2. On the Streets Where I Lived

Chapter Two


People stop and stare,
they don’t bother me;
For there’s nowhere else on earth
that I would rather be.

[Song: The Street Where I Live,
from My Fair Lady]

In chapter one I described snapshots of my early years, spent living with my parents and my sister Barbara in a tiny three-roomed flat above the Brewery. I will begin this chapter by going back to my babyhood. Then I will relate a few memories of street experiences that left impressions on my expanding mind.

In those days, the late flapper twenties and the early thirties, the received wisdom about baby-rearing from contemporary ‘Medical Science’ (something of a misnomer), was that babies must be left sleeping in their prams for fixed times each morning and afternoon. If placed in their gardens, or wheeled to a nearby park, they would imbibe health-giving fresh air and occasional smells from passing horses. Should they wake up for whatever reason, they must be left there until such times as their mothers were ready to receive them upon their breasts at the ends of the prescribed periods. Tough love was all the vogue in those days. Mothers were not to be influenced by bawling babies, no matter what the state of their nappies or tiny stomachs might be. There was to be no snack-feeding, comforting or changing between meals.

So I must have spent many uncomfortable times, in my voluminous navy-blue pram, with its sleeping compartment perched high atop of two large coach springs, placed out in our small front garden. This last was used also for growing marigolds, grass, pansies and vegetables, and as a depository area for cats and dogs that were caught short as they hurried past the Brewery. It was situated right in front of the Wine & Spirits Shop, and was bounded on two sides by hedges, and on a third by a low wall. Beyond the far hedge was a pavement, and beyond that was a road called North Street. The street where I lived.

Mother would no doubt come out into the garden occasionally, to look at me and to adjust a blanket shielding me from the moving sun. Sometimes she would chat across the hedge with our neighbour, Mrs. Southwell, who lived in a small terrace house which abutted the far wall of the shop. Mrs. Southwell was a friendly soul, of advanced age, and as I grew older I would talk to her too. I would be fifteen or sixteen before we had to deal with the sadness of her passing.

I do not remember how I learned to walk, or in what manner I crawled or slithered before I hoisted myself onto my two feet. I do have vague recollections of clambering up the lino-covered stairs to the flat, and none of falling down them, and I suppose I must have been two years old when these early memories became impressed in my brain. Before then, however, my mother would have taken me for many walks in the pram, and these would be my first ventures into the outside world—where I would receive my first views of people and things outside my immediate family life. She would put on her good clothes for promenading, and guide my pram over the cobbles at the exit to the Brewery. She would turn left on North Street if she wished to walk towards the town docks, where the River Ouse flowed. She would no doubt show me the gardens and play-areas in the park by the riverside. I remember that in one of those areas there was a huge, rusty army tank, a relic from World War I. When I was a little older, I would join other children in clambering up onto that tank, and playing make-believe war games. I don’t know when the Town Council finally took the tank away. Maybe it was cut up into scrap metal for the war effort in World War II—‘swords into swords’ one might say.

Mother would turn right if her thoughts and needs were directed to the shops in the small town of Goole. Our house was very conveniently situated for those. We had to perambulate a mere quarter-mile to reach the splendid clock tower which stood in the market square (more correctly the circle) on whose perimeter lay the Midland Bank, the Yorkshire Penny Bank, a Methodist Church jostling the Conservative Party Club, and a large Market Hall. Every Wednesday and Saturday this last building housed a great number of stall-holders, whose wares were set out and touted in a colourful variety of ways. The vegetable and fruit stalls were placed outside the Hall, and were protected from the weather by individual tent-like roofs. I remember this to be a very pleasant area, full of scents and sounds and actions. In wintry months, the outside stalls were warmed and lit by hissing gas flares that hung from the top poles by butcher’s hooks. These flares cast a most cheery light on the rumpus and ruck of the market in the late afternoons, when the darkness gathered in.

The square tower that bore a clock on each of its four faces was a meeting place for people, and a confluence point for no fewer than eight important streets. As well as telling the time in four directions at once, it provided in its base conveniences which were often rather unsavoury but always, well, convenient. The streets that arrived there were called, moving clockwise around the tower, North, Aire, Church, Stanhope, Boothferry, Alexandra, Carlisle and Victoria. A fine clutch of names: A Queen and a Princess, a Pole and the Clergy, a couple of Earls, a River and a Ferry.

Boothferry Road is the main street in Goole. It runs from the tower straight through the town’s main shopping area, across a railway-line, past a few housing streets, a mill, three schools, the centennial park, and then out for another mile to where the ferry across the River Ouse used to operate. Hence its name. People wishing to travel into East Yorkshire had no choice then but to board the boat there, and be taken across. They would take their horses and carts with them—and later cars were transported too. It was not until 1929 that a fine swing bridge was built across the broad, fast-running river, and the ferry-boats had to close their operations down. So that was an event that happened just ‘in my time’. My parents well remembered the building and opening of the new bridge. Quite recently I have seen faded, orange photographs of one of the boats in action; perhaps old Mr. Booth was at the helm.

The road across the river continues some thirty miles to the big city and now-fading port of Hull. But first, four miles from Goole, it passes the ancient market town of Howden, where two of my three surviving cousins, Marie Watson and Thora Sayer (sisters, n�e Turner) now live. If I were telling the history of Howden, which I am not, I would speak of its magnificent stone cathedral, which is probably more than a thousand years old. And I would tell you that the cathedral bears the distinction of having been peppered by cannon balls in the 1650s, fired from the guns of the Roundhead’s army during the English Civil War. The army was under the generalship of no less a man than Oliver Cromwell, the great Puritan and parliamentary revolutionary. How he got himself, his men, and the guns across the River Ouse I do not know; but I know for certain that Mr. Booth was not the ferryman.

A Howden story which is closer to my purpose, and which is curiously related to cannon balls too, is the following. One day, when I was much older, my father and I were driving in the family car (an old Morris 10) along a country road just outside of Howden. Suddenly he raised an arm, and pointed to a large, empty, grass field: “That’s where the R.100 was built,” he said. Then he told me a little of the story of how a man called Barnes Wallis had built there, with a big staff of technicians, a huge gas-filled airship which was designed to sail, like a monster yacht in the sky, long distances around the world. Airships were to be the vehicles of the future for comfortable long-distance travel. The symbols R.100 were a code name for the air-ship, a continuation of a line of similarly coded names for airships produced by Vickers’ Engineering Company since about 1917. The name distinguished it from another airship named R.101; this was being built at the same time, but at a place called Cardington, near Bedford. A team of engineers had been set up there, financed and controlled by the Admiralty and other persons directly controlled by the British Government, with the aim of constructing a big air-ship having similar characteristics to the one designed by Wallis for Vickers.

It was hoped that the two teams would collaborate in their efforts. Needless to say, that hope proved a vain one. Indeed, there was intense rivalry between the two teams. Both laboured hard and long (from 1924 to 1930), but they squabbled amongst themselves, with different branches of the armed forces, and with Government ministers and advisers. All the time they struggled for financial backing; and of course, each team desperately wanted to be the first to fly its airship successfully over long distances.

It was in late September of 1929, very close to my first birthday, that both ships were able to take to the air and perform their trials. In flight R.100 behaved impeccably. Everything that Wallis had planned for her she performed as he predicted. In the following Spring, she completed a very successful maiden voyage to Canada and back. Amazingly, Wallis was not allowed to go on this flight, to savour the fruits of his long labours. Others tried to take credits for the achievements that were rightly his. Fortunately for him, one of his engineers was Nevil Shute, who did go to Canada, and who kept a diary of the flight. Later Shute became a famous novelist, and in his autobiography he set all the records straight. Wallis was the real man behind the whole project.

What of R.101? Its trials were not so successful. Indeed, when shown off at the Hendon Air Display, in June 1930, it displayed ‘extraordinary and sinister behaviour’. The airship plummeted and bucked, showing herself to be subject to over-control. Moreover, her gas-valves leaked badly, and her gas-bags were later found to be riddled with small holes.

Despite all its problems and design faults, plans for its maiden voyage to India were rushed through. On 4 October 1930, three days after my second birthday, the airship set off in the evening to attempt that long and hazardous journey. It only just reached France, before crashing near Beauvais. Out of the 54 persons aboard, only six survived.

Wallis was devastated by the news, for it meant many things to him apart from his sorrow over the loss of numerous friends and acquaintances. The loss of the R.101 marked the end of any further involvement by the British Government in the development of airships. Attention had by now turned to the huge possibilities in fixed-wing, powered aircraft; and by the end of that year Wallis himself had become an airplane designer—he was working furiously on the designs of a bomber. In view of Hitler’s rise to power in Germany in 1933, that was a most timely shift.

I hope the reader (‘dear reader’) is not believing that my dear father told me all that story, as we drove past the grassy site of the R.100 construction project in our Morris 10. Of course, he would have told me just a little about airships, and it would not have meant much to me then. I am only now making all these connections with Howden, Barnes Wallis and me. My information comes from a wonderful book that details the full career and genius of Wallis; he deserves to be talked about for many centuries as one of the fathers of aviation.

Let me make my final connections. How are Wallis and Cromwell’s cannon balls related? Another great invention that Wallis dreamed up, and brought to fruition in the amazingly short period of ten months from 1942 to 1943, came to be known as the bouncing bomb. This was a huge contribution of his in the Allies’ struggle to defeat Hitler’s forces in World War II. The plan was to break open by bombs three or four huge German dams in the Ruhr valley, to cripple the power supplies that kept the German war factories going. To prevent the Allies from attacking the dams with torpedo bombs, the Germans had constructed torpedo nets across the bases of the dams. Wallis’s amazing idea was to build a bomb which could bounce over those nets, just as a flat stone when spun into the sea will bounce up and over the waves. He was able to persuade the British War Ministries that the idea would work—and that was a huge effort in itself. Then, as we have said, he managed to go from an idea-in-the-head to a fully tested bouncing bomb in less than a year. A Herculean feat, by any standards of engineering research and development.

So it came about, on a bright moonlit night of 16/17 May 1943, that nineteen Allied planes set off to Germany to attack M�hne Dam with Wallis’s new bombs. They also attacked the Eder and two undefended Dams at Sorpe and Bever. The raid was a huge success. Wallis’s idea was fully vindicated, and the damage to German war operations was immense. [After the war, the whole exploit was made into a very popular movie called ‘The Dam Busters’.] So Cromwell fired cannon balls at Howden Minster, and Wallis fired bouncing bombs at Hitler’s Dams.

And what about connections between Wallis and me—to complete some kind of circle? I fear these must be purely hypothetical (perhaps highly or supremely improbable is the best epithet for them) but I will make an attempt.

For a short while in 1922 Barnes Wallis took up a mathematics teaching post, in a College in Switzerland. It was to be a very short break from aircraft designing and manufacture. There he met an English girl called Molly Boxam. They began a form of courting, and a year or two later Barnes asked her father for the hand and person of Molly. There was a stormy interview, perhaps not least because Molly was some eighteen years younger than Barnes—who by then had attained the advanced age of thirty-seven. But the courtship was allowed to go on, under various strict rules of decorum. Finally, permission was granted for them to marry, and this they did on St. George’s Day in 1925.

The wedding took place in St. Luke’s Church, Hampstead. All the men dressed in their best morning coats, the traditional style. A few of the younger women wore frocks of a sensational style: for the first time in modern history the hemline of dresses had lifted to knee-level! By then, Barnes had begun working in Howden (in 1924), laying down and getting on with the programme for building the airship R.100. Their first home, however, was in Woolwich. It wasn’t until the Spring of 1926 that Barnes brought Molly to a small white villa in Howden, near the great hangar in which the R.100 airship was taking shape. Their first child Barnes Junior was born in 1926, and their second, a girl they called Mary, came along in 1928 — my own year. At last the scene is set for me to establish a connection (hypothetical) with the engineering genius Barnes Wallis.

My hometown Goole is just four miles from Howden, and its shopping centre must have attracted people from miles around. It is certain that Barnes and Molly must have visited it on several occasions during their five years or so spent in Howden. Picture if you can a fine, sunny, market day in Goole, early in 1929, with Molly wheeling a large pram down Boothferry Road and visiting the Goole Market Hall. In the pram is her new baby daughter. Barnes Junior toddles alongside, and maybe Barnes Senior strides along too, sometimes lifting Barnes Junior into his arms. They meet another lady pushing a large perambulator. The press of people in the Market requires the prams to stop side by side. Molly’s smiling eyes meet my mother’s eyes; and courtesy demands that they each shall admire the other’s baby. Perhaps Barnes Senior admires me! He reaches down into my pram, and pushes his engineer’s thumb into my ribs, to make me chuckle. “What a fine little chap he is,” says Barnes with a broad smile. I smile back, and sense the power behind that thumb. I have met my first genius.

I have strayed far from my purpose of describing scenes and memories of my first years on the streets of Goole. I shall return to that task now.

As I began to totter, toddle and finally walk, I would venture into the garden, and into the driveway at the front of the Brewery. I would begin to explore North Street. Before I was five I had collected many memories of it.

I was afraid of dogs passing the entrance. I learned not to offer my hand to any stray dog, for fear it would snap and bite it. I was taught to just stand still, keep my hands in my pockets, and then the dog would ignore me. This advice seemed to work. I was grateful for it, because any big dog at that time could look me in the eye—directly! I have tried to instil this practice into my own children and grandchildren, without any success at all. They are all quite fearless in handling dogs, and have not yet been gored; so perhaps I have been too cautious. But I still keep my hands in my pockets, whenever I meet a dog.

Our dray horses passed over the entrance drive several times a day, and on occasion let their droppings fall on the cobbles. I had to learn to avoid them when toddling. I recall, a year or two later, my great-uncle Harry placing a bucket and shovel into my hands, and telling me to pick up the droppings, and throw them into the garden. I did as I was told—I recognised his authority, and greatly enjoyed the sixpences which he occasionally thrust into my hand if I helped him. He probably told me how the plants in the garden enjoyed the nurture of the horses’ droppings. He called it ‘manure’.

Later, when I was eight or nine, I would grow vegetables in that Brewery garden. It had good black soil, and my lettuces and cabbages formed fine, succulent heads, after being kept supplied with our horse manure. I learned how to grow celery, too, in the garden: how to plant them in rows, and to shore up the earth around their stems as they grew higher, to make them whiten. Strawberry plants also flourished there. Incidentally, this was my first venture into capitalism. Like all children (I suppose) I felt a great desire for money, as soon as I realised what it could do. And when I was about eight, I can remember taking my lettuces and celery, and hawking them from door to door in the terrace houses across the way in North Street. With what measure of success, I cannot recall.

One very strong memory from when I was only three or four is the following. I knew my father had left the house one day, and had turned left down the street from the exit drive. It was a hot sunny day, a clear sky above, and I decided to follow him. This was a real adventure. Me, walking unsteadily and alone, down North Street. I kept to the pavement, of course, and toddled past the block of tiny terrace houses on the left of our Brewery House. I came to the entrance of a disused coal merchant’s yard, heard some activity in a low building inside, and decided to investigate it. I peered through a door, and saw my father and another man working on a strange contraption, which I soon learned was to become our very own caravan. My father saw me, and rushed to pick me up. “Does your mother know where you are,” he cried, wondering how I had got there. When I shook my head, he rushed back home with me in his arms, to deposit me back in the safety of our home. I suppose I was told never to do it again. And maybe I never did.

A month or two later this led to another North Street incident in my memory. I was standing with my mother and sister on the pavement outside the house, and we were waving goodbye to my father. He was driving our Morris 10, and it was towing the strange contraption—now a fully fledged but flightless caravan. They were on their way to a coastal village called Sewerby. The caravan was to be settled onto a field site, on a farm (Lount’s farm) a short walk away from the coast and its stony beach line. Our family, and friends, were to spend many happy summer holidays in that caravan, until well after the war. But right at that moment, as we watched it from the rear, rocking and rolling on its coach springs taken from an old lorry, we wondered if father and the caravan would survive the 45-mile journey to the coast. It did, and no doubt mother and father toasted the successful launching with a bottle of wine when he returned.

It must be remembered that at this time Britain was just climbing out of its deep economic depression. Father didn’t have his ‘proper job’ as a ship’s draughtsman—or maybe he had just regained it. But he had very little money. Very few people had cars then, in our level of society; and to own a caravan too was a great luxury. So the making of it was all sealing wax and string stuff. He had designed the caravan from scratch, found an old lorry chassis, scraped together some money to buy the plywood, and built the whole thing himself during breaks in the Brewery business routine. I think I told you he was good with his hands. Mother would have been proud of his initiative then. She loved to go to the caravan for holidays, for she found the North Street life quite dreary. I recall after one 5-week school vacation, when she returned from Sewerby and had to face the dark kitchen and the scullery and wash-house of the Brewery House, she just sat down at the kitchen table and cried for five minutes.

Back to the street memories.

I gradually learned more of what went on in North Street. For example, I could watch from my bedroom window the traffic passing to and fro beneath me. There would be cyclists, horses and drays, delivery vans, and cars; and every morning a pony and trap would spin by, its owner delivering milk from urns full of the day’s warm milk. The occasional lorry would pass by, too. I remember seeing a steam lorry once—the steam engine was still competing against the petrol engine for use in road transport, and it lost the battle before the end of the 30s. Some say that steam power in cars could have been developed and made universally acceptable, and that it would have had many advantages over the petrol engine. But the power of Henry Ford and his ilk, together with that of the oil companies, saw to it that the petrol engine won out. Be that as it may, sometime in the mid-30s I watched a steam lorry chug by on its business route, with a broad cylindrical chimney standing up and smoking in front of the cab, and the driver’s mate feeding the small burner for the steam boiler.

It was much more common then than now to see dogs roaming free in the street. I suppose there were no regulations to have them kept on leash, nor for their owners to clean up any mess they left on the pavements. That meant one had to tread carefully, as one walked along a pavement. It was also common to see dogs racing down North Street yapping and barking loudly as they chased a car or a motor cycle. Even cyclists were at risk from a snarling dog. Later in life, when riding my Red Hunter 250cc Ariel motor bike, I recall the pests following me—I would aim a kick at them, and accelerate out of their way. Since that sort of doggy behaviour seems to be absent these days, I suspect some kind of evolution has gone on. The dogs that stayed clear of cars lived to pass on their genes to their pups!

Across the street, from my bedroom window I could see a row of small terrace houses, two of which contained lawyer’s offices. Further to the right was a fish and chip shop. We would often use that to get a quick meal on washdays (usually Tuesdays) and also on Friday evenings. To the left was a corner pub. Recall that we lived very close to Goole Docks, so there were several such pubs in the area, to serve the dockers’ needs. When I was a baby I didn’t know what they were for, but I certainly knew what happened after their closing hours, at 10.30 p.m. On warm summer evenings, one would see people leaving, staggering through the exit doors in twos, threes and fours—and acting quite strangely. Usually they were very happy people, laughing, shouting and joking; and always they seemed to have some difficulty in walking in a good straight line down the pavement. They would attempt to help each other out in this, and sometimes the result would be comic, or even tragic.

Another thing they did, and frequently, was to burst into song. People sang much more often than nowadays; whistling and singing in the streets was relatively common then. And every pub had a ‘Singing Licence’ for its ‘best room’—with a battered old piano in one corner. Every night someone would sit down and bash out the good old singing tunes as best as he or she could; and the room would erupt with the voices of the drinkers. This might go on for two or three hours. [I remember many such nights, years later, in my Granny’s pub at Hook, or in a fisherman’s pub at Sewerby, when my mother and I would join in the singing. She had a lovely soprano voice, and loved to let it rip.]

To get back to North Street—for over sixteen years I would go to bed, and lie there waiting for sleep to claim me, only to be serenaded by the merry and carolling drinkers leaving the pub. They would roll along the pavement, or stagger across the street and argue beneath my very window. How many times have I heard the strains of ‘Nelly Dean’ or ‘Show me the Way to go Home’ rise in the air, from straining beery lungs, as these cheerful groups passed by on their way home? I didn’t mind it at all. It must, of course, have set a mark for my future catholic tastes in music. I still love playing those songs on my piano. If I can stir a whole tap-room crowd to sing their heads (its head?) off, my joy is complete! But this activity is very rare these days, unfortunately.

Whilst sounds are being mentioned, one major sound that came to everyone’s ears frequently in the vicinity of North Street was that of the church bells. The bells were in the belfry of Goole Parish Church, which was situated in Church Street, not very far from the Brewery. At every quarter of the hour they would crash out; and on the hour, they would ring the time for us—‘Ding, Ding, Ding’ for three o’clock, and so on. This was a much more stirring experience than listening to the famous and gentle ‘pips’ on the BBC radio. I believe the bells closed down at midnight; I cannot remember, but I hope they did. However, I do remember my loathing of them when the bell-ringers were practising in their belfry for the religious services at the weekends. When they finally got going, early on Sunday mornings, they left the whole neighbourhood in no doubt that it was the day of our Lord. And that it was time (heavens, did they start before the 6.00 a.m. service?) for the righteous to be preparing for a trip to the huge stone Anglican Church nearby.

We children often accompanied my father to this church, no doubt dressed in our Sunday best. For many years he was a verger there. He collected the offerings in the velvet bag on the end of a pole, which he passed along the pews to the pious patrons. I recall many Sunday evenings when he would clear the kitchen table, and spread upon it the small envelopes and brown paper packets that he had collected in church that day. He had to open them up, and count what was inside them. Then add the total to that of the silver and copper coins—and the rarer paper offerings. I don’t know what he did next. No doubt he would present them all to the Vicar the following day, together with a summary, and say “All present and correct, Sir.”.

My father enjoyed his connection with the Church. He liked the pomp and ceremony of it; and perhaps he believed in God, too. Mother rarely accompanied us to a morning service; she preferred to stay in bed. I often noticed how father’s resolve to be kind to all mankind, cemented on his knees with a promise to his Maker in church, would quickly ‘unresolve’ itself. If he returned from church and found Mother still in bed, with no sign of lunch for the table, his words and manner were hardly correct for Sunday use.

I will mention one final activity of interest in our Street. It took place in a tiny house across the road from the Brewery. A small two-story terrace house, blackened with the soot of a century’s pollution, daily presented a most unusual sight to my youthful eyes. A large horse would be led up to it, cross the pavement, lower its large head, and squeeze through the house door. If I stood close, I could see it being led by the nose down a few stone steps, to stand inside a tiny room and wait patiently to be dealt with. This room was a Smithy’s work area. Besides the horse, there was just room in it for a coal fire, with a range-hood to take away the fumes, and large bellows to blow up enough heat to soften a horseshoe. The Smith himself, with bulging biceps and grimy leather apron over grimier trousers, had to find room to stand alongside the horse. And, in the dim light through dusty quartered windows, I could watch the Smith turn his back to the rear end of the horse, lift a hindfoot through his legs, and take off the old shoe, to hammer into place a new one. It has always struck me as odd that a horse should not mind having large nails hammered into his feet. But such is the case. I never saw the Smith having any trouble completing his task. Perhaps the biceps had something to do with it.

It has struck me whilst writing the above paragraph that I was watching something that has been done for centuries—many millennia rather—by man to horse. Something that would rarely be done again after another few years had passed. There in my street was a tiny smithy in regular operation. I was privileged to see it happening a mere twenty years before all the tiny smithies in the world, certainly in Britain, were to vanish. I am aware that racehorses and the occasional farm horse must still have their feet seen to; but I am thinking of the immense world-wide activity, stretching back to Babylonian times and before, that went on between man and horse. I, John Turner, was witness in North Street to the final, fading years of that activity. The invention of lorry, tractor and motor car brought about its demise.

Before moving on to the next chapter, I have two more incidents that I wish to mention. The first is a tale of horror; and the second is about me getting lost for the first time in my life.

The first event happened at the joining of North Street and Aire Street, and it left an indelible memory on my mind. Not to say a traumatic one. One morning, when I was five or six years old, I walked to the right from the Brewery some three blocks towards the clock tower. Perhaps I was going to visit the newsagents’ shop that stood at the entrance to a quite impressive shopping arcade. I passed through this arcade daily on my way to elementary school. Clegg’s the auctioneer had his large premises in the Arcade, and when he was calling out the bids on auction-day it was great fun to stand in the crowd and watch the action.

That morning I would be spending my Saturday penny on sweets or some small toy at the newsagents’, which was owned and run by two very charming sisters. They looked very old to me, and I always exchanged polite words with them when I was in their shop. On this occasion, when I left the shop I heard the most dreadful screams coming from the road at the end of Aire Street. I saw a small crowd gathering around a motor car, which evidently had knocked down a young girl who had run in front of it. I clearly remember a man lifting the inert girl into the back seat of the car, to take her to hospital. And I remember blood, lots of it.

I turned away, trying to shut out the sights and sounds of the scene. This was my first brush with the notion of man’s inevitable mortality, and the sorrow of accidents like that one. I never learned what happened to the girl. Of course, I hope that she survived. My memory of her has survived right into this new millennium. And that day I learned of the dire dangers that street traffic holds for us all.

My second street incident, when I got lost, probably happened when I was less than four years old—it is a very clear memory in my mind. One day Mother took me shopping in Boothferry Road, so together we walked down North Street, carefully crossed the streets around the Clock Tower, and strolled passed the Cinema and the various shops until we reached Woolworths. I imagine that everyone knows what Woolworths is. At one time there must have been a Woolworths store on the main street of every large town in England. They were one of the first to have counters from which you served yourselves, for example putting sweets into bags and then finding an attendant who would take your money. I used to marvel at this, thinking that people would take things and simply walk out of the store. I have to confess that, when I was older, my friends and I often did just that, with sweets and other small things. Woolworths was an exciting place to visit! We didn’t ever get caught—but sometimes I read of those who did, in the Goole Times. However, on the occasion I am describing, I could not even see over the counters, for I was too small. That is what brought about my disaster.

After entering the shop, I released my mother’s hand and wandered from counter to counter. In a short while, my mother was nowhere to be seen. I clearly recall that I didn’t panic or cry. My intrepid nature showed itself at once. I carefully walked around the whole store (under the counter-tops, remember!), and arrived back at the entrance, with its two large glass doors. Not having seen mother again, I pushed through the doors and stood in the street for a few minutes. Thinking that she must have gone home, I turned left, and headed home myself. I didn’t foresee any problem in retracing my route, crossing the streets around the Clock Tower, and walking triumphantly down North Street, to surprise my mother back at the Brewery house. True enough, I had no problem—until I walked into the house. No mother was there. Only sister Barbara, who had returned from school. I, or we, decided that we should now stay put in the house and await developments.

I still didn’t panic, and thought I had had a wonderful adventure. But poor mother was not so pleased. She was terrified at the thought that she had lost her darling three-year old son. Some half an hour later, she arrived home, and was overjoyed to find me there. She said that she had been to the Police Station, to report my loss, and no doubt they had taken down ‘all the particulars’ from my tearful mother. They then advised her to go home and wait—whether they took any further action I have no idea. No doubt mother and I walked back to the Police Station to report my miraculous recovery, and there were cheerful congratulations all round. Whether that evening I was spanked or praised for my actions and fortitude, again I have no idea now. But the memory of my lonely walk back home lingers on.

Now I should move right on to tell you about the years I spent in a primary (or elementary) school in Alexandra Street. However, I have some pre-birth information to relate, and this is my last chance, at the end of my story of babyhood, to do it. I wish to tell you something about my mother, and my brothers and sister. And that immediately brings me to a strange paradox—I was an only child! Let me explain this.

I have already told you that my mother was called Enid Heppenstall, and that at the age of eighteen or nineteen she suffered the disease of alopecia, losing all of her lovely red hair. She was born in 1898, to a father who was a tailor, having a shop and rooms next to the Station Hotel in Boothferry Road. He was called Frederick Heppenstall, and was one of five children who were raised in the Station Hotel. I have no photograph of him, but I have two interesting mementoes: a coat hanger and a clothes brush, both bearing details of him and his tailoring trade. His father Icon, my great grandfather, was the landlord of that hotel, and perhaps its part-owner. In 1901 Icon was to do a business deal with a large Brewery firm by the name of S. Allsopp and Sons, whereby he acquired not only the North Street brewery, but also several of the public houses in and around Goole which it served. At the entrance to our North Street brewery, he had painted on the large black double doors the sign:



The chosen son was Harry, my great uncle. I never knew great grandfather Icon, because he died during World War I; but I was to see plenty of Uncle Harry. He became an architect, and worked in Huddersfield. He lived in a fine house, with several servants and a wife whom I knew as Aunt Annis. We visited him many times, sometimes staying the weekend and exploring the old Victorian house; it had three stories and a basement, and many exciting rooms at attic level. He would occasionally come by train to Goole, and walk briskly down Boothferry Road from the station, to check on the brewery and its management. The brewery would present him with a small but steady income.

I found him a most cheerful man, who would entertain me by doing quick sketches of cowboys on the edges of his daily paper. He had a less entertaining habit of poking a finger in one’s ribs and squeaking like a spitting cat. He lived to the ripe age of 82, spending his last year or so in my bedroom (we moved into the brewery house when I was about twelve; I moved to a smaller bedroom when he came). My mother nursed him through this final period of his life.

Apart from losing her hair and prospects of a teaching and singing career, before she was twenty years old my mother had lost her own mother (when she was ten—I know not how) and her father (when she was nineteen—he got drenched whilst cycling to Hook, caught a cold which turned to pneumonia, and succumbed to it within a few weeks).

She was a very cheerful and attractive young woman, but these tragedies must have left their mark. And there were more to come. Her father remarried, to a woman I came to know as Granny Hepp. And they moved into the public house at Hook, which belonged to the Brewery. It was called the Sotheron Arms, and I have talked about it already. Granny had been a maid-servant at Rawcliffe Hall; now she became Landlady at the pub, a position which she held until her death in the 1950s. She bore Frederick three more children, named Thora, Fred and Ralph, step-sister and step-brothers to Enid, my mother. They were much younger than Enid, who would help Granny to bring them up—she would be like a young mother to them.

When mother married my father Harry, at first they lived in a small cottage across the road from, and owned by, the pub. Recall that he worked in a shipyard in Hook, a short walk down the road from the cottage. In that cottage, where they lived for several years until moving to the Brewery, three more dreadful tragedies befell my mother. I will be brief about them, for I know few details. The pain of them to her would, however, not be brief.

A dear school friend of hers, whom she had known throughout their years together at Goole Grammar School, committed suicide by walking into the brown, rushing waters of the River Ouse. Her name was Eleanor; possibly she was deeply depressed over an unrequited love-affair; but that is pure surmise.

Now I can begin to explain the paradox about my being an only son.

When mother was twenty-two, she had her first child, a boy. I have been told that due to medical malpractice, the poor lad was unable to keep food in his stomach, and that he died within six months of his birth.

Some two years later a second son was born, with great difficulty. I am told that this was again a case of medical malpractice. This time the boy was stillborn, but mother survived, after a most terrible experience. The doctors told her that she must not become pregnant again; sad news for me! I wonder whether she received any apologies from the erring doctors. I doubt it.

This explains part of the paradox. I am an only son because two brothers who arrived before me did not survive. And I knew nothing about them for very many years after my birth. It is only now, in fact, when writing my memoirs, that I can imagine the huge impact that these two sorrowful events must have had on my mother and father. Two babies gone; two horrific birth experiences, and advice not to attempt to have another child.

What about the rest of the paradox? In chapter one I introduced you to my sister Barbara, whom I have called ‘sister’ all my life, until she died in 1997. Yet I have no sister. In fact, Barbara was truly my cousin. She was born to Aunt Alice, on 10th April, 1927, with Alice out of wedlock. In those days that was a terribly shameful thing to allow to happen. The young man who was her father was unable to support Alice, and unwilling to marry her. So it was an excellent suggestion that Harry and Enid, doomed to be childless, should adopt the new child immediately. This they did, and they named her Barbara. My cousin became my sister.

But how am I to be explained? My birth is yet eighteen months away, and I am not supposed to happen. I do not know whether I am simply a mistake, or whether having Barbara as a child to care for made my mother and father long to supply a brother for her company. If it was the latter reason, then I can only report that I am most grateful for their plan, and that it was successfully achieved.

To sum up, my complete family on my arrival in this world in October 1928 comprised of my loving father and mother, Harry and Enid, together with my sister (really cousin) Barbara and newly arrived me.

The above few paragraphs might have been called my pre-memoirs, although that description smacks of impossibility. Now I wish to describe my early school years, which began just before I was five years old.

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