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U3A Writing: Love's Young Dream

HE was used to seeing many attractive young ladies but there was just something special about this one which attracted him. However, being there as part of the group providing the music, he didn’t get much chance to chat with her. Nevertheless, week after week SHE turned up and sat in her usual place and they exchanged furtive glances and smiles. The short time in the interval gave them the opportunity to talk and get to know each other better, and eventually a ‘courtship’ ensued.

Shirley Lingwood tells of the meeting and marriage of her parents - and of the house in which she spent her childhood.

Around eighty years ago in the mid-to-late 1920’s, Cupid’s dart flew across the ballroom from the slim, handsome pianist on the stage to the pretty auburn-haired girl sitting at the edge of the dance floor. His love of music and ability to play the piano had led to the formation of a quartet of musicians, who were invited on a regular basis to play for dancing in the local area – bookings for parties and special celebrations, but mainly for the more routine Saturday night dances at the local church hall.

HE was used to seeing many attractive young ladies but there was just something special about this one which attracted him. However, being there as part of the group providing the music, he didn’t get much chance to chat with her. Nevertheless, week after week SHE turned up and sat in her usual place and they exchanged furtive glances and smiles. The short time in the interval gave them the opportunity to talk and get to know each other better, and eventually a ‘courtship’ ensued. HE lived with his family quite near to the church, and not being a drinking man, his social life seemed to revolve around church events; SHE joined the church and was happy to be with HIM, whatever the occasion – even to sit out – like a wallflower at the dances where HE was on stage, at least they were together, well almost.

THEIR wedding day was to be 7th June 1930 – Whit Saturday – at their church, and they went through just the same problems as the young folk of today, who want to set up home for the first time; to rent OR to buy being the question. They believed that to buy was the better thing to do and tried very hard to save for a deposit. HE was a sheet metal worker, having served an apprenticeship and on being promoted to the position of foreman, with an increase in wages to £3 a week, felt able to consider buying that lovely house they had seen locally; and don’t forget the extra spare-time earnings from playing in the band. SHE on the other hand was a warper in a local woollen textile mill, but also had a spare-time job of hairdressing, so could add a bit more to the coffers for the house they both so wanted.

SHE was always well dressed as her Aunt was an extremely capable seamstress and made the most beautiful clothes for others. She loved to make dresses for her niece to model, in order to bring in more business from seeing her creations being worn. The favourite Sunday-afternoon occupation was for crowds of young women and

men of the day to stroll up the central avenue of Greenhead Park, effectively displaying the latest fashions and eyeing up the opposite sex. HER Aunt would never make an exact copy of any of her models, but something similar, with some slight variation usually was accepted.

SHE had no formal training in hairdressing, but her cousin was a qualified barber with his own shop and in her free time she would offer to help in exchange for some instruction. Quite a profitable little side-line built up at lunchtimes in the mill, when the wooden stool was set up at the end of the loom, out would come her scissors and shears, and it was ‘short back and sides’ for all queuing up there at threepence a time.

Most of their friends were moving into very small one-up, one-down type houses, but THEIR sights were on a 3-bedroomed, stone-built terrace, with living room, sitting room and scullery, along with large cellars and an attic, plus, could you believe it? an indoor bathroom. What were they doing to even consider a house like that? Certainly for just the two of them – rather on the large side, but who could guess how many additions there might be to the family in the future, and then they wouldn’t have the bother of moving to somewhere bigger.

It has to be said that the house - No. 29 - needed lots of work to smarten it up, but to HIM – an all-round handyman – it would keep him occupied for the foreseeable future. The three separate cellars served as wash kitchen, coal store and workshop respectively. HE spent so much time in that workshop, and what wonderful things came out of there, skilfully made by HIM and much appreciated by HER. In the ensuing 30 years there was never a time when they ‘had to get a man in’ to tackle any maintenance or repair required, nor did HE ever have to sit in a queue at the barber’s shop – HE had his own private barber at home.

Opposite the row of houses was a row of shops; an insurance office, a greengrocer, a sweets and tobacconist, next was the fish and chips shop with Harriet (who today would be classed as grossly obese), behind the counter, serving your fish and a ha’porth with salt and vinegar, and last in the line was the local branch of the Co-op, where all groceries were bought and with the butchery department next door. Lower down the street was a baker and confectioner, next to the paper shop, and on the corner – a drapers shop, for knitting wool, haberdashery etc. The local cinema was round on the side of the main road only 5 minutes walk from the house, the post office was 10 minutes away and perhaps 20 minutes walk for HIM to get to work, allowing time to come home for lunch in the middle of the day. THEIR church – the focus of their lives was only 25 minutes walk away, so what more convenience could anyone wish to have when choosing to buy a house in any locality, which would suffice for the following 30 years?

Back to the wedding in 1930: prior to that time the fashion for wedding dresses had been for floor-length skirts, but one or two forward-looking designers were making changes and came up with rather shorter skirts – only just above the ankle, but that was considered rather daring. So should the wedding gown be shorter or not? Well ‘Yes’ was the answer.

Two and a half years later came the first (and what would prove to be, the only) addition to the family at No. 29.

Yes, you’ve guessed, THEY were my Mum and Dad, and I was born in the front bedroom of that house, and that is where I lived until I got married, some 22 years later.

The early years of their marriage proved to be difficult financially, for two reasons beyond their control. Firstly, a lifelong friend of Dad’s fell on hard times, due to ill-health (in the days before the NHS) and borrowed £200 from Dad - that was a small fortune in the early 30’s. I never knew the details, except to know that the money was never returned.

Secondly, Dad’s father suffered a heart attack in his 50’s and was an invalid for many years – this meant no wages coming in and Doctor’s bills to be paid regularly, which ended up with Dad and his four siblings each contributing half-a-crown, (2/6d) each week to help their mother pay the bills. I remember my mother saying how hard it was to hand over that amount each week from her £2.10s.0d housekeeping, when she could well have used it herself. Pensions and benefits were definitely NOT as we know them to be today.

Like most young brides of the 1930’s my mother left her job in the mill and became a full-time wife and mother, but her hairdressing skills were not lost and by that time she had learned how to do Marcel waving – quite the ‘in’ thing.

She and Dad had converted the smallest bedroom into Mum’s Hairdressing Room – straight forward at the top of the stairs – and friends and neighbours from round about came on a very regular basis, along with the ‘short-back-and-sides’ brigade.

As a youngster I would stand and watch the transformation from a lady arriving with straight, newly shampooed hair, to the creation of ‘tramline’ waves and curls – so much desired at that time. I still recall that acrid smell of human hair which was subjected to very high temperatures from the tongs, heated on the gas jet, and not thermostatically controlled like the electric ‘hot brushes’ or straighteners of today.

I admit to enjoying listening to some of the grown-up conversations which were held in that room – you know what is said regarding any woman and her hairdresser! – well I guess it was ever thus. I liked Mrs Watts best of all – she lived next door and came every Saturday afternoon for her Marcel wave. She was a staunch Spiritualist and had some amazing stories to tell, particularly after there had been a visit from some Clairvoyant to their church which was at the bottom of Ramsden Street. I suppose to a child’s mind it was very mysterious stuff!

My father’s association with the dance band ended at the beginning of the war, but a different group of friends and he formed a concert party known as ‘Jack’s Jollities’ who went round the districts entertaining folks and helping keep up morale in the dark days of the war. The piano which stood in our sitting room was played less frequently as years went by, as Dad suffered a works accident, losing the little finger on his left hand, which made for difficulties and though I struggled with lessons for a time, never became a proficient pianist. I turned my fingers to dressmaking instead.

As our house was situated so conveniently for buying almost anything we could possibly need on a daily basis, I only recall 2 men doing the rounds with horse and cart; the ‘Pop’ man, who delivered ginger beer in gallon-size earthenware pots/jugs, and a tatty looking man who would clean out all the outside drains. However I do remember the rag and bone man going to my Grandma’s house and also the milkman ladling milk into her own jug from his huge churn.

And the house – No 29? Well my parents lived there until 1960; the hairdressing had become hard work physically to Mum and instead of the enjoyment it used to be, had now become a chore. Dad’s firm had been bought out and at the age of 58, as he was, found it difficult to adjust, so he had accepted the offer of a job with another firm, in a similar line of business – to see his time out until he reached 65.

The road which had been the centre of their universe since the day they wed, just wasn’t the same any more; most of the shops nearby had changed hands and many neighbours had moved house or passed away, so they felt the time was right for a move all round.

With thoughts of retirement on the horizon, they moved to a 2 bedroomed bungalow in a different part of town, which would be much easier to maintain in their later years

Who would have guessed they would live in their bungalow for as long as they had been in their first house? Happy and contented with their lot, Dad lived to be 85 and Mum to 89, his funeral was on what would have been their 58th Wedding Anniversary. Their connection to, and support from, their church never waivered – in Dad’s case that had been over 80 years.

As for me – I never go back to see that house in that street –

I just prefer to remember it as it used to be.


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