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Back button | Home | Saltaire History | Saltaire memories of Jack Robinson
Added to website: 23 May 2018
Jack Robinson recalls his childhood in and around Saltaire

Many thanks to Jack Robinson for sharing these memories, evocative of childhood in the 1940s.

I was born in Shipley in the West Riding of Yorkshire on December 7th 1937, I presume it was at home as it was the norm in those days, in  Regent  Street number 24 (no longer there). My first memories don’t start till I was about 3 years old and they are rather  disjointed but never the less are very clear in my 80 year old mind.

Image courtesy Jack Robinson

I was the youngest son of the family of Royd (dec.) and Elizabeth (Lizzie) Robinson (dec.) and sibling of  Fred (dec.), Ernest (dec.) and Elsie (dec.). Probably the earliest memory occurs at Christmas time and waking on Christmas morning and plundering a woollen sock to find what  Santa had left, singing songs around the piano, which my dad played by ear as he couldn’t read music, the smell of food cooking and snow outside, and shivering in the outside loo.

I remember that the street was a cul de sac off Saltaire Road and a few of the neighbours names with gaps in between, starting at the bottom of the street on the odd numbered side were Raynors , Craigs ,Thompsons , Hodgens and Brooks. On the even side were the Steads (who owned the chippie), Booths, Robinsons, Drakes and Blackburns. Obviously there are quite a few more but this is what I remember.

When I was a little older the area I knew expanded to the surrounding streets and places - Thompson Street, Wycliffe Road, Saltaire Road and what we called the top road. The places we played at were the delf, a piece of land on one side of Wycliffe Road, Saltaire Road schoolyard and a place below the school where there were air raid shelters and a bit of grass where we played cricket and rugby. I never knew there was a game called football until we moved to Morecambe a few years later!

I attended Baker street infants from 3 to 7 years old,and  remember times at the school - warm milk in bottles (always made me sick), teaspoonfuls of orange concentrate and castor oil, sleeps on a little bed in the afternoon, garden beds in the schoolyard growing veg etc. and Xmas parties taking your mug with your name written on a sticking plaster. Bonfire night was always a big event then, going "progging" with the older boys getting as much fuel for the bonfire as we could and many times in opposition to other streets doing the same. During school holidays we played cricket at Saltaire schoolyard and watching the cricket down at the park. I seem to remember a West Indian playing for them named Leary Constantine but I could be wrong, and in winter rugby down by the shelters below the schoolyard.

We played according to seasons. Winter was for sledging on the land on Wycliffe Road which was a steep hill. It felt to me that snow was around for a very long time and that I went out in the morning and didn’t come home till dark which is probably not what really happened but you know what a childhood memory is like - everything is bigger and longer to your eyes when you are that young.

As I grew older I realised that clothes, food and the essentials of life didn't just appear and that my Dad worked to provide for us. My mum was a housewife first and foremost which was the norm in those days. With the onset of the war able bodied men were called up and the women filled positions vacated by the men, becoming working mothers - a position that was quite alien to those times. My dad was called up but failed the medical as he was a chronic asthmatic, so he remained at home and worked in a woollen mill in Bradford which affected his asthma more and caused a complete lifestyle change after the war, which I will touch on later.

The war itself was not high up in my priorities as it seemed so far away, except for the times when my mother, who came from Sunderland, took us on visits to see relatives where the effects of the war were more obvious. There were barrage balloons in the sky to deter low flying bombers, air-raid shelters being built, rationing and more people growing their own veggies wherever they could.

Life as I knew it continued as before with the seasons determining what particular games and sports we played. Sometimes in summer the older brothers in the street took the whole lot of us on adventures such as out onto the moors for long walks to have a picnic (a piece of bread and jam and a bottle of water) or down to the river Aire. We tied string and a piece of rag covering the top of a jam jar with a hole in the rag and a bit of bread in the jar, this was then thrown into the river and after a short wait it was gently retrieved and was usually full of sticklebacks (small fish) which we kept in a large waterfilled hole that we had dug on the bank. When it was time to go we dug a channel to the river from the hole and released the captive fish back to the mainstream. Other times we went to the canal locks and used the overflow channel as a slide into the canal. Seeing that most of us could not swim, it was either a brave or foolish thing to do! Springtime was down to bluebell wood (I think this was Nab Wood) which at that time of the year was just a solid blue carpet of bluebells. We gathered armfuls and took them home to the street where every windowsill was soon full of all sorts of receptacles holding our harvest of that afternoon. I can still smell the scent that came off those sills.

Saturdays  were the biggest treat of the week because in the afternoon we all went to the pictures, either the Glen Royal, Princes Hall, Pavilion (usually known as the bug hut) and one near the trolley bus garages - I can’t remember the name. When there were sloppy movies on you couldn’t hear the dialogue for the booing and feet stamping till they finished. We saw movies like the Bowery boys and the likes of Roy Rogers, Johnny Mack Brown , Tex Ritter and Gene Autry the singing cowboy. These films and ones like them determined what games were played that week, for example cowboys and Indians, Robin Hood with bows and arrows and gangsters if the films were stories of the American  gangsters. On the way home if we were lucky to have any money we called at Pieocky Joe’s for pie and mushy peas but mostly we were only able to afford a pennorth of peas with vinegar.

Saturday mornings winter and summer we had to go down to the gasworks to collect bags of coke which were needed as a backup to the coal ration. We also collected coke for families that had no one to send down for it. No one I knew of at that time had a gas oven. The coal fire was needed to heat the house and the oven attached where the mothers of that era had great skills to bake and cook on that appliance as the only control was the damper which was pushed in or out to control the heat required for the items in the oven. The oven had other uses, sometimes to warm our socks before going  out in the cold winter mornings and one particular use was when my dad (who usually brought something home on a payday for each of us or something that we all could share) brought a tray of  day old chicks for us to rear and put on a piece of land we had rented as a veggie garden. The first priority was a place to keep them warm and after much thought we decided to keep them in the oven  which was just about the right temperature for them, so off we went to bed leaving the chicks safe and warm. Next morning my mother was up first and she followed her usual routine of regenerating the fire and getting the oven up to temp. Later we all came down and the first thing we wished to see was our chicks and it was then my mother realised what she had done - she had forgotten all about the chicks and by this time it was too late as they all had perished. Needless to say we were inconsolable, no more so than my poor mother. It took quite a while for her to get over that episode.

As you may guess I was quite young when we lived in Shipley. We left to go to Morecambe in 1945 due to my dad’s health, but I count those years in Shipley as some of the best of my life. Life was or seemed less complicated then and we made our own entertainmen. There always seemed lots of kids around and although we spent lots of our time local to Saltaire we went further afield to Manningham Park to the Lido and at Christmas, a trip to the panto at the Alhambra in Bradford where I had my first taste of coffee bought in the interval. I didn’t like it! Although as I said we spent most of our time around Saltaire there was plenty on our doorstep, the town centre, picture houses, the river, canal, parks (Princes Park and Saltaire Park), Shipley Glen (up on the train if we were flush) and of course our street where we played and used our imaginations to make it the prairie or Sherwood forest!

Unfortunately I have no photos of that era as very few were taken then and any that were, my older siblings may have got them and they are no longer here. I do remember one of the street party taken for VE day but have no knowledge of any more.

Jack Robinson, May 2018.

 

Many thanks, Jack. Wonderful piece.

Anyone wishing to contact Jack Robinson please email editor@saltairevillage.info

 

 

 
   

 
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