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A Shout From The Attic: Aunt Nora

...When I visited her home, we would have a drink and some conversation on life’s mediocrities. She was pleasant and even-tempered. Her children were fortunate to have such a mother....

Ronnie Bray tells of a favourite aunt. To read more of Ronnie's life story please click on A Shout From The Attic in the menu on this page.


Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar
William Shakespeare

My mother’s elder sister, Nora, comes into my memory only after she married, although she must have been living at 121 at the same time we were. She married Will Stead, originally from Bradford, who worked as a wagon driver for Queen Carriage, a haulage company that British Transport took over under the post-war Labour government's programme of nationalisation. When they met he was working on the Huddersfield Corporation dust carts, and because she was managing the Hygeia dry-cleaning shop at the bottom of Trinity Street, he left the dust bins to become a wagon driver, an occupation more socially acceptable. Such things mattered then.

They moved into the house at Riley Street, which Tommy Scott vacated when he married my mother. The house was an odd shape as it occupied a corner position and the front wall went round the corner. It had an outside toilet that was next to the steps that led down into the shared back yard from Newsome Road next to the butcher’s shop. The dripping from this shop was made on the premises and delightful. I think the house had two bedrooms although I never went upstairs.

René and I enjoyed visiting them because the atmosphere was less oppressive and people were generally happier. Sometimes they would visit us and that was the only time that other children came into our home.

I have truly coveted but a few things. One of them was Nanny’s Pianola. When Nan died the Pianola went to Auntie Nora who part-exchanged it for a display cabinet. “Thou shalt not covet - it’s a waste of time.”

The Stead’s house once caught on fire. A spark from the coal fire got through the fireguard and set fire to the hearthrug. A neighbour’s lad called Barrow, ran into the house, and rescued the children. Uncle Will’s mother lived at Bradford. We visited her once. She was a very big lady, not surprising since Uncle Will was a biggish chap. I remember noticing how massive her upper arms were, as she wrung out the blankets she had been washing. No electric washing machines with powered rollers graced her kitchen, and she had no mangle. It was a pleasant but otherwise unmemorable afternoon’s visit. I do not recall going again. Distant relatives were just that – distant.

The last I remember of Auntie Nora was that she was working at Birk's shoe repair shop in St Peters Street, then dying of cancer at a relatively young age. She had four children, Brian, who went into the Royal Navy, served many years as a joiner, and after leaving the navy worked for some years at Mitre Sports in Huddersfield. He never married, and although he lives at Alandale Road, Bradley, I have seen him twice in about forty-five or so years.

Shirley married Martin Blackburn and had two children, David, and Susan. David drank cleaning liquid as a child and suffered serious corrosive injuries to his gullet and stomach. Susan has a little girl, but continues to live at home. Shirley bought a café at Moldgreen, Huddersfield, the ‘Sit A While’ Café. Martin is a cabinetmaker at Ellis’s factory on Wakefield Road, at Green Cross, Huddersfield. The marriage has not been happy.

The next of Auntie Nora’s children is Audrey. She married an accident-prone wagon driver, Brian Hurran, and lives somewhere in Leicestershire. She became a Latter-day Saint, but is not active in her faith.

The youngest child is Keith. He did well at school, got a good job, and I have heard nothing of him since. Uncle Will died some years before Nora, suffering a heart attack.

The Steads, without Uncle Will, visited us fairly frequently at 121. I enjoyed their visits because they were happy children and we got along well. Now I am sad that we lost touch, although I do see Shirley from time to time. Many years ago, I travelled to Leicestershire to baptise Audrey.

Aunt Nora was a good-natured woman, who coped with the demands of family and life in an uncomplaining way. It was a pleasure to visit her, which I did more often when she lived at Harpe Inge, Dalton, and we lived in the next street, Brock Bank. After she had swapped Nanny’s Pianola for a china cabinet, an important status symbol at the time, now an irrelevance, I felt no less love and respect for her. That disappointment was the only one she introduced into my life. In all other ways, she was a breath of spring, for she always treated me well, and I felt comfortable in her company.

When I visited her home, we would have a drink and some conversation on life’s mediocrities. She was pleasant and even-tempered. Her children were fortunate to have such a mother.

Now they are gone,
the old familiar faces.


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