Evacuated to a Northern life
My mother decided in 1944 West London was no longer a healthy place for a nine-year-old as the south-east of England began to be bombarded with Vi’s and V2’s.
We had survived the ‘Blitz’ but, now my father was in the RAF and mother having to work to make ends meet, she was concerned and worried. To me, all the aerial activity was exciting and my friends and I even enjoyed poking around bombed-out houses in the Southall area where we lived.
So I was sent north to distant relatives in the village of Briercliff | about five miles outside Burnley f in Lancashire. f
Our home in London was an I end terrace three-bedroom ‘Jerry- § built’ house built in 1934. While not fantastic, it was comfortable and had a small garden. I suppose by the standards of the time it was an average middle class residence. So it came as something of a shock to me therefore on arriving in Briercliff to find that Auntie Annie and Uncle Alec lived in a one room-up and one room-down house at the end of the village street.
Our house had its front door directly off the pavement straight into the one downstairs room. Heating and cooking was by a coal fired ‘range’ along one wall and there was a stone sink on the back wall.
Upstairs the single bedroom had been divided into two with the adults sleeping in one section and their five-year-old son and I in the other. There was no bathroom or toilet. The greatest shock to me was the fact that our toilet was over 100 yards along the road set into the hillside opposite the other houses. I suppose we were privileged in that we shared ‘our’ toilet with one other family. The other ‘facility’ was used by all the other residents! Rest assured no-one stayed in the loo any longer than was absolutely necessary.
The village had no bus service except to take us children to school and I can smell that elderly vehicle even now. My school was about a mile towards Burnley where my aunt went for her weekly shopping. Like most local people, they worked in a cotton mill. I often went to the sheds to meet my uncle and the noise from the machines was unbelievable.
It was not a happy time for me.
Aunt was a typically tough northern housewife who had had to struggle for every penny and this had made her very sour. Uncle was a gende man but was completely dominated by his wife. For the first time in my life, I actually enjoyed going to school while in Lancashire. As well as enabling me to get away from Auntie Annie, the higher educational standards in London at that meant that I, with the
other five evacuees at the school, were always top of the class. I still have the term-end reports to prove it! There was also Miss Pickup, our class teacher, a lovely lady of around 40 and a real warm-hearted Lancashire lass. All the kids loved her. I really believe that she encouraged me to do better and to develop a deeper understanding of the value of learning.
Most of the other local people were kindness itself to the evacuees. Everyone in the area wore clogs. These were the wooden-soled variety with a thick leather upper. I soon had a pair but they really hurt me for the first couple of weeks. I can still hear the clip-clop of clogs on the cobbles as mill workers passed the house in the early morning and can even recall the ‘ring’ of a loose clog iron indicating a visit to the shoemender was required.
To earn some pocket money, I helped a nearby farmer to deliver milk each Saturday. Initially this was done using a Bedford van but, immediately fuel became short, a horse with two-wheeled open cart was brought back into use. The milk was carried in the old-fashioned large metal churns. Delivery to each customer was in ‘gill’ measures from which the milk was poured into jugs left on steps outside house doors.
For my efforts I was paid a shilling. Auntie Annie took this to pay for a weekly visit to the cinema despite the fact that mother sent money for my keep every week.
Food played a large part in the daily life of us evacuees. I was introduced to the delights of black pudding, eaten whilst walking down the street; meat and potato pie purchased from the local butcher and ‘Parkin’, which is a large flat ginger-flavoured biscuit. This was usually washed down with a large mug of tea mashed in the mug and heated on the cooker. It was a revelation to find butter, cheese, eggs and many other foodstuffs freely available without ration coupons.
The stay away made me appreciate my parents. It also made me realise how tough life could be for people in industrial nortiiern towns. One thing I gained was a strong Lancashire accent. When I returned, it was difficult for me to make myself understood with my friends. It took a while before my London vowels returned!