The town I live in is a Victorian suburb that owes its existence to the railway line into Waterloo. This morning being springlike (birdsong, flowering trees, no leaves yet) I walked down to the river thinking how pleasant it was. One road was lined with 1930s semis which, though of unusual design, reminded me of where I lived in Bradford to the age of 12. The district was called Great Horton by the Post Office though it was on a plateau looking down on Great Horton, on what had recently been fields between the top of the slope and the old village of Wibsey. So Wibsey Infants was my first school, Horton Bank Top Junior my second. Where we lived was a 1930s lower middle class suburb of semis -- acres of them, all privately owned. Apart from the occasional doctor or dentist the highest status occupants were browbeaten teachers.
So, not posh--not the jasmined and aubretiaed fairy land with detached houses ‘Ewbank’d inside and Atco’d out’ and with roads lined with cherry trees described by J.M. Richards in Castles on the Ground of 1946. Still true suburb nevertheless from which all men disappeared into town by the morning bus or tram and archetypal in its monotony of low buildings and wide, underused roads with grass verges. The gardens were small; big enough for a privet hedge, small lawn and the odd laburnum but nothing like the landscaped grounds of more upmarket suburbs on the road to Ilkley near Harry Ramsdens. There was little call for Atcos.
|Moore Avenue, though now I look they seem to be groups of three, not semis.|
There was also a quite unsuburban edge of dangerous reality: an unprotected quarry edge, with a path to one side down a less steep slope, at the bottom of which was the quarry (disused, with pools) and beyond that The Slums, packed Victorian terraces blackened with the smoke that poured from the chimneys of houses and mills. And here lived the Quarry Gang who we'd have called feral if we'd know the word. We occasionally caught glimpses of them careering about the spoil heaps in the quarry or converging up the separate cobbled streets under the gas lights. They may have even ventured up the slope onto our territory, causing us to flee into the snickets between the blocks of semis.
The contrast between the classic working-class life of those kids and my own was brought to mind earlier this morning by reading the transcript of one of our research interviews. A former pupil of Walworth, from a peaceful and stable working-class home, refers to friends who often came to the sanctuary of his house from unhappier lives that were troubled by neglect and violence. Children growing up in that area knew things that I never did. Our play reflected our reality, bland, innocent and cocooned. They lived among men whose work, mainly manual, was nearby and visible, and some of whom got drunk, spent the housekeeping money, fought and beat their wives. None of those features entered my childhood. I never saw adults fighting or even seriously arguing, or drunk except when we came out of the Cosy Cinema on Wibsey from an evening show, hastening out of the village to safety on the boring 1930s Moore Avenue with its sodium lights and reassuring Tudorbethan frontages with lit windows showing placid family scenes.