Street Life: You’ll grow into it…

In common with so many other aspects of our lives, fifties children had no say in what they wore. For much of the year, our parents seemed to prefer us layered like the prize in a game of pass the parcel. Sleeves down to the wrist, necklines up to the chin, and long socks which met the hems of skirts or shorts.

I can only assume that the practice of making children ‘grow into’ their clothes was somehow perceived as character building. In my experience, the moment a garment started to fit, it was handed down to a younger sibling or cousin, to grow into in their turn.

Retro fashion may be ‘in’, but the quantity of unlovely underwear regarded as essential would horrify today’s children.

Back then, leaving the house without a vest was considered tantamount to a death sentence.

For children, vests were sleeveless cotton in summer and itchy wool in winter.

I imagine the loose fitting underpants boys wore were considerably more comfortable than girls’ drawers with that circulation-stopping elastic in the leg.

Liberty bodices kept youngsters of both sexes warm throughout the fifties. The garment was first introduced by the 19th century ‘Rational Clothing Movement’ as an alternative to boned stays (corsets). The innovation had the added benefit of liberating girls from the combinations my grandmother was forced to wear.The mention of liberty bodices will almost certainly evoke a memory of soft, sticky rubber buttons. The wooden rollers on mangles were notorious for destroying rigid buttons, so rubber was a good substitute (in theory).

In the interests of equality, the layer represented by a girl’s full length winceyette underskirt, was matched by the sleeveless pullover boys wore on top of a shirt.

Both sexes wore knee length woollen winter stockings which required garters to keep them up. In summer it was ankle socks (white for girls) worn with crepe sole, T-bar sandals or pumps (known locally as gollies).

As a shy child, the anonymity of a compulsory uniform suited me. From the age of seven I went to school in a navy serge, box pleated gym slip and white cotton blouse. Ties, girdles and stripes at the hem of navy cardigans, varied in colour according to which ‘house’ we belonged to. Our hats were threepenny bit shaped and, like the non-compulsory blazer, were purple.For school, boys usually wore grey or blue shirts and worsted shorts, until they graduated to long trousers in their early teens. I’m reliably informed that in winter, cold, wet legs were rubbed red raw by the coarse fabric of those shorts.

The garment most universally hated by all kids was the full length gabardine mac. It didn’t keep us dry, and certainly wasn’t warm enough in winter.

It’s possible the working classes were introduced to the idea of ‘best’ clothes by the custom of Whit walks. Mine were bought at C & A’s January sales, but it would have been regarded as sacrilegious to put them on before Whit Sunday.

With the exception of woollen bonnets or balaclava helmets, children’s headwear was singularly useless for keeping hair dry or ears warm. It must therefore be assumed that hats were strictly for show, or in my case for ridicule.

‘Where did you get that ‘at’, would have been an appropriate signature tune for me. I can still recall the torture of going to Sunday school in a cherry red monstrosity shaped like a dustbin lid, Or even worse, the pink one resembling an inverted po.Adults, and my mother in particular, failed to appreciate that chucking girls’ hats on to tall hedges was a favourite pastime of local boys. The lace or white cotton gloves we wore for best, didn’t stand up well to scrabbling through privets. But it was either that or go home bare headed to face the wrath of my hat-obsessed parent.

My sister started school in 1957, and her age group were about the first to benefit from the relaxation of the rigid rules about how children should be dressed. She escaped the torment of ‘orrible ‘ats. Sadly it was too late for me, and I bear the mental scars to this day.

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From Heap to Heath

If you ask people to name a Newton Heath brew, they would probably say Wilson’s, but there was another, perhaps less well-known local brewery, close to the Failsworth boundary.William Thomas Rothwell was born at the curiously named Spout Bank in Heap, near Bury, in 1844, the son of farmer John and his wife Martha. It seems William did not wish to follow his father into farming, because by 1870 he is listed as secretary of the Bury Brewery Company, founded in 1861 on George Street. The 1871 Census gives his occupation as ‘innkeeper and brewer’ living at 96 Georgiana Street, round the corner from the brewery.

A couple of years later, he had moved to Heath House, 800 Oldham Road, Newton Heath, at the corner of Droylsden Road, and had opened the adjacent Heath Brewery, first listed in 1873. The access road into the yard was later named Rothwell Street, as the brewery expanded.William’s brother Frederick joined him in the business, living across the road on Dob Lane, Failsworth, but suffered a fatal accident on 10 July 1886, when a wort pan boiled over, badly scalding him from the neck down. He was taken to William’s house but despite being attended by doctors, died 3 days later; he was only 33.

William became a Conservative councillor and alderman for Newton Ward (even years after his death the brewery and its products were known by locals as Alderman Rothwell’s). He was on the committee of the ‘Bimetallic League’ and published a booklet on the subject in 1890. This was an organisation whose aim was to create a fixed international ratio between gold and silver for currency stability.

Long a campaigner for free education and trustee of the Mechanics’ Institute, in 1891 he attended the official opening of Newton Heath library next to the town hall on Oldham Road (roughly where the Gateway is now), having contributed to its creation.

He raised funds for a scholarship in Economics at the university, and to an archaeological dig (in 1907) in Reifi, where Sir William Flinders had excavated the tombs of two Egyptian brothers, dating from around 1900-1700 B.C. They were said to be the finest non-royal burials ever found in the area and the mummies were brought to Manchester Museum in 1908.

William died in Harrogate in 1921. The brewery continued under his son, Herbert, who in the 1890s and early 1900s had also been an amateur footballer. He played full-back for Newton Heath Athletic, was captain of the Glossop North End team and later played both for Lincoln and (after 1902), Manchester United. Herbert retired from the brewery in the 1930’s and died in 1955.Rival brewers Wilson’s had far more tied houses than Rothwells, who had only 40 or 50; mostly around Newton Heath and Failsworth with a handful in places such as Ashton, Oldham or Stalybridge. A few of these disappeared early in the 20th century, such as the Farmyard Tavern (which it was, literally) on Ten Acres Lane, which closed in 1917. However, quite a few former Rothwells pubs have survived, although you would be forgiven for not recognising them as such.

In 1961, the Heath Brewery was bought by Marston, Thompson and Evershed, who continued brewing Rothwell’s beers but began re-signing the pubs as Marston houses: this gave the Burton brewery its first ‘foot in the door’ in the Manchester area. Brewing ceased in 1968 and the main buildings were demolished soon afterwards, although part of the site was used as a depot for Marston’s, until the mid-1970s. Rothwell Street still exists, with a scrapyard (opened in the 1980s) now on the brewery site, but retaining a wall of one of the buildings.Despite the takeover, many of the pubs still sported Rothwell signage, in tilework, over doorways, or in etched glass windows, for many years. Although refurbishment has removed all traces of their previous ownership nowadays, surviving pubs include the New Crown (Newton Heath), Fox Inn (Stalybridge) and the Wheatsheaf, Pack Horse, Bay Horse, Mare & Foal, Cotton Tree and Dutch Birds (all in Failsworth).The Black Horse in 2009

Most of these are now Marston’s or free houses and most have been extended or rebuilt – etched glass windows have long gone, replaced by double glazing. The last pub to retain the Rothwell signage, as far as I can ascertain, was the Black Horse on Oldham Road, Failsworth, which sadly was demolished in 2009. Though painted over in black, the ‘Rothwell’s Ales & Stout’, in tiled relief above the windows, could just be made out.

Pint of the Alderman’s Ale, anyone?

Street Life: Food, Glorious Food!

When the industrial revolution began, men, women and children flooded into Manchester seeking work. They found themselves in one up/one down dwellings or multi tenanted houses where the only cooking facility was a pot set on an open fire.

For centuries it was vegetables, barley, suet pastry, pulses and, above all, bread that filled hungry bellies. Punitive Corn Laws that made wheat bread too expensive for workers forced them to subsist on oatcake or Waterloo porridge (oatmeal, water and salt, with perhaps a bit of cheese, red herring or bacon on a Sunday.

Although potatoes came to Britain in the late 16th century, it was some time before the poor came to rely on them as a staple food. By the time workers’ houses had cooking ranges, potatoes and cheaper cuts of meat were the basis of good plain meals still being eaten in the 1950s. But there were exceptions to every rule.In 1907 my Nana (aged 13) went from Collyhurst to London Road on foot every day. After 10 hours machining football shirts, she came home, collected a basin and set off to buy ‘a tuppeny mix’ (vegetables and potatoes) for her tea. Despite her mother’s poor example, Nana became an excellent cook.Meat and potato pie, like Nana used to make!

Once rationing finished, pre-war favourites like meat and potato pie, soup with bacon ribs or ham shank, neck chops, breast of lamb, fried plaice and pot roasted brisket made a return. At home we had something called ‘fat cake’ which nobody else seems to have heard of. It was a sort of plain scone mixture bound together with melted butter and baked in the oven on greaseproof paper.When we lived with my grandparents, the larder always contained a large jam tart or fruit pie – fresh fruit in summer (winberry was favourite) and raisins or sultanas in winter. Homemade cakes were coconut, fruit or parkin – all delicious, as was Nana’s treacle toffee.

Apart from milk puddings and custard tart, such desserts as we had came out of a tin. Peaches, pineapple chunks or fruit salad was served with evaporated milk or tinned cream (not to be confused with condensed milk). As far as I recall, I never tasted fresh cream until the late 50s, and it was a revelation after the horrible tinned stuff.

I speak from bitter experience when I say that rose coloured spectacles couldn’t make me nostalgic for the tinned Spam or waterlogged vegetables we ate when mum took on the cooking, when we moved to New Moston. She was the sort of cook who put the Christmas sprouts on to simmer in November.Many households relied on ‘the chippy’ for a ready to eat meal. However there were one or two things that could almost be called convenience foods. My granddad’s favourites were black pudding with plenty of fat and the kind of dark tripe that looked like a filthy wash leather. The rest of us contented ourselves with pies, crumpets or pikelets.Black tripe – Grandad’s favourite!

Nowadays it’s almost impossible to imagine how limited the food horizons used to be, especially for the non-meat eaters. Our school cookery lessons only included one vegetarian dish, and that was nut cutlet. Thanks to ingredients unknown 60 years ago, having a vegan or ‘free from’ friend round for tea isn’t the challenge it used to be.

But what I would like to know is why trendy ‘foodies’ have been allowed to claim they invented ‘slow food’? Their gentrification of our traditional dishes has made bacon ribs, oxtail, belly pork and breast of lamb more expensive per pound than a roasting joint.

And while you may find good old sausage and mash on the menu in a gastro pub, it’s more likely to come with a ‘jus’ than simple brown gravy. It seems beer is now obligatory in fish batter and, for all I know, there might be Ovaltine in the soup to give it ‘hipster’ appeal. What’s more, don’t be surprised if your meal arrives on a hub cap with the side order of chips in a plant pot!Next time you pop something in the microwave, spare a thought for those fifties housewives. With the most basic facilities, and only a few shillings left from the week’s housekeeping, they managed to produce tasty meals cooked from scratch, day in, day out.

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