Archive for October, 2017

Terraced houses et al

October 1, 2017

Note: The next East Leeds Old Codger’s Reunion will be held at the Edmund House Club, Pontefract Lane, Leeds 9. on Tuesday 7th of Nov. commencing round noon. All Welcome.

Terraced Houses the Winter of Discontent and Sliding Sash Windows.

By Eddie Blackwell

I may not be able to remember what I had for tea, but I can remember back a long way to my early childhood in Devon Street. We lived in through terraced houses with no front gardens, the front door opened onto the pavement, we had a small back yard with an outside toilet. When it was winter you didn’t linger longer than you had to especially in 1947. That was a really cold year, the snow had drifted obliterating the back door. We had to walk from the front door to the end of the street, around past Mrs Olbisons down Back Devon Street and dig our way through to the back door. Then dig out a path to the toilet, Mum lit a candle and said put that in the toilet it may help thaw it out, and put plenty of salt down. It was all too little too late I’m afraid Jack Frost was in control. When you’ve finished there go and dig out Mr Tempests, she’s was an old Lady who lived on her own a couple of doors away. It was amazing in those days how people would help each other out and muck in together willingly, suppose living in close proximity developed a better community spirit. The war had just ended and we were all in the same euphoric frame of mind, stick it out and we’ll win.
The cold weather went on and on through February and into March which was worse than February. Snow fell somewhere in the UK every day for 55 days, it was cold enough to freeze the Ears off Brass Monkeys.
We still had Ice in our school playground that Easter. Although as I recall the Council did it’s best to keep things going, and had men with grit, picks and shovels going round clearing the paths so that people could walk, a practice not followed today. Now it’s a man in a lorry with a grit spinner distributing the grit at high speed, spraying everything in its way, a bit like the machines that were used in the Steel Industry to fettle the furnace hearth with before the furnace was charged.
We had great times that year down on East End Park, sledging and playing in the snow, pity the kids of today never seem to experience hard winters or those the happy times we had. Suppose they would have to wear a Safety helmet, knee protectors, elbow protectors and safety glasses today, where’s the fun in that.
During the war Mum had to work full time Monday to Friday, as did most women during that period. Without their efforts behind the scenes I wouldn’t be telling this tale. Weekend was when she did her house cleaning, my sister and I helped as much as we could, for example one of my jobs was to scrub the scullery floor, Halifax Stone slabs set in mortar were laid to form the floor. Concrete was not used for that purpose when those houses were being built. The specifications then, were wooden joists and floorboards or stone slabs set in mortar, they were large slabs about the same size as those used to make the pavements in the street. We were not well off so no oilcloth down, therefore it had to be scrubbed daily to ensure it was clean.
One of Mums main tasks on Saturday mornings was to clean the windows there were three large sliding sash windows to the front elevation of the house, and two to the rear. These were single glazed windows in wooden frames that slid up and down in a hollow wooden outer frame which housed pulleys and weights suspended on cords to act as counterbalance weights, enabling the window to maintain its position in the frame when lifted or lowered.
The procedure was to lift the lower window from the inside then sit through it onto the outer sill clean the outer windows, come inside close the windows and clean the inside, job done. On this particular Saturday morning Mum went to do the front downstairs window she got the chair to stand on took down the net curtains, went to unlatch the window and bang the upper window slid straight down trapping the fingers of both of Mums hands between the frames, the cords that hold the weights had rotted with age and when Mum released the catch gravity took control of the window and it slid down. I tried as hard as I could to help her but I was just not tall enough or strong enough to move the window frame, I tried to use the poker then the brush handle as a lever to lift the frame but it wouldn’t budge. There was a lady coming down the street and I asked if she could help, she answered I’m sorry love but this is my husband’s dinner in this basin, he’s working all day today and waiting for it, so I can’t stop now I’m sorry. By this time Mums not looking very well. Aunty Margaret was out shopping, all I could think of to do, was run up to my friend Neville Todd’s house and asked if his older brothers could help, Neville was smaller than me and his brothers were working. He said Mr Smith (can’t remember his real name but I’m sure he won’t mind me calling him Mr Smith) has some ladders he’ll help us and he did.
We all pushed together and the frame lifted and Mum’s hands were free, she got down off the chair and fainted, by this time Aunty Margaret had returned from her shopping and took control of the situation Mums fingertips were very sore but there were no bones broken. Mr Smith said he was going to get some tools and materials and come back and fix the window, Mum was sat on a chair now with a cup of tea and looked a lot better. True to his word Mr Smith came back and fixed the window. If you wish I’ll call round tomorrow and do the other windows for you, because their all in a similar condition. Mum said, yes please if you would, it’s very kind of you to be so helpful, and I don’t wish to have another experience like that every again. He called the next day and fixed the other windows, Mum asked how much it was and he said, just pay for the materials and that will be fine, don’t know how the Lady taking her husband’s dinner got on but we never saw her again.
It was very frightening when something like that happens, and you have no communications other than going to find help, most able bodied people were either working or away in the Forces. Mr Smith was a Miner and we were fortunate he was working late shift, without his help and his ladders it would have been difficult, Aunty Margaret would not have been able to reach, you needed to get above the level of the window frame to get the leverage to lift it.
The lower window to the rear of the house was adjacent to the winders on the stairs that lead from the scullery to the bedrooms, and I must say with hindsight that it would not have passed the planning stage today, imagine a 4 foot wide window facing onto the stairs, however things were very different back in those days. My sister and I were acting about one day on the landing at the bottom of the attic stairs, I wouldn’t say that we were arguing being five years older than me we didn’t argue, more like here telling me what to do, and I tripped falling down the stairs and straight through the back window, I was shocked but escaped without a scratch, not a mark on me and there was thick glass strewn all over the place. I think because I’d instinctively curled up in a ball I’d avoided injury but it was a lucky escape. I thought I was for it when Mum got home, but she was so relieved that I had escaped unscathed, she said she wasn’t bothered about the window and we boarded it up until it could be re-glazed.
There was a knock on the front door and it was my friend from up the street, Peter Hanlan, he said Mrs Blackwell my Mum has sent me to see if we can borrow a couple of buckets of coal till next week, that’s how things were in those days people helped each other out.
I remember Peter and I getting into a scrape one time, we’d seen these lads from Ascot Street with a bogie, they were riding it down Berking Avenue, turning quickly before they reached the bottom of the Avenue to avoid running into York Road.
We could make one of those I said to Peter, but we haven’t any wheels or axils. Peter said we’ve got an old pram at our house we could use the wheels and axils off that.
Well we set to, Peter took the wheels and axils off the pram, and I unscrewed one of the leaves off the scullery table, it was one of those tables that folded for storage, I had nails and wood and I fixed the axils by knocking nails over on alternative side I found a bolt for the steering axil and burnt a hole through the table leaf and the axil rail with the poker which I’d heated red hot on the gas ring, Peter found some clothes cord for the painter and we were all set big smiles on our faces riding up and down the street, then Mrs Hanlan popped her head out of the front door and shouted PETER. We were in trouble, we hadn’t realised that his Aunty who was staying with them was pregnant, things like that never entered our heads, and the pram wheels and axils were from the second hand pram she’d bought for after the baby was born, then the table leaf I’d used from the kitchen table which I’d never seen used, well we were in real trouble.
I reverse engineered things and Peter re-bolted the axils and wheels back on the pram, I straightened the nails and recovered the wood for reuse, and fixed the leaf back on the table, but I couldn’t get rid of the hole.
Peters Dad was home on leave at the time, he’d been for a pint in the Shephard Pub in Pontefract Lane. He’d just got back and found out what had happened, he got me and Peter together and said, it was a good try lads, and you used some thought to get it made, but you must ask in future before you do things like that. We were off the hook until my Mum got home, then the balloon went up. Mr Hanlan tried to mediate on our behalf he said we could smooth out the hole and make it circular then cut a dowel and glue it in, but Mum was having none of it she said, I’ll still know it’s there. I was grounded for a week.
Gone are those innocent days when you could do and make anything without needing a piece of paper, and you didn’t need anyone to tell you how to do it you just knew what to do and worked it out yourselves. Money never entered into things because you never had any, and you still believed in Santa at Christmas time, and you thought that the Stalk brought babies in a Nappy. Things move on and the innocence of childhood disappears, but it was great whist it lasted.

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