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Mollie Smith, nee Houghton, 2008
Memories of Rushden 1942-1945

42 Crabb Street
42 Crabb Street in 2009
I was born on the 2nd of January 1940. The weather was snow and ice and my father told how he had to walk to the Finedon nursing home where I was born to see my mother and myself.

My parents, John William (Bill) Houghton and Edith Mary Church had married in 1935 at the Park Road Baptist Chapel and set up home at 42 Crabb Street. He was a dairyman and 42 Crabb Street included a shop and home. Before the second war he delivered milk from a van with the churns of milk and ladles. Customers would bring out their jugs for the milk. The shop run by my mother sold vegetables and fruit in season, also milk to passers by. He rented land at Sanders Lodge beside the railway line at Skew Bridge. This site is now the Industrial site with the supermarket, recycling centre and other units. There his herd of cattle grazed, and his milking parlour, cow sheds and outbuildings were sited. Other fields rented included the field with the old brickworks clay pit (pond), along the Wellingborough Road, now covered with housing, one behind Eastfields which was at the top of Victoria Road, a very large field close to the Higham end of the Northampton Road and orchards on the A6 Bedford Road close to the junction with Avenue Road.

Bill & Edith with the van
Bill & Edith with the van in Crabb Street
Crops of vegetables for local people and for cattle were grown along Northampton Road. The Eastfields field was mainly left for hay and silage. He employed a man called Joe who helped with all of the farm duties.

My first memories begin when I was three years of age. War had made changes to many things.

Joe was to old to fight so he remained working but the Land Army had provided a land girl to help with the compulsory crops which the government had ordered. Our land girl was Lily and she was billeted in Crabb Street, a few houses away. The largest crop grown were potatoes and I can remember seeing the potatoes put into the ground. Horses were used for ploughing, harrowing, binding and carting of many products. We had three shire horses and these were stabled opposite the Library, behind where the public toilets are now. Horses were used for many deliveries during the war years and with three shoe factories and other shops in Crabb Street I well remember the sight and smell from them. My grandmother, Annie Church who lived at 88 Crabb Street was always on the lookout for horse manure. I can see her now, rushing out with her bucket and shovel to collect it and then put it on her small garden.

If my father had cause to come home during the day the horse and cart would be tied to the telegraph pole opposite the house.

I was taken on the horse and cart to the fields during the summer months of the year and left to amuse myself. The railway engine drivers used to wave and hoot as they went by. The chickens would get chased and the pigs inspected. I was frightened of the old sow who had a habit of getting out of her stall, and also of Ferdinand the bull who was tied up.

My most vivid memory is of the occasion when we went down to the flour mills on the Nene at Wellingborough with the horse and cart. When we began to cross the level crossing an approaching train was heard by the horse. She reared up with the empty cart and my father and me holding on. My father could not get her to move. The train ran up to the open gates and waited. Eventually my father blindfolded her and backed her over the crossing. It seemed to take forever. She was never allowed to make that journey again. During the summer months with double summer time in place my father worked long hours. He still managed to fit in his A.R.P. duties. He had been a member of the St. John Ambulance Service for many years and so his role was with the first aid duties. I remember him going out when raids were on.

I was only three years old when I attended Newton Road Infants School. Many people in the south of England have questioned the early age. I only discovered years later that because Rushden had a great deal of war work, mothers were actively encouraged to send their children to school early. Also that a creche facility had been set up in Spencer Park, for very young children.

I wanted to go to school and loved it. Children in Crabb Street would collect together to walk to school and others from Manton Road and Roberts Street would join in.

Miss Childs was the first teacher and I think we began to learn our letters in sand trays on the floor. We then progressed to slates and chalk. My very close old school friends cannot remember that so possibly my memory is not as good as I thought it was. Next I remember brown paper and chalks. I also remember being taught to use the abacus. We were made to drink orange juice and cod liver oil from recycled paste pots. Some children actually loved cod liver oil; I hated it. Also in the afternoon we had to lay on camp beds for a rest. Some children actually did go to sleep and had to be woken up. Sometimes the air raid siren would go and then it was out to the shelters.

The arrival of the American soldiers was another vivid memory. I remember watching their convoy pass along the A6 at the bottom of Crabb Street. So many lorries, armoured cars, troop carriers and soldiers throwing chewing gum to us. A few were billeted in houses in Crabb Street. As well as the soldiers there were a few evacuees in the neighbourhood. My aunt, Ada Church who lived next door to us at 40 Crabb Street had an evacuee for several years. He was much older than me so not a playmate. My uncle Eddie was in the R.A.F. in India for all his war service.

I remember the sounds of the bomber aircraft engines overhead as they returned from raids. Most of the time it was "they are ours".

One strange event, which is etched not only my memory but also of my friends, occurred on my birthday. I think the year must have been either 1944 or 1945, January 2nd. It was my birthday party and the time was after the tea. The table had been cleared and we were playing games. Suddenly there was a large explosion and we were told to go under the table. My father rushed out with his tin hat on. We were convinced that a bomb must have dropped close by. All stayed quiet and about an hour later my friends were collected by their parents. They all only lived a few doors away. My father came back much later and I cannot remember what he said.

We have looked at Rushden records and enquired but there is nothing recorded for that date. Could  it have been the B17 bomber which hit a tree and crashed at Wymington? Has anyone the recorded date of that incident? Or did a returning B17 bomber from it's daylight raid have a bomb hung up and jettisoned it before he landed? It could have been "covered up" for security reasons.

Crabb Street was a really happy, friendly place to live. Everybody knew each other and were always ready to help out. There were quite a few children of similar ages and during daylight hours we all played out in the street together. Sometimes the children from Co-op Row would join us. We often had the skipping rope across the road. With so little traffic there were few interruptions.

With a sweet shop at 92 Crabb Street owned by Mrs. Litchfield in 1940, we could only look and hope for some sweets. Number 82 was a general store run by Mrs. Balls, 45 the baker, Mr. Lyne and 32 the fried fish shop owned by Mr. Essam in 1940. The Spiritual Church at the end of Crabb Street used to fascinate us. We would try to peer in through the darkened windows to see the "spirits". The shoe factories noise and the smell of leather would hang in the air. At dinner times and home times the street would bustle with people, always rushing past.

My grandmother worked in Alfred Sargent's shoe factory in Portland Road during the war years, and until the late fifties. She was a machinist and since she was a widow had to work. At the weekends I would spend a lot of time with her and loved getting her box of photographs out and asking who were the people, especially the members of her family who had emigrated to Australia. Fortunately I did remember much of what she told me. Looking back she must have found my questioning rather tedious. We also spent a lot of time in Rushden cemetery. My grandfather had died in 1935 and most Saturdays she would take flowers to the grave. From a very early age she would take me with her. I still have a great affection for Rushden cemetery.

On Sundays I went to Sunday School , as did many others close by. It was the Park Road Baptist Chapel and Sunday School. After the morning Sunday school we walked along to the Chapel for part of the service. There was also afternoon Sunday School.

When I was much older I would go to the evening service with my grandmother. Her family had been staunch members of the Park Road Baptist.

I remember the prefabs being built along Park Road and how lovely they were after the Victorian terraced houses with no bathrooms, tiny kitchens and outside toilets.

The V.E. celebrations I will also remember forever. After the wonderful street party and bonfire in the middle of the road I decided to use our bunting as a skipping rope. Somehow I got caught up in it and fell in our back yard into the drain and cut my forehead badly. I carry the scar to this day.

Houghton & Short Family

To see some of Mollie's father's films and to hear him talking click on one of these links

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