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A Short Story

by Joe Hilton

This short story I hope will give a little insight into the happenings, the characters, the changed face of parts of "Derby Ward", the tragedies, the sorrow and of course there were happy times too.

Born in Parliament Street on the 8th November 1916 in ordinary surroundings, it didn't take long to find out that life would not be a bed of roses. I suppose there are lots of people who can account of how, if parents were lucky enough to have a job, it fell on the children to keep a house in "good nick." Like mopping the inside of the house, (Bare flags those days), plenty of hot water, a donkey stone and plenty of elbow grease.

As we grew up from childhood, you could see the different characters around you. In Parliament Street there was "Tom Clarkson" a fellow of large stature, rough, tough but a heart of gold with kids. He would get a box of oranges from the market, he would have us racing in the street, the winners would get an orange - the losers a little "sad." Then he would say "cum ere thee there's one for thee too". He could drink a well dry could Tom.

In my minds eye I can see what the district was like. From Deane Road up to the Clay Hill -what a climb that was - workers going up to Daubhill had a task getting there. Relieved when they reached the top but this became a real hazard in winter. I remember vividly Wally Kay, who lived in Parliament Street, Wally was a cyclist of no mean repute. He tried and tried to pedal from Kearsley's Butchers shop on Deane Road, up the ginnel as we called it, to the top of the clay hill. He achieved it on one occasion, something that the old "Ford 'T'" didn't do.

Anyone in that district would of course remember "Cockle Bill Johnson." He had the grocers shop in Parliament Street, he also did the rounds with his cart - fish, fruit and veg and had a 'pen' with hens, pigs and fruit store. As kids we did the cleaning for him, he hardly ever paid us, a tight one was "cockle."

What a day Saturday used to be for the pigeon fraternity. There would be bets laid as to which was the best pigeon. Off they would go with the baskets to the golf links, then they would release them. A fellow with a clock would time them. The favourite didn't always win, as the pigeon was coming in to land some wily guy would chuck a cat into the yard.

The pigeon didn't land, wagers were lost and won that way. On the other side of Isabel Street, there was another ginnel running to Bankfield Street. Most Sundays there would be 'Whippet Racing', games of pitch and toss and card games. It was remarkable how in hard times there was always a bob or two for those sorts of things.
As summer lapsed into winter and all the factories and mills were lit up, it was a sight during rainy weather. The lights seemed to be a myriad of stars, twinkling.

From Deane Road to Clay Hill were pens of every description, allotments, coal baggers, jobbers and fruit. In back Quebec Street there were also pens, pigs and hens and of course another character called "Billy Holehouse", or Red Mick as he was known. He had pigs but tragedy struck him, his young child was drowned in a swill tub, a sad loss to "Billy."

Harking back to the ginnel in Quebec Street there was one house in particular owned by a painter and decorator, a "Mr. Cannon". His garden was a delight to see, lovely flowers all year round which seemed to charm the street and of course my old buddy "Albert Crompton" of Milner Street, a wealth of knowledge of the district "Albert" knew them all. He aided and abetted this study.

As we grew into youths, almost everyone accepted some kind of poverty, not much work about but what a spirit, it was share-share at all times. We would always manage to find tuppence for five woodbines, (what a treat). Sometimes we would land a three-penny double at "Charlie McDonalds", a bookie in "Isabel Street" that managed a few cigs for us.

What of our spare time. A game of "knock round can" most of the "old uns" will remember that. "Knock Up" teams came from other districts to challenge the best of our area to a game of "Knock Up". Then there would be long summer evenings and people sat at their doors till all hours of the morning passing the topics of the day. I remember old "Mother Owen" of Gilbert Street, she'd be sat in the doorway, long black skirt, a cloth cap on her head smoking an old clay pipe full of "black twist", what a character.

People didn't buy much bread those days, it was all home baked oven bottom barm cakes and loaves, cooling off on the windowsills and doorsteps, what a mouth watering delight that would be today. Saturday nights were always something special too, all the lads would be off up The Middlebrook having a "sing song" on the way. Nobody complained it was part of the atmosphere of the times that was Derby Ward in our childhood and youth.

A well known character was "Joe Fletcher" a cotton waste merchant with stables at the top of "Gilbert Street." Almost every day he would be off to Manchester for a load of cotton. His horses were always in good trim, he had one in particular called "Blackie". Everyday "Blackie" would walk down Gilbert Street to a house four doors from the top. He would stand at the door till "Mrs. Daniels" came out and gave him his "Butties", and then off he would go back to the stables.

Many others and I no doubt remember "Joe Atkinson" who owned the pawn brokers in Jackson Street (the Pop shop as it was known). He always had plenty of customers, summer and winter alike you always had a place in the queue, bringing out on Mondays the articles you took in on Saturday. I stood in for my Grandma, if I was a bit late, my place would be kept by some of the women who knew me. Pride took second place with them, they had "nowt" and were not afraid to show it. Of course there was also the "toffs" who went in the back door, not for them the stigma of the Pop Shop. He was a character was "Joe". He once collared me on election day, very young I was, I was giving him a bit of cheek, he got hold of me and stuck me in his shop window, tied me up for everyone to see, then humiliated me by sticking a blue rosette to my jersey. As years went by I used to remind him of that, we laughed loud and long about that little episode.

Across the road from Joes was "Jim Horrocks" butchers shop. He suffered long did Jimmy, where he was situated. Every time it rained hard, he would get all the floodwaters in his cellar. I got many a bob off him for bailing and cleaning it out. Funny thing when the Pop Shop closed, he moved over and his flooding ended.

Another person to remember was "Arnold Peters". He had a provision shop across the road, a thriving business he had. "A liberal Councillor", he was also at times a benefactor. You could get 13 eggs for a bob and sometimes cracked ones thrown in, it was remarkable how there always seemed to be cracked eggs but a grand person he was.

Talking of benefactors brings to mind another person of renowned a "Mr Benson". He had a cooked meat shop at the corner of Joseph tee Street. I often went there for "four pennyworth of 'Yorkshire Ducks' (a kind of meatball) and plenty of gravy please.' He would look at me with a knowing smile and say, "there's six of you isn't there? Tell thi mam I've chucked two in for luck." A gentleman to remember.

Another person to remember was "Bill Reid". He had a hardware shop at the corner of "Gilbert Street", what you couldn't get at "Woollies" you'd get at "Bill Reids". A remarkable character really, he'd tackle anything would Bill. Just across the road was "Tom Walker". He kept the outdoor licence; he would come out of the shop at times and give pieces of cake to the kids, leaving me out. After a tirade of oaths he would come over and give me apiece, he loved to aggravate me.

Cast your mind back to another person of repute "Paddy Wyre" he dealt in all sorts did Paddy. I suppose he could best be remembered for his horse and cart. Wherever he went, at any time you would find a little dog seated on the horses rump, one wondered if it was glued there, it never fell off.

One of the things that can't be left out was the "Infirmary Bowling Handicap." Surely this was one of the highlights of Derby Ward. A bowling tournament that attracted bowlers from far and near, what a honour to win this one. Good ones fell by the wayside on this green, "The Gibraltar Rock" on Deane Road. One of the locals to win it was a dabhillite "Frank Egan". I vividly remember him bringing the cup up the "Ginnnel" waving it aloft, to the chants of "good lad Frank", there would be plenty of ale flowing in Adelaide Street Labour Club" that evening. But what a duo came from "Howfen" "Thatch Martin" and Bill Hurst", tattle they called Bill. I remember "Billy Holehouse" playing tattle, Billy was leading tattle 17 - 9 at 21 up, he was ribbing tattle something terrible, telling him he never could play. Tattle said "they's not won yet holehouse' name your bet. Holehouse said "two pigs (piglets) to a shilling", he didn't score again." "Tattle" collected the pigs and never let him forget that one. Somehow "Tattle" always made friends with the kids, a sort of hero worship. He'd say, "Who's the best bowler kids"? Up went a choir us of voices "Tattle", then up in the air went a cap full of pennies A mad scramble ensued then for toffee money. This happened lots of times he wasn't short of a bob or two wasn't Tattle. Pounds were won and lost on final day. Somehow it always seemed to be a nice day and us as kids could only hear the roar as a good end was played. We could get on the wall at Pikes Lane School and watch till the "bobbies" came and moved us. It was a sad time all round when they finally stopped the handicap at the "rock". This was something that should have gone on forever, a day to be remembered in Derby Ward.

Youth gave way to age and wartime again. Families went, some to return others lost forever. Gone are the characters who seemed to charm the district, like Sally Hardman in Gilbert Street, she was a knocker up at turned 70 yrs of age. But enough of all that, what of today? As time went on the character of the place itself changed. Pens and huts gave way to housing stock. Northfield Street, Alberta Street, Wellfield Road and the estates to Daubhill. The old clay hill (mount Nebo) stayed for a long time, but in the end it had to go, like the people who made Derby Ward what it was. Never a bed of roses but a spirit second to none. Looking back one wonders were they bad Old Days? Now there are no mills, no ginnel's, the community spin is dwindling and somehow there's not as much happiness.

As memories flood on we look about and wonder if change has altered us, alas all the good times one can remember sadly come to an end. So does my story of memories of a place called "Derby Ward".