The Magazine of Lenton Local History Society

Lenton Times Issue 3 - November 1989

Growing Up In New Lenton

Below Len Taylor recalls the Willoughby Street area of his childhood.

I was born in 1928 at 9, Mount Pleasant. This somewhat ironically named address was approached from Kyte Street. Mount Pleasant consisted of two short lengths of terrace housing either side of what effectively became an open yard. Each house was just one room deep with a living room on the ground floor and a bedroom on first and second floor levels plus a cellar below ground. There wasn't a backyard or even a back door because a row of terraced properties, known as Cyril Cottages, was built up against our rear wall.

See in Lightbox
Mount Pleasant, probably in the 1950s. Photograph reproduced
courtesy of Nottinghamshire County Library Service.

Our living room was also our kitchen. Set within the fireplace was a boiler from which hot water could be scooped using a ladle. Cooking was carried out in iron pots placed on the fire; we did have the additional luxury of a single gas ring, which could be used to boil a kettle or heat a small saucepan. Our living room also incorporated our bathroom. In one corner stood the sink with tap positioned above. Here we washed both the pots and ourselves. A toilet block was situated at the top of the yard and two households would have to share each toilet. I remember as a young child being taken to these at night clutching a lighted candle, matches in case it went out, and squares of newspaper. You were thought well off if you used toilet rolls! Candles and 'cali' lamps were used in the bedrooms but downstairs a gaslight had been installed which provided us with a more than adequate source of illumination. When my sisters and I were larking about, there were occasions when the gas mantle somehow got broken. Whereupon the guilty party received a clip around the ear and was sent off to Gibson's hardware shop on Willoughby Street where a replacement could be purchased for the price of ld.

With only two bedrooms to accommodate four growing children and two adults, my parents began to look around for a larger home. In about 1935 we moved to a modernised house on Park Street. This was two 'back-to-back' houses converted into one. Now we had four bedrooms, a parlour only used for special occasions, a cellar and a living room, which still had to serve as kitchen and bathroom. We did, however, have our own outside toilet and backyard. Food was either kept in a cupboard in the living room or on a shelf at the top of the stairs down to the cellar. Wherever it was stored, it didn't take up much space, as we tended to buy in food for our meals day by day. Once I was old enough, each Saturday I visited the Willoughby Street slipper baths. Saturday was a popular day for taking a bath so you always had to queue and wait your turn. It cost 2d, provided you took along your own soap and towel. My sisters did likewise. But my parents never joined us preferring to carry out their ablutions in the privacy of their own home.

My father worked on a tarmac gang during the 1930s and given the nature of his employment was forever in and out of work. Circumstances would require that his best suit and several other items be taken along to Williamson's, the pawnbrokers on Willoughby Street. Almost everyone we knew availed themselves of this service. My father's suit would be redeemed after a Friday payday and he would wear it over the weekend. Likely as not it would then return to the pawnshop early the following week. Regular visits to the pawnbrokers continued until the Second World War when my father got a job at the Ordnance factory and was soon working twelve hours a day. That the country should have to go to war was undoubtedly terrible, but the war clearly contributed to the Taylor family enjoying a better standard of living. Until then we were very poor, just like most of the people who lived in the Willoughby Street area.

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Approximately the same view today. Photograph by Paul Bexon.

My friends and I happily passed the hours when not in school playing all manner of games in the street. There was football, cricket and rounders, plus such pastimes as tin lurkey, hop scotch, rum stick a bum, hop charge, snobs, marbles, whip and top, cigarette card flicking and numerous skipping rope games. The ropes we obtained from off orange boxes. If we were intent on mischief then someone might tie two front door handles together or attach a dustbin lid to the doorknob, knock hard and then run off. Some boys used to 'requisition' the odd used car tyre from Richardson's garage next to the Savoy on Derby Road. These were then bowled along the street, sometimes the more fearless of us crouching in the middle while the tyre was rolled along.

The fortnight or so before November 5th was spent searching for suitable material for bonfires. Plenty would be needed as bonfires were built at almost every street corner - actually in the road itself Fortunately people always seemed to have plenty of rubbish. Nevertheless this didn't preclude raids on each other's supplies in the run-up to bonfire night. Come the actual night the fire was lit and most of the adults stood at their doors and watched. Sparklers were handed round to the children but there was rarely much in the way of proper fireworks. The next morning the remains of fires would be dotted all over the Willoughby Street area, which I can only imagine were subsequently cleared away by the Corporation. In the weeks before, guys were made and pennies sought but usually after a couple of evenings collecting very little your enthusiasm would wane. A much better money-maker came later in the year when the snow made its appearance. You would then go along to houses on the Drives and offer to shift the snow from their paths. Often as not this was agreed to and on completion a few coppers would make their way into your pocket. If not then you might at least be treated to a mug of Oxo and piece of homemade cake.

Christmas time was always eagerly awaited - more in hope than expectation. The contents of your stocking rarely varied. An apple and an orange, a handful of sweets, a few new pennies and a small game. I spent quite a few Christmas Eves hanging around the entrance to the Boys Brigade Club, at the corner of Willoughby Street and Church Street (later to become the Monty Hind Club), in the company of a number of other children, each of us hoping that our name would be on one of the stockings which the lads carried out to deliver to needy families in the area. I used to go to Sunday school at the Manfull Street Mission and regular attendance in the months leading up to Christmas ensured an invitation to their children's party. The mission also organised a summer outing, almost invariably to Codnor Park, which served as another inducement to gain regular attendance. A more local outing came courtesy of the Pearson Fresh Air Fund, which paid for children to be taken along to Wollaton Park for an afternoon of games and treats. Across at the Methodist Hall on Church Street (now the site' of the Happy Return car park) the blue ribboners (*) held their Christmas party. This had the added attraction of a magic lantern show to conclude proceedings. If you wanted moving pictures and something more than a spoken commentary then there were always the special children's matinees held at the local cinemas each Saturday afternoon. The Savoy on Derby Road opened for business in 1935 and this was clearly our nearest cinema, but its prices were rather high. So instead my friends and I preferred to go a little further afield, either to the Picture Palace on Alfreton Road or the Ilkeston Road picture house, where I think you could get in for as little as a penny.

See in Lightbox
The junction of Head Street and Kyte Street with the entrance to
Mount Pleasant off the latter. This 1961 photo is reproduced
courtesy of Nottinghamshire County Library Service.

Most of my parents' everyday shopping was confined to Willoughby Street. You could buy most things there but not furniture. For this we would go to Hewson's on Denman Street, Radford. My parents joined their 'club' and each week tried to pay in a small sum until sufficient had accrued to permit the purchase of an item of furniture, some crockery or the like. It seems amazing looking back but we never even countenanced shopping in the City centre and the same applied to most of our fellow residents.

My sisters and I were frequently sent along to the shops to buy the odd item. Sometimes the request was for a little alcoholic refreshment from the beer-off. People used to take along a jug which would be filled with beer but the proprietor wasn't supposed to serve you if you were under fourteen. So instead you took along an empty bottle which they filled and then stuck a paper seal across the cork. There were occasions when I would be sent to the greengrocers for a cucumber. This wasn't so much because we were eager to enjoy cucumber sandwiches but rather as part of our pest control measures. Cucumber skins placed on the floor lured out cockroaches, which hitherto had lain hidden in the living room. Once in the centre of the room you could then 'dispose' of them. You never completely got rid of them using this technique but it certainly helped keep the numbers down.

Present day youngsters don't seem to fear their parents in quite the way we did. I remember once playing on the waste ground beside Derby Road roughly where Triumph Road is now. My friends and were jumping across the Leen when Denis Treace mistimed his jump and fell into the Water. There was no way he would consider going home wet through, for he knew what his parents would say and do. Instead away from prying eyes we built a large fire, Denis stripped naked, and we all helped dry his clothes. Times have changed and today a youngster probably wouldn't feel the need to adopt such extreme measures. A good thing too you might say but then again maybe not. Certainly times have changed.


(*) 'Blue ribboners' had signed the pledge and vowed to abstain from drink.

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