Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Our old houses

I doubt if this will be of any interest except to family and Bradfordians -- if them.

From birth to moving away to university I lived in three houses in Bradford (and in a flat for the first month or two – I think the address is on my birth certificate but I’ve never looked for the place).

The first was 314 Poplar Grove. The postal address was Great Horton, Bradford, but that title was dubious because we were on a hill in a new (1920s or 1930s) development on a hill above Great Horton, a village which Bradford swallowed in the 19th century. We were probably more like Wibsey, though that was less respectable.

There’s no way of making this a good picture. I took it on a dull day in 2002.

The house cost, I think, £700 in 1941 or 42. I'm sure that when I lived there it was even uglier. The pebbledash -- always an unpleasant material -- was a drab grey. There was a garage but it was wood or asbestos, across a passageway from the side door. It housed our Hillman Minx (1937?) which sat on four piles of bricks (‘laid up’) during the war. I remember my dad (back from the army) reinstating it, a process that I must be mistaken in remembering involved removing from the engine nuts or bolts that somehow attached themselves during the years of abandonment.

The front room window has clearly been replaced and the paintwork was brown, with a graining effect worked in the varnish by Mr Livesey. (In those days there was no such thing as white paint -- and I'm not sure it wasn't better that way. Houses were brown, maroon, dark green or dark blue.) The back garden was great: it had an Anderson shelter (I don’t remember going in it except after it was abandoned – Bradford wasn’t bombed), a lawn, a bird bath and black current bushes, and at the far end a gate into the snicket which gave access to the back gardens of a variety of interesting and mainly friendly neighbours. Next door lived the Hatches, and a few doors away Muriel Sagar, a teenage girl who used to look after me.

We had evacuees from London. I don’t remember their names (but have a vague sense that I do know and that they might come back to me) or how the arrangements worked, but they were a mother and a boy.

In the larder (separate from the ‘scullery’ – no such thing as a ‘kitchen’ in such houses) a blue enamel bucket contained eggs preserved in something called Isinglass). Our front room furniture was, I think, ‘utility’ – under-upholstered armchairs and sofas covered with some textile that was rough on the legs and with angular (cardboard?) arms. (The buses had ‘utility’ wooden seats.)

There were no houses at the other side of the road (which wasn’t made up -- I used to find interesting shiny stones on it) but a stone wall over which there was a sheer drop into a quarry. Later, in my next house, when I was 7 or 8, I learned to fear the Quarry Gang who lived below the quarry in the ‘slums’ and the Canterbury Avenue council estate.

For the next house, 12 Haycliffe Drive, perhaps half a mile away, I have no picture so will perhaps return to it another time. It was a similar semi, perhaps slightly bigger, but had the advantage of being two doors away from my grandparents (at no. 9, with Mr Grant in between and, during the war, Colonel Moholski) and having a field at the back with horses and sometimes pigs and the farm at the top end, above us. In my memory that was the best house. There was grey wallpaper with a white grid pattern.

When I was about 12 my grandma, now a widow, sold her house and joined us in buying a large Victorian end terrace down in the valley, in Manningham, off the road running out from the centre of Bradford to Saltaire. We were now three children, two of us at the grammar school which, with the move, was a short walk instead of two bus rides away. Devonshire Terrace (we were no. 5) was a gated, shabby-genteel cul-de-sac. We were the bottom house on the left.

The gates are long gone.

Next door was the elderly, confused, rouged, tipsy and unhygienic Miss Briggs, and two doors away the genial Geoghegan family with four boys – Patrick, Anthony, Philip and Ricky – and one girl, the youngest, Simone. Their mother was French and glamorous. The boys went to the (reputedly rough) Catholic grammar school, St Bede’s, and all did well. Patrick ended up in the Foreign Office, Anthony in the wool trade (Bradford’s thing), Philip became an architect and I don’t know about Ricky, or Simone. They were a smashing family.

On the other side lived another nice family, the Denisons.

We also had a back lane at the bottom of which was our garage and, behind that, a drop down to some allotments.

Like much of Bradford, these houses have been cleaned. In our time all stonework was black with soot -- as were the stone walls and sheep on the surrounding moors. Stone looked better like that, especially on the magnificent Victorian mills, warehouses and public buildings.

During my teenage years thousands of Pakistanis came to Bradford to work in the woollen mills. These families at first lived close to the centre of town but over the years spread out into areas with larger houses like ours. When I went past in November the occupants of Devonshire Terrace and the road it is off, St Mary’s Road, seemed to be entirely Asian.

Devonshire Terrace/Manningham never meant that much to me. My Wordsworthian Eden was Wibsey/Great Horton with its waste land, curving roads of pre-war semis, snickets, 18th century stone cottages, fields with black walls, hills, bad-tempered farmers in filthy raincoats taking rusty buckets to soaking horses in rotten wooden sheds, mills smelling of sheep’s grease, sinister mill dams, trams, the Cosy picture house – and above all Moor Fields, of which I've written here on other occasions.

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