|The First Memory is of being wheeled in a high pram jolting over the rough clinker path towards the house, so that must have been over 70 years ago. I can remember being carried on my father’s shoulders round the market in Rushden one winter’s evening, my head being on a level with the brilliant naptha jets which lit the stalls. We bought fish for supper and a bag of hazel nuts. This market was held on the green opposite St. Mary’s Church, where the War Memorial now stands and as that was erected in 1921, I must have been getting on for 2 years old at the time.
Rushden now has a market again at the other end of the town on the site of the old Railway Company’s stables where the horses were kept which dragged drays and coal carts round the town.
Now we push our trolleys round the supermarkets and load a week’s shopping into the car. Then almost everything we needed could be brought to our doors by a variety of trolleys (horse drawn), drays, floats, carts, traps, tradesmen, bicycles or men on foot.
To begin we had Mr. Harris, the midnight baker, so called because unlike other bakers in the town who baked early in the morning, he baked in the afternoon and delivered in the evening. It literally was midnight before his high wheeled cart got round to his farthest customers and then he had to leave loaves in all kinds of unhygienic places, but who cared in those days, his bread was delicious.
Early in the morning came Mr. Collins our milkman lugging his 4 gallon can with the brass pint and half pint dippers hanging inside. The horse pulling the float with the other cans, kept pace with him. He always gave an extra drop of milk for good measure, and where the jug had stood for a time I could take a spoon or my finger and scrape off the cream for myself, thick, yellow and delightful, though this was rather frowned on by my mother.
I can remember 17 butchers’ shops in Rushden High Street and they would deliver 6 days a week if customers wished. I can see our boy now, Sid, faded blue and white apron flapping round his legs and the heavy tradesman’s bike with the open basket piled high with paper wrapped orders. He came to us on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturdays when he bought the leg of mutton we invariably had for Sunday. It lasted us for three days, roast on Sunday, cold on Monday and hashed on Tuesday.
There were three green-grocers with rounds; Mr. Sharp, Fred Hales and Mr. Bates although my mother rarely bought vegetables as my father grew most that we needed, but sometimes she bought oranges or a few tomatoes. No out of season produce apart from dates and dried figs we ate on Fig Sunday. The dates stood as a large compressed block on the shop counter, they were soft, sticky, sweet with a quite different taste from the boxed ones today. Fred Hales had only one leg but it didn’t seem to bother him. He got around with a wooden peg and a crutch. He also sold the evening paper outside the Rose and Crown in Rushden and later opened a shop in Rushden giving up his round.
Fred Coven, the fishmonger who came round ringing his bell on Fridays, also had a flat cart, with cod cutlets, herrings, Yarmouth bloaters and smoked haddock on a melting block of ice. The haddock was a pale golden brown, really smoked, not the yellow dyed stuff we are now offered today. He also sold shrimps and winkles by the pint which my mother never bought, but my uncle Edgar Holiday did and he would give me a few with a pin to pick them out of their shell.
My brother and I looked forward to Saturday afternoon when Mr. Cox from Higham Ferrers drove round with his trap, (with whip, never used). He was a dapper little man with highly polished shoes and leggings, a brown trilby and a fierce looking waxed moustache. He had a shop in Higham Ferrers and a regular round in Rushden with sweets of all kinds. Mother had a few mint imperials and we were given a ½d each to spend. I usually had 2 small bars of toffee or aniseed balls. They lasted longer than the sherbert fountains I sometimes choked over. I can remember spending farthings on chocolate bananas for our little dog.
Another gentleman made his rounds during the week carrying a big hamper of chocolate, cakes and biscuits. Mr. Tomlin had a high class sweet shop “The Chocolate Box” in Rushden High Street, but he still found it worth while to carry his wares round.
Groceries were delivered as a matter of course whenever they were ordered. Tailby and Putnam had two shops in the town and the aroma in them was ground coffee, with bacon being sliced on the Berkel machine to the precise thickness we wanted (we had no.5) and what bacon it was; smoked and firm and when fried, it left a little fat in which we fried our own eggs or bread. As different from the limp damp and salty stuff of today as chalk is from cheese.
There was sugar being weighed out and packed in blue bags and spices in wooden drawers with gold labels and exotic names. There was a glass fronted cash desk in one corner, though some shops in Rushden among them “The Louvre” had money carried in little cups on wires to an upstairs cashier and our change would come whizzing back down. Most drapery items were priced at something and ¾d then like our 99p of today and I can remember when farthings were given in change but later a card of little gold pins was given instead.
When the Co-op opened a shop near us, mother began to send a given order there, because of the dividend, 2/- in the pound, 10%. It was worth having then, so was the money back on jam or marmalade jars; 1d on the pound size and 2d on the 2 pound. The Co-op delivery cart came round on Fridays with orders packed in cardboard or wooden boxes. We always had a wooden one which father chopped up for kindling though he spared us one to make the truck so essential to children. It was lashed precariously onto a set of old pram wheels and I had many a ride in one. Most men had a truck made from a deep Tate and Lyle sugar box, 2 big pram wheels and long wooden handles. They were used to carry produce from all the allotments or to fetch coke from the Rushden Gas Works. Coke and leather bits thrown out from the shoe factories was burnt in little stoves in the shop at the back of the house, where men mended shoes in their spare time. The acrid smell of burning leather hung over the whole town on winter mornings.
The Co-op grocery cart gave way to a big van with a picture of a fat rotund teapot on the side and the legend “Co-op teas are filling the nation’s teapots.” It was driven by a Mr. Kettle, but you can guess what he was called.
The Co-op organised a summer treat for members’ children, with a fancy dress competition featuring a Co-op product. I wore a white dress with blue labels stitched on it and had a stick with 2 white balloons advertising Co-opland. My friend had pea packet labels on her dress and had lovely dangling earrings made from peas threaded on cotton. We assembled in Spencer Park and marched to the Co-op Hall for tea. Afterwards we marched to the Jubilee Park in Bedford Road, ran races and were given our prizes, always thick slabs of chocolate. Our Sunday School tea drinking were very similar they always seemed to be held on very hot days, with tar melting on the roads and getting onto our best white socks. Possibly because if we came across an extra large tar bubble we had to step on it and burst it. The hot days are not my imagination, there was a series of very dry hot summers in the mid and late 20’s with every drop of washing water being saved for the gardens which had great cracks opening up in the drought.
To get back to our tradesmen, there were several very heavy drays rumbling round on iron-clad wheels and pulled by one or two magnificent Clydesdale horses. There was a coalman with a huge set of scales to weigh out the enormous lumps of shiny coal; clean to handle which he would then barrow to our coal places. Some weighed over a cwt. One of these lumps was found recently in a derelict barn in Rushden and is now in the R.H.T.S. museum, later shire Horses pulled the dustcarts. Our bins were emptied into the deep open tumbrels by brawny men in old coats, sacking tied round their legs and caps on back to front. The rubbish was tipped on open ground in fields off Newton Road and years later when the mounds were grassed over we played in the “Muckle Heap Field”, sometime unearthing little treasures like a dolls teapot with chipped spout, little scent bottles and broken lead soldiers or farm animals
We had other less frequent, but still regular callers. There was Frankie Holloway who was handicapped and walked with a stick and could not speak properly. He was always well dressed in a grey flannel suit, trilby and chamois leather gloves. He carried round a little case of notepaper, envelopes and postcards, more, I think now, to occupy him than to make a living.
Then there was Mr. Dickens, who carried round a covered bucket of skeins of mending wool, needles, pins and cotton tapes and elastics. He came about once a month and Mother usually bought from him, as clothing was patched and darned repeatedly. It would have been unthinkable to discard anything with little wear left in it. After that it was put to other uses. My brother and I had to cut old coats, skirts and trousers into narrow strips for Mother to make into pegged rugs we had in all rooms. Soft material was cut into “snips” to fill cushions. I much preferred cutting “snips” as it didn’t matter about their shape.
Another tradesman who came occasionally was Mr. Marlowe, a draper. He had no shop but sold things from his front room and also had an unusual conveyance. It was a great wicker hamper nearly as tall as himself supported on wheels at the front and behind it were the handlebars, saddle and back wheels. It must have been terribly heavy to pedal. It creaked and groaned when he rounded corners.
Another man walked round with a suitcase. He sold packets of dried peas, cake mixtures and sponge pudding mixes. Sometimes we had one of these, bright pink, light as a feather with our own raspberry jam or custard.
A regular caller sold a superior margarine, P.O.S. Purite of Substance in 1lb blocks which mother bought for her cakes, she also bought big round green and white tins of dried milk with Virol, to make hot drinks. I didn’t like it though. I did like the actual Virol in dark brown jars, sticky and sweet, something like a malt. I could consume it in great quantities even when it had cod liver oil added.
There was a hairdresser, Mr. Jephcote, who had a saloon in Rushden and a regular round to trim people’s hair in their own homes. He gave me my first cut which I had clamoured for, to be like my friend who had a short bob and fringe. I felt differently about it when I saw my long curls lying on the ground.
I remember Mr. Lyman, the chimney sweep with his perpetually black face, biking round with his rods and brush on his back. Fixed over his front door, above his name, was a big brush like his but fat with a teasel shaped head and I often thought how much better that would be to sweep chimneys than the flat one he used.
On hot summer days, the jangling of a little bell heralded Bobby Hooper, the ice cream man. When we heard the bell we rushed home to cajole a ½d for a cornet which he sold from his donkey cart with a red and white striped awning. Bobby was later replaced by the “Wall's” man who pedalled his dark blue insulated box round the streets. “Stop me and buy one” was on the front but we didn’t need to stop him, he parked outside school to catch children returning from dinner (no school meals then). He had choc-ices, 2d wafers and 1d snowfruits shaped like a toblerone bar. The flavours were raspberry, orange, lemon and lime and he would obligingly cut one in half with his penknife for those of us with only ½d, first measuring it meticulously with his thumb.
Though not a tradesman I can remember our postman, Mr. Brooker, very smart in his navy uniform piped with red and his black shako with badge on the front. He carried round a big brown canvas bag with letters and small parcels. There were no vans or bikes apart from one for the boy delivering the telegrams. The post was utterly reliable in those days. I love to look at the old postcards on stalls at street fairs. Many of them sent messages and instructions about meeting trains etc for the day after posting. They were obviously delivered in time. Sealed letters cost 1d, unsealed and postcards were ½d.
So many people knocked our door, I sometimes wonder if there was a secret mark on the house indication we were a “soft touch”. I know I was. An old man used to sit on the pavement near a wall in Newton Road, with a few chalked pictures on bits of cardboard, at least they may once have been pictures but were so smudged and dirty they were beyond recognition. An uncle had given me 6d for my birthday. I was on my way to spend it. It must have been a Saturday night and shops were open up to 9 o’clock (though never on Sunday). I dropped my sixpence into the filthy cap on the floor, much to my Mother’s and Aunt’s disgust. Aunt said “You silly girl, he’ll only drink it.” I couldn’t see how he could possibly drink a 6d piece and nobody explained.
Most of the callers at our house were men but there were several women too. One was a fat grey haired woman wrapped in tatty shawls and scarves. She offered for sale grubby little envelopes of dried lavender, so old it was mainly dust and had no scent. Technically she was not begging but you got a look of sheer fury and a curse if you didn’t take an envelope for a penny, but they were so dirty people rarely did, except perhaps to annoy or discourage her.
Another woman was Janey Clayton. Her husband walked the streets with their ancient barrel organ. Janey was a very ugly woman, squat and swarthy, smoking a clay pipe. She would knock doors with her old tin cup while he turned the handle, then, when he had played a few tunes they would trundle the organ to another street. Janey never spoke apart from to tell us to clear off when we followed them down the street.
Then there were the gypsies, a quiet family group who came about the same time every year. The woman wore ankle length coats, many skirts and high laced boots. They had thick rich velour hats, round and high crowned they would withstand any downpour. They had gold earrings and sovereign and half-sovereign rings. They carried big baskets with scrubbing brushes, mops, laces and hand-made paper roses. But best of all the pegs, made out of elder wood, bound at the top with strips of tin cut from Castrol Oil cans, fastened with a tack. I still have some of them, guaranteed to keep sheets on the line in any gale and far superior to the dolly pegs I painted faces on to play with.
I must not forget the tramps who passed by only once on their way from Bedford workhouse to the one in Wellingborough. I think they were supposed to have 4d on them, the price of a bed or otherwise they could be charged with vagrancy or being destitute, then it was a cell for the night and a sharp send off in the morning.
Two tramps stayed in our area most of the time, Joey Allen, who was reputed to come from a good family, shuffled along the gutters picking up the fag-ends which he kept in a tin until he had enough to make fresh cigarettes. He didn’t appear to beg but existed somehow and ended his days in the Wellingborough Workhouse though by then it had lost the stigma of that name and was the Park Hospital for the Elderly and Infirm.
The second tramp was called Beauty, we never knew him by any other name and he was renowned for the number of coats and jackets that he wore, winter and summer alike. Whenever he was given one he put it on either over or under the others according to the size, but he never refused or discarded one. When word went round that Beauty had arrived we all rushed down the road to the seat where he was ensconced, bundles, bags and sacks around him. There he waited. Soon a child might bring him the heel of a loaf and a thick bit of cheese rind. Someone else might be sent out with a pair of old boots or socks and once a generous mother sent a leg of mutton bone with scraps of meat on left on it. We crowded round him and watched in fascination as he shaved of the scraps and the fat, then the gristle all of which he ate from the point of his big clasp knife used also for scraping the mud of his boots and cleaning his pipe. He appeared immense to us, hairy and dirty, but we were not afraid of him, and only left when he had had enough of our chatter and shooed us off before stretching out on the seat to sleep.
Among the itinerant tramps was one my mother invited in for a meal. It must have been a Monday because we always had bubble and squeak and cold meat that day to save doing much cooking on washday. Mother always did extra potatoes and greens on Sunday and these were chopped and fried in a big pan on top of the stove to a crisp golden brown, delicious. I can smell it now.
When this man knocked the door we had just finished dinner and there was some over so Mother asked him in and gave him a plateful which he smothered in H.P. sauce much to our consternation, only being allowed a few drops ourselves. He finished off by picking up his plate and licking up the puddle of sauce until the plate was quite clean. After that food for the callers was usually of the take away variety. Mother could not risk another half bottle of H.P. sauce.
At about this time another man, not a tramp, came to the door and asked if my father was at home. They talked together for few minutes, then Father ran upstairs, came down with a set of his own much darned woollen underwear, a shirt, the tail of which had long since been used to darn the front and a muffler. I can remember the man breaking down and crying when he tried to thank Father but after he had gone into the lavatory to put the things on and had come in for a meal he explained. He was from up north and was on the road looking for work, having heard he might be lucky in our area, but had found no work and had pawned his clothing when money ran out. He was sent on his way with good wishes and a shilling which my Mother could probably ill afford. Though I didn’t realise it at the time, we must have been quite poor, though not as badly off as some of my friends whose fathers were out of work for long periods. This happened in the 1920’s before the Jarrow March of October 1936 when over 200 men marched the 300 miles.
By today’s standards our lives may have appeared poor and dull, but not so. We had many things to look forward to. There was Easter when I usually something new to wear, if only shoes and socks and a hair ribbon. An aunt always bought us big chocolate eggs with our names piped on in white icing. Then we had little hard chocolate nests with a yellow fluffy chick sitting on bright blue eggs which tasted of caraway seed. On Good Friday morning, long before mother was up we dressed and rushed down stairs for the shilling she had left on the tale the night before. We and many of our friends ran down to the Co-op grocery shop which had just had its delivery of Hot Cross Buns full of currants and candied peel, crisp with sugar on the top and still hot. Then we heard of another baker on the corner of Grove Road who made smaller ones, 24 for a shilling and so we went there. They were only on sale for that one day, not like now, when Hot Cross Buns seem to be available all the year round in supermarkets. At Easter we picked violets, the roadside banks and ditches were full of them. At Whitsun I picked bluebells from Bluebell Banks near Sharnbrook, being carried there in my little seat on Father’s bike. We had an outing in July to Bedford for the Free Gardeners.
The first week in August, then Bank Holiday week was looked forward to for a long time. We always went by train back to Father’s old home in Wales to stay with our grandfather. We travelled on the Friday night to get an extra day there and our luggage sent carriage forward was always awaiting us at the station.
The next treat was Higham Feast, late in August. It was held behind the Green Dragon, but it was small compared with Rushden Feast a month later in Spenser Park. We went on the opening Saturday evening and our first ride was on the huge Peacocks and Dragons roundabout. In the middle was a real waterfall splashing down marble steps, flanked by 2 plaster angels blowing golden trumpets, while the steam organ played. Father had 2d go on the darts and won good prizes, vases, jugs and fruit bowls of that lovely iridescent glass so sought after today. We watched the toffee being pulled on a hook and bought 1d bags of the “spit rock” as we called it striped brown and gold, peppermint flavoured. We tried to walk the “Cake Walk”. We sucked our toffee apples, pinged each other with pretty paper balls stuffed with sawdust bound on a long thin elastic thread. We went on the galloping horses with their flaming red nostrils, shining fluted brass poles and lovely names. We threw Hoop-la rings, won a coconut and saw the side shows. The biggest rat in the world caught in a coalmine said the board, but of course it was a coypu. There was a mermaid (all done by mirrors said those in the know). There was a boxing booth and later a “wall of death”, a huge wooden cylinder where local lads lined the side to ride their motorbikes round and one of them, Jeff Desborough did a successful round.
There was a stall where you paid 1d and could choose and pull a string from a bunch hanging in front of the stall. The string connected with prizes on the shelves and lovely prizes they looked to be, dolls, teddies, gollywogs, jugs and vases and little statuettes but they were a blind, the real prizes were hidden behind the big ones and were pretty paltry things. I know because I did not understand what I had to do, got on the box and grasped the whole bunch of strings and pulled. Up came the celluloid dolls and ducks and pencils and other little things, leaving the valuable things on the shelves. The man was so angry and shouted at me because not only did he have to replace everything behind its sheeting but people were laughing and jeering at him. I apologised and bustled off without a prize.
On November 5th Father brought home at teatime a shilling box of fireworks and some sparklers which we let off in the yard. We had those bright pink papier-mache masks which never seemed to have the eyeholes in the right place for me. When our bonfire had burnt down we toured the neighbourhood to see if any were still burning inviting ourselves in if they were.
On December 22nd my brother and I would haunt the streets, waiting for the sound of the Railway Dray until with the rumble of wheels and clatter of hooves it arrived. We were expecting a very special parcel and when the drayman, Billy Perkins, lifted it down he knew what it was and seemed as pleased about it as we were. It was an 8 foot roll beautifully sewn up in clean sacking. We carefully unpicked the stitches and unrolled the sacking, then shook out our Christmas Tree. Every year our grandfather paid and sent us a tree from the forest near his home in Wales. There were bunches of berried holly and other evergreens, trails of ivy and moss for us to put on the pots of bulbs she had grown. I can never remember the tree being damaged, or failing to arrive in time. It was put in its pot in a corner of the living room, and the box of decorations was brought down.
The tissue wrapped treasures were used year after year, my favourite was a lovely yellow and white glass boat with masts and spun glass sails and cobwebby tinsel ropes. The fairy doll was rather battered with use, but we never dreamt of replacing her. We had pink and yellow small fluted candles in metal holders clipped onto the branches with crocodile clips and they were all lit on Christmas Day and Boxing Day until they had burned down to their holder. Imagine it today, but I can’t remember anyone having a fire.
On Christmas Eve we were sent to bed with dire threats that Father Christmas would not come if we were awake. One of my long woollen stockings was tied to the end of each bed and in the toe we always found a few nuts, an apple and orange and a lucky bag which I loved. They contained the most exciting rubbish. We didn’t have many, or expensive presents, pencil cases, board games, celluloid trumpets, perhaps a taggly organ and a new hair ribbon. I always had a book and I could read long before I started school. For Christmas dinner we had a fowl fattened by my Rushden Grandfather. He sent us as well a huge knobbly stick of perfect brussel sprouts. There was a small pudding lit by a drop of medicinal brandy, then mince pies and nuts and if we had room a few sweets, sugared almonds. It was the only time in the year we had fowl for dinner and was it good! It lasted two or three days, then the remains made into soup.
There were the regular highlights but there were others. One year the agricultural show was held in Janes in Newton Road. It was perfect summer’s day and my brother and I sat on our front gate from early morning to watch the flocks of sheep, pigs in carts with nets over them, herds of cows and dangerous red-eyed bulls led by a pole hooked into rings in their noses. There was agricultural machinery of all kinds and the show was opened by Prince Henry, later Duke of Gloucester. When we heard the cheering down the road we knew he was coming, but I could hardly believe this stolid red-faced man in a bowler hat, dimly seen in the back of a large car, was really a prince. Princes to me were of the story book kind. We scorned the pay gate into the field. We airily told each other that we couldn’t pay but what else were holes in the hedge for. We spent our 3d inside and basked in the reflected glory of Les, our milkman’s son, winning a race carrying 2 pails of milk.
In this same field a small aeroplane once landed and those of us who saw it come down pelted up the road to see the pilot climb out and look round. When he saw us he shouted “Where am I?” and I shouted back “Near Rushden” so he waved, climbed back in and took off, bumping over rough field then up and over the hedge.
Yes we knew all those hedges and fields between Rushden, Newton Bromswold and Higham Ferrers and played safely there. We roamed the fields for the best mushrooms and the little purple spotted orchids we called cuckoo fingers. We knew where to get the agrimoney our mothers liked to make the delicious summer drink, with dried dandelions, white nettles, hops, lemons and yeast. It was marvellous. We took old Camp Coffee bottles of it on our excursions, or if that ran out Eiffel Tower Lemonade. We knew the best blackberry hedges and where those lovely thornless white hedge roses grew.
We picked vast bunches of bull daisies which cut our fingers when we encountered tough ones. We picked cowslips and totty grass, “egg and bacon”, trefoils and yellow nettles. We sucked the florets of red clover calling them “titty bottles” and we ate sorrel leaves which tasted of cucumber. We sometimes tried to make perfume from rose petals and mauve plantains, jammed down into a jar and covered with water but it always turned into a disgusting brown mess.
I can remember those lovely Meadows full of daisies and buttercups, red and white clover, agrimoney, hawk weed, dandelions and eyebright, burnet-like little purple flue brushes, yarrow and yellow wattle, tiny pansies, scarlet pimpernel, red and white campion which we called Grannies Nightcaps. Bull daisies and cowslips, many flowering grasses, “eggs and bacon”, the bird’s foot trefoil and purple and mauve orchids with purple blotched leaves. Little pink convolvulus “sunshades” which grew over the footpath. Silver weed with its buttercup like flowers and silver leaves we stuffed into our shoes to cool our feet, tiny forget-me-knots, delicate stitchwort and mauve plantains, kingcups in marsh places. Cow parsley we called “Keck” in the ditches, different species of wild roses in the hedges following the red poppies and corn marigolds in the wheat.
I can remember having a drive one summer afternoon with an old relative in one of Ashe Abbott’s landaus. We went up Newton Road, along the Court Estate, now Avenue Road. There were very few houses there then but has, by recollection, one of the flowery hedges nearly all the way. Then home via Bedford road, past the old isolation hospital and the wood yard, to Jubilee Cottages next to the park. I can’t remember if the Tecnic Factory had been built then but I can remember the almost disbelief when we heard Mr. W. Tarry had paid £2000 to have his house, “Durlands” built.
We took jam jars and fishing nets to Slater’s Pond to catch “miller thumbs”, tiny fish which we took home to live in the rainwater barrel with the wriggling worms. We walked home through the fields at almost sunset, when the sun’s rays lit up millions of gossamer threads blowing from the tightly closed red daisies and the flowering grasses but we never actually saw the spiders which had spun these fairy filaments. We picked great branches of May, namely on May Day itself, but our Mothers wouldn’t have it indoors, as it was “bad luck”. We wore our oak leaves on April 29th Oak Apple Day and woe betide anyone not sporting a twig as they were in for a pinch and a punch and we knew it was to commemorate King Charles hiding in an oak tree.
But these times are lost for ever and it is now impossible to see where the old fields were and hedges and trees gone, ponds, marshy places and ditches drained in the interest of the modern age.
Our hazards were the natural ones of falling out of trees, into ponds through thin ice, into snow drifts, stirring up wasp’s nests, being shouted at by irate farmers for playing on granary steps and round haystacks, falling off the ramshackle fairy bikes owned by more affluent friends. How I longed for a Fairy bike, a misnomer if ever there was one. They were only two wheelers, difficult to balance but I never had one. It was years later when I was 14 that I had a proper bike, a Raleigh. I still have it, in more or less working order, getting on for 60 years old.
But there were sad happenings, a little neighbour Gwenny, aged 3, died of meningitis, Peggy, a particular friend, died aged 5 of diphtheria, and whole families were afflicted with T.B. which claimed the lives of so many people we knew. We played in the cemetery near Peggy’s grave with its white marble angel and inspected the memorial cards under the glass dome of the artificial wreaths.
The road and street are much the same now as when we played these, just many ore houses filling the gaps. There were so few cars we could play safely and our games had their proper seasons, strictly adhered to. There was skipping rope time, whip and top time, fag cards, when we expertly flicked our cards to lie over our opponent's, then we could claim them both and we played marbles. We had a new lot every year because the dark red or green clay ones broke easily and glass ones from a spruce or lemonade bottle were treasures and we rarely played them. Apart from skipping ropes, boys and girls played the same seasonal games. “Nuts in May” was mainly for girls while Hopping Cockerels and Mob Stick were favoured by boys. We all played “The Good Ship Sails”, “Sheep, sheep come over”; “The Farmer wants a wife” and “Lucy Locket”. Once again in China I was reminded of the far off days. I visited a kindergarten where ring games were played.
One of our favourite games was a miming game where one side advanced to the middle of the road and announced “Three Old Men Come Workhouse”. The other side called “What’s your trade?” We replied “All sort and all sizes”. “Then show us” we were asked and we mimed the trade decided on. If it was guessed we had to run back to our side before being caught. Towards the end of the summer holidays when street games began to pall we would have a fair. Oval Road was always chosen as it had wide footpaths and a board fence each side. Twenty to thirty of us chalked out our pitches on the path for our stalls and we all had something different to show or play: peep shows, cigarette card albums (which were a mine of information), old postcards and albums of the lovely silk cards sent home by our fathers from the war. There was hopscotch, jackstones, skittle games, bagatelle and nine boards, dolls & dolls houses, and that infuriating game where you had to get little coloured balls into the right holes in the picture. We paid a button, a pin or a cigarette card for a go.
In winter we played “Tick round the lamp post”, “Stag” which could extend over several fields and “I Ackey” which is said to be a corruption of the Latin “Hic Jacet” here I be, a form of Hide and Seek. We had to stay in our chosen place until touched by whoever was “it”. We had a great store of counting out games (most of which seem to be forgotten by children today) but you don’t need a counting out game for hand held Nintendo game do you?
We lived in a council house in Newton Road, the first ones built by Rushden Council and quite plush the first ones and later ones in the street behind were of a different design with small gardens and lower rents, so those of us on the front thought we were somebody when we were old enough to think about such things. I can remember many of the other families: Mr. Lil the council manager, Mr. Piper the sanitary inspector, Bernard Tompkins (Wazzy) [actually Eric] the county cricketer, Mr. Sherwood, Headmaster of Newton Road school, Mr. Dusfort the saddler, Mr. Jeeves manager of the Rushden Co-op Boot factory then us, my father was the engineer at the R.E.L. Co, then Mr. and Mrs. Vander Hadyn, parents of Sydney Green who owned Grenson's shoe Factory, Mr. Slater, Grenson's manager, and Mr. and Mrs. Roberts. He was the Post Master in Rushden and they had a lumbering old Newfoundland dog, Bobby. When it died a very large grave was dug in their back garden and the burial service was read over him. I cried because I had loved Bobby.
Though Father had a good job money was tight as mother suffered from rheumatoid arthritis developing this when I was young. Doctor’s bills for 10/6 arrived with alarming frequency and any new patent cure, medicines, pills, rubs, herbal teas etc. were all tried but made no difference. She was almost completely crippled by when I left school.