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Growing up in Dixon Green

by Vera Berry

Living at Dixon Green had a bit of snob value, yer know! At the Dixon Green end of George Street were council houses with gardens that were kept neat and tidy, not only enclosed by privet hedges, but also by wooden fences too! I never knew why we needed both, but there was an enormous amount of pride in keeping the hedges trimmed and the fences in good repair. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that just around the corner in Highfield Road were posh privately owned semi-detached houses. Even the smaller terraced houses with smaller gardens to the front and a long enclosed yard at the back were owned by those who lived in them. In a child's mind, people who owned their houses instead of renting them must have been really rich and we lived very near to them!

Everything was rationed just after World War II, even clothes, but we always had new clothes at Easter and paraded them at Church and Sunday School on Easter Sunday before going round to relatives and friends who would put a few coppers in our coat pockets " for looking nice". When Whitsuntide came around, we had new frocks for walking day and we'd either be streaming the banner, or in the Little Singers decked out in white dresses and veils and carrying a bouquet of irises and gypsy grass.

Left to Right; Vera Berry, Dorothy Trow, Julie Crane, Joan Green
Left to Right: Vera Berry, Dorothy Trow, Julie Crane, Joan Green

We collected money from our relatives in the crowds watching the procession, money which we could spend the following week on whatever we chose. Living near Dixon Green you either attended Dixon Green Congregational Church, St Thomas's Church, or St James's, New Bury. We went to St James's and it always seemed a very long walk for me to go to Sunday School on Buckley Lane even though it was only ten minutes at the most.

"Old money" seemed to go a lot farther in those days. Before rationing stopped, we could buy a stick of liquorice for a penny. It looked like a twig and we chewed on the end of it until it became a big, soft, stringy blob. There was absolutely no way that we could bite off the end as it was too tough, so we'd just chew and chew at it until our jaws ached. Sometimes we'd have a bag of cocoa and sugar, dip a wet finger in it and suck until it had all gone. We had oats and sugar too and there was nothing nicer than a stick of rhubarb grown in your own garden and a bag of sugar to dip it in. Seeing that sugar was rationed, we did very well. I don't recall ever being ill, but I think we must have had very strong constitutions to withstand the invasion of all that roughage!

At the bottom of Highfield Road was Ditchfield's, a typical corner shop where we would spend our sweet coupons all at one go on dolly mixtures and pear drops. When sweets came off ration, we went absolutely mad spending all our pocket money on cherry lips and chocolate chewing nuts as though there were no tomorrows. Sometimes we would buy three penn'oth of acidic crystals known as Kaylie (I have no idea how to spell that!) and Spanish (hard, black liquorice sticks) which would make our tongues sore and our teeth brown, but we didn't care. Occasionally we would break up the Spanish, put it in an old medicine bottle with water and shake it up until the water was dark brown. We would then drink the disgusting liquid with dire consequences the next day. None of my friends was ever constipated! There were twisted barley sugar sticks, and locally made Malley toffee and we even bought a bag of peanut butter on occasions, but I didn't like it at all and still don't fifty years on! The highlight of a week would be when Manfredi's ice cream cart would come round just after tea on a Friday and as soon as we heard his bell, we'd run out to buy a wafer or a cornet full of delicious "homemade" ice cream.

Streaming the Banner
Streaming the Banner

We were lucky in that we had Ditchfield's, Rosemary Weaver's hairdressers whose husband, Jimmy, made crumpets, Ashall's chip shop, Sewell's Newsagents, Hanbury's, Longton's pie shop, Martin's greengrocer's and Thomasson's sweet shop all in one row at the bottom of Highfield Road. We also had Abbott's grocers at the other end of Laburnum Road, the hardware shop at the top of Harper Green Road, Guest's bakery, a chemist, a wool shop, and a temperance bar all on Plodder Lane and only a stone's throw from the end of George Street.

Children around Dixon Green had a park right on the doorstep. Ellesmere Park used to have beautifully kept gardens, a bowling green and a recreation ground where works' teams played rounders some nights. There was a children's slide, a rocking horse and three roundabouts. The park was surrounded by wrought iron fencing at one time, but that disappeared when the metal was required for making tanks or something during the war. There was a building with benches in it overlooking the 'rec' which we called the shelter and it was a popular place for courting couples at night. There were also public toilets that no self-respecting person would use.

Children made their own games and were very happy. We made mud pies, played "shop" when Mum cleaned out the pantry, took our dolls for walks in their prams and played school where one of us would be the teacher (with a posh voice!) and the rest would be naughty pupils. I remember playing mums and babies in the playground at Plodder Lane School. Whoever was the baby had to crawl around or try to walk on one's haunches whilst the mother held her hand and again talked in a posh voice to her child! I don't know why teachers and mothers were always posh in our games, but they were.

As we grew a bit older we played all sorts of made up games.... What time is it, Mr Wolf? Film stars; Kiss catch; skipping ropes; top and whip; marbles; hopscotch; two balls; piggy-in-the-middle; statues; one, two three a-lara; leap frog; piggy and hide and seek. We used to put a tennis ball in a stocking, or a long sock, stand with our backs to the wall and bounce the stockinged ball from side to side quite rapidly doing all sorts of fancy legwork at the same time. I don't know what we called that game, but we became quite adept at the moves. We went through a phase of tucking our frocks in our knickers and doing handstands against the wall. They all had their place whilst the craze lasted. These were generally girls' games and the boys usually played football and cricket until they joined in the kiss catch game.

Eventually, these games were replaced by church organised dances, GFS, Girl Guides, Boy Scouts and St George's Youth Club. Teenage trips to Blackpool, playing tennis on Darley Park and Bradford Park, going to the Ritz, the Savoy and the Hippodrome cinemas (not the Palace or the Empire) and eventually the Monaco, the Nevada and the Palais all became a social necessity, leaving those childhood games to be consigned to the past, gone, but not forgotten. They were such happy times and will never be replaced by Gameboys, Nintendo and Play Stations!