Growing Up On Walney Island - Alan Parkinson
My name is Alan Parkinson; I was born on the 22nd of April 1938 at 34 Hastings Street Walney Island. This makes me a true Walneyite of which I am quite proud. Unlike my sister Jean and my brother Frank they were born at Risedale Maternity home in Barrow. My father Fred was a much laid back Barrow Island lad. My mother Elsie Flockton came from a tough part of Leeds and while on holiday at Blackpool she met my father, they courted and were married in Leeds. I could not have wished for better parents who gave us all a loving and very happy childhood and indeed I am truly grateful.
The family house in Hastings Street had a front and back room with three bedrooms, also a back yard with an outside toilet and coal bunker. Similar to most families at that time, we had a tin bath. The bath was kept in the back yard and more often than not was brought into the house every Friday night, for our weekly bath. There was not much money about those days, but we were all happy and probably my happiest memories of family life, was in that little back room of 34 Hastings Street. It was here where we the family would gather around the table with the radio playing, being able to laugh, sing and talk freely, unlike the present days, where television stifles family life. A happy home life is so important when one is young, because it breeds manners and respect to elders and others less fortunate, which sadly is so much lacking this present day. The neighbours in Hastings Street were first class in every way and form, with Mr. and Mrs. Arrowsmith, Bell, Baines and Griffiths just to name a few, who still hold precious memories for me. It was also pleasing to know there was always somebody at home who really loved and cared for you, no matter what the problem was.
The Second World War started in 1939 and with being so young it is all a bit vague, but I remember being carried into the air raid shelters by Frank and Bill Baines who lived next door at number 32. There were soldiers and airmen everywhere, because of the military camps on the Island. Also there were local men on leave from the services including the merchant navy. As you can imagine men and women in uniforms were in abundance. Two lads out of Hastings Street lost their lives during the war; they were Fred Kelly whose ship was torpedoed off Greenland. The other lad was Jackie Williams who was in the Royal Artillery and lost his life in Burma. They were sad times for both their families and neighbours, as indeed it was for all families who lost their loved ones during the war
At Easter 1943 my long awaited time had come for starting school and believe me I was excited at the prospect to say the least. Having so often watched my brother and sister set off to school. I forever wanted to go with them, and now I had got my wish. As usual my mam arose early to light the fire and prepare breakfast. This always caused a big scramble to get downstairs when the fire was lit, each of us pushing and shoving to get the warmest positions. In no time at all we were all gleaming like new pins, having been dressed, washed and had breakfast. It felt so exciting listening to Frank and Jean chatting with bubbling enthusiasm about their school friends and teachers. I would always listen with awe at their tales and now in future I could tell them mine. My mam looked really nice that morning, as she grasped my hand with gentle firmness that only mothers can do. “Right our AL; let’s be getting you to school.” These words by my mam, I had waited to hear for so long. Ocean Road School was about half a mile from where we lived in Hastings Street. All four of us left the house holding hands, but it didn’t take long before my sister Jean broke away skipping in front of us, quickly followed by my brother Frank, who must have kicked every stone he could see on that half mile journey to Ocean Road school. Walking through the school gates for the first time, I was met by a crescendo of noise. Children of all shapes and sizes were running, laughing, shouting, all at the same time. I had never heard anything like this ever before, it was so exciting. Our Jean and Frank soon disappeared into the noisy throng, with mam shouting loudly after them, “Jean! Keep an eye on our AL.” I was still holding my mother’s hand as we watched then followed the last of the children into the school. There were six other children with their mothers and we were all shepherded down a long smelly passage, until we stopped outside a square glass paneled door. One boy I remember was crying and didn’t want to leave his mother, while the rest of us just looked sheepishly at each other. I heard a woman’s voice asking for quiet and in seconds the door opened. I felt my mam’s hand leave mine and at the same time feeling a gentle touch on my head, as the woman at the door introduced herself as Mrs. Roberts. She was a tall woman, wearing a flowery coloured smock; prominent on her face were a pair of dark horn-rimmed spectacles. I did not know her age, but she was certainly older than my mam. After a few words to our mothers, I along with my fellow new starts were ushered into the classroom and the door was shut. All eyes in the class were glued on the six of us as we were shown to our desks, My desk was at the front and hearing my name called on the register, just filled me with excitement, at long last I was at school. I could not have been in the classroom more than ten minutes, when I became aware of a distraction at the rear of the classroom. Mrs. Roberts glanced up pushing her chair back at the same time and with speed she quickly strode past me. On hearing a squeal, I turned round to see Mrs. Roberts holding by the scruff of the neck, a boy with fair curly hair. With anger written all over her face, she frog marched the spectacled wearing boy to the front of the class. Pulling her chair to no more than three feet to where I was sat, she put the boy, who I found out later was named Dawson, over her knees. Angrily with considerable force she pulled Dawson; s pants down exposing his bare backside. Shocked and bewildered, I watched as she proceeded to hit his bare behind with the flat of her hand, showing no mercy whatsoever. Poor Dawson; screamed louder and louder, as red hand marks appeared on his buttocks. I looked over towards the glass-paneled door, where minutes before I had so innocently entered, searching for my mam to take me back home but she wasn’t there Dawson’s screaming seemed to last ages, but it was probably over in minutes, I don’t know about anyone else, but I personally was terrified. Finally she stopped and pushed the weeping Dawson into a corner of the room, my hopes and dreams of school were completely shattered in minutes. The rest of the day I was completely petrified that it would happen to me and it makes me cringe now just thinking about it. Home time could not come quickly enough for me, all I wanted to do was to get out of the classroom and be home with my mam. I never mentioned this episode to either of my parents; why I don’t know! It was stupid of me really, because I have had it bottled up in my mind for many years. In fact now I find it all a bit moving; knowing it must have been quite traumatic experience for a five-year-old child to witness. Thankfully I had only one term in the infant or baby class has it had been known. I also can not recall taking part in any class activities during that term, because I felt frightened every time Mrs. Roberts came near me. The summer holidays came and that was the end of my time in her class. How people like her can call themselves teachers and to be in charge of the infant class, is beyond my comprehension. Discipline yes, but what happened to Dawson, on my eagerly awaited day at school, was shear unwarranted cruelty. Obviously somewhere along the line, there would be some former pupils who would have liked Mrs. Roberts, but as you have read, I am certainly not on that list and I am quite sure Dawson was not either! One can not visualize that kind of episode happening in this present day, and for the sake of the children of today, I sincerely hope it does not. Life is too short to have it shattered at the starting gate. A friend of mine named Peter Foster once said to me. “We are only here for a handshake in life, so make the best of it.” How right you were Peter?
The Barrow Education Authorities through their wisdom made all the children of school age under eleven, north of Delhi Street move to another school. Even though a child might have only lived a few streets away from Ocean Road School; they still came in the category list of movement of children. The school designated for us was on the other end of the Island, named Vickerstown. Every morning and dinnertime three double decked buses took us to school and back. This in my junior days at Vickerstown School lasted four years. I can only speak on behalf of my brother Frank and myself and say it was one complete disruption to our education. During my time at Vickerstown School, the War in Europe and the Far East came to an end. The celebrations that were held on VE Day and VJ day were out of this world. Large bonfires were built by the older lads and it was the first time I had seen fireworks. Each street had a party, the Hastings and Dover Street party was held in front of Joe Condrons Fish and Chip Shop (now Andy’s). Mountains of sandwiches, cakes and pop were soon devoured by the hungry mass. One has to understand we had never seen anything like this in our young lives. A truly memorable day was had by all.
With the war over more freedom of movement came when the barbwire and minefields were cleared. Once again, Sandy Gap, Biggar Bank and Earnse Bay became very popular again. My brother and I and older lads in the street spent most of the school holidays at the Sandy Gap beach having a whale of a time. When, eventually the military vacated their camps at Mill Lane and the airfield area. New adventure playgrounds including the sand hills were opened up for all to enjoy and enjoy it we did. They were certainly happy days.
My junior school days came to an end in 1949 to be quite honest I was quite pleased. With junior school behind me, and having failed my eleven plus examination, I joined my brother Frank at Walney Modern Secondary School. This was the senior annex of the school, which we had been taken from, through the wisdom of the Barrow Education Authorities in 1944. Obviously when starting new schools, first year boys have to endure a certain amount of bullying and initiations, but that is the name of the game. My fathers words of "don’t be first and don’t be last", echoed in my ears, and those words not only got me through that episode of life, but in later days also. My form teacher was a Miss Harrington; she had just arrived at the school from college and with her dark hair and good looks. I along with my fellow classmates had an instant crush on her. Not only was Miss Harrington the English teacher, she was also the girls Gym mistress. It was not unusual for a crowd of lads to be hanging round the corridors, hoping to catch a glimpse of her legs, all so innocently of course! Our hopes were all dashed, when she married another teacher in the school named Mr. Banks.
It was about this time my sister Jean bought me a black and tan puppy from the now demolished old Barrow market. I named him Kip and he became a most loved member of the family. My dad kept hens and of course when the dog first saw them, he chased them all over the garden. Although furious at the time, my dad taught Kip to round the hens up, but not only did he round up the hens, Kip would knock the hens up a ramp, with his nose, into the chicken coup. Quite often a small crowd would gather round the garden fence watching the skill of Kip and praising the dog with true sincerity. As my brother Frank and I grew up on Walney Island, which in our eyes now was a complete adventure playground, Kip was our constant companion. At the sight of water, which of course was plentiful, he would plunge in. On his own patch he was quite bossy, but he was never a vicious dog. All our pals loved him and even to this day when I meet old friends; Kip is spoken of with true affection. Rag and bone men are now figures of the past on one particular day my mother gave the rag and bone man, an old jacket Kip slept on. No sooner had the cart set off down the street, when Kip came bounding out of the back yard and leapt on the rag cart to retrieve the jacket and bring it back into the house. The house was in uproar, with everyone rolling over in laughter, while Kip lay contently on his beloved jacket, happy memorable days. Is your dog in Mrs. Parkinson came the weekly shout from the coal man. For some unknown reason or another, dogs do not like post men and coal men. Kip was no exception, because many a time the coal man was hurrying out of the yard with Kip holding on to the seat of his pants. The happiness Kip brought to our family life was paramount. When Kip died at the age of thirteen, I thought it was the end of the world and only animal lovers who have had dogs will know what I mean by that statement.
The most friendly and sincere people I have ever met in my life was when my dad made Frank and I go to Sunday school at the Gospel Hall in Amphitrite Street. The Sunday school teachers told us stories in the Bible, always in a most interesting way. They would give us a text too learn for the following Sunday and one got points if you learned and memorized the text. At Christmas time they would have a massive prize giving, where each regular individual had a choice of a book or a Bible and may I add the prizes were 1st class. I went to Sunday school for about 5 years and do you know they never asked anyone for money during all that time. Indeed they were truly fine people very much remembered by the many young people that went through the Gospel Hall doors.
I enjoyed the 3 years I spent in the Methodist Cubs although I did a bunk when I went on the week-end camp. The camp was only for the weekend, but after one rainy night living in a tent, on the outskirts of Ulverston, I got home sick no doubt missing the comforts of home and my parents. “What a wimp”! I made my mind up that camping was not the life for me and I was going to do a bunk. When no one was about, I packed up my clothes etc. in a kit bag and made a beeline for home. Running across the fields as fast as my legs could carry me; The cub masters had got wind of me leaving and had set off in hot pursuit closely followed by a large noisy cub pack, trying to head me off. Even though I carried a large kit bag, the noisy chasing pack could not catch me up. The determination to get home and the head start made me run that little bit faster. I made it to the bus stop at Tudor Square Ulverston completely out of breath, but my luck was in as a bus was just leaving for Barrow. Smugly I gave a wave and a smile as the bus passed the pursuing, puffing, red faces of cub masters and the cheering cub pack. On my arrival home, my parents gave me a good telling off, but later as usual in the Parkinson household, they saw the funny side of it all. As I grew older, my parents would often bring the episode up in family gatherings, to every ones amusement and my embarrassment.
I left the Walney Modern in 1953 when I was fifteen years of age to the hymn “The Day Thou Gave Us Lord Is Ended” and believe me I was glad it was all over. I did like some teachers at the senior school such as Mr.Parkes, Mr.Mudge, Mr.Fildes, Mr.Pratt and Miss Clarke and of course Mrs. Banks (Miss Harrington). My closest friends at school were Ronnie Hartley and Henry Lowrie. If you went apple raiding Henry was the best lad to be with, he was completely fearless. I got on well with all the lads in our class throughout senior school, such as Big Bert Bell ,Ian Livingstone, Bob Woods and Geoff Stubbs just to name a few. One lad who has inspired me for my entire adult was Brian Dudley, who was good footballer at school and very popular class mate Sadly he died of cancer when he was 19 years old He bravely thanked his parents for everything they had done for him during his lifetime just before he died. I am quite moved in typing this.
In Hastings Street, lived two Mayors of the town David Williams and Bill Christie. On the sporting side we had Brian Arrowsmith who played more professional games for BAFC than any one else. Also Ron Suart who played fullback for Blackpool Football Club and managed top clubs. His brother Ken played for Barrow Rugby. Not bad for a small street
I can not finish without mentioning bonfire season as mentioned in earlier essays by Frank Turner. The Hastings Street bonfire was always built on the corner of Margate Street where now an ex- council house stands. Older lads in the street passed their knowledge down the generations in how to get trees, raid other bonfire sites and even set on fire the rival bonfires. It was done to your bonfire and you did it to theirs. Those days before the building sites came, trees and wood was plentiful and not like the present day, the lads of the street built their own bonfires On one November 5th night we had a very high bonfire ready to be lit. A young policeman said don’t light this bonfire it is to near the houses. He left muttering I am going to get the fire brigade, now remember there were no mobiles those days. He got down to about Dartmouth Street, when we lit the bonfire to a tremendous cheer. We never saw the policeman again I think he must have gone into hiding in one of the dark back streets!
When cutting down any form of tree, whether its bamboo or not, the name Bernard Williams always comes to mind. Bernard was four years older than my brother and I, along with his rival Johnny Harrison; he was a popular gang leader. His older brother had been killed in Burma in 1944 and this caused a void in the Williams family life. There were plenty of trees where we lived and many a time we had war games. The only trouble was, that Bernard was always the British soldier and everyone tried to be on his side, because if not you were made to be the Japanese. With that being the case we always hid that little bit more diligently, because if Bernard caught you, one could and did expect a hard clout.
It was bonfire time 1949, when a Mrs. Kelly from the bottom of Hastings Street, asked me if I could cut a few branches off her trees, which grew by the side of her house in a brick built walled partition that had an entrance just next to her front door, the trees had been planted by her son Fred, who had sadly lost his life at sea during the War. So one can imagine these trees were very sentimental to her and to be fair at the time, I was a bit young to understand all this! My biggest mistake, was to tell Bernard Williams that the trees needed cutting, because he was one hell of a dare devil and frightened of nothing. I only mentioned it to him casually about the trees, but within a minute he came rushing down the back street carrying an axe. With tremendous vigour and determination, Bernard in no time at all, reduced the trees, to small ugly stumps. Early evening, on arriving home and finding her trees on the bonfire, a very upset Mrs. Kelly came knocking on our door at 34 Hastings Street, and shouting at me, “It was a dirty rotten trick.” I told my mam what had happened and she took me down to Mrs. Kelly’s house. I had to memorize my lines and say, “I am very sorry, but I misunderstood you.” If looks could kill, I would have been dead, but nevertheless she accepted my apology. I am quite sure until the day she died, I don’t think she really ever forgave me or forgot what happened to her beloved trees. The trees never grew again and at this present day, where they were situated at the side of number 2 Hastings Street, it is covered with concrete. My dad typically thought the whole episode hilarious and as for Bernard, I never involved him whatsoever. It was just as well, because I would have got an extra clout when caught having to play a Jap soldier again.
My best friend on leaving school was Val Cumberbatch; we had great and amusing times together well into our adult life. In fact I was his best man when he married Hilda Duffy, Val lived in Weymouth Street with his father and mother and his brother Barry. Val’s parents were truly nice people who always met you with a smile and they both had a great sense of humour which was passed onto Val.
In the fifties all our areas of play which were once open fields were now being turned into sprawling council estates. Such as Central Drive, Margate Street, Ramsgate Avenue, Mill Lane and West Shore Road and the South of Ocean Road were the same. Even the winter sledging in the cow field near Walney Centrals Rugby field, was ruined by the very large sewerage and draining pipe that was put in at the bottom of the hill.
After I left school in 1953 I got a job as a butcher boy at the Plymouth Street Co-op. I started work on the Monday and gave my notice in on the Tuesday. I then worked as an office boy in Vickers for over a year before starting my apprenticeship as a Fitter and Turner in Vickers.
I met and married a Walney girl named Valerie Winn at St Mary’s Church in 1963, but all that and going into the army is another story. Which I have wrote and can be down loaded to your Personal Computer, Kindle e- book, I Pad, and I Phone from my web site:
Looking back on my growing up on, I am really grateful for a loving family, good friends and also that wonderful happy playground of yesteryear, Walney Island. Best Wishes to you all, Alan Parkinson
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