Nostalgia with Margaret Watson: The glories of summer

SUMMER DAYS This picture, taken 1917, shows children playing marbles in Ward Street, Crackenedge, Dewsbury. Sadly, the little boy standing with the white collar, Alec Crossland, died only a few months later. The names of the other children are not known. The picture was kindly loaned by Alec's sister, Joyce.
SUMMER DAYS This picture, taken 1917, shows children playing marbles in Ward Street, Crackenedge, Dewsbury. Sadly, the little boy standing with the white collar, Alec Crossland, died only a few months later. The names of the other children are not known. The picture was kindly loaned by Alec's sister, Joyce.

We’ve seen a some sunshine at last in the past week or so, the flowering cherries are in full bloom and it is much lighter at night, so – touch wood – it might be safe to say that summer is well and truly on its way.

It is on days like these that I remember those long summer days of childhood spent mainly outside playing the kind of games you don’t see very much of these days.

I was speaking to an old friend yesterday and she was only saying whenever she visits Dewsbury Arts Group, the minute she steps out of the car into Peel Street at the bottom of Springfield, where we grew up, her mind goes immediately back to childhood days.

She recalls vividly walking up that street on her way to Caulms Wood with all her little friends to spend a wonderful day exploring the local countryside, feeding the horses, fishing for tiddlers in the ponds, and making buttercup and daisy chains.

These expeditions to Caulms Wood always had to have a leader and our leader was my sister Winnie, and we loved her so much we’d have marched into hell with her if she’d been leading because she was our hero, fearless and courageous, always thinking up interesting things for us to do..

A few months ago I attended the launch of a local history book, Transforming Thornhill Lees, and the audience was spell bound when Bill Beattie stood up and talked of his childhood and the friends he shared it with.

He talked about the long summer days when they would set off to go rambling in nearby woods with their bottles of water and jam sandwiches and their leader and hero was Harry Laycock.

I think there was a tear in every eye when Bill finished his tale because we all identified with what he was talking about - the freedom of childhood as it once was, something our children and grandchildren will never know.

In those days, when we weren’t out rambling in the open countryside or visiting Bluebell Wood or going to Crow Nest Park or Burking Banks, we’d be playing in the streets with bats and balls, skipping ropes, hooplahs, whips and tops, marbles, and gas tar which we’d collect on hot sunny days from cracks in the pavement and then we’d roll it up and make it into shapes.

Boys and girls played together all day outside their home and caused not a minute’s trouble to anyone, least of all their parents.

I can’t ever remembering any adults coming out to see what we were up to, except, of course, when they called us in for tea or bedtime.

Once out, we kids never went back in. We always played in our own street because that was our playground and we had full territorial rights over it.

Uninvited guests from neighbouring streets were told to scarper back to where they belonged. “This is our street!”, we’d shout and off they’d scoot.

Other street games we played were hop-scotch, rounders, hypsy-gypsy, tin-can squat, tig and blind man’s buff - I think it was blind man’s bluff but we always said buff, .

We would bounce balls on the pavement for hours on end to the tune of one-two-three o-larey, but I do admit this was a girl’s game.

We did handstands on the pavement without breaking any bones, walked backwards on our hands and feet doing the crab and tippled over in the road, just for the sheer fun of it.

I truly don’t remember any of our neighbours being upset to find we’d drawn hop-scotch squares on their newly scrubbed flags, but perhaps I’m wrong

People of my generation, and the ones before, still talk about the joy of their childhood and the freedom they felt in the days when there wasn’t much traffic going up and down streets. - but then I am talking about sixty years ago.

But I know a lady, Joyce Widdowson, who is 94, and she can think back to childhood days a generation before me, and they were very much the same..

She still remembers those happy days and how lucky she was living in Crackenedge only a few yards from Caulms Wood.

“The wood was just round the back of our house and I remember us going up with our sandwiches and bottles of water in school holidays

“We’d spend the whole day running around in the fresh air, never getting bored. I also remember going to Dewsbury Feast in the summer and to Crow Nest Park where we would feed the ducks.

Joyce, who still lives in Dewsbury, not far from where she was born, kindly loaned me the photograph above, which I have used on this page before but that was many years ago. I use it again because to me it epitomises what childhood was like.

This beautiful picture was taken in 1917 and captures a group of children playing marbles in Ward Street, Crackenedge.

The photographer was believed to be a man called H A Parkinson, a member of Dewsbury Photographic Society, and he won an award for the picture.

Joyce’s brother Alec, is the little boy pictured standing and wearing a big white collar, but sadly he died shortly after the photograph was taken.

Joyce never knew her little brother because he died some years before she was born but she was always grateful that she had this photograph of him.

“It is such a beautiful picture of childhood and it shows how easy it was for children in those days to play in safety without adults around,” said Joyce.

“Mother used to tell me the photograph was taken by a photographer passing by who spotted the children playing.

“The picture wasn’t posed because the children were actually playing marbles at the time, but I think he arranged them so he could get a better picture.

“When the photographer heard afterwards that Alec had died, he brought mother a copy of the picture which he had had coloured by hand.

“The picture was taken in 1917, and mother always kept it framed and hanging in the living room until her death aged 91.

“She never got over Alec’s death. He was her only son, her first-born, and a lovely little boy.”

Although Joyce doesn’t know all the circumstances surrounding her brother’s death, she knows he died in hospital of peritonitis following appendicitis.

“He was eight when he died in the winter of 1917 when there was snow on the ground.

“It was the only photograph mother had of Alec and she was always so proud of it, but we never knew the names of the other children on the picture.”

Joyce’s mother, the late Mrs Anne Crossland, became a well-known herbalist and spiritual healer, and her father, Tom, worked as a warehouseman at Mark Day’s Mill, Dewsbury.

She had two sisters, Ellen and Margaret, and she attended three local schools, Eastborough, Boothroyd Lane and Wheelwright Grammar.

She married a well-known Dewsbury police officer, Sgt Harry Widdowson.

Joyce, has happy memories of her childhood. “We played hop-scotch in the street and were always safe because there was hardly any traffic about.

“We never had a car and we loved going on the trams. They were simple pleasures and we didn’t need much money.”