Now in my 70th year, I can recall the first time I set eyes on the house which was to be my home through much of my childhood and teenage years.
I was about 5 years old when I learnt that my mother was going to view the house and shop that we would be moving to and naturally I wanted to go with her. In fact I wanted to go so badly that I pleaded and howled until I got my way, though I was left in no doubt that I had to walk quickly without complaining and be very, very good. We travelled from the Kingsholme area to the chemist shop where my father worked and were shown the rooms behind and above the shop which would soon become our home. The house had been grand at one time but was somewhat neglected and faded when we moved in.
From Kingsholme infants school (now the home of Gloucestershire Archives) I was sent to Derby Road infants and I can recall walking with friends along the low front garden walls, jumping across their pathways to school. I also remember copying words onto a slate with chalk and feeling tired and very glad when I finished doing it!
Widden Street junior was my next school and I was able to go home for lunch and back in the afternoon on my own safely, as I didn’t have to cross Barton Street, a busy street even then with very frequent buses (in the days before mass car ownership) and lorries too.
In those days we sang old English folk songs – “Do ye ken John Peel” was one favourite and in the classroom we sat in pairs on bench seats and I learnt to write beautifully with pens dipped into our inkwells.
Two incidents stick in my mind. One, when I had completed embroidering a rabbit and flowers on a dap bag, the teacher told me to go and show it to another teacher. I presume I had made a good job of it! The same couldn’t be said of my ability at mental arithmetic and problem solving, both of which terrified me and which I was completely useless at. The other abiding memory is of the big day when we took the eleven plus and I watched, frozen with fear in the school playground as children scrabbled up a huge pile of coal (no health & safety then) in order to pocket a piece for good luck! The teacher read out our allotted secondary schools, a tense few minutes until my name was called and I learnt I would be going to Ribston Hall, second choice as Denmark Road was my first choice. Arithmetic let me down I am sure!
I was asked to bring a few items in to school for the first aid box one day and when asked if I would remember what they were I nervously said “yes,” and ran home panicking and in tears and my mother had to ring the school!
There was still food rationing when we first lived in Barton Street and I can remember going to the sweet shop nearby with coupons to choose my sweets.
Living in a busy street with continuous traffic meant that I had to join friends in Blenheim Road to enjoy street games but I had rabbits which kept me occupied and I used to go to the greengrocers next door and ask for cabbage leaves for them. Then when I was about eleven we had our first TV set – constant interference meant that you frequently had to jump up and adjust it to get rid of the horizontal lines, but we all thought it was wonderful!
The back garden was walled and in the summer a bushy plant, which I think was probably a buddleia, was covered in brightly coloured butterflies – there were so many of them – yet although we have the same plant in our garden now, we are lucky to have one or two on a warm, sunny day! Wildlife decline is such a shame.
There was a room in the chemist shop where my father developed and printed photos nad of course a dispensary with rows of bottles and jars for preparing medecines. Sometimes our doorbell would be rung quite late in the evening and a very grateful member of the public would leave with some much needed medication.
Our hall was a long narrow passage and the front door vibrated all day long with every passing bus, but it never bothered us – I suppose we were so used to it.
We had a large bathroom with a big geyser which made frightening banging noises and as the rooms had high ceilings and were without any form of heating, baths in the winter were taken shaking with the cold and with teeth chattering! On frosty winter mornings you would wake up to windows completely frosted up, but I did enjoy the challenge of trying to light a coal fire when I was a bit older, with balls of screwed up newspaper crisscrossed with sticks of wood.
As a teenager I enjoyed watching the national service men marching back to their barracks at Robinswood from our big lounge above the shop. However, my mother complained bitterly when occasionally our deeply recessed front doorway was urinated on and she had to clean it up!
It is strange now to think back with more than a little nostalgia to the time when there was every shop that you could need in Barton Street, from several butchers, grocers and greengrocers, hairdressers, several barbers, a watch and clock mender, a cobbler, fish & chip shops, newsagents to three chemist shops and a doctor’s surgery, not forgetting a bicycle shop and Hurrans florist shop on the corner of Derby Road and probably a lot that I have forgotten about. You didn’t need to go into the centre of Gloucester unless you wanted to shop in the big stores. The supermarkets signalled the gradual demise of such a bustling area of course, as it did in so many areas across the country.
However, there was one constant irritation to pedestrians, cyclists and motor traffic alike and that was the frequent closure of Barton Gates to allow steam trains to pass to and from the nearby LMS station. I sometimes carried my bike down the steps of the underpass and up the other side; a struggle, but worth avoiding what could be a long wait!
I was a frequent customer of a little shop selling ice-cream and ice lollies as it was only a few doors along from our shop. My mother, always busy working in our shop, used to write her grocery shopping list and it was my job to deliver it a few doors along. Later a boy would deliver our box of groceries.
When I was seventeen and eighteen, the highlight of the week was to walk up Barton Street with a friend and catch a train to Cheltenham where the big attraction was the Saturday night dances at the town hall. We caught the midnight train back to Gloucester (nicknamed the passion wagon!) and walked back home down Barton Street without fear. We could, and did, walk through Gloucester park at ten o’ clock at night as young teenagers with no fear of being attacked.
Having a cinema so close to our home and before we had television, meant that it was easy to walk a few yards and have a good evening of entertainment. The cinema was often packed and I recall keeping cool with a fan in the crowded stalls when I was about ten years old! People respected the National Anthem and stood and waited until it finished before moving off, though in later years there was a tendency for some people to get away before it started!
Eventually our shop was sold and we moved away from the area, but my memories of it will stay with me.