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                                         Down Our Street

    Going back to the 1940's and 50's and probably even earlier, I know that there were many streets in Preston that were virtually self-sufficient due to the variety of shops and other outlets for goods and services that provided the residents with all of their relatively simple requirements.

     However, I think one would be hard pressed to find a street that could equal the range of goods and services that were available in my particular street, or rather 'lane'. South Meadow Lane to be precise. I lived, with my mum and dad, at number 65 during the 40's and 50's and it was only later in my life that I realized what a diversity of trades and services it offered all us residents.

     Starting at the top we had the Preston Co-operative Society Store or as we all knew it, the Co-op. It stood on the corner of Fishergate and the lane and although it was technically on Fishergate, we considered it to be 'Our Co-op'. What you couldn't purchase there in the grocery line was not worth having and talk about high 'tech', well I reckon the Co-op must have coined the word. When you paid for your purchases there was no ringing it up on the till as in most shops. Oh no, the Co-op had this 'Heath Robinsonesque' overhead contraption of wires and pulleys, that the assistant used to send the customer's money to the lucky man stationed high in the 'Crow's Nest' by means of a metal cup that screwed onto the wire conveyor. By then pulling on a convenient lanyard, the cup was sent hurtling to the 'Nest' were the money was duly counted; the change calculated and along with your 'divvi' cheque, duly returned along the 'high wire'. We kids thought it was bordering on magic and I can still remember that one of my earliest career choices was to be the man sat up in the little box in the Co-op, receiving the seemingly endless supply of metal cups from the various assistants below.

     On the other side of South Meadow Lane, about 20 yards down was Tommy Holmes's. Now Tommy kept a butcher's shop so you would expect to see displayed in his window various cuts of meat; liver & kidneys; chickens; game birds and all the other items associated with the butchery trade. Ah! But remember, this was wartime Preston and about the only things not rationed were fresh air and a sense of humour. This meant that Tommy's window display was pretty thin on meat products. However, I do remember a two-foot high pot pig that stood on its hind legs in the middle of his scanty display. It wore a blue striped 'brat' or apron with a straw 'boater' on its head. Held in its front legs was a tray which pre-war was probably used to display certain pork products. Tommy however put it to much better use as on the tray was a caricature photo' of Hitler and his cronies topped by a large packet of that famous sage and onion stuffing - 'nuff sed!

     Tommy was of the old school and did his best to look after his 'regulars'. I recall many occasions when, as well as collecting the family's meagre weekly meat ration, mum was also rewarded, probably because of her pre-war patronage, with either a pig's tail (at least I think it was its tail); a sheep's head or perhaps three or four links of his 'special' war recipe sausages that he told us kids consisted of a 'moo'; a 'baa' and a couple of 'oinks' as well as the mandatory and somewhat prolific breadcrumbs - But by golly! - They weren't half good!

     Adjacent to the butcher's shop was the first of the three public houses to be found in the lane. The 'South Meadow Tavern' was its title and mine host was Cec' Edwards, a dapper little fellow with a clipped military style moustache. Being 'nobbut a lad' at that time, the only occasions that we were allowed to cross this hallowed threshold was to call for Cec's lad, David. David, although small like his dad, was very popular. I think it had something to do with the fact that he had a ready access to the pub's potato crisp supply - and he wasn't skinny - Not our David.

     A few yards further on would find us outside a small fronted general grocery shop, which was typical of many to be found on the streets of Preston at that time. Mr & Mrs Clarkson ran the little store and a nicer couple you would be hard pressed to find. I am sure that it stocked all the usual items that one would expect to come across in a grocer's shop, but I remember it best for its somewhat meagre stock of sweets and cigarettes. Now don't get me wrong. The sweets were generally for me, when each week, clutching the family's ration books, I selected from the paltry display perhaps a handful of aniseed balls; a bulls-eye or two; maybe some coltsfoot rock (whatever happened to coltsfoot rock?) and, if the ration allowed, possibly a few caramels for mum and dad. The 'ciggies' however were definitely for my parents. They were always the last item I asked for and most times Mr Clarkson would say,

"I'm sure your dad got some yesterday," to which I would feign ignorance and just fix him with my plaintive stare. It generally worked and off I would toddle with sweets in one hand and five or sometimes ten 'fags' in the other. If I were really lucky they would be 'Players' or 'Senior Service', perhaps 'Wild Woodbines' or even 'Kensitas'. More often than not however, they were more likely to be 'Turf'; 'Star'; 'Pasha' or 'Robin'. You've never heard of them? Let me tell you, that if you appreciated a good smoke then you were not missing much.

     The high point in my memory of this little shop was the day when sweets and chocolate came off ration. It was as though someone had uttered 'Open Seseme' to reveal the riches of the orient except that the 'treasures' within were not diamonds or rubies but row after row of large glass jars, each containing a colourful confection that we kids bought like spendthrifts, to be stuffed down greedily until we were literally sick. - Ah! What bliss to eat a whole bar of McCowan's Highland Toffee.

     Next door to the grocers was the second of the lane's trio of pubs. This was the famous 'Cricketers Arms' which again was 'forbidden territory' to me during the early years, apart from the odd times when, at Sunday lunchtimes, mum sent me to tell dad that dinner would be on the table in five minutes or in the dog in ten. It never failed to work. The pub however proved to be a handy supplement to our meagre pocket money. How? You might ask - well I think enough water has passed under the bridge to save my peers and I from prosecution. There was a narrow passageway or 'ginnel' (still there, as is the pub, unfortunately now closed down) that connected the lane to Lauderdale Street. It passed by the high back wall of the pub, but we who had climbed bridges and statues in Miller Park and trees in 'Penny Wood' and 'Cheggy' Lane could not be beaten by a mere brick wall. On certain dark nights when the lure of the 'chippy' proved irresistible or we were perhaps a few pence short of a front-row seat at the 'Regal' or 'Star', a dark shape could be seen making a 'back' while the really brave ones would climb it, thus gaining access to the pub yard. Within the yard would be crates of empty beer bottles ready for return to the brewery. The 'brave one' would quickly take a bottle or three from a crate and toss them over the wall to the other waiting felons. When it was deemed that there was enough, the exercise was aborted. We didn't wish to strangle the golden goose now - did we?

     But how, you may ask, did we make money from this nefarious enterprise? Well, in those days, as an incentive for customers to return their empty bottles, there was a two-penny surcharge, which was redeemable when the bottle was returned - now I bet you're getting the picture. However, we did have some scruples. We never took the bottles back to the 'Cricketers' but rather to the 'Tavern' up the lane. Luckily for us, both pubs were part of the old Lion Brewery chain now swallowed up by the Scottish & Newcastle group.

     When I was old enough to enter licensed premises (or near enough), the 'Cricks' became my first local. At this time a lady called Angela, who hailed from the 'Emerald Isle', was the licensee. Angela had a fine singing voice, which brought punters in from miles around. So great was her talent that she formed a duet with a lady by the name of Helen and when not pulling pints in the Cricketers Arms could be found touring the local club scene where they were great favourites for many years. They even managed a TV spot on a talent show known as 'Top Town' and did the old municipality proud. Her son Tim was a good mate of mine and in 1960 was Best Man at my wedding. He still lives in the locality.

     Just opposite the pub was the local 'chippie', later to be run by the Slater's but during the war years by Joe Clarkson and his family. When Joe was frying, the smell filled the top end of the lane and it was only the strong willed who could walk past without popping in for a bag of fish and chips with perhaps a few scraps (bits of batter that broke away from the fish during the frying process). For a goodly helping of prime cod, accompanied by a stack of golden chips, one had to part with the princely sum of eight old pence (about 3.5p in today's money). Yes, even through the darkest years of the war, fish & chips always seemed to be available and I certainly had my fair share. When the Slater family took over from Joe, he obviously passed on his 'trade secrets' as the fare was every bit as good. However, for me there was an added attraction that almost rivalled the chips. There was also a dark haired daughter called Jean who, on first sight, left me weak at the knees. It was just my luck that the feeling was not reciprocated and my lips were destined to taste only her mum's fish & chips. Still, at the time, I believed it to be a reasonable consolation.  

     A little further down, past the Beardsworth's; the Jolley's and the Dunderdale's was the confectioner's shop. They sold all the fare that one normally associates with a confectioners, but what I remember best were the dinner plate size barm cakes. Where they good or where they good! How I envied my schoolmates who, unlike myself, were not forced to suffer the trauma of school dinners. Not for them the ubiquitous beef (?) stew; lumpy mash and stewed greens followed by congealed sago pudding and watery squash. Oh no! For them was reserved the sheer delight of a buttered barm cake, filled to overflowing with chips from up the lane and a warm bottle of Dandelion & Burdock. Ah my, a veritable feast. Food fit for the Gods.

     Next door to the confectioners shop was a haberdashery, Waterworth's I think it was called, over which I shall quickly draw a veil as no self-respecting lad brought up in the lane, either knew or cared what happened in such establishments. Suffice it to say that usually a session of sock darning or button replacement followed mum's not infrequent visits to this particular shop.

     A little further down, on the opposite side of the road, past the Brindle's (a most accomplished artist was Mr Brindle despite his handicap of being deaf and dumb) and past the Parkinson's, was located a greengrocer's shop, run by Billy Lea and his family. Now Billy was an astute businessman, for as well as selling his goods from the shop, he also plied his wares from the back of an old cart, pulled by his faithful mare 'Dolly'. We only lived a matter of fifty yards or so from the shop, yet mum always used the mobile service when purchasing our weekly vegetables. The reason for this was not for convenience or through laziness. Oh no! The principle motivation was that if she hadn't, I would have 'moithered' her to death. You see Billy always rewarded the children of his mobile customers with a short ride on his cart and if you were very lucky you were allowed to give Dolly a carrot. Gosh! For me it was better than a ride in a Rolls Royce. 

     Dolly was stabled a little further down the lane in a field that adjoined my 'Alma Mater', St Stephen's school (more of this later). She often ran free in the field and was a great favourite with all the local kids. It was a sad day when Dolly passed on to that grand paddock in the sky, as Billy did not replace her. I think he saw it as a good time to retire and so consequently sold the field to the school authority that soon made excellent use of the facility. In time the newly acquired field contained a canteen complete with its own kitchen, which fed the whole school in two sittings; part was converted into allotments that were tended by the older children; two concrete cricket strips were laid and the rest was used as a vast pastoral playground.

     Just down from Billy Lea's, on the opposite side of the road, almost opposite our house, was a small wooden cabin owned by Mr Smalley, who lived in the adjacent bungalow, but rented out to a certain Ernie Brindle. Now Ernie ran this timber-framed establishment as a boot and shoe repairers. However, Ernie was much more than a mere cobbler. Ernie was, I always believed, the original people's philosopher. Ernie knew, or had an opinion on just about everything, or so it appeared to us impressionable kids.

     His shop was a Mecca for the youngsters of the neighbourhood and how he ever managed to find the time to repair shoes I'll never know. To my recollection he sorted out, among other topical issues, the war; national and local politics; the weather; advised Tommy Handley how to improve 'ITMA' and best of all he berated the 'North End' management for not playing Tom Finney as a centre-forward (a position where he later proved to be just as skilful as on the wing).

     Yes! In Ernie's little cabin you could always find boys and youths of all ages and although he always kept us entertained with his homespun philosophy, the prime attraction, for me anyway, was the machinery. There were machines for performing all kinds of cobbling requirements but the one that held me in awe was the belt driven spindle that had fixed upon it all manner of circular tools that Ernie used for shaping; grinding and buffing the newly affixed leather soles and heels. Ah! The times I have watched him working on footwear that today would be quickly dispatched to the dustbin. Watched in wonder as he fashioned seemingly un-repairable shoes into footwear that a king would be proud to wear. And all this 'magic' was performed with nothing more than his last; a stitching machine and the incredible revolving spindle. The older lads were even allowed to paint the new leather soles with a blacking dye and then polish them to a splendid sheen on the revolving rag buff. After being allowed to perform this task for the first time, I dropped all aspirations of an occupation operating the cash cups at the local Co-op and had only one career path in mind - to be a cobbler, with my own high speed buffing spindle.

     Very few people actually came for their repaired footwear on the day that Ernie suggested it might be ready. Well with all the philosophising and the training of budding cobblers, it would be a very optimistic customer that expected his or her shoes to be ready on the appointed day. One usually let it run a day or two over before calling for the goods. Even then, after a rummage on the 'to do' shelf, Ernie would produce them with a flourish and solemnly inform the customer that they were the next pair to be 'tackled' and would be ready the following day, which they invariably were.

     Ernie plied his trade for many years in the little wooden hut and it was a sad day for all who knew and respected him when a card bearing the poignant inscription 'Business closed due to illness' was hung in the dust grimed window. It remained there for many months but Ernie never did return and the business died with him.

     Crossing the road again and walking just a few strides brings us to the Newsagent's shop. It stood on the corner of the lane and Hind Street and was run by Mary Yates. Now Mary was about as round as she was tall and certainly not the tidiest of women, as the shop most often resembled, to put it bluntly, a tip. Neither was she the cleanest or sharpest dresser in town and could be seen most days doing her own little round dressed more like a tramp than a businesswoman.

     The shop, because of its down at heel appearance was known locally as 'Dirty Mary's' and she ran the business purely as a newsagents and as it was the only such outlet in the district, she commanded quite a large catchments area and at its 'pomp' she employed at least half a dozen paperboys to deliver both morning and evening papers.

     In reality there probably should have been at least as many again as the number of papers we were expected to deliver would have made a donkey say 'nay'. Yes, I was one of the lucky half dozen and lucky we considered ourselves. Not only could you earn up to eight shillings (40 pence) a week with a morning and evening round but best of all you got to see the current comics at least three days before they were officially on sale. I spent many an odd half hour waiting for the paper van to drop off the morning or evening's deliveries, surreptitiously thumbing through pristine copies of the 'Hotspur'; 'Rover'; 'Wizard'; 'Adventure' and later on the 'Eagle', well before my jealous mates got the opportunity.

     It was while working for Mary that I experienced my first taste of redundancy. Business began falling off and she had to let one of us go. However, I don't think her selection criteria would have stood up in this day and age. She decided that whoever arrived back last from Saturday's 'Last Football' delivery round would be for the chop. Well having probably not the largest in volume but definitely the widest in delivery area, you can guess where the axe fell - such is life!

      Just two houses down, will find us at the gates of St Stephen's school - my Alma Mater. Although I wasn't convinced at the time, and though much water has passed under the proverbial bridge since I left as a spotty faced fifteen year old, I can now honestly say that they really were some of the happiest days of my life. We had it all at 'St Stivies'. Good teachers; good pals; a fine canteen and probably the best of all, what very few schools could boast in the late '40's and early '50's - a school playing field.

     As I mentioned earlier, the whole field, and it was quite a size, was divided in such a way that all the pupils, from infants to those in their last academic year (no secondary schools as such then unless you include the grammar schools and the Technical college) had some benefit from it. Part had been made into allotments, which the older boys worked. The largest portion was used as a grassy playground, but my favourite area was where the concrete cricket strips had been laid and nets erected. During the cricket season, our 90-minute dinner break consisted of 10 minutes eating and the rest of the time playing cricket.

     During my time at the school (1942 to 1952) the teachers I remember best were Miss Berry in the infants; Mrs Clayton standard 1; Mrs Kilner standard 2; Miss Shorthouse standard 3; Mr Carrie standard 4 and the headmaster Sid Hunt who taught the 'top class'. Ernie Carrie was also the boy's games master and once a week he would lead a motley procession from the school to Penwortham Holme where we played football in the winter and cricket in the summer. We also played inter-school matches with other local schools and I remember that there was always a great rivalry between St Stephen's and Christ Church as they were our closest academic neighbours. They nearly always beat us at football but we invariably got our revenge at cricket - thanks to having our own practice nets.

     Unfortunately, the original school buildings, which were opened in 1895 are no more. In its place now rises the magnificent structure of a Hindu temple. However, the 'temple' of learning still exists as an infants and juniors' school as like the Phoenix it arose again when a new school was built in what had been Billy Lea's field.

     In 1995, as an old boy, I was fortunate enough to be invited to the centenary celebrations. Among the many familiar faces that I met that day, the most surprising one belonged to my old headmaster Sid Hunt. As a young lad he always struck me as being 'old' even in the 1940's. I had thought that he had long gone to that 'Great House of Academia in the Sky'. Yet here he was, perhaps a little stooped with the passing of the years, but with a mind as razor-sharp as in the days when he tirelessly attempted to open our minds to such mysteries as the Theorem of Pythagoras and Irregular Verbs. At this time he was approaching his 90th year but has since, most sadly, passed away.

     How many streets in Preston could boast at having a garden nursery? Not many I'll bet. Well South Meadow Lane had two! Adjoining the school field was the first of the pair and was run by Tom Saul. Not surprisingly it was known as Saul's Nursery and was famous I believe for the quality and range of its rose bushes. However, it was not roses that attracted the majority of the kids in the neighbourhood but rather the fruit trees and in particular the apple trees. Tom had a fine range of apple trees for sale, which bore some of the sweetest apples I have ever tasted. Not that my peers or I actually bought any. However we did know of a 'boy-size' hole in his hedge, which allowed us, at harvest time, to carry out the nefarious schoolboy activity of  'scrumping' or 'sapping' as it was better known as locally.

     Now Mr Saul was quite an understanding fellow and appeared to accept his 'losses' as collateral damage or an occupational hazard. That is until that infamous night when, and I put it down to reckless enthusiasm rather than vandalism, the orchard was stripped and many of the young trees left without fruit; branches broken and in some cases the slender trunks broken beyond repair. Any empathy that Tom had with 'sappers' died that night and I well remember his visit to the school the following day when the headmaster allowed him to address the assembled pupils. His impassioned appeal to us all to respect his property, which of course was also the source of his income, really hit home and myself, and I believe most of the other miscreants, made silent vows never to violate his orchard again.

     However, it appeared that during his address our 'eagle-eyed' headmaster Mr Hunt, had been carefully observing the faces of the 'usual suspects' and after Tom Saul's departure, no doubt to patch up his stricken orchard, he bade the fated dozen or so to remain behind. We were then subjected not only to a further verbal lashing but also to a physical one as he doled out six of the best to the assembled 'miscreants'. If anyone had any lingering doubts regarding the foolishness of 'sapping' after Tom Saul's lecture, they were well and truly dispelled after the cane had done its work. The wonder of all this is that apart from one poor soul, who shall remain nameless, Mr Hunt got it 'spot on'. The poor lad (now well into his 70's) who was innocent of the crime never did forgive 'Old Hunt' for the blatant miscarriage of justice and still talks of his unfair treatment to this day.

     On the corner of the lane and Wolsey Road was the last of the retail outlets. One would be hard pressed to describe it as a shop as it was so small. It was as though the owner had realised the popularity of the 'corner shop' and had therefore turned the front room of his modest 'two up and two down' cottage into one. It was so tiny that one could easily pass it by without realising it was there. However, in the dark days of the 'fags' and sweet famine, it was often worth visiting as a potential source of the aforementioned goods.

     Opposite the little shop and adjacent to Tom Saul's Nursery was the West Cliff cricket field, which saw to many of our recreational needs. It was also the home of the Preston Cricket Club and was our equivalent of 'Old Trafford' or the 'Oval' and to be able to play on the hallowed square was deemed a great privilege. The grounds man at the time was a Mr Wormald, a rather stern man who apparently cared for nothing apart from his beloved 'square'. However, if you were very lucky and remembered to tell him how superb the playing area was looking, he would allow the fortunate few to assist him in the 'important' tasks of grass-box emptying or white paint mixing. Apparently he had been a useful spin bowler in his time and thanks to him I discovered the close guarded secret of the 'Wormald Googly'.

     In one corner of this vast field were a number of shale tennis courts that were operated by the Preston Parks' department. For a few pence, one could play for an hour or so, pretending they were the tennis heroes of the day. Mind you, as a lad, you had to be quite brave to venture onto the courts in those days as tennis was deemed to be a sport fit for girls only. I ran the gauntlet for a couple of summers in my early 'teens' but eventually 'hung up' my racket with taunts of 'Nancy Boy' or 'Where's your skirt?' ringing in my ears. It was thanks to Doreen a few years later that I was persuaded to resume what I consider to be the real 'beautiful game' - but that's another story.

     Opposite the cricket field, on land that is now the home of the old BAC & English Electric Sports Club, was the second of the two nurseries. This one belonged to a Mr Eccles and was a far more informal and rambling establishment than the one run by Tom Saul. He did however have an orchard that contained both plum and cherry trees as well as the more usual apple and pear. But it was a brave soul who ventured into this orchard uninvited. It wasn't that the produce was inferior to that found up the lane, indeed I would say that the pears were probably some of the best I have ever tasted. No it was more the deterrent factor that was exercised by Mr Eccles and his burly helpers. You're probably thinking that offenders, when apprehended, would either get a cuff around the head or a boot up the backside. Ah! But this was only the finale of the punishment ritual. All 'prisoners', clutching their ill-gotten gains, were frogmarched to the potting sheds. There they would be divested of their booty, which would be set before them on the potting table. If Mr Eccles thought that the stack of purloined apples or pears or plums or cherries was small, he would 'graciously' add to the pile a generous helping of overripe 'windfalls'.

     "So you like fruit do you?" he would enquire of the trembling victim. "Well! Lets see you devour this little lot." When the 'feast' had concluded, the gorged recipient would be subject to Mr Eccles' version of running the gauntlet. This usually consisted of various kicks and blows to the nether regions, culminating in an impromptu shower of an unknown but foul-smelling substance that apparently made the celery grow. You can imagine there were very few that returned for a repeat performance.

     And so we come to the final 'People Provider', the last of the three public houses to grace the lane, the impressively named 'Continental Hotel'. This rather imposing edifice built of brown and yellow bricks had rather a seasonal trade. In the winter the somewhat gloomy interior would be virtually devoid of punters apart from the few regulars and 'Boddy' diehards. However, during the summer months it was packed with all manner of people just strolling along the riverside or visiting the nearby Avenham and Miller parks. It was this seasonal popularity that made the pub so attractive to certain youths who were not quite eligible in years to purchase 'hard liquor' legally. So busy was the hard-pressed bar staff that a request for six halves of bitter from a youth not long out of short trousers usually went unchallenged. So began my 'love affair' with the brewers from 'Strangeways' and to this day I cannot raise a glass of their 'tincture' without recalling those first illicit sips - and do you know what - I'm beginning to like it.

     So ends our journey in the shadow of the magnificent North Union railway bridge and on the banks of the River Ribble. Yes, there's no doubt that South Meadow Lane had establishments that served most of our needs. The lucky residents were provided for physically; mentally and spiritually. Is it therefore any wonder that such a spirit of neighbourliness pervaded the whole area? However, it is only with the vision of hindsight and afterthought that one can discern what we had going for us in those special days, although even now I reckon I would have made a half-decent cobbler.