Nostalgia with Margaret Watson: Ode to a long lost childhood

Nostalgia'Mitre Farm, off Boothroyd Lane, which we knew as Burking Banks where St John Fisher School now is. Picture kindly loaned by Mr Leslie Hirst.'Farm workers and children at harvest time.
Nostalgia'Mitre Farm, off Boothroyd Lane, which we knew as Burking Banks where St John Fisher School now is. Picture kindly loaned by Mr Leslie Hirst.'Farm workers and children at harvest time.

The sun is out again, at least for the moment, and my mind begins to wander back to childhood when the sun seemed to shine all the time.

Once the bluebells and buttercups began to appear, we children knew it was time to start our wanderings and set off to explore the local countryside.

This we could do without any interference from adults because in those days children were left to their own devices.

The only instruction from parents, once they’d given us our jam sandwiches, wrapped in newspaper, and a bottle of water, was to be home in time for bed.

Children living in Dewsbury were lucky to have lots of countryside on their doorstep, sadly nearly all now built upon. Youngsters living in Springfield where I spent my early childhood, had a park on their doorstep - Batley Carr Park - and this is where we went if we didn’t want to walk too far.

Further up the road there was Crow Nest Park and further along Bradford Road there was Batley Park, all three within walking distance.

Batley Park, I admit was a bit of a trek but it was all on the level, no hills to climb, and we could manage it in half an hour, and we went there most days during school holidays.

It was different on the way back when we were a bit tired, but still clutching our bunches of bluebells and buttercups. Then we’d catch the bus, even though we didn’t have any bus fare.

We’d go upstairs and make sure we sat right at the front, and by the time the conductor got to us we were half-way home before he could throw us off.

It was wrong I know, but we didn’t think so because our childish logic told us if we hadn’t got on, the seats would have been empty anyway. Sometimes a kindly conductor realised this himself and would let us stay on for the whole journey.

Children who lived in close-knit communities like we did, always went around in groups but we never caused trouble, never vandalised anything and we never got bored.

Even when it was raining we always knew we could find a cave somewhere to convert into a den, or we’d find an old derelict house to claim as our own.

We rarely had sweets because they were rationed and so we made do with sticks of rhubarb dipped in sugar. Or we’d mix sugar and cocoa together in a brown paper bag and dip our fingers in it. It was the nearest we ever got to a bar of chocolate.

If we didn’t go to the park on sunny days we’d travel further afield to places like Bluebell Wood, or Howley Ruins. The boys would climb trees or play cowboys and Indians and the girls would make buttercup and daisy chains.

Or nearer home there was Caulms Wood or Burking Banks, where St John Fisher School now stands, where we would search for tadpoles in Secker’s Pond.

We’d take them home in grubby jam jars which we placed on the windowsill outside and wait in hopeful anticipation for them to turn into frogs.

What a miracle when overnight our tadpole’s tail split into two and two legs would appear and we’d have half a frog swimming around.

Alas, I never remember one developing into a full-grown frog.

I think many times of those poor little tadpoles and how cruel we were taking them out of their natural habitat, away from their families and depriving them of a chance of life.

We were not as animal conscious as we are today, and that’s why every kid on our street had tadpoles in jam jars. They were the only pets we had - apart perhaps from the occasional goldfish we’d won at the fair.

I can only remember one family up our street who had a dog. It belonged to the Bates’ family and it was called Judy, and, like all pets in those days, it lived off the scraps of meat and bones left over from the family dinner. I don’t think the shops in those days sold pet food.

Life for children was far more exciting than it is today because we had far more freedom. Parental responsibility just wasn’t as stressful in those days.

Obviously, we wouldn’t want to return to the poverty of those days and the poor housing conditions, but 
many of us still yearn for the community spirit we once enjoyed.

People really could leave their doors unlocked at night and could walk home from the pictures and pubs without fear of being attacked. Community crime as we call it today was unheard of.

When I think back to those days, especially during the summer, I remember how friendly and more relaxed people seemed to be.

Adults often went out into the street and joined the children in their play, skipping, hop scotch and rounders.

And in the evening, after the children had been put to bed, the adults would sit outside on the doorstep to cool off. They would call across to each other about the day’s proceedings and those coming home from the pub would stop and join in.

Listening to their voices and laughter drifting upwards as I lay in bed are amongst some of my happiest memories.

All the people I loved were just a heartbeat away and I could go to sleep secure with no fears or worries. It really was the land of lost content - and I was fortunate to have lived in it.

The pub mentioned last week, where the John F Kennedy now stands, was the Rising Sun and not the Turk’s Head.

If you have any memories or photographs of old Dewsbury, please ring the Reporter Office, 01924 468282 or contact me directly - tresham3@gmail.com.