Nostalgia with Margaret Watson: A royal excuse for a street party

Pic Nost Friends'East Borough
Pic Nost Friends'East Borough

I am sure many of us sat entranced last week watching the television coverage of the 60th anniversary of the Queen’s coronation.

But I wonder how many of us saw the actual coronation service itself on telly. I know I didn’t because we didn’t have a telly and there weren’t many people I knew who had.

Most people, however, did have a street party because in those days all royal occasions were an excuse to have some kind of celebration.

Last week I wrote about how wonderful it was for young children in my day to go out exploring the countryside in the summer months without any grown ups telling them what to do.

This week I would like to continue this theme because these days we don’t seem to have street parties anymore, just as we don’t Whitsuntide processions.

I remember one year how all the children in our street got together to organise their very own party.

Our first task was getting enough money together to buy all the things we needed like jellies and custard, loaves of bread, jars of potted beef and buns and biscuits.

We were all pretty ‘streetwise’ and soon came up with a number of ingenious ways of getting the money together, like running errands, washing flags, taking pop bottles back for the penny refunds and taking rags back to Clayton’s rag warehouse which was situated in the middle of our street.

I still remember the thrill of preparing for that party, writing out lists of what we needed, who would be responsible for getting together the dishes, plates and spoons we could manage to sneak out without our parent’s knowing.

There were no such things as paper plates or plastic cups in those days but luckily one of our gang, Margaret White was able to supply us with some pretty glass trifle dishes belonging to her mum and she was terrified in case we broke any.

We didn’t have televisions, computers or fancy toys to occupy our minds in those days and so we made our own amusement and this is what made us so different from children today.

Most of our games were in our minds and we would use anything we got our hands on to bring our ideas to life.

The old boilermakers on Meadow Lane, which stood between Springfield and Batley Carr, was a giant playground for us, even though it resembled a demolition site.

There were huge flat boulders which made ideal shop-counters and we’d play fish and chip shops there for hours on end.

A small flat stone was transformed into a piece of haddock and a few spoonsful of dirt with a bit of grit mixed in became chips with bits on, and we wrapped them up ever so carefully in old newspapers.

The money we used was old buttons found outside Wilman’s mill which the rag sorters working there had cut from old coats and dresses they sorted daily.

We never got bored because we enjoyed playing the role of adults and took it in turn serving and cooking the fish and chips.

The girls dressed up in our mother’s dresses and grandma’s old hat and it was such a thrill to act as grown ups.

It was trying to be like grown ups which gave us the idea of organising our own party and we decided we would have it in the grounds of Dewsbury Technical College in Halifax Road which was just round the corner from our street.

We chose a Sunday afternoon when the college was closed and we set out our food in a little courtyard below street level where no-one could see us.

We set out all our food quite tastefully and had just started to tuck in when a loud voice came booming down from above.

“Hey! Clear off!” the voice yelled. We didn’t need to be told twice and off we ran leaving all our lovely food and dishes behind.

The man yelling at us was the college caretaker who had chased us off once before.

We ran like the wind down Halifax Road with hearts beating fast because in those days the voice of authority was a scary thing to children.

Once safely back on our own territory, our main concern was choosing someone who was brave enough to go back and collect the trifle dishes belonging to Margaret White’s mum.

I cannot remember the brave soul who did, and if my memory serves me right, I don’t think anybody did.

Oh happy days. The whole town was our playground and we had the power to turn a piece of stone into a fish and an old army button into a two shilling piece.

We certainly had the best of times - no matter what the historians might write.

We don’t have all the names of the people on the photograph above showing a street party in Eastborough, but here are a few: John Whitely snr, who worked at the town hall, Brian Wray, the Etherington children, Pat Whitworth, Alice Whitworth, Marian Etheridge, Sheila Whitely, Betty Lockwood’s mother, also her sister-in-law, Ella Lockwood and son, Christine Sheard, Marlene Pearson and Henry Etheridge, who worked at Wormald’s and Walker.

I’m sure there will be a lot of those pictured, especially the children, still living in Dewsbury who will remember the party.

If any readers remember their street party and have photographs or memories, please contact the Reporter office, 01924 468282 or e-mail me