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My Story

by Dick Berry

My name is Dick Berry and I was born in Back Chorley Street in 1930. The houses were like two in one because one family lived in the front half and another family lived in the back half. The houses are still there but of course they have been renovated and now only contain one family. We shared a communal toilet at the end of the street, we had the toilet key on a string with a cotton reel, and it always hung near the back door. The rent was 6/6d a week (32½p) and Dad's dole was £1/3/3 (£1-16) to keep three of us.

There was and still is a chip shop in Chorley Street just opposite the Infirmary gates and we lived in the back of the third house up facing Cleggs Buildings. The Pollard family was next to the Chippy, Larkin's where next and the Whelan's where in the front half of our house. My Grandparents lived in the same street higher up in another back to back row.

Granddad used to take me to the stables of Livesey's Funeral Parlour in Vernon Street to see all the lovely Belgian Horses being dressed up to pull the Hearse and coaches for all the local Funerals.

Another day he 'would take me down to the Spinners Hall where they held concerts for the unemployed. Then I would go with him when he needed new irons on his clogs. The shop was on the corner of Deansgate near the G.P.O. it now sells reproduction furniture. In those days it was called Thomason's clog shop and you had to go down some steps in the side street and down into the basement to get your clogs mended. Granddad also took me with when he went to the dole in Bark Street.

They were hard times them but like my mam always says "Something always turns up". One time there was no food in the house at all and no money either and there was a knock at the door, it was a man looking for a Mrs Shields but they had moved to Montserrat. He had brought her a large basket filled with pies and things. He asked mum if she could use them, she nearly snatched his hands off. We ate well for a whole week.

Next door to us was a lady who bought and sold good second hand clothes, mam traded with her and at the Duke Street auction rooms to clothe me, mainly velvet trousers and Shantung Blouses. Mrs Larkin's always called me 'Dicky Doll rags'. I was one of the lucky ones because I always had shoes, but it was very common in those days to see kids barefoot and to have a bare backside as well.

In the Winter dad was lucky to get a bit of work snow shifting at Falcon yard for a shilling an hour, by this time I had a baby sister so dad managed to get a few weeks working on Chorley New Road. The more children a man had the more weeks he got work. The road was being made of pine blocks and dad would put a few in his butty bag to bring home, they made a lovely fire.

Christmas time was very hard, I was taken to the Kings Hall on Bradshawgate were all the poor kids got a present. I remember taking some present home to a family called Owen who lived up a little Alleyway off Chorley Street. There was Dickie and Mary and there was a baby but they had no mum. Another place where we could get presents was the poor children's party at Bolton Royal Infirmary.

My favourite pastime was collecting the picture cards out of cigarettes. So we kids would ask the visitors to the infirmary "Got any tab cards mister". Like I said they was bad times but they were good in some ways you could leave your door on the latch while you went out, no-one would touch anything and everyone helped each other, there was no National Health in those days, Doctors bills where paid weekly. A lady would call on Friday and mark in your book what you paid 3d or 6d or what ever you could afford.

The houses around us where gradually coming empty and then it was our turn we got a new house on the Willows estate in Oriel Street in 1937, it was great we had a bathroom inside and a toilet as well and a garden back and front. The Pollards moved in next door to us and the Larkin's moved into Hibernia Street and the Halls went into Briercliff Road.

Dad managed to get a job at Clifton Magnesium works. He had to walk all the way there and all the way back because there was no money for train fares.

Having a garden, it wanted digging and filling. Well the Aranda Garage had Daffodils all the way round the boundary then they all vanished and reappeared in all the gardens up Oriel Street but a policeman came and took them back. With all the new friends I made as more people moved on to the estate I was soon exploring the area.

I started at Brandwood Street School and was delighted to find out that Willows Park actually had a swimming pool. Another surprise was finding all the Cinemas in the area. At nine years old I had never been in a picture house. Now we could go to the 'Tuppenny Rush' on Saturday afternoons at the Majestic on St Helens Road. The doorman would pull us all to one side and take all our arsenal of spud guns and peashooters off us, he was a right spoilsport.

My grandparents had been moved up to De Lacy Drive but granddad always came to take us out, especially at Bolton Wakes Week and New Year when there was a massive fair that covered the whole area that is now known as Moor Lane Bus Station. All around the edge where side shows like the Fat Lady and the Freak Shows, Boxing Booths and Black Pea Stalls and Roasted potato stalls. Inside were exiting rides like The Dragon, Dodgems and Moon Rocket, there was Swing Boats with steam organ music playing, and games of chance like Roll a Penny and Darts and Coconut Shies.

The little kids had Roundabouts, we would come back up Deane Road almost floating because of all the balloons Granddad had bought us with his pocket money, he also bought us monkeys on sticks. People would stop us and ask Granddad if they could buy one of us but he would say they were not for sale because they were for his Grandchildren.

It was now 1939 and war had broke out in September, it was a great novelty to us kids, trying on the gas masks and having air raid drills. All the young men were called up or volunteering. Dad volunteered and went into the Grenadier Guards as he was six feet four and Mam went to De Havilland on war work. I joined the scout at Saviors Church. All sorts of things started to happen now Blackouts, Salvage Drives, Food rationing, Air raid Wardens, even coal went on ration. I made a little truck out of pram wheels and a soap box and went up Wigan Road to the Owd Lone pit for half a hundred weight of slack(coal dust) and we went to the gas works on Moor Lane to get a bag of coke if we were lucky. Mam and me would walk down to the 'macker' that was the spare land at the back of the Aranda Garage where the stokers from the Merton and Rayon Crepes used to tip the ashes from the boiler house fire holes. There we would pick out the cinders and bits of coal from the ashes to bank the fire up, it would last for hours that way.

Now the Blackouts were in full force with not a chink of light allowed to show anywhere, going out at night was like being totally blind, what you didn't bump into you fell over. After a visit to the Regent Cinema on Deane Road I was coming home on the Tramcar when the air raid siren went, the tram stopped and we all had to dive into the air raid shelter at Cannon Street. When I finally got home after the all clear I got a clip round the ear hole for being home late, it was seen after this that a bomb dropped on Punch Street.

My first job on leaving school at 14 years old was at Walker's Tannery on Weston Street and while I was there the war finished and the young men started drifting back to their jobs at the Tannery. I eventually married a Horwich girl at Saviour's Church and we still live on the Willows Estate with no wish to go anywhere else.