The Nostalgia column with Margaret Watson: The 6,000th council house built in Dewsbury

Special presentation: Not the same picture as last week ' its slightly different because it shows not only Alfred and Alice Lockwood receiving the keys to their new home in Foxroyd Lane, Thornhill, but also three of their four children, Ann, Jane and Margaret.
Special presentation: Not the same picture as last week ' its slightly different because it shows not only Alfred and Alice Lockwood receiving the keys to their new home in Foxroyd Lane, Thornhill, but also three of their four children, Ann, Jane and Margaret.

The photograph last week which showed the opening of the 6,000th council house to be built in Dewsbury, created much interest from readers who moved on to the estate in the 1960s.

This second picture, however, is slightly different in that it shows not only the civic dignitaries and the couple moving in, Alfred and Alice Lockwood, but also three of their four children.

Margaret Watson.

Margaret Watson.

This week, one of them, Ann, married name Rosier, said she was the eldest of the three sisters pictured and was about nine years old at the time.

She writes: “We lived at 132 Foxroyd, and the view from our back garden was amazing, overlooking Ravensthorpe, Thornhill Lees and Savile Town. The cooling towers were centre stage.

“Alfred and Alice Lockwood were my mum and dad. My sisters, Jane and Margaret, are also in the picture. Nigel, my little brother was away on his little push bike, too busy for pictures with the mayor.

“My dad was presented with a shiny ‘Spear and Jackson spade’ which became his pride and joy. He never used it, but kept it shiny all the time.

“We had a great life at Foxroyd with lovely walks over to Whitley. We all went to Whitley Lower School, and I was in the same year as Susan and Gillian who were twins from Briestfield.

“I then went to Wheelwright Grammar School, and my sisters Jane and Margaret went to the Tech. Good memories, but sadly, we moved away when the mine at The Combs closed.”

Since last week’s articles, other readers have contacted me about how their lives were changed when they moved from their old homes.

John Croft, who has written on these pages before about life in Thornhill, and promises to write more, emailed the following:

“Being a Thornhill lad I particularly enjoyed this week’s article regarding council houses.

“Before we moved to the Valley Road Estate, we lived opposite Councillor Hector Nunns who was a lovely man. 

“He worked for the Co-op in Dewsbury and if Mum needed Dividend cheques (buy for £1 and pay back 1 guinea) we would go to his house.

“At Council election time I used to deliver his election leaflets for 10 shillings.

“I also remember the Social Club in Thornhill and took part in shows there with other children.

“When we moved into our council house, we loved the inside toilet and bathroom, no more tin baths, and the draught free doors and windows.

“Valley Road was the first smokeless zone, so lighting a coke fire, with the inbuilt gas poker, was a new experience.

“Most neighbours came from different areas of Dewsbury but quite quickly, through the children or dogs (not joking), everyone got to know their neighbours - and in some cases all their business.”

John mentions Valley Road being the first smokeless free zone which showed that Dewsbury Corporation was at the forefront of cleaning up the soot-filled atmosphere which people had lived in all their lives, causing serious health problems for many.

However, making the Valley Road into a smoke-free zone brought with it a few problems, not least for the miners who got a free coal allowance from the pits where they worked, which was now useless to them..

But this was eventually sorted when the Miner’s Union got involved and the miners were compensated with a financial allowance entitling them to buy whatever smokeless fuel they chose.

There are many from Dewsbury who have similar memories of the changes taking place after the massive house building programme began.

The building of 6,000 houses in ten years marked a significant change in the way working class people would live their lives from now on.

Until then, most had lived in back-to-back houses which had been literally thrown up during the Industrial Revolution of the 1850s with little or no planning consent for the hundreds of families flooding into Dewsbury to work in the new factories.

Most of the houses had only two or three rooms, some had only one, and were built in long rows, back-to-back to each other, which meant there was no air circulating throughout them.

As far back as the 1880s, medical officers were warning that such houses were unfit for human habitation and detrimental to health and should be demolished immediately.

Unfortunately, most of them were not, and families were still being forced to live in them until well into the 1950s when the slum clearance programmes began in earnest.

In 1910, the infant mortality rate for children living in Dewsbury was the highest in the country with medical experts blaming low wages, poor food and unhealthy living conditions.

The unhealthiest place in the country for children was pin-pointed as Back Vulcan Road on the Flatts in Dewsbury.

Medical officers produced statistics to prove this during a housing tribunal in which landlords of the properties concerned were fighting to stop them being demolished.

The houses were eventually “condemned” but were not demolished because of the outbreak of the Second World War when the building of new houses was stopped.

Tragically, many more young lives were to be lost in Dewsbury before houses like these were finally got rid of.

If you have memories of living on the new estates and would like to share them, contact me by email – tresham3@gmail.com.