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Life in the Grott

by Annie Grundy née Rowland

I made my entrance into the Rowland family on June 16 1924, at 36 ALBERT PLACE, locally known as "the Grott", the entrance to which still remains as a little cobbled path near the bookies, behind the Church Inn known as the "NEW UN".

These were little cottages with the toilets in the front street, not flush toilets. The event of the week was the arrival of the "middin men" who came to empty them. "What a job".

We lived with my grandma, my grandad having died one month before I was born. We were an ordinary New Bury family, with not much cash but rich in relatives a large number of Aunties and Uncles. In those days New Bury was very clannish and if you did not have many relations of your own you just adopted some. My favourite adopted family was the Birtles, and with my mam Birtles and dad Birtles, this became my second home. Being an only child I fixed myself up with sisters and a brother there. My mother used to take me there early in the morning so that she could go to work at the Century Mill as my Dad was an invalid.

I do not think Alice and Anne Could have been pleased at having a cold child getting into their bed but I did take up another "oven plate" this was the iron shelf from the oven wrapped in a towel to warm the bed. Very hard but comforting.

Some of the larger than life characters I remember were a very large lady who to me, at about 4 years old, looked like a Mountain. Next door to us was a lady who my Grandma called "KATHERN" with her husband "John Enery". She liked a gill of "milk" in a jug from the "New Un". John Enery borrowed our "Buff" every Saturday before my Dad came in from the Match. On going to retrieve the paper with my Grandma one day there was dough from her bread making running out of the oven. On being asked what was the matter she said if "Mother Shipton could Wash she could Bake, Mother Shiptons was a new Soap Powder that bore the logo "Let Mother Shipton wash for you". She of course had had her "Milk". Her favourite saying was "Neer mind urn cock thay con live I Chorley Road if tha pays tha rent", she had a carpet which was put down on a Sunday and taken up on a Monday along with the brass "fire irons".

Living near to the Wesleyans I was taken to the Sunday School even though, I was baptized at St James's by Mr Pugh. At the age of 3 I started school in the babies class at St James's School, there was a big dolls house, a large rocking horse and a lovely fire, none had to be touched but what treasures.

When I was 5 years old we moved to 165 Buckley lane for a couple of years till Grandma died. She was a busy lady with high starched collars and the traditional black dress and about three pinnies with pockets full of thimbles, bobbins of cotton, buttons, scissors, and the best thing was the Menthol Eucalyptus tablets. We used to disappear down the "yard" and eat one for reasons you must imagine. The door had a hole to put your finger through to lift the latch, and I would ask her for a toffee through the hole, she would push one through and say if I gave you my teeth you would come back for my "een" "eyes". She was a worker at the Church Army hut on Piggott Street and we went to the Band of Hope there. We were one of the Potato pie makers for the Potato pie suppers that St James's new school was said to be built on. When she died what a funeral! It was my first, with black horses and us walking behind. It was on a Saturday and as we went out of the back door a wedding party was entering at the front. We had a tea party afterwards in the babies class room at St James's.

We then moved to 177 Buckley Lane where I lived until 1952. Jesse Davie was our next-door neighbour at 175, she was a kind and devout person, sister of Ernest Tonge the piano teachers wife. She would read bible stories to me and tell me tales of the old days. During the later part of her life she would sit in our house and watch me bake or sew for my children, always with an encouraging word. Her niece Elsie lived with her and her nephew Gordon who played in a dance band at St Thomas's Mission lived at home with his parents at 181. Lily Bleakly and her family lived next to her and on voting days Mrs. Bleakly would have us all decked up with ribbons of her choice of Party of course. Lily was indignant that I was going to the Wesleyans, and said "you will come to St James's with me", I could not do that because it was time for the Christmas Party and I was not going to miss that. Unfortunately I had flu and could not go anyway, I was told that when Polly Chariton came with my present from Father Christmas it turned out to be a motor car, returned it and said if they don't know if I am a boy or a girl I am not going there again, and that is how I got my transfer.

When the new school was being built we were sent a class or two at a time to St George's. On the way home the thing to do was to lie full length over the holes that housed the cellar windows at the Century Mill and see how far you could lean over to hang your bag with your mug and lunchbox in without dropping it. My mother must have wondered how my mug got broken so often.

There was a very large lady whose name I won't mention whose husband had eyes for another. The first lady went out to settle them and as she was arguing a fight broke out. The first lady was wearing an enormous blouse and she was coming worst. As her opponent kept on grabbing at it she whipped off the offending garment and had not a stitch on underneath, what a sight for us kids all that heaving bosom. I think the fight ended at that junction.

There was Joe Flag the cobbler who was also a newsagent. He would let us read the comics "we could not afford to buy", while he put irons on our clogs. He always seemed to have a mouthful of nails and he would bark through his nails and his yellow teeth "durnt durty yon comics I have fort sell urn when yur dun" When he died we looked at him in his coffin. He had pennies on his eyes and cotton wool up his nose but we all loved him despite the odour from the food he left in an old wooden box by his nails and things.

There was another clogger called Billy Morton and he was a genius. He would make clogs before your eyes, he would select a piece of wood and set to on his bench with knives on a long handle and fit you perfectly. Clogger par excellence. He did not mind us sitting watching, he had a glass cupboard with the best-mended shoes. It contained, for a long time a pair of black high heeled court shoes with "diamonds" in the heels, I envied them but I never knew who owned them.

There was John Brown and Auntie Bella at the shop, who had their nieces and nephews living with them having no children of their own. There was Doris, Nelly now "Turner", Jenny and Hedley. We used the cellar as an air raid shelter during the war it was a popular happy place. The beer was kept down there and the men in our row had domino drives there on a Monday night.

I think he must have had the first burglar alarm. It was a heavy weight on a string attached to the cash drawer, and hanging down in the cellar so that if anyone tried to open the drawer up would go the weight which he could then pull down and trap their fingers in the drawer.

We all used to play in Lower Street where I had two aunties on one side and an aunt and uncle on the other, plus adopted relations like the Birtles and the Banks. Grandma Banks "Nony", was noted for her very loud hailing voice and her knocking up stick which she rattled against the windows while giving a weather report as well, "Come on Seran its a cowd rainy morning thas barnt be late". A very encouraging start to the day. She used to wear a cloth cap and smoke a clay pipe, she made chips and peas and specials in her back kitchen for us all.

My uncle Harry Barwise was a lovable small man who lived next to Naylor's Pub. He was a bookie in a small way and was a bit of a contortionist, I would take the kids to see some of his tricks till he shooed us out. There was an entry between his house and the pub which we called the "wint" a useful place when it rained. It had the trap door where they rolled in the beer barrels and it made a good tap dancing stage till we were chased off for making too much noise.

The pub was the headquarters for the New Bury football club who won gold medals, one of which was won by my dad and for years I wore it on a chain round my neck. It dropped off one day at St James's Primary school when we were helping the Rose Queen and was never seen again. It had a red lion on the front and A ROWLAND 1923 N B F C on it so if anyone knows of its whereabouts I would be glad to know.

There was Tommy Hacking the undertaker and wheelwright who had a large two storey wooden building behind Buckley Lane, where he made coffins. Joan Clare and I would help to pin the linings in them and fold shrouds. In fact a few years ago after Tommy died I made a set of splendid costumes of figured cream velvety material I do not know if the men who wore them ever realised it was "coffin lining" given to me by his nephew. We would clean the windows and sweep up the shavings, some of which we scraped on our heads for curls being both straight haired. For this his wife who had a stall on the market kept me in underwear as my Dad was out of work took us. She also took us to Southport for the day, it was the only car in the neighbourhood.

David Clare had his hen pen next to the undertaker he would provide potatoes to be roasted when the wheels were burned and the iron rims fashioned. Joan and I would collect the eggs and he let us have a cabin to play in. If he was going our way to the Secondary School he would give us a lift on his fruit cart it had a covered top and a shelf on the back where he cut up his fish this is what we sat on in style. I can say with conviction I am the only person to have been bitten by a dead codfish. As I climbed aboard I got my knee caught in its jaws which snapped shut. He used to ride in style in a Pony and Trap what a splendid figure.

Walking day and Sermons were our big days. We had to take four old pence and a cup for our bun and coffee and one shilling and sixpence for blue and white Irises for the singers which had to be carried on the left arm. The day school where we assembled was a glow with flowers in baskets and posies and best frocks and last minute instructions not to walk in the tramlines and get tar on your new white shoes. We had to wait for the Wesleyans to pass before we could set off, with waves at the opposition as their procession went by, and then off we could go all round Albeit Road in double lines one lot going one way and the rest the other. There were decorated horses and carts for the old and very young. It never seemed to rain in those days. We would have the bun and coffee then go home to change and play games on the field and grown ups danced to the band. Everyone turned out. Singers had to be 7 — 10 years old and Mrs Miller and Miss Tongue trained us. The choirboys had great fun trying to separate our veils from our heads.

So many people came to tend their graves and put flowers on them and Saturday night was the meeting place in the churchyard. There were three services on the Sunday, and in the evening loud speakers outside for those who could not get in.

There was Ike Lythgoe the coal dealer who seemed to us very bad tempered. He had a field behind our row and a long path to where he kept his horse and coal wagon and we were forbidden to walk or play on that grass.

There was Bobby Reqan - the local PC When it was his birthday he and his wife gave a party for the children in the houses nearby. We had games and a lovely tea run by him and the older Regan girls. Kathleen also cut our hair, Mabel was very stylish, Winifred very quiet, Joan and Eileen were my special friends and Frank always seemed to be somewhere else when we were about. "Who could blame him", PC Regan was the old style bobby kind but stood no nonsense, when Tom and Bob Taylor and I knocked down a newly built wall "by accident".

Other things I remember, Billy Jewsnap who tied papers to our cats tail and Mr Connor who had a clock in his fanlight so no excuse for being out when we were told the time to come in. He mended clocks and watches and John his son bred that new bird Budgie.

I remember John Ridyard the Butcher, the off licence run by the Smethursts and Stones Ice Cream shop friendly rivals to John Browns Ices. They had their Ice cream cart in the covered area at the side of the shop like a garage, over that was a large room vailable for wedding receptions and funeral teas etc.

Syd Clarkes shop of treasures was next to the school. There were lots of what might now be called cottage industry. Mrs Charnock with her house window shop, Jack Thorpes Hut, and Ogdens Hut, so many go ahead people in New Bury. A man called Ned who was always at weddings to collect the shilling for opening the car door. His smiling cheeky face complete with flat cap and muffler appeared on many wedding photos, not always with the brides approval.

New Bury Carnival had Edna Symcock as Queen, with the lorries, nowadays called floats decorated with their tableaux. Lizzie Lee, and the jazz band under the eye of George Birtles led the Morris dancers. What a welcome they got when they won the cup from Adelaide Street it was as good as the Wanderer's return from Wembley. Victorious New Bury.

We had concerts and pantomimes, Brownies with Mrs Collier and Miss Boardman, the Guides, Cubs, Scouts, sales of work, I was chosen to open one of these in 1938. I remember Jimmy Eckersley from the farm was chairman and part of what I was told to say was we need £300 for the churchyard wall that was being extended. A lot of money at that time.

Many notable figures came from New Bury our MP J Stones, and two England footballers Tommy and Ralph Banks among them. I am sure you know many more.

Both World Wars took their toll from our little area and some are remembered in the windows of remembrance at St James's and St George's, Thankfully no names are on St Catherine's, as there have been no wars since its opening. During the war years the air raid shelters were put up and numbers of people slept in the cellar at the Century Mill. We also had our bomb, which took the sight of that handsome Jim Bleakly who was an example to us all. He had the tidiest privets in James Street which he cut himself and went out to work as usual.