1953

Denis Compton scored the winning runs at the Oval. England regained The Ashes after 19 years, winning the series 1-0. Len Hutton was captain; England’s first twentieth century professional captain.

In August 1953, dad and I watched Denis hit the winning runs on a small black and white television in the front room. The stairs were next to the front door, we’d to go through the front room to go to bed or use the inside toilet. It was a corridor, except for Sundays when we sat in it if someone was coming for tea. Laying on the settee eating jelly and ice cream and watching television was therefore a real treat. I was recovering from having my tonsils out. Seems a lot now just for recurrent earache, but I was getting mighty irritated by penicillin injections. We lived at 5, Willow Lane. An end-terrace just north of Huddersfield town centre half way between the main railway line to Leeds and a branch line that delivered coal to Newtown sidings for the gas works.

“A corner terrace, with communal backyard and washouse, close to the main Bradford road.  Two double bedrooms, inside toilet and bathroom. One reception room and a living kitchen.” An estate agent’s ad’ for the house where I first lived. It stood at one end of Willow Lane, the Bradford Road end. Sounds like the popular stand at a football match. The street was quiet; no cars in those days.

Dad called it Birkby, but it was really Hillhouse, nearly on Bradford Road. Bradford Road End, sounds like a soccer stand. The distinction didn’t mean much to me at the time. Every Friday, Dad took the rent to Mrs Thurkill’s who lived near the needle-happy doctor. I never met her, but I think she could have been the wicked witch in the Wizard of Oz. Dad was always cross, but he was particularly cross on Fridays.

The other downstairs room was the back kitchen where I played, ate and got washed. Here, Granny soothed my earache with a knitted woollen glove warmed on the range fire and, sat on a chair surrounded by a square of newspapers, dad performed the monthly short back and sides with a set of mail-order mechanical shears. The cast iron range took up most of one wall. It was a wonderful thing. We’d to open a cupboard in the corner to wash the pots. The table stood in front of a window overlooking a grassy back yard and wash house, reached from the back door by a railed flight of steps. We’d no need to share the outside toilets with the other families that lived around the yard.

One side of Willow Lane was a wall over which there was a wilderness owned by the railway. It seemed a large space at the time. We weren’t supposed to, but me and my older brother, and the kids down the street, played out there. Older brother flew a balsa-wood, paper and glue plane there. Or rather he crashed it several times, until it dawned on us it didn’t work. The coal train for Newtown sidings crossed the bridge at the end of Willow Lane near the pop factory and ran into the sidings once a week. Did Birkby begin here beyond the tracks? Dad had a bit of a hen run and a greenhouse on the railway wilderness, up under the far wall, across the road from St John’s. To reach it, he needed a special railway pass to cross the track. So we lived in Hillhouse, but the chickens lived in Birkby.

Mum said she had to run my push chair down Bradford Road to watch the Beaumont Street Flyer. A small exciting steamy engine with a few laden coal trucks, lead by a man with a red flag, that disturbed what traffic there was once a day on its way from Newtown sidings to the gas works. From our front door, beyond Bradford Road and the Leeds main railway line, we could see large towers, their tops in the clouds. Dad said they belonged to the gas works.

Fartown won the cup in 1953. History records, in May, we beat St Helens 15-10 at Wembley. Straight across the back yard next to the washouse was the wall belonging the Engine Tavern. Dad said he’d touched the challenge cup over that wall. 

In June 1953 there was a street party for The Coronation. All the kids off the street ate in our back kitchen and the mums and dads kept popping in and out to see how it was going. We’d the only TV on Willow Lane, so dad said. The Hillhouse streets were named after trees or bushes, but I never saw anything growing. Willow lane had houses just down the one side. A long interrupted terrace, like uneven teeth on a sprained saw, went from The Slubbers Arms at the Bradford Road end, all the way to the railway bridge. The other side of the lane was more of the large stone wall stopping us from straying onto railway owned land. It was a quiet street. The coal man delivered regularly, and dad disappeared down the back steps into the cellar. The cellar had a window. Most evenings a man lead a big white horse up the lane which I used to ride. Boney and hard and warm and soft. Just to the railway bridge which was held up by a triangular wall that me and Stuart Gibson used to slide down and get holes in our trousers. A man once asked us to show him seats of our pants and took a picture of us.

Mum’s mum, a widow, lived five minutes away next to the coal sidings and engine sheds on the main railway line. Another stone built terrace end and shared yard. When we slept over it seemed the coal siding lights were on all night and every few minutes there was a sudden noisy rush as a railway truck tipped its load into a chute. The chamber pot stunk. Newspaper, candle, matches and outside toilet key were looped with string on a bobbin hung behind the front door, but you didn’t go outside and down the yard once you were in bed. She had two kitchens. One at the back, a cellar really, dark and damp with bare stonework and a permanent smell of gas coming from the stove. The other was the one downstairs room with a big cast iron range, an upright piano, a single window with blackout curtains, a view of the yard and a sink in a cupboard. She also had a amazing floor-to-ceiling sideboard. Illuminated, with mirrors and carved pillars. It looked like a fairground organ. A large wicker armchair stood next to the table, in front of the window. Which child got to sit there had to win a war. As I was the smallest and youngest of the lot, tagging on at the end of the line, it was never me. This was where my mum grew up and it was here we spent Christmas Day.

When you work out ages, granny was seventy three in 1953, and looked it, with a round wrinkled face, hair in grey braids wrapped up around her head and circular glasses in black health service frames. I didn’t recognise her one morning with her hair down, younger somehow. Whatever the weather, she wore thick stockings and a hat and coat. Her toast was like eating a crisp biscuit. Mum worked, so granny looked after me when I was ill or during school holidays. One morning, between mum going and granny arriving, older brother broke my arm. He always had his nose in a comic or a book and an easy way to get at him was to hide them. That morning I threw one down the stairs and hid under my bed. Big mistake. The bedsprings got very close to my face each time he bounced. I used my arm as a pitprop, wedged between the floor and the bed. I still had the pot on when they took my tonsils out.

I went to Birkby primary school for a short time. There was nowhere for the boys to do a crap, so you’d either to ask a teacher about their lavs and they usually said no, or brave the girls’. A queue of them outside the WC chanting and pushing the door open. Not good. I shouted out very loud in the middle of a class for no reason, other than it had been on children’s TV the night before. Sent to the headmistress.

Older brother passed the 11+ and started at the high school in 1953. Huddersfield College, before it merged with Hillhouse and became Huddersfield New College.

Mum said Denis Compton was a dashing playboy. To me, he was about as remote as the royal family. When he scored the winning runs his hair flopped over his forehead. He became the man in the brylcreem adverts. According to dad, Len Hutton was the best cricket player in the world.

We moved to the suburbs in 1953. Three miles east of Huddersfield town centre and a two bedroom semi with a garden. Dad said later he’d got a mortgage for £4 a month. He’d a head for figures and skill with wood. His mum and dad ran a shop on Leeds Road. School at Hillhouse ‘Redcaps’ which offered a technical type of education and no qualifications. Then office jobs, The Pays Corps during the war, and ‘wages’ at The Yorkshire Electricity Board from 1947 to his retirement.

I remember the day we moved. Granny took me on the bus. Two buses to be accurate. I struggled back to my old school for a few weeks, but then changed to the new local primary. I was six years old.

*

In 1953, The Almondbury Casuals were four years old, two years younger than me. As 1949 is the origin of myth and legend, a team of occasionals must have turned out during some of the previous three summers, but they didn’t officially play under the name until the 1952 season. The club committee minutes record that during the winter of 1951-52, a group met regularly at The Woolpack, Almondbury, and decided ‘to invite a limited number of people, who have shown interest or who haveplayed for the Casuals in the past, to attend a Pie Supper at the Woolpack Inn, Almondbury on Wednesday 12.12.51. The Casuals ‘should become a small cricket club and should therefore be put on a more organised basis.’

Membership was limited to 25 so that everyone would ‘have plenty of opportunity to play.’ An invitation list was compiled of possible future members who might also be drawn upon to play if the team was short. ‘The elected spokesman of the standing committee attempted to put the proposals to the meeting but this was rendered rather difficult due to the noise and the snappy footwork involved in dodging a constant barrage of pieces of cheese, bread and cream crackers. However, when the tumult and shouting died down and last casualty had been swept out of the Woolpack . . . ‘ it was found that the following pointers had emerged: a committee of four – FA Dawson, PA Haigh, WAC Johnson, N Wimpenny, 10 Sunday games and a number of mid-week evening games, membership restricted to 25, captains same as committee, home ground Thurstonland, subs 10s per annum and 2s per game.

Later committee meetings in 1952 record that the Sunday fixtures, to be confirmed, were Thurstonland, Staffs Arms, WR Wanderers, Huddersfield OB’s, Huddersfield Amateurs and one other. The three evening games, to be confirmed, were with Midland Bank, Young Conservatives and Round Table, permission being sought to play at Almondbury Grammar School. ‘HQ’ was to be the Woolpack and members would provide their own teas on match days.

The AGM at the end of the first season notes a surplus of Income over Expenditure of £1.5.3d, the balance to be carried forward. Membership was increased to 30 but vacancies were not to be automatically filled. Thurstonland would be asked to provide tea and Mr Henshaw would be asked to provide the winter shed on a week night rather than Sunday afternoons.

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