I was born in the front bedroom of the family home in Melbourne Street, Gloucester in 1939 and was christened at St. James’ church, Tredworth. Because of the Second World War blackout, the streetlights were turned off. A midwife was fetched from the nurses’ home in Clarence Street and she walked, guided by torchlight to Melbourne Street.
We had a Morrison air raid shelter in the front room. It was a sturdy steel table with strong mesh around the sides. Our neighbour had an Anderson shelter in their back garden. In the street was a communal shelter built of brick with a flat concrete roof. I remember a neighbour being welcomed home by a small crowd of people in the street on his return from a prisoner of war camp. When the war ended I remember a demolition crane with a metal ball destroying the street shelter.
I remember deep snow in Hatherley Road infants’ school playground in 1947/48. Sometimes infants were summoned to read to the headmistress in her study. A very enjoyable cosy room with a coke fire! At the infants school there was a rest period in the afternoons. Each child had a folding canvas camp bed and rest was compulsory! I can remember the class being in the school air raid shelter, all singing and clapping with the teacher. If it was an actual raid or an exercise, I’m not sure. If a boy was naughty the teacher would put him across her lap, pull up the leg of his short trousers and slap his thigh. There was lots of reciting of multiplication tables.
At Christmas coach trips were organised by the street residents to pantomimes in Birmingham and Bristol. That was before motorways with service stations so for comfort stops men would have to go to one side of the road and women to the other!
Children played in the street, skipping, hopscotch, marbles, all sorts of running and chasing. Only one family living in the street owned a motorcar, so there was minimal traffic. A gang of us sometimes walked to Robinswood Hill with Rusty, a terrier. We thought Rusty might protect us from dogs running wild on the White City council estate. We knew it was bedtime in the evenings when a man carrying a long pole on a bike would arrive to light the gas street lamps.
Sometimes the boys would go round the corner of the street to Matson Place wearing ill fitting wellingtons, carrying jam jars to go fishing in the Sud brook. Some children fished bare footed. On a good day the result was a few sticklebacks. Jumping the width of the Sud brook was called ‘bamping.’
There was a time when the Sud brook burst its banks. The water came into some of the houses on the south side of Melbourne Street via the back doors and flowed out through the front doors and into the street.
Dustmen and coalmen used horse drawn carts, as did the milkman who was a farmer from Upton St Leonards, who would ladle milk into your jug at the door.
Mr & Mrs Stevens had a grocery shop on the corner of Melbourne Street and Hatherley Road which we used daily because we had no fridge. High Street had a great variety of shops, pubs, chip shops, post office, barber, a cobbler, chemist and a shop where school uniforms were made. There were two local bakeries, Sparks and Morse.
The Williams family had a fruit and vegetable business in Melbourne Street. I remember a very busy Mrs Williams, who had five children, serving customers in a large shed at the back of their house. From the shed ceiling hung tacky paper rolls or strips covered in flies. Their back garden was a mass of strong wooden apple and banana boxes and lighter orange boxes. They were used to make dens. Potato sacks mad curtains and carpets. One day, a group of children, including myself, did a lot of tidying up in that back garden. For a reward, Gina, the lodger at that house, took us children to the Hippodrome cinema in Eastgate Street (where British Home Stores is now situated). It was the first time I had been upstairs in a cinema. The seats were expensive at 1s. 9d. Normally children went in the 10 pence seats at the front downstairs.
In Melbourne Street was the main entrance to the Hatherley Step Works which manufactured furniture and wooden step ladders. The factory hooter (siren) would signal start and finish times, useful if our clock had stopped. Sometimes a notice was displayed on the factory gates announcing firewood for sale, Saturday morning. Early Saturday morning the local children would gather at the factory gates with carts made from old pram wheels and boxes. The factory watchman would unlock the gates and there was an enormous heap of wooden off cuts, chair arms etc. The children would scramble about searching for the best bits and filling their sacks. When you left the factory, the watchman charged you sixpence a sack. Coal fires were common at that time.
There was an annual Tredworth Rugby Club road race. It was a four mile walking race. Competitors would wear dresses and lipstick and sometimes push prams; all sorts of tricks made it entertaining. The rented house where I lived had three bedrooms. My father was overseas in the army so there was my mother sister and myself living there. In the view of the authorities we had spare room to accommodate two young RAF ladies. They were in the Women’s Auxiliary Airforce, known as WAAFS. When they heard that the billet Sergeant was to inspect their bedrooms, it was panic stations! They worked at the RAF site in Eastern Avenue. They sometimes brought home pencils, paper and pots of glue for my sister and I. My sister says she remembers making paper chains for Christmas decorations.
Our house had no bathroom or hot water or inside toilet. Bath time was once a week. My sister and I would lift the zinc coated metal bath off the coalhouse roof and clear out the spiders and cobwebs and carry the bath into the kitchen. Hot water from saucepans was then poured into the bath. My sister who was a few years older than me went in first. When she came out I went in using the same water. One day when I was in the bath we quarrelled and she pushed a bar of soap in my mouth. When it came out there was a tooth protruding from the soap! We emptied the bath using saucepans. When it was light enough we carried it to the back yard and emptied the water down the drain. Quite a performance, hence only once a week!
I remember being excited when a small parcel arrived from my father. Mum took us up on her bed to open it and there was a toy metal tank for me.
My father was killed in action in Italy in 1944. I became one of the 200,000 British children who lost their fathers in World War 2.
After leaving Hatherley Road Infants school I attended Finlay Road Junior School. My first year there was in a temporary classroom in a chapel at Selwyn Road. It cost one penny on the No. 3 bus from Tredworth Road to Selwyn Road. At the end of the school day we would not get on the first bus that arrived if we didn’t like the conductress. We would wait for the next bus, hoping it would be a pretty conductress that we liked!
One very enjoyable school trip that I remember when I was at Finlay Road school was going from Bristol on a paddle steamer, down the river Avon, under the Bristol Suspension Bridge to Penarth, South Wales. We had time on the beach and returned on the steamer to the old pier, Weston Super Mare where we had tea. Then a bus trip home.
In my last year at Finlay Road I enjoyed singing English folk songs, such as “Do ye ken John Peel,’ ‘The Derbyshire Ram,’ ‘The Rag-a-tag Gypsies’ and ‘The Skye Boat’ song. I was in the school choir that won a cup at the Cheltenham Music Festival. Returning to Gloucester on the coach, we sang ‘Ten Green Bottles’ at the top of our voices until we were hoarse!
On Saturday mornings when cheese was still rationed, I was very bored queuing in a shop next door to the Picturedrome, Barton Street, while the shop assistant weighed and cut cheese with a wire. I suspect my mother sent me there to keep me occupied!
In 1951 the school trip was to the Festival of Britain at Battersea, London. I remember the girls sniggering at the Greek male nude statues!
Once a weeks on the way home from school I watched a cowboy serial on a neighbour’s black & white TV. Sparks flew across the screen every time a train passed on the nearby railway line.
My best friend and I would sometimes watch the Gloucester City football team play at Longlevens. The ground was opposite the Greyhound Stadium. The football fans and the racing fans would share a special bus from Kings Square. The pitch was often waterlogged and games cancelled.
Holidays for me in about 1950 would be one week in a caravan at Sand Bay, Weston Super Mare. One water tap in the corner of the field and toilets in the far corner. After dark you took a torch to the toilets. In 1951 I attended the Central School for boys, Derby Road. At this time I had a morning paper round and sometimes would be soaking wet and had to change before going to school. My first headmaster was Mr Jackson. Boys downstairs, girls upstairs, separate playgrounds. After two years the boys would be put in a technical stream for woodwork, metalwork etc or a commercial stream for bookkeeping, languages and English grammar.
Opposite the school was the Alington Hall which had two classrooms upstairs and a small hall downstairs, used as a gym. After morning assembly and hymn singing in the main school hall, the class would line up on the pavement outside the Alington Hall waiting to be let in.
Almost daily an old man would walk along the line of boys asking “the only good German is a…?” We boys would chorus “a dead German!” The old man would pretend his walking stick was a rifle and bayonet. He would jab towards us doing the action and saying “stick it in and kick em off!”
Black smoke would hang over the school sometimes, because the GWR and LMS sheds for railway engines were nearby.
At the Central School some of the teachers were very strict disciplinarians. The cane was used. It was difficult to relax in some lessons. You could be caned if you wore underpants beneath your rugby shorts or if you did not cross the top of the letter ‘t’ to the teacher’s liking.
One terrible waste of time was the bit investigation carried out in the playground by Mr Booth, the headmaster, if a toffee wrapper was found. We all stood motionless while he asked for the culprit who dropped the paper to step forward. If nobody owned up the whole school would risk being punished. This would lead to a playground lecture on hooliganism!
I left school in 1956 to take a 5 year engineering apprenticeship at Rotol, which was taken over by Dowty in about 1960.
There were special buses that went through the neighbourhood at about 7am to Rotol and GAC. I caught the Rotol bus. It was crowded and the cigarette smoke was overpowering, so I began cycling to work.
I remained living in Tredworth with my mother until I married in 1966.