Street Life: Wish you were there?

Post-war, it was the likes of George Formby with his ‘little stick of Blackpool rock’, and the Huggett family in ‘Holiday Camp’ (1947 film) that revived appetites for the seaside.

The choice for folk like us was: a holiday camp, a boarding house or caravan. Most of my first holidays were spent at Butlin’s. The camps were to Moston as Narnia was to the real world. Compared to the post war drabness at home, the fresh and brightly painted chalets seemed modern and sophisticated. I slept in a bunk bed and ate three course meals served by a smiling, uniformed waitress – never mind that she dispensed the soup from an earthenware jug rather than a tureen.Without it running away with the spending money, children could swim, play crazy golf or enjoy one of the numerous activities organised to keep them entertained. Also for ‘free’, my parents had the choice of a variety show, or indulging their passion for dancing to an excellent band, in one of the lavish ballrooms.A week before any holiday, our solid dark blue suitcase was dusted off. Its dimensions and wooden banding meant, in a poor light, it could be mistaken for a transatlantic steamer trunk. With two of us sitting on the lid, the case could be persuaded to close on the family’s entire holiday wardrobe. My dad might have been short, but he was strong, and until we got a set of strap-on wheels, he hefted that Leviathan everywhere. Looking like an East End family on the way to pick hops, the rest of us trailed in his wake with our worldly essentials (buckets, spades and comics) poking out of shoulder bags.

For men in particular, holidays meant freedom to wear comfortable clothing of their own (or their wife’s) choosing. My granddad’s normal work attire was trilby, suit and tie. His version of holiday chic was what he called ‘a jockey cap and duster jacket’. Dad favoured coloured shirts, shorts and sandals. If it wasn’t actually raining, I seem to recall spending most days in a pea green, elasticated swimming costume, plus canvas shoes that were permanently full of sand.Travelling to a holiday destination meant a train, coach or (best of all) a ferry. Our most ‘novel’ journey was to Wales during a rail strike. In order that nobody would miss out on their precious week away, every vehicle, no matter its age, was pressed into service. The ancient coach we travelled in was just about adequate on the flat, but when the going got steep, the able bodied had to disembark and walk. In case the bus escaped back downhill if the engine stalled, the men carried large stones to place behind the wheels.Without doubt, my best travel memories were of the Isle of Man ferry. You could sit on deck or lie about in the saloon on a day bed with tasselled, sausage shaped cushions.

Two incidents, the stuff of family legend, occurred on the crossing to the IOM. The first was when a seagull let go its enormous ‘bomb load’ on great grandma Polly’s best black hat. Years later, granddad and I left to check on the lifeboats, prior to going below for an inspection of the engines. After discharging our duties, we returned to find my sister, then aged 4, tucking into an ice cream. It had been bought to stop her screaming, following dad’s attempts to extract her head from one of the port holes without amputating her ears in the process.

From our sea front boarding house in Douglas, we only had to cross the road to get on to the sands. For a couple of pennies, you could travel 1.6 miles on a horse-drawn, ‘toast rack’ tram. We took buses all over the island, but once I mastered reading, the nearby beach shop kept me happily occupied. Some part of each day would find me perusing the extremely saucy and non-PC McGill postcards. For evenings, there was a cinema next door, and a theatre within walking distance.Last year, in the name of security, I was treated to an airport body search. Suddenly it made those uncomplicated childhood holidays look positively idyllic – if you don’t count sunburn, insect bites and sand-filled underwear, that is.

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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?