In some of the stores, a cashier sat in an elevated glass compartment connected with overhead wires to each counter. These enabled the assistants to send money for goods and receive the change and receipt by shooting a container along them with a spring. In other stores, this process was done pneumatically by passing a cylindrical container through tubes to a hidden cashier - a fascinating process to watch. In a lane at the back of St. John's Market were often a number of barrows where men sold canaries, budgerigars and puppies. I always wanted one of them but as we already had a dog there was no question of another.
The Depression years were very worrying to my parents, Father would come home to tell us of the men he knew who had been laid-off, and we were worried on a daily basis that his job would be secure; fortunately it was. Well before 1930 he went on regular shift work, working 6am to 2pm, 2pm to 10pm, 10pm to 6am, for a week at a time with a day's break between changes of shift. As can be imagined, this disorganised everyday life and restricted our opportunities for days out together as a family, although, as it went on for years, we got used to it. And by this time, I had also got well used to the constraining impact of schooling too.