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This is part one of Vince Gibson’s life story.  It starts with his birth in 1931 up to him leaving school in 1945.   He say’s “I am writing [this project] for [my] children.  The motivation has arisen because I know very little about my parents, and this is my way of ensuring they do not have the same problem.”  These are sound sentiments, which we all should think about.  We thought the story should go out to a wider audience.  Other parts will be published very soon. 

  Life in a Lancashire Cotton town 1931 to 1945

By Vince Gibson
7 Tontine Street, Blackburn.
My journey in life commenced one Sunday in April 1931. I was born the only son of Agnes and Robert Gibson, of 7 Tontine Street, Blackburn.  My mother was unemployed at the time, though she would have described herself as a weaver. My father was employed as a labourer at Jones Textilities Ltd on Audley Range, Blackburn. He subsequently became a foreman and completed 54 years service.
Our home was an early 19th century cottage, and Tontine Street is recorded on an eighteen twenty four street map of Blackburn. The property would be described as a two up and two down, but was particularly small in stature. The front room was very small yet it contained a large sideboard; two chairs and a table complete with knitted covers on the legs. Lighting was by gas using a single gas mantle; in addition we had a portable paraffin lamp and candles. The coal fire was an impressive affair with a hob for cooking and heating pans. The only water supply was one cold water tap over the slopstone in the kitchen.  I cannot remember what the outside toilet was like, though I had an aunty who lived in Springfield Street, Witton which had an outside tippler toilet. How it worked I do not know. Upstairs was out of bounds as far as I was concerned. Part of Tontine Street still exists and the street name is proudly displayed on the side of the Sir Charles Napier Inn, fronting on Limbrick. There is a statue of this gentleman in Trafalgar Square. London.
The cottage was my grandma Gibson’s home. I remember her as a mobile bundle of clothes, possibly because she always wore a shawl and clothes that reached to the floor. My other grand parents died many years before I was born.
My only memories of life indoors consist of sleeping in the bottom drawer of the sideboard, and occasionally my cousin Marie called on her way home from the convent, and joined me playing with a collection of Parkinson’s Pills tins. In later years my mother told me that grandma lived on Parkinson’s pills and Cephos powders. (A local product). I cannot remember having any toys.
Cottage at Limbrick near Tontin-street.jpg

23 Laxey Road, Longshaw.
When my grandma went to heaven we moved into a brand new council house at 23 Laxey Road on Longshaw estate.  Our flitting was a simple affair.  Uncle Jack had a horse and cart which he used to transfer our limited belongings. He lived in a terraced house in Hazel Street and at the time he kept his horse in the back yard. Our new house was in the middle of a terrace backing on to Park Lee Hospital. We shared a front gate with number 21 but enjoyed our own front garden with a privet hedge.  One of the best features of the house as far as I was concerned, was the covered passage between the houses; this provided me with a covered play area.  With my friends we could block up one end of the passage and make a den.
Surprisingly at that young age I was aware that my parents were very impressed with the electric lighting, and the five amp power point. Switching  a light on when you walked into a room was a great novelty compared to their previous experience with gas. I was disappointed that initially we only had electric light bulbs in two of the rooms.  The one downstairs was in the entrance hall, which gave light to the kitchen, the bathroom and the sitting room. The bulb upstairs was on the landing, and provided light to the two bedrooms and a box room. Looking back to that time we must have been poor, but to me that was the norm.
We had a bathroom for the first time, located on the ground floor next to the front door. Being a youngster at the time, having a bathroom was not an important feature as far as I was concerned.  Bath night was a Friday routine. Dad was the first to have a bath; I was plonked in the bath next for a quick once over and finally my mother had her bath; all in the same water of course. The water was kept warm by regular top ups with hot water from the kitchen gas boiler. My mother always used Lifebouy carbolic soap to wash me, which meant it was a painful experience if soap got in my eyes.  In later years we used Dr Lovelaces soap which would float on the water and solved the problem of finding the soap when having a bath. Many years later my mother told me she put common soda in the water to soften it. The bathroom contained a toilet with pull chain but no washbasin. Toilet rolls were not a feature of life in those days so each Saturday my dad would cut newspapers into small squares, skewer them for string and hang them behind the bathroom door. As a status symbol we had an Aspidistra plant on the window ledge which was regularly fed with used tea leaves.
 The kitchen was very small with a sink and wood draining board. This was the only room in the house for the family to have a wash (no privacy). In one corner of the room was a gas boiler for heating water and boiling clothes. Lighting the boiler was always an event. My mother would turn on the gas, light a tape and poke it through a hole in the front of the boiler. She then turned away from the boiler and waited for the bang.  She knew then the boiler was lit. The furniture consisted of a squeezer (wringer) that featured a table top, two stand chairs and a folding chair for me to sit on. Heating was provided by a paraffin stove which filled the kitchen with condensation.Leading from the kitchen was a door to the larder. This room was designed  to provide storage for food, and was equipped with a large concrete slab to keep food cool. For storing bread we had a chipped enamel bread bin. A small window was provided for external ventilation.
Another door led from the kitchen to under the stairs where we stored coal. . The coalman brought the coal into the kitchen and tipped it under the stairs as best he could. I've been told we received three hundredweight of coal each visit. The amount of dirt around the kitchen must have been considerable. We considered ourselves civilized because we knew neighbours who kept their coal in the bath. Having a bath was not the norm in some households.
 We had a prepayment gas meter which we fed with pennies. In those days the penny was a large coin and heavy. To see the man staggering along with the cash bag over his shoulder was a common sight. The gas man called on a regular basis to empty the gas meter and count the cash. He would then record the transaction and leave a few coins as a discount. He never had problems gaining access to the house as we always had a key hanging on a piece of string behind the letter box. Other weekly callers were the rent collector, and a man from the Pru (Prudential) collecting for a death benefit scheme.
Ironing is a leisure activity enjoyed by many women. My mother brought her gas iron with her from Tontine Street, but there was no gas point for her to use. She therefore bought a “Dudley” CWS electric iron. As there was no power point in the kitchen she also had to purchase an adapter to plug into the electric light fitting. I now know this was a dangerous practice as the wiring was inadequate for the purpose. Apart from the purchase of electric light bulbs the iron was my parent’s first electrical appliance purchase.
Our lounge was only used at weekends. This room had a coal fire which included an oven and a back boiler. The back boiler was designed to provide hot water for the kitchen and bathroom. In our case this facility was of limited value as the fire was only lit at weekends. We also had a fender, which included two buffets that could be used for storing coal.  The set of fire irons were made by my dad. The lighting of the fire was one of dad’s responsibilities. He screwed up newspapers and laid them out as a base. On this he laid sticks in a crisscross pattern followed by coal. He then lit the paper and put up the blower. The blower was a galvanized sheet of metal with a handle, made by my dad.To give the fire lighting process an extra boost he would place a sheet of newspaper across the blower. This paper usually set on fire causing a minor panic. To the best of my knowledge we never had a chimney fire which was always a spectacular event for all the local children. After many years we graduated to using firelighters like posh people.
Soon after moving into Laxey Road my dad bought a second hand mechanical gramophone which was also a large piece of furniture. My dad  borrowed a hand truck from a local plumber to bring the gramophone from Abraham Street. To start the gramophone you had to wind the motor up with a handle similar to a car starter handle. Our fragile records included Owd Shuttleworth, The Laughing Policeman and Paul Robeson. To increase the volume you had to change the stylus to a larger one. To me they looked similar to small nails.
Surprisingly I was aware that my parents were considering buying an electric wireless. One Saturday we all went down to the Co-op Emporium (now the library) and the decision was made to buy an Alba wireless. We could not have it right away, as my parents did not believe in hire purchase. When the money was saved the wireless was delivered and plugged into the only power point in the house. The radio's presence changed our routine. Normally the radio was switched on at 5pm each evening when Children’s Hour started. My favourite programs included Romany and Raq, Uncle Mac, Dennis the dashound and Ernest the policeman.
Many of our neighbours still used the old type of wireless powered by heavy glass cased batteries. This was an opportunity for young lads to earn a copper or two, carrying batteries to and from a shop in Grimshaw Park for the batteries to be charged.
In the lounge we had good quality oil cloth and a pegged rug. The pegged rug was made from a two cwt sugar sack for a backing and old clothes cut into small rectangular pieces. We pegged the rug as a family sitting in front of the fire and when completed it would be laid on the floor during the Christmas period. When possible we would have a rug each Christmas. We also had two easy chairs, a table and two pictures on the wall. This was the only room in the house with a shade over the electric light bulb. Upstairs we had two bedrooms and a box room. The main bedroom was equipped with a gas fire, though I never saw it used. The house was very cold in winter and thick frost was a regular feature on the inside of the windows. The main bedroom had a built in wardrobe, and on the shelf were two brown paper bags. One held my dad's black bowler hat and the other a black hat for my mother. These were worn when attending funerals.
My childhood prior to starting school is vague though I remember it was a happy time. A few photos did exist but they have not survived. The photographs had been taken using a crude wooden box camera given free with the John Bull magazine.  We could play in the road (no traffic), and in the nearby Railway Clerks cricket ground, now covered with the Longshaw  Junior school. After dark we played near any convenient gas lamp. A favourite game if you had a length of rope was to make a swing or better still swing round a lamp on the end of a rope. This was an excellent way to knock yourself senseless. No need for drugs in those days.
When the war started and the street lights were turned off this improved our prospects when we played kiss-catch. Having said that I cannot remember why!  Sex education was not on the school agenda so "discovery learning" was the name of the game. When roads had to be repaired a watchman would work through the night for safety reasons. He was provided with a wood hut, similar to an army sentry box, a brazier for a coke fire and a stack of  fuel. We would join him for warmth and take the opportunity to roast potatoes on his fire.
As children we could safely play out on the roads as most vehicles were drawn by horses owned by milk, coal, laundry and fruit and vegetable men. We occasionally had visits by rag and bone men and scissor sharpeners. Each evening when horses had finished their work rounds, they joined us in the Railway Clerks field. I cannot remember any children getting hurt with the horses galloping around the field among the children. When the war started a large air raid shelter was built in the field which provided more opportunities for games.
Laxey Road was initially built with seventy two houses; and no one owned a car until after the war. The first car owner lived at number thirty six; it was a weird brown colour with a canvas roof. A second car soon appeared  and this was a very smart Alvis. In those days cars were only taxed for six months, the remainder of the time they would be raised on blocks for the winter.
How tenants were selected for the estate I do not know. Most people appeared to be working class and in employment. The exceptions included Mr Gregory (at number 31) who owned a soap powder factory in Hall Street; Mr Shorrock the founder of Shorrocks Securities Ltd; but my hero was Tommy Mclean who lived at number 20. He played for Blackburn Rovers at inside left, and scored the second goal in the 1928 Wembley cup final. He also owned a red setter dog that enthusiastically joined in our games. During the war there was an anti aircraft gun emplacement at the end of the road, presumably part of the Fuse factory defences.
At the end of the war Laxey road was extended as far as Manxman Road. This changed the road from a cul-de-sac to a through Road. The new houses were built by Italian prisoners of war. To a great extent the character of the area changed when tenants came from a slum clearance area. One person that remains in my memory was an old lady who lived at number seventy five.  As children we knew her as Mary Ann; she always wore a shawl and clogs. Every evening seven days a week she emerged from home carrying a pint jug and walked the length of Laxey Road, then up Park Lee Road, which at that time was unmade to the "Stop and Rest" pub. She would buy a pint of beer for her husband and make the long journey home. The jug was covered with crocheted material edged with beads. Why I should so clearly remember this lady I do not know. Perhaps she was the "last of her kind".
St Mary's School, Islington
As we are Catholics and lived on the Longshaw estate it was natural that I went to St Mary’s Catholic School, in Dean Street. Other children in our area went to Christ Church C of E school on Mosley Street. On my first day at school my mother would have accompanied me, though, I don’t remember. Two memories of that first year remain. First the tables and chairs were designed for children (three cheers), and there was the opportunity to have a sleep after dinner. This is something I still enjoy. Most children lived within walking distance of school, which meant we did four journeys a day including dinnertime. In those days our mothers' would usually be at home to make dinner. There was no provision for meals in school, though we had free milk each morning. During the whole of my school days I never travelled on public transport to or from school.
The walk to and from school each day provided many opportunities for adventure. The normal route was via Park Lee road, Lyndhurst road, Infirmary Street, Mosley Street, Hall Street, Bolton Road and finally over the iron bridge in Freckleton Street to Islington which was great for train spotting. Other routes provided alternative adventures.
The bridge over the canal in Hall Street provided the best opportunity for adventure. It was the regular routine to look over the bridge parapets to see the canal boats going through the locks or unloading coal for the mill boilers.  The risk takers among us would also climb over the arches and down the buttresses to the parapets. This was a very dangerous practice as one slip could result in a fall of many feet into the canal. I have done this risky exercise once only, and that was enough for me. A particular war time feature in Hall Street was a gas detector fitted by the kerbside, it was designed to change colour in the event of a gas attack. The colour indicated the type of gas being used by the Germans. The device was very badly positioned as far as children were concerned as it was in the middle of one of our best winter slides.
Another opportunity for adventure (or theft) was provided by heavy goods vehicles delivering sugar to a warehouse, used by the Ministry of Food for emergency stocks. The sugar was packed in good quality jute sacks from which we could extract sugar, and then restore the sacks to pristine condition. ( How?, is a trade secret). We mixed the sugar with cocoa powder to make ourselves a treat.
The railway at Islington has provided me with many hours of pleasure over the years. One particular war memory occurred on a murky February afternoon. I was sitting on the railway wall opposite St Mary’s church when an unusual silhouette appeared from the station direction. It turned out to be an American 2-8-0 engine pulling a goods train. The engine was on delivery from America having arrived at Glasgow docks, and, now working it’s way south to participate in the invasion of Europe. On the side of the engine was the legend “United States Transportation Corps”.
The first lesson in school each morning was scripture except on Monday mornings when the mass register was called. We had to attend 9am mass in St Mary's church each Sunday in classroom order with our teacher present. Anyone who was not present was required to see the head Sister to give an acceptable reason. No doubt the exercise was designed to ensure we got to heaven. Following scripture would be sums, writing, and reading with a little history and geography. This pattern continued for a few years then our activities expanded to include woodwork with Mr Marr at Moorgate Street, swimming with Mr Kay at Freckleton Street baths, and occasionally PT (Physical Training) in the Army barracks on Canterbury Street.  When children reached the age of 11 years we sat the eleven plus examination. The brighter pupils left to attend St Alban’s Higher Grade school or St Mary’s college. Children remaining stayed at St Mary’s school until the age of 14 years. No comment on that one, though the word "dim" comes to mind.
The school itself was a red brick Victorian building, well worn and hardly fit for purpose. We had no play facilities; other than Dean Street itself, which very soon had a large air raid shelter built on it. The older boys had a small yard available. Toilets were out door and provided very little privacy. The only tea making facility for teachers was an iron gas ring attached to a long rubber tube.
Former St. Marys junior school in Dean St.jpg    jb10399.jpg
Sunday September 3rd 1939 is a day I clearly remember. We went to 9am mass as a family and returned home to have breakfast. My dad lit the fire in the sitting room, switched on the wireless and we listened to the speech by Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain announcing “We are at war with Germany”. My mother was very upset and I saw her cry for the first time in my life. Unknown to me my dad had already been accepted for air gunner training in the Royal Air Force. Secretly I was pleased the war had begun. Monday September 4th was the day I had been looking forward too. When the day dawned, I could hear the clatter of weaver’s clogs as they made their way to work, I jumped out of bed, threw back the curtains, and I was bitterly disappointed. In my mind I had anticipated there would be loads of dead Germans in the road and I would at long last have a German soldier’s helmet as a souvenir. My parents have never known of this wish.
Inevitably the war brought change rapidly. For the first time in my life I had to carry something to school. Not school books or sandwiches but a gas mask in a brown cardboard box. Air raid drill and fire-fighting drill was added to the curriculum, and became part of our routine. Initially our school air raid shelter was the basement of Mrs Reidy’s house that was a two hundred and fifty yards dash from the school. We later had an air raid shelter built in Dean street.
On the domestic front my mother obtained employment at the gas mask factory in Griffin Street. My father’s job was classified as a reserved occupation therefore he did not go into the RAF. His work hours were extended to help cover employees conscripted into the forces. He was also required to do fire watching duties, that required he stayed at work all night twice a week. These changes in circumstances made me into a "latch door kid overnight”.
My mother left home for work before 7am each morning and arrived home around six o’clock in the evening. Because of the improved employment situation my mother had to find me a minder. My first minder lived at number 27 Laxey Road. The lady was very old fashioned, and, she had a fixed routine. Monday was wash day. The gas boiler was going most of the day making the whole house feel damp and miserable.If the weather was bad clothes were dried on clothes maidens in front of the fire and any other available space. Tuesday was mainly taken up with ironing and cleaning. Wednesday was bread-baking day. Flour and yeast were all kneaded together, covered with a cloth and placed near the fire to rise. The baking was done in a coal-fired oven. On Thursdays Mrs Preston’s mother used to visit for the day and interfere with everything that was going on. As was common in those days she sat very close to the fire and the front of her legs where red and burnt with the heat. Friday was the main shopping day though some shopping was done every day. The great plus of this place was the large mastiff dog they had. Rover as he was called became my best friend for many years, accompanying me whenever he could. Over the years I was “minded” by a motley collection of people.
One of the most serious problems for children was the total absence of sweets and chocolate. It was a very sad experience to go into a sweet shop and be faced with row after row of empty jars and tins. One of our favourite sweet shops was Annie Robinson's across the road from the "Savoy" cinema (flee pit) on Bolton Road. She was a very kind lady with a lovely set of silver whiskers. When you entered her shop the doorbell announced your arrival and she appeared from the back room. She would kindly explain that she had nothing to sell, other than parched peas that she kept in a badly chipped enamel basin on the counter. Occasionally she would have a supply of broken biscuits for sale which she had bought from Bannister's wholesale grocers .The shop still had gas lighting.
Another source of food was Dean's confectioners in Canterbury Street. We would go into the bakery via the back yard door and ask for a one penny (1p) hot barm cake fresh out of the oven. Usually they would oblige, and then we would scoop out the middle, eat that first and then eat the remainder. Chewing gum was not available so we would buy wax candles and chew them. Sometimes they would become chewy and pleasant but on other occasions they would be flaky and inedible. If we became desperate we would call at a herbalist's shop in Darwen Street and buy some senna pod seeds. Because of the consequences most of the children only did this once.  On the theme of chocolate my mother had accumulated a small supply of Cadbury's ration chocolate, and hidden them away for a Christmas treat. When Christmas came we opened the chocolate and the taste was horrible. My mother had stored the chocolate in a clothes drawer protected by mothballs. Mothball flavoured chocolate is horrible.
School life went on, but some changes did happen. Tape was stuck on all windows to prevent splinters and blackout material was provided to prevent lights showing. Sand bags where provided for the protection of important buildings, and as you would expect our school did not qualify. Stirrup pumps for fighting fires became a normal feature of life in our classrooms.
In the classroom we received a small number of evacuees mainly from the Manchester area. We had one evacuee from Brighton with a unique feature. It was the norm for boys to wear short trousers with buttoned flies or even no flies, (technical problems here?) but this lad had flies with a zip, which raises the question, What happens if he traps his “what not” in the zip?  A much more serious problem for some of the children was missing fathers, (P.O.Ws) or fathers that had been killed.
One of the early problems to arise was the provision of meals now that more parents went out to work. At St Mary’s we had no provision for catering so arrangements were made to dine in old school buildings on Bolton Road. Very soon a “British Restaurant” was opened in Mayson Street, just off Lower Audley Street. This facility was designed to provide workers with a substantial meal at a very reasonable price.
There was seldom any interruption in lessons during the day by enemy action. We did occasionally have air raid siren alarms that meant we had to go in the air raid shelters. On one occasion when we had a swimming lesson in the Freckleton Street baths we saw a German plane flying very low. Air raid warnings normally occurred at night, though bombs were seldom dropped in our area. The sound of German aeroplanes was very distinctive and they would normally be flying to or from Manchester, Liverpool and Barrow in Furness. When we had an air raid at night we used our Anderson shelter accompanied by two neighbours whose husbands were away in the RAF. For a period of time we had an anti aircraft gun at the end of Laxey road which was accompanied by a barrage balloon. The soldiers said the gun was part of the defences for the Royal Ordnance Factory at Blackamoor. Does this statement breach the advert current at the time "Careless talk costs lives"? The nearest bomb to our house was in Bennington Street which is now the home of  St Mary and St Joseph RC Primary School which has replaced the Dean Street school.
Highlights of my schooling are very limited. In 1937 I can remember walking to Preston New Road to see King George V1 and the Queen passing in an open Rolls Royce car.  We also received a coronation mug which survived for over thirty years then failed to bounce when it hit the kitchen floor. On another occasion we walked to the Town Hall to see a Spitfire that was on show as the centre piece for “War Weapons Week“. The purpose being to encourage  everyone to buy National Savings Certificates to pay for the war.
Nitty Nora (the nurse) was a regular visitor to the school and the success of her visit was evidenced by the number of children that finished up with their hair cut short and their head painted purple. A visit to the school dentist in Victoria Street clinic was another hurdle to be crossed.
A final memory occurred on the final day of the war in Europe. (May 1945) One of the boys came dashing into the headmaster’s room shouting “The war is over”, “The war is over”. As a reward for the good news he got a clout round the ears and told "Get back to your desk and get on with your work." 
Leaving School. July 1945.
When I walked out of school on my final day there was no formal recognition made by anyone in authority.  After nine years education my achievements can be summarised as: three certificates for swimming; a reading lamp I made at woodwork, and on the religious front I made my first confession, communion and confirmation. For some unknown reason I remember the poem "Wizard Frost" by Frank Demster Sherman who died in 1887. On the down side I achieved no academic qualifications, though I was an ink monitor for twelve months.
Looking back on my school life I feel the academic education was very poor, particularly in the final year when the headmaster allowed us to play football in the school yard for many hours. He considered his office work was more important than our education. My school days did not include daily assembly, written homework, private study, examinations or annual school reports.
We did learn that our faith is important to our life, along with honesty, integrity and reliability. This has been confirmed by the reality of my life.
The picture below shows Mum and Dad in our garden at Laxey Road, Note the modified Anderson air raid shelter, and the vase we still possess. Photo is Circa 1950.
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