The Boroughs During and After WW2
I was born in a two up/two down house in Crispin Street in the heart of the Boroughs. No hospital for my mother and her baby; for apart from the prohibitive cost, there were three other children and a husband to look after and my mother took those things seriously.
I went to Spring Lane School, as did most of the other children in the Boroughs. When I was older, I had no excuse for being late as the back wall of my garden was also the school boundary wall and I just climbed on to the top of the wall and dropped into the school yard which connected Scarletwell Street with the school playground.
The playground was , I believe, covered in tarmac; I know that it was very hard when falling on to it when playing football, (really kick and rush) or just running around. The Headmaster was Mr. Walker and I remember various teachers; Mrs. Morgan, Mrs. Ward, Miss Ward, Mr. Judge in particular. We were given milk in the mornings in 1/3rd pint bottles and we drank the milk through real, natural straws. In the winter the crate of milk would be placed near to the coke fired stove to warm up.
'The winter of 1947 is implanted in my memory because of the harshness of the weather, not least when we actually had to dig our way out of the front door through the snow. On Saturday's I had to push a barrow to the Gas Works to collect coal and coke from a railway wagon for our one and only usable fire. Although we did have a fireplace in both downstairs rooms, the back room fire was only used at Christmas as a special Christmas treat and not used at other times, I suspect, because of the cost.
Although Crispin Street was originally built as rows of terraced houses, I can only remember two inhabited houses at our end of the street, ours and Mrs. Bending next door. All the others had, by then, been demolished apart from one house attached to Mrs. Bending's which was derelict. During the second world war, the Home Guard used this house for practice and I can remember them jumping in and out of the window and door apertures. This house was demolished soon after the war making our family the occupants of probably the only semi-detached house in the Boroughs.
At the junction of Crispin Street and Spring Lane was a derelict pub faced with green glazed tiles on the outside. As youngsters we used the pub as a playground, risking life and limb within this unstable building. I cannot remember anybody ever hurting themselves inside the 'Old Pub', although there were no floors, just the timber floor joists, liberally sprinkled with protruding nails. My childhood friends lived in Lower Harding Street, Cooper Street, Compton Street, Francis Street, Herbert Street, Althorp Street, Scarletwell Street, Bath Street and adjoining squares and gardens. There seemed to be plenty of shops around, Mrs. Timm's and Sutton's in Lower Harding Street, Mrs. Smith's in Spring Lane on the corner of Compton Street, Mrs. Briody's in Grafton Street, Wesley's paper shop in Grafton Street and Perrins sweet shop, Trasler's paper shop, Pontin's butchers and the Co-op all on the Marehold. There were other shops scattered around but the names escape me. 'Son' Sutton used to sort out coal for customers behind the shop and when finished enter the shop, wipe his hands on the brown smock that he always wore and then proceed to serve customers with foodstuffs. When he served cheese, he left his black fingerprints on the cheese and the next unlucky customer received a bit extra to eat.
Our sworn enemies came from 'The Green' down near Castle Station. Often we would have a 'battle' with them where stones and half bricks were the usual projectiles. We very rarely met them face to face to wage war.
My pastimes included collecting locomotive engine numbers and every morning before school all of us boys would run down to Spencer Bridge and go down the steps at the side of the bridge to stand near to the track to see the 'half past eighter' from Castle Station. This was repeated at lunchtime to see 'the mid - day Scot'. At weekends and during school holidays in the summer months we would walk to Castle Station to catch the train to Blisworth, calling at Mr. Ault's shop at the top of Bristol Street for a bottle of watery 'pop'. Our first stop at Blisworth being the clay pits, sliding down the steep slopes towards the pond at the bottom and then the serious business of train numbering would begin. The days always seemed to be long and hot but obviously this just childhood fantasy.
After school in the evenings, we would play in the streets, usually at the bottom of Herbert Street or on the waste ground opposite my own house. One of the most popular games was 'cannon', where three short firewood sticks were leant against a wall and another stick would be placed across the top, similar to cricket stumps. Players would be split into two teams, usually by selection from two 'captains'.The object was for a member of one team (we will call it the home team) to throw a tennis ball at the 'stumps' and when they were hit, the members of the other team would scatter, whilst the home team would throw the ball to each other, until finally one player threw it as hard as possible at a member of the other team (who by now were running all around the street). Once they were struck by the ball, the runners were 'out' and this would continue until all the team was 'out'. The teams then would swap roles, the 'stumps' set up again and the hunters would become the hunted. Another popular game was 'knock down ginger' where we would knock on a house door and run away. None of the houses had front gardens so we were never ever caught. We also used the ploy of tying two door knobs together to frustrate the occupants of the houses. Proper cricket was played using a lamppost as stumps with a bat made from a plank of wood. Football wasplayed in the streets as a matter of course and any cars that appeared were treated as trespassers.
At school, we played 'skimmimg' with cigarette cards or cardboard milk bottle tops. Two variations were played - skimming the furthest and skimmimg 'on'. Skimmimg the furthest is self explanatory, but as these games were played against a wall, rebounds had to be avoided. Skimmimg on required more skill, the object being to cover an opponent's card with one of your own, whereupon you captured that card.
Conkers was another game, played in the autumn after the conker harvest. Mother's meat skewer was used to make a hole through the conker and a length of leather cord pushed through and tied into knot, many a palm was pierced by the meat skewer but due to our lifestyle, tetanus was unheard of. If leather wasn't available then thick string had to suffice. Apparently, the game hasn't changed much, since contestants still get bruised knuckles and tangled strings.
We didn't suffer from many illnesses,but ringworm, mumps, measles and rubella were fairly common and accepted as part of life. The more serious illnesses such as pneumonia,measles and diphtheria were, however,dreaded by all parents and thankfully were quite rare, although we did have sufferers from theses diseases among the community. Normal coughs, colds, upset stomachs etc. were treated with 'physic', goose grease, Syrup of Figs, castor oil, liquid paraffin and the like. Preventative medicine was usually cod liver oil and malt and a 'tonic' was usually administered after an illness. It must be said that these medicines were probably placebos, simply because they all tasted so terrible that nobody dared get ill for fear of experiencing more 'cures'.
As youths, we naturally grouped together just as we did when young, but obviously had different pursuits. We joined various organisations from time to time, including Grafton Street Y.M.C.A,which was run by Mr. Long and I personally also joined the 1st B.B. in Doddridge Street.I was also a member of Scarletwell Street Boys' Club, which was run by Mr. Wilson, the School Dentist. I was given an ultimatum by the B.B. to belong to only one organisation, so being a truly rebellious Northamptonian, I chose Scarletwell.This club was held in a couple of derelict houses adjacent to Scarletwell Mission Hall.There was a half size snooker table, table tennis and darts, which were novelties for us boys, simply because as far as material things were concerned we possessed very little.
A lasting memory of Jim Wilson was the cricket matches that he arranged with Tiffield School(Approved by the Home Office) and the refreshments which were provided; mouldy cheese in doorsteps with pop to quench our thirst. He also encouraged boxing and arranged matches with other clubs. I was a member of the boxing team but was never a contender for the boxing world championship at any weight.
As we got older, we joined the Roadmender Club, which was run by Mr. Faulkner and this was mixed, quite a revelation for us boys. Whilst there, I joined the photographic section for a while, but the sweet strains of the latest music enticed me, along with my mates, into the dance hall. We also went to Tintern Avenue Community Centre, to practice our jiving with some very good female exponents, who were also members of the Roadmender. From this start we upgraded to 'The Ballroom' which was below the Exchange Cinema on the Market Square and was run by Ron and Jean Keeler.(Not to be confused with the Gayeway which was a spinoff from the Ballroom.) After a time, all our 'Borough Boys' were dispersed by order of H.M. Government to serve in various branches of the Armed Forces as National Servicemen. This happened over a period of a couple of years for most of them, but because of my apprenticeship I had to wait until later.When I returned the legalised vandalism of Northampton by the Council had begun.
And The Boroughs was razed to the ground.
Bill Hook March 2012
I first started work in Dec. 1959, as a post and filing clerk at Brown Brothers on the Bedford Road in Northampton, a large engineering company who at that time had a few hundred employees.
I was completely overwhelmed by the size of the place for the first 2 or 3 weeks, especially the noise and smells of the factory as I had to collect and deliver post and memos to the far reaches of the site.
The offices were very old fashioned, the lighting was still very large light bulbs and the lift between the four floors was a cage with folding metal doors which were always getting stuck between floors and you would walk down the corridor and see either legs or a face and you would then have to press a button to let them out.
After a few weeks I became part of the stock control team and part of my job was to find out the reason for discrepancies between records and the actual stock. Having an enquiring mind I enjoyed this. I obviously hoped that there were not too many written errors as they could have been mine. What made it a great place to work were the people the majority of who were friendly and cheerful. Many of them were real characters including one of my managers who would stop what he was doing and whistle or sing a quick burst of opera and then carry on as normal. He also cat- napped at lunchtimes and a couple of times we had to go to Cow Meadow to wake him up when he did not return to work.
Then there was a Cyril who chain smoked and to get the most from each cigarette would put a in about1/8th of an inch from the end and would then hold the pin until the cigarette had burnt right down, then light the next one with the remains but he didn’t always put them right out and we had a few wicker waste baskets go up in flames. I thoroughly enjoyed my job and infact went to work for the company in many capacities for nearly twenty years. I still have friends who I made in my first few months at Browns and have many happy memories of the people and the building which unfortunately was demolished twenty-five years ago.
Linda Kemp, September 2007
_Northampton had around 13 cinemas at the zenith of 'the pictures' during the 30s and 40s; but let move on to the 60s
As a child my grandmother often took me to the cinema during the school holidays. Sometimes we went to the ABC, which she called The Savoy (it is now the Jesus Centre), but usually we ventured to the afternoon matinees at what she called The Corn Exchange and I knew, because it said so in huge letters on the porch, as The Odeon. This was during the 1960s, the era of the mini-skirt.
Although sadly I did not witness this myself, any talk of cinemas then would prompt Nan to mention a local chap who owned a poodle. The pair must have been inseparable, or the owner very lazy, because he took the poodle along to the cinema, settled-in and once the lights were down, he'd let the poodle off the lead to roam at will.
Nan, a great dog-lover, thought this was irresponsible, and for once her sympathies were not with the canine. "Well", she'd say, "think of these girls in their short skirts, and suddenly a cold wet nose comes sniffing around in the dark..."
© Kate Wills, January 2012