Street Life: Hands, Knees and Elbow Grease

In the 1950s, northern women in their wrapover pinnies, headscarves or hairnets were on their knees at home more often than in church.

Laying fires, black leading grates, and scrubbing floors were only a few of the many domestic rituals performed on hands and knees – but there was a revolution on its way.What we have learned to call ‘white goods’, were slowly insinuating themselves into working class homes, though they were almost never white in those days.

It would be some time yet before wash boilers or ‘Dolly tubs’ were entirely replaced by electric washing machines. And, for every meal cooked on one of the new enamel gas stoves, there were plenty still produced in ovens needing a weekly black leading.

‘Stoning’ steps was done for pride, and in areas like ours, it was a measure of a housewife’s respectability. Donkey stones could be had from the rag and bone man in exchange for old clothing. Balloons and windmills on sticks were also on offer – guess what I had to ask for?

I was sometimes allowed to brown stone the back step. Cream stone was reserved for the front which nana always did herself.Getting the bedding and towels for a large family washed and dried, especially in winter, was worth every penny of the small sum charged for a wash-house ‘ticket’. Dilapidated prams had a second incarnation once their life as baby carriages was over, and it was a common sight to see a woman pushing one to the wash-house with the week’s laundry nestling under the hood.

At our house, ‘body linens’ were done at home. I used to enjoy scrubbing my granddad’s loose collars with a nail brush and yellow soap, while his shirts were getting a hot wash in the (gas) boiler. Less robust items went into the dolly tub for a possing. Whites were dolly-blued and sometimes starched, while curtains, dingy from much laundering, got a freshening up in ‘dolly cream’.Vintage ‘washing machine and mangle (photo compliments of Direct Discounts, Oldham, purveyors of present day appliances). 

Our own nod toward modernity came when the large mangle was replaced by a wringer. It had rubber rollers that folded away under an enamel top that made a useful work surface.

On washing day, a ‘maiden’ (clothes drier) stood open around the oven and above there was a rack, suspended from the ceiling, raised and lowered on a pulley and used for airing.Airing rack still in use today (photo compliments of the editor’s mother-in-law)

Due to her mistrust of electricity, nana’s ironing was done with a flat iron on an old blanket spread across the kitchen table.

City planners were rightly proud of the council houses that replaced the 200-year-old slum terraces of Ancoats and Collyhurst. The new houses had hot water, inside toilets and bathrooms, and the mixed blessing of indoor coal storage. Coal ’oles were handily situated next to kitchens and living rooms. Many a housewife’s heart must have broken as she saw the black dust settling on her newly cleaned surfaces with every sack of ‘nutty slack’ the coalman tipped.

Fires, grates and fenders got daily attention, but there was always the fear of incurring a fine for setting the chimney ablaze. There was a patent product called the ‘Imp’ which was put onto the fire to somehow dislodge or disperse the soot from the chimney.The flues on the back-to-back oven also required regular attention. First, kitchen shelves and surfaces were cleared and rugs taken outside. Then a housewife would kneel on the floor with a complicated array of long handled fire irons spread out on newspaper. Ash, fine enough to fly up at the least breath, was raked out first, followed by oily and rather sinister looking soot. Both were consigned to the dustbin before the kitchen was put to rights again.

Floors and surfaces were scrubbed and the clean shelves lined with new oil-cloth (sometimes called American cloth) – ours had a scalloped edge cut along the front to make it look nice. Clothes were returned to the rack, pots and pans went back on shelves, and, following a good beating, and mats were put down on the floor again.

That kneeling band of indomitable women, and the language of their labours, has long since been consigned to history. How many people today have heard of dolly blue, donkey stones, Zebo black lead, Duraglit, Cardinal Red, the humble posser or a Ewbank carpet sweeper?

Acknowledgements: Direct Discounts, Oldham

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When I’m Sixty-four…commercial TV, that is.

Television is almost as old as radio, experiments beginning in the early 1900s. From September 1929, the BBC issued test transmissions “by the Baird process” daily at 11am and on 14 July 1930 sent out the first trial of a scripted play.Regular TV broadcasts in the London area began in 1936, only ceasing when war broke out, as it was feared the signal might act as a beacon for enemy aircraft. Normal service, to quote a common phrase, was resumed in 1946 with broadcasts now relayed across the nation. Of course, news and entertainment could always be had from the well-established wireless (radio) programmes.Before telly – Dad tunes in the trusty wireless in December 1939, wondering if the war will be over soon

The real boost to domestic TV came in 1953 when the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II became the first such occasion to be televised live. My parents were among those who rented a 12-inch set, mounted in a nice walnut-veneer cabinet. This would typically cost around 13s (65p) a week to rent, or about £65 to buy (over 2 months pay for many people). Most chose to rent, being cautious about the reliability of these early sets, not to mention their relatively high cost. By 1960, the same £65 would buy you a 21-inch set, complete with a set of legs.

Independent Television (ITV) made its debut in November 1955 in London and the Midlands, giving viewers two novel experiences – a choice of channels (wow) and TV advertising. The existing BBC programmes used a pair of frequencies, one for the video signal and one for audio, together known as Channel 2. Now, with a new set or by plugging in a ‘channel adaptor’, we had Channel 9 as well.

The new network consisted of four regional franchises, co-ordinated by Associated Rediffusion, who oversaw the relaying of programmes from one area to another. All the broadcasts, of either channel, were in monochrome only, using a 405-line screen scanning resolution (low definition by modern standards but actually quite good quality).

Manchester had to wait until Thursday, 3 May 1956 when Granada TV put out its first broadcast from the brand-new studios on Quay Street, via a regional transmitter at Winter Hill. This prompted another rush to acquire TV sets. My family had recently moved to New Moston from Salford so it gave them the excuse to upgrade to a 17-inch set, with a channel knob!Lying face down in front of the fire, chin on hands, I goggled up at the new set. To be honest, I can’t personally remember what was on, but newspaper reports said it was an introductory live show hosted by American presenter, Quentin Reynolds, who (it turned out) was blind drunk; only some timely ad-libbing by guest Arthur Askey saved the show. Fifteen minutes in brought the first advert (for chocolate) and a quip from Arthur, “don’t worry – it’s not all as bad as this!”

The new channel soon settled into a routine and, as well as a crop of H-shaped VHF aerials, spawned another magazine, the TV Times, launched in 1956 and quite separate from the Radio Times (founded in 1923). They cost 4d and 3d respectively.Covers of Radio Times and TV Times, both from 1956

Programmes on either channel were still very sparse, as a typical listing for Monday, 6 May 1956, shows:-

BBC

3:00pm Countrywise; 3:45pm Watch With Mother; 4:00pm Close Down; 5:00pm Childrens Programmes; 7:00pm News & Weather, with Newsreel and Highlight; 7:30pm Adventures of the Big Man; 8:00pm What’s My Line?; 8:30pm Panorama; 9:15pm Festival of British Popular Songs; 10:00pm News & Weather; 10:15pm Soviet Visit; 10:30pm Close Down

Granada

4:00pm Travelling Eye; 5:00pm Monday Club (Roy Rogers, Space Club and Sportspot); 5:55pm News; 6:00pm Close Down; 7:00pm News, then Count of Monte Cristo; 7:30pm I’ve Got a Secret; 8:00pm Seagulls Over Sorrento (play); 9:30pm Cross Current; 10:00pm Weather, then Liberace; 10:30pm Pub Corner; 10:45pm News; 11:00pm Close Down

“Watch With Mother” was my personal pre-school favourite. This 15-minute afternoon slot had a different theme each weekday. Monday was Picture Book, Tuesday Andy Pandy, Wednesday Bill and Ben, Thursday Rag, Tag and Bobtail, with The Woodentops on Friday. Who remembers Looby Loo, Little Weed and Spotty Dog? Ah, such innocence…Living room TV, 1960s style (photo by Steve Wilson)

In the mornings just a test card would be shown. After the last evening programme, the screen would gradually shrink to a small white dot, followed by blackness and an irritating whine, to remind viewers who may have nodded off to turn off their sets!

Now, we have 24-hour, high-definition colour and over 480 channels. Back on Christmas Day 1953, the first of the Queen’s afternoon speeches went on air. It is perhaps pertinent to reflect on this continued tradition and the huge changes in media technology that have come about during the reign of one monarch.

Taking nothing for granted

I rarely read newspapers or watch news programmes. Truth is I avoid them. Now and then, though, something catches my attention, like the fires raging out of control in the Amazon.Far away on the other side of the world the Amazon rain forest was a place I read about at school or saw on TV documentaries. A permanent fixture so ancient and vast, it would always be there and always flourish. Then, there’s the oceans, all that plastic rubbish… and dying fish.

I took these places for granted.

I’m very lucky. I live a short tram ride from an amazing city and am free to enjoy all it has to offer from theatre, music, shopping, cafes and bars. The nearest airport is half an hours drive. Most of the best known supermarkets are within easy walking distance… and I take all that for granted too.But it doesn’t end there. Moston and the neighbouring areas have art, music, dance, theatre, a radio station, football stadium, fishing, cycling and running. With a range of social clubs to entertain and activities to engage all ages, whether you’re a cub scout, on a diet, a boxer, gardener, a champion bowler, love photography or a gripping game of chess, there’s something for everyone.Not to forget the parks, several large open green spaces, the Rochdale Canal, Moston Brook. Even a nature reserve; our very own piece of countryside.

How lucky are we? This weekend alone there’s been:

A Nature Day event next to the Lower Memorial Park.

FC United drew against Atherton Collieries in an FA Cup match.

Wayne Jacobs broadcast live reggae from the Miners Club Radio.

North West Theatre Arts Company performed at Openshaw’s Festival

At Boggart Hole Clough Simply Cycling were out in force. As were North Manchester Fitness walking group (one of their members was elsewehere at the Great North Run) and King William IV Angling Society Juniors were, oh yes, angling. The cafe was busy as ever.As for me, I nipped across the fields to the Nature Day. The carrot cake on the cake stall was to die for. A young lady, who I thought was there to help serve them up, delivered a pitch that would have had Alan Sugar ditching his diet.

Birds from Vale Royal Falconry put on a fabulous display, you could cast a fishing line, try your hand at wood carving, weaving, all sorts.Back across the fields again and through the park. The sun was out and it looked glorious.

I don’t take it for granted.

If you’ve been busy, missed out and want to find out what’s going on, have a nosey at the noticeboards in the supermarket and library. Or search Facebook and check out some local groups. Here’s a few:

Moston Brook Friends Group,  Lakeside Cafe – Boggart Hole Clough,  Miners Community Arts,  Broadhurst Community Centre,  Harpurhey Neighbourhood Project – The Centre,  Simply Cycling,  North Manchester Fitness, King William IV Angling Society,  Forever Harpurhey and Moston,  NWTAC,  Vale Royal Falconry.

Photos: Vale Royal Falconry, Piccadilly Gardens Manchester, the guys from King William IV Angling Society, Lower Memorial Park Failsworth

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