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Liverpool's Children in the 1950s
By Pamela Russell
The History PressCopyright © 2012 Pamela Russell
All rights reserved.
LIFE AT HOME
Mary Parkin, née Fox, lived in a house that had been built during the time of Liverpool's Edwardian splendour but had suffered the ravages of time and the Blitz:
I grew up, an only child, in Roscommon Street, Everton, in a house with a private landlord, which probably accounted for the state it was in by the 1950s. It had originally been a beautiful Edwardian terraced house with two huge cellars and two attics, as well as two large bedrooms on the second floor. At some point, probably in the war, the house had lost those houses to which it had been attached. We were on the end of a row without the luxury of a gable end, and the result was that the house was extremely damp and you could see evidence of this on the wallpaper inside the house. We had gas mantles until the landlord saw fit to install electricity, about 1952.
There were several steps which led up to the front door and I used to love washing and sand-stoning those steps, from being quite a young child.
My mum, Mary, and dad, Len, and I shared the house with my mum's parents, Liz and Bob Leatherbarrow. We had a fireplace in the parlour where I lived with my mum and dad and there was a black-leaded range with ovens on either side of the fire in the kitchen where my nana and granddad lived. Nana often black-leaded the grate and polished the brass fender and there was a black kettle that sat on the range. My granddad worked at the Tate & Lyle sugar factory.
The coalman used to deliver sacks of coal each week and throw them down into the cellar through the manhole cover at the bottom of the steps which led to the front door. I was given the task of counting them to make sure that we weren't being diddled.
I slept in my parents' bedroom in a bed in the corner. We had a fireplace in this room and they lit it occasionally, when it was really cold. When I was eleven I was moved into one of the attic bedrooms, which was freezing in the winter. I would scrape the frost off the inside of my bedroom window every morning in the winter months.
Shelagh Nugent, née Anderson, born in 1945, lived off Breck Road. Shelagh recalls:
We lived with my nan, in a house rented from Mr Murphy. It was damp and horrible and Mr Murphy knew about it each time he came to collect the rent and my nan 'gave him what for'! He wore a bowler hat and always had a pocketful of change for the children in the street, but his generosity did not extend to running repairs.
There were three bedrooms but the small back bedroom was uninhabitable because of the damp. We used it to store junk – old toys, old clothes, shoes, gas-masks, comics, broken furniture and anything else that might come in useful one day. Nothing was ever thrown out in those days.
My mum and dad slept in the big front bedroom. It was freezing cold and the damp patches on the ceiling were like brown cloud pictures.
I shared the middle bedroom with my nan. We had feather mattresses and they were the warmest, softest things I ever slept on. It was best when the bedding was changed and the feathers plumped up to the dimensions of a fluffy cloud. I'd leap right into the middle without disturbing the side and it was the cosiest nest anyone could wish for!
If it was very cold – ice-inside-the-window cold – I'd snuggle in with my nan, who smelled of camphorated oil, which was supposed to be good for her chain-smoking chest. She wheezed and coughed all night but it never kept me awake.
Downstairs we had a sitting room; we called it a sitting room because, as a family, we had delusions of grandeur. Everyone else had a parlour. It wasn't often used, except for my hated piano practice, but it had a three piece suite and fabulous glass-fronted cupboards on either side of the chimney breast. These were full of treasures beyond a little girl's wildest imaginings: gloriously illustrated cups and saucers with A Present from Blackpool on them; elaborate fancy plates, which were presents from Southport, Rhyl, Colwyn Bay, etc.; china crinoline ladies; pottery dogs, posh glasses that were never used.
The main living room was known as the kitchen and had a big black range. Those ranges were wonderful but most people had them ripped out as soon as they could afford to and had 'contemporary' fireplaces installed. These were ghastly tiled things in beige or grey and the hearth tiles were soon chipped, adding to their general ugliness.
In the back kitchen was a gas cooker, a meat safe on a marble slab and a kitchen cabinet with a pull-down flap. Behind the kitchen door was the dreaded coal cellar. You had to go down there with a candle to put a shilling in the gas meter and it was really spooky. I can remember the time before we had electricity and relied on gas mantles, which had to be lit with a match and went 'pop'.
William (Bill) Duvall was born in June 1950 in the Edge Hill area:
It was very hard, as it was for most people then, but the good times always out-weighed the bad. Our family was a very fragmented family; we are a mix of step-brothers and sisters and half-brothers and sisters, but, to us, we are all one family. It was my granddad's house; he lived in the front room. With ten kids it was very tight.
The wartime Blitz on Liverpool had caused a housing shortage which meant that many more children than today, like Mary, Shelagh and Bill, lived with relatives. Although aware of the benefits and closeness of that experience, they also knew that their houses were damp and that their parents and grandparents were not always happy with their treatment by private landlords. Many houses, even those that had not been hit, had been damaged by bomb blast or other damage, but people had no choice but to live in them.
Ken Lloyd was another child who lived in a large family group:
I was born in 1944 and lived in Pitville Road, Mossley Hill. It was located at the end of a row of about twenty terraced houses. Upstairs, it had four rooms: two bedrooms – one small, one large – at the front, and at the rear a combined WC and bathroom and medium-sized bedroom. Downstairs there was the hall, the sitting room at the front and the dining room and kitchen at the rear. There was a small front garden and a medium-sized back garden with a coal shed and a garden shed. At the rear of the back garden, there was a passage wide enough for car access for all the houses. Beyond this passageway, there were allotments which bordered the railway lines at Mossley Hill station.
Initially, there were eight people living in the house: grandfather, called Pop Pop, grandmother, called Nanny, Uncle Eric and Auntie Doreen, my father, mother, sister and myself. Grandfather and grandmother slept in the large bedroom, uncle and his wife in the small bedroom, and father, mother, sister and me in the medium-sized bedroom. My uncle and his wife stayed for a short time and then went to live in lodgings in Port Sunlight, and then bought a newly built house in Hunts Cross. My sister then slept in the small bedroom.
My father was a driver for the Liverpool Corporation Passenger Transport (LCPT) and drove the No. 79 bus; its route was from the Pier Head to Belle Vale, but he transferred a few years later to the No. 61 bus, from Aigburth to Seaforth. Mother was a housewife, but in 1956 went to work as a machinist, putting collars on shirts for a company called Menora, whose premises were in Sandown Lane off Wavertree Road. The shirts were mostly made for Littlewoods.
In 1957, Ken's family moved to a flat in one of five blocks of three storeys in Forthlin Road, Allerton. Forthlin Road was also the home of the McCartney family:
The group of friends I played with did not include Paul McCartney or his brother, Mike, as my friends came from the flats and not from the houses which were located in the first half of the road. Also Paul was two years older than me, but although Mike McCartney was the same age as me within one day, our paths never met as friends. I was always out playing football or riding my bike to local places, such as Calderstones Park. Maybe Paul and Mike were at home concentrating on their music. I remember girls sitting on Paul's front garden fence waiting to see him.
The Police Horse Show was held each year. It showed police horses jumping over fences or how they were used to control crowds and, similarly, how the police dogs and their handlers go about their police duties. As the back of the flats overlooked the grounds of the police cadet college, I would watch from my bedroom window. Paul writes in the National Trust Book '20 Forthlin Road' that he sat on the garden shed in his back garden to watch the Police Show.
As more housing was provided by Liverpool Corporation after the Second World War, many families moved house and took their new experiences in their stride. For many children, although the actual distance was only a few miles, the move was a change from living in town to being surrounded by the countryside.
Peter (Dougie) Cox was one of the children whose life was changed for the better by the new housing made available. Dougie recalls:
I was born on 21 March 1940 in Mill Road Hospital. My family was living in Kilin Street, off Byrom Street. My mother's family had lived there since 1910. Due to the bombing, we moved to a flat in Salisbury Road. As a child, I suffered with asthma and bronchitis and spent time in the Children's Hospital in Myrtle Street. Later, I went to a convalescent home at Pensarn, near Abergele, in North Wales.
The Hillside estate in Huyton had been built by Liverpool Corporation in 1938, but was taken by the Government before anyone could move in. It was used for some time as a camp for enemy aliens. In 1946, we moved into a three-bedroomed house in Layford Close. It was No. 2 in a close of twenty-five houses numbered 1–26, with no No. 13!
After moving to Huyton, my health improved. Being in virtual countryside, the fresh air helped. At the back of our close was Knowsley Lane with farms and woods and fishing ponds and streams and, best of all, Lord Derby's estate – Knowsley.
As we grew up, the more adventurous of us kids would climb into the estate. This was called 'going over the wall' and some of the older lads became top poachers. The Park contained horses, cows, sheep and deer and was patrolled by mounted policemen. I think we had more freedom in those days – there was less traffic on the roads and, as kids, we were able to go pea-picking and potato-picking for a few bob, and we grew vegetables in our own back garden.
Joseph (Joe) Swindells, born in April 1945, had a twin sister, Anne. They lived in Norwood Grove, off West Derby Road, until they were eighteen months old, when the family was allocated a bungalow in Knowsley. Later, Joe had two brothers, Peter and Tom:
These bungalows were built for workers at the Royal Ordnance Factory (ROF) in Fazakerley, where both my parents worked. The bungalows were very basic but had three bedrooms, separate bathroom and toilet, living room and small kitchen. There was no wallpaper on the walls and the floor was covered with a stiff brown lino, which cracked very easily.
There was a coal fire in the living room, which was used to burn everything, including potato peelings. We had to put a shovel with newspaper across it to draw the fire. Often, this would catch fire and disappear up the chimney. The windows had metal frames that rusted with the dampness. But it was nice and cosy on winter evenings, sitting in front of a roaring fire, watching the sparks dancing in the grate.
Michael Moran's earliest memories concern the newly built housing that appeared at this time:
One of my first memories was seeing our new house in Alderfield Drive on the Speke estate and having to walk on duck-boards to reach it because the roads were not finished. I was about three-and-a-half at the time, but it seems like yesterday. It was a three-bedroomed house and our family had ten members, consisting of Mum and Dad, three lads and five sisters, so the sleeping arrangements were that my eldest sister had the small bedroom to herself, the three youngest slept on bunks in Mum and Dad's room and me and my two brothers had one of my sisters sleeping in our room on a camp bed.
Until the Liverpool Corporation could build sufficient new permanent housing, there were alternatives. One result of the 1944 Temporary Housing Programme was the widespread introduction of prefabricated homes (prefabs), which were intended to provide an acceptable, even attractive, solution to the massive lack of housing caused by the war.
Many families were living in rented rooms with shared facilities, or with other family members. Most children, like Bill Duvall, enjoyed the company and family atmosphere and, in any case, they knew no other way of life. But, for adults, overcrowding and a lack of privacy could cause problems. Also, prefabs offered a proper home; many married women continued to work after the war ended because they were saving for a home of their own, and because they were not needed to keep house, because their mothers, or mothers-in-law, were already doing that job. It was hoped that prefabs would attract women out of the workplace and enable men, returning from war service, to take their jobs. Designed by the Ministry of Works, prefabs had proper fitted kitchens with a fridge and cooker, a toilet and bathrooms with running hot water. There was built-in storage, electric lighting and sockets. Many houses in both town and countryside lacked some, or all, of these facilities.
Liz Egerton remembers prefabs in Litherland:
I was born in January 1955 in Anderson Road, Litherland. The estate consisted of 'double-decker prefabs' which had been built just after the war as temporary accommodation. They were supposed to last about twenty years ... my mum lived in hers until she died two years ago!
June Buckley was born on 4 June 1950 in a prefab in Aster Road, Dovecot. She recalls:
We moved to Princess Drive, West Derby where I lived from the age of one until I married in 1973. I was one of ten children, with four older siblings and five younger siblings. We had a wonderful childhood and our home was always filled with laughter. Mum always used to bake on a Sunday and our Sunday night evening meal – or 'tea' as we used to call it – was like having a party, with cakes and jelly and custard.
Bobbie Binks was born in 1941 and grew up in Fazakerley, which is now seen as suburban but was then, like Huyton in the 1950s, on the outskirts of the countryside. His parents were Harry and Janet and he had two brothers, John, born in 1939, and Dave, who was born in 1943. Bobbie lived in Lower Lane; he remembers that:
... there was a farm at the top end of the lane, where we used to go to see the animals. There was a big field of cows; my father used to send me down with a cart to collect all the cowpats. The rainwater was caught in a barrel and the cowpats added – and, boy! did the tomatoes in the greenhouse and the flowers grow! My father used to rear one turkey each year in the back garden to fatten it up for Christmas, along with a few chickens. We used to get upset when the time came to kill the birds, but we all had to take part in plucking the feathers in the kitchen.
But, even in the town, there were far more animals to be seen than there are today.
Alan Scott was born in 1952 and lived in Smithdown Lane:
I lived directly opposite the Corporation yard and stables, which is now the location of the Mole of Edge Hill tunnels. I've got great memories of the shire horses used to pull the carts. My Granddad and his brother were both carters and Mr Holden, who was the Lord Mayor's coach driver, lived adjacent to the yards. We often saw the coach coming out for official duties. Police horses were also stabled there; it was great to see the mounted police in all their finery and hear the sound of the horse's hooves striking the cobbles. I remember once or twice that Roy Rogers' horse, Trigger, was stabled there during his visits to the city.
Right next to the yard was a huge chimney stack, which was the exhaust for the fumes from the trains travelling in the tunnels from Edge Hill station to Lime Street. I could see the clock on the university Victoria building on Brownlow Hill from my bedroom window.
The three-storey house we lived in was quite damp, the top floor just being used for storage. A coal fire was only ever lit in the living room. We had a front parlour, only used for special occasions; the door had a hook at the top so my brother and I couldn't get in; we'd use a brush handle to lift the hook and peek in; it was always spick and span.
Excerpted from Liverpool's Children in the 1950s by Pamela Russell. Copyright © 2012 Pamela Russell. Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
1 Life at Home 8
2 Cleanliness is Next to Godliness! 20
3 Shopping and Eating 24
4 Playing Out! 35
5 Schooldays 45
6 Sundays were Different! 56
7 Going on Holiday '64
8 Out and About! 72
9 Christmas and Winter Pastimes 79
10 The Coronation and Other Celebrations 85
11 Brownies and Wolf Cubs; Scouts and Guides 93
12 Pocket Money 99
13 Books and Comics 102
14 The Cinema, Television and Radio 106
15 Sport and Games 113
16 Going to Work! 116
17 National Service 121
18 Being a Teenager: Music, Dancing and Youth Clubs 123
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