​​​​​Robert Beard

Chapter One
I was born on the 10th March 1942, at Springfield Maternity Home, Blackburn, Lancashire.  It was originally built in 1878 as a private residence but opened as a maternity home in 1923 and when I made my appearance the Matron was one Miss F Bambridge.  Sadly, Springfield was demolished in 1958 along with much of old Blackburn and now only exists in old photographs.

Image 1.jpg   Image 2.jpg
Springfield Maternity Home
With the war entering its third year, and my father serving with the army, my home for the next ten years would be with my mother and her parents, my zgrandparents, at Mount Street.  It would be 1944 before I would finally meet my father – not that I remember the occasion to be honest.

Image 3.jpg
My Father and Me
Throughout the war my dad was a dispatch rider and in 1944 was escorting a convoy from Scotland to the South of England.  Now Dispatch riders had this little scam that they used to pull if the convoy they were escorting happened to pass close to where their family lived.  Claiming to be low on fuel the rider would pull over to the side of the road and wait for the petrol bowser, always the last vehicle in the convoy, to reach them.  The bowser would then stop, refuel the motorbike, and continue on its way leaving the dispatch rider to his own devices.  The rider would then make a small diversion to visit his family briefly before re-joining the convoy.  This is precisely what my dad did and the photograph shows me standing beside him outside 11 Mount Street.  Don’t you just love the outfit that I am wearing! 

Image 4.jpg
​Number 11 Mount Street was typical of many terraced houses in Northern Mill Towns.  Built from dressed stone blocks it had a cellar, three rooms downstairs, three rooms upstairs and an outside toilet (privy).  Each room, apart from the kitchen, had an open cast iron fireplace though the bedroom ones were only used if someone was ill and confined to bed.  There was no electricity and the lighting was by gas lamps that had to have a silk mantle placed over the jet to diffuse the flame and give a brighter light.  These were extremely fragile and frequently broke when being fitted or being lit.  There was no hot water so baths were either taken in a tin bath in front of the fire or at public baths in the town centre.
Entering the house from the street you stepped into the hall, which was where grandpa kept his bicycle.  This had a small saddle fitted to the crossbar for me to sit on if he decided to take me for a ride.  My feet would rest on footrests fitted to the down tube and I would hold onto the handlebars.  There were no Health and Safety rules in those days!

The first room off the hall was the front room or parlour.  This was the “best” room and was only used on holidays and at Christmas or maybe the weekend if there was enough coal to light the fire.  It had a three-piece suite covered in rexine (artificial leather) which I remember crackled when you sat on it!  In the window there was a cabinet containing a wind up gramophone and on top of the cabinet a huge pot with an aspidistra plant.  The front window also had full-length shutters, which could be closed at night or in the winter to conserve heat.

The next door led to the cellar.  This opened directly onto the stone steps that went down to the cellar and if you weren’t paying attention you could easily fall straight down them.  The cellar had a very uneven flagstone floor, was always damp and smelt of mould.  Indeed, the only part we used was the coalhole where the coal landed when it was dropped through the pavement manhole by the coalman.  At the top of the steps there was a shelf where Grandpa kept a tin that he put all his cigarette ends in.  Now you must remember that in those days’ cigarettes with cork or filter tips were only smoked by women so all of Grandpas cigarette ends still contained a small amount of tobacco.  Over a period of time these small amounts could be made up into a cigarette, albeit a rather stale and dry one.  However, we were at war and although cigarettes and tobacco were not rationed and relatively cheap- 20 players cost 6p- they were in short supply.  So if you were a smoker then stale and dry was better than nothing.

Image 5.jpg
Next came the living room where we really spent most of our time.  To the left of the door stood the piano, which Aunty Margaret could play, and in front of that was Grandpas wicker armchair, a table with an oilcloth tablecloth, and assorted chairs.  Opposite the door, beside the window, there was a huge chest of drawers that the “wireless” (radio) stood on.  As there was no electricity this was powered by an accumulator (battery), which was about the size and weight of a car battery.  This had to be recharged periodically, which meant taking it to the “wireless” shop in Railway Road (pictured right).  It was roughly where the car is parked in the picture.  Because of the accumulators weight it was usually taken to and from the shop on my pushchair.  Grandma had her own chair beside the fireplace and on the opposite side there was a bed-chair.  This was an early form of today’s recliner.  Between the fireplace and the kitchen, or scullery, there was a floor to ceiling built in cupboard or dresser unit.

From the living room you stepped down into the kitchen or scullery.  This room had a flagstone floor, which was always cold, even in summer.  Under the window was a stone sink with draining board and above it the only water tap in the house.  In the corner there was a brick built copper.  Every Monday the metal tub in the top would be filled with water and a fire lit underneath it in the space provided.  Once the water was boiling the weekly wash would be tipped in.  This was very hard and heavy work for my Grandma and my mother, which was not helped by the heat and steams that the boiler produced.  The steam would spread throughout the entire house and condensation would run down all the windows.  The only other appliance in the kitchen was the gas stove.  In 1942 fitted kitchens hadn’t even been thought of and storage consisted of open shelves the lower ones often having a curtain across the front.

​Going outside from the scullery you stepped into the flagstone backyard.  Directly opposite the scullery door there was a gate, which opened into the covered passageway between numbers eleven and thirteen.  Not only was this a handy place to play when it was raining it was also a very useful place to hang the washing on wet days.  In the corner of the yard there was a raised area that was filled with earth.  I imagine that the original intention was to make this into a small garden with flowers etc.  For whatever reason this never happened and the only thing that grew there was a solitary privet tree.  Years later this tree would bring a lump to my throat.

Image 6.jpg
Tagged onto the end of the scullery was the privy.  In winter this usually had a paraffin heater burning to stop the pipes and cistern from freezing and in summer it was home to some very big spiders – and I do mean big! These creatures had the habit of walking slowly across the floor when either Mother or Grandma was using the loo.  Toilet paper, “bumph” as Grandpa called it, consisted of squares of newspaper, threaded on string, and hung on a nail on the back of the door.

The upstairs of number eleven had three bedrooms of which mine was the smallest.  To save having to get out of bed to turn the gas light off it was common practice to take a lighted candle to bed.  Each bedroom also had its own chamber pot; as no one wanted to get out of bed, go downstairs and outside to use the loo- especially in winter!

So that is the house where I lived- now join me on a walkabout outside as I point out some of the places that played a part in my early life, some more than others.  I will elaborate on those in later chapters.

The public baths mentioned earlier in the chapter were in Belper Street.
Image 7.jpg
Belper Street Baths
There were separate entrances and baths for men and women and when you paid your money, you would be given a towel, a bar of soap, and the number of your “bathroom”.  These were like wooden cubicles with a chair, hooks to hang your clothes on and a bath.
These “bathrooms” were called slipper baths and in addition to these, the building housed the swimming baths.

​​Chapter Two​

Image 8.jpg 
Turning left out of number eleven we walk to the corner of Mount Street and Foundry Hill where the blacksmiths forge is (2).  This belonged to Duttons Brewery and was originally constructed to look after the dray horses.  However, as Duttons had swapped horses for lorries the blacksmiths rarely had any horses in the forge.  None the less it was always nice to dive in there on the way home from school, especially on a cold, wet, winters day.  I would watch the blacksmith making and repairing all manner of things before going home for my tea.

Continuing down Foundry Hill to the bottom there was a large open space on the right hand side (3) where the buses would be parked when not in service.  It was also where the Standerwick and Scout coaches picked up and dropped off on the London service.  Just in front of the wall there was a spot where a newspaperman stood and most evenings I would go and buy Grandpas Evening Telegraph from him.  It was also where I bought my copy of the very first issue of the Eagle comic.  How I wish I still had it – it is worth a fortune today!

Image 9.jpg    
Image 10.jpg
The Eagle Comic and Founry hill Park.

Image 11.jpg
Across the road from Foundry Hill is Vicar Street and at the top of Vicar Street where it meets Starkie Street was a corner shop (4).  This can be seen at the top of the street just left of the lamppost in the photograph.   (Starkie Street was named after the Vicar Starkie)

I would often be sent there on errands by my mum or Gran but the one errand that sticks in my mind was when I bought a sliced loaf of bread there.  In those days bread did not come ready sliced so this was something of an innovation.   I can remember, as if it was yesterday, that the loaf came in a waxed paper wrapper, it was called “Chieftain” and had a picture of a North American Indian with full war bonnet on the wrapper.

Retracing our steps we walk back up Foundry Hill to its junction with Mount Street.

Image 11a.jpgThe large building on the opposite corner from the blacksmiths is the garage for the Evening Telegraph newspaper vans (5).
But it wasn’t always a van garage.  It started life in 1810 as the Mount Street Presbyterian Chapel. But fell into decline when a much grander church was opened in 1868.

Image 11b.jpg
Mount Street Presbyterian Chapel

Next to the garage there was a small burial ground (6) containing just forty graves.  One of these was the grave of George Henderson who was murdered near Bolton in 1838.  The memorial placed on his resting place read as follows-
In memory of George Henderson, Traveller, Native of Annan, Dumfriesshire, who in the 20th year of his age, when dutifully Following his Master’s business, was barbarously Murdered on Horwich Moor, at Noon Day, on the Ninth of November, MMCCCXXXVIII
Alas, the stonemason who inscribed the epitaph was confused by the Roman numerals for the year 1838 and, by mistake, chiselled those for 2338! I shall return to the graveyard in a later chapter.

Image 12.jpgAlongside the burial ground there was a two down two up house (just visible on the right hand side of the chapel painting) where a Mrs Whitehead lived.
Next door to this was the Dolphin public house (7).  The observant grandson will notice that the pub is actually displaying two names – the Dolphin Hotel and The Kings Arms.
This came about when Whitbreads bought Duttons brewery out.  For short while agreement couldn’t be reached about what the pub should be called.
Finally, the Dolphin Hotel won the day and that is what it remained until it was demolished.
The Dolphin was on the corner of an alleyway at the end of which stood the gates to the Fish Dock (8) or Fish Hillock as it was known locally- but more of that later.

Chapter Three

They say that school days are the happiest days of your life and this may be true in many cases.  In my case I cannot say that was the case.
Due to catching measles and then, straight after, chickenpox I started school much later than I should have.  Having had the misfortune to be born with flat feet I was also attending the Blackburn Infirmary on a regular basis for remedial treatment, which caused me to lose several days schooling each term.  I never really caught up so was always lagging behind the others in my class.
For reasons that I could never work out I was also bullied at school.  There was one particular lad, Roy Barrow, who for no reason whatsoever, would wait for me after school simply to beat me up.  This meant that I spent much of my day deciding which way to go home, in the hope of avoiding him, instead of concentrating on the lesson in hand.

The school that I attended was St. Matthews, which was located in a district of Blackburn called Higher Audley.  Being a Church of England school it was attached to St. Matthews’s church.
As I recall the headmaster was a Mr Caton and my teachers were Miss Shuttlewick and Miss Brindley.  The only other pupils that I can remember were a Sandra Tyson and a boy whose name escapes me but he was what was known as a “blue baby”.  This was an illness not uncommon in those days and was caused by the blood not being able to carry enough oxygen.  This meant that the child had a permanent blue colouration to their skin and, sadly, did not live very long.
Unfortunately there was no bus or tram service that would take me from Mount Street to school so it was a case of walking – uphill on the way to school and downhill on the way home.  The walk wasn’t too bad in the summer but was terrible in the winter or if it was raining.  The situation wasn’t helped by the fact that I was somewhat overweight at the time.

This aerial photo shows the distance from Mount Street to St. Matthews School and the dotted line shows the route I walked.  Let me walk you through it.
Image 13.jpg

Walking up Mount Street I would turn right into Foundry Hill.  Passing the Ribble bus depot and garage I would then turn left into the alleyway that led up into Cicely Lane (See A on the aerial photograph)
Image 14.jpg

Turning right I start the climb up the slope of Cicely Lane towards Cicely Bridge which crosses the Leeds and Liverpool canal.  (See B on aerial photograph)
Image 15.jpg

Cicely Bridge was something of a novelty as it had a gent’s urinal built onto the side and when you peed it went straight down into the canal below! (See C on aerial photograph) The urinal is the structure on the left hand side as seen from the canal towpath.
Image 16.jpg

Looking over the bridge parapet you could look straight down the canal to Eanam Wharf.  On busy canal days the coal barges would be moored up line astern waiting to unload their cargos, which was usually coal for the many mills in the area.  There were wharfs all along this stretch of the canal many were attached to the cotton mills that lined the bank.
Image 17.jpg

Image 18.jpg
Across the bridge, on the right, was the Cicely Bridge mill.  On hot days the mill would open the double doors facing the road and you could see all weaving looms working.  Leather belts operated all the machines that ran from a central drive shaft and pulley system.  The noise of the belts flapping about combined with the noise of the looms was tremendous and how the women workers stood it I don’t know.  The picture on the left shows a typical weaving room. (Demolished for housing in 1966
I would often stand and watch the women as they worked the great looms and was very often late for school as a consequence.

I did eventually start school at some point towards the end of 1947 and apart from the odd illness and not infrequent beating up I survived until 1948.  In that year the “biggy” happened – I had to go into hospital to have my tonsils and adenoids removed.  The hospital chosen for this event was the Queens Park Hospital, which wasn’t the most attractive of buildings.  Originally built as the workhouse for the poor it still retained a grim and foreboding appearance.   Whilst incarcerated in the hospital however something happened, the memory of which has stayed with me to this day. 

A baby was snatched from the ward immediately beneath mine and murdered.  The resulting police investigation became a landmark case in British legal history.  The following is an abridged version of articles that appeared in the newspapers at the time.

In the early hours of 15th May 1948 3 year old June Anne Devaney was taken from her cot in Ward CH3, brutally murdered and sexually attacked.
The only tangible evidence was some fingerprints on a bottle of sterile water that was lying next to the empty cot.

The Chief Constable wasted no time in calling in Scotland Yard and Detective Chief Inspector Jack Capstick was assigned to the case.

Capstick then took the controversial decision to fingerprint every male over the age of sixteen who had been in Blackburn on the 14th and 15th of May promising that all prints would be destroyed afterwards.

After the collection of over 46,000 sets of fingerprints set number 46,253 was found to match the prints on the bottle. These belonged to Peter Griffiths, an ex- guardsman, and he was arrested the next day.

At his trial Griffiths pleaded not guilty but the police had more evidence including matching fibres on his clothes and bloodstains that matched Junes blood group.

The jury took just 23 minutes to return a guilty verdict.  Griffiths was hanged at Walton Prison, Liverpool on 19th November 1948.  Two weeks before, on 3rd November the police kept their promise and destroyed almost 47,000 sets of fingerprints.” 
 [for the full account go to; ​the Murder of June Ann Devany]
I can still remember the police calling at Mount Street and taking my Grandpas fingerprints and also my uncle Jacks as he happened to be visiting at the time.  I also remember that I hid under the table!
Image 19.jpg
The Grave of June Ann Devany
Blackburn Old Cemetery, ​Whalley Old Road

June Anne was buried at Whalley Old Road Cemetery along with Thomas and Esther Taylor who were her grandparents.
It was not uncommon for this to be done in those days, as people could not always afford to buy a plot and pay for a funeral.

Image 20.jpg

In recent years I did learn that June Anne had a sister and, as if June’s murder was not enough, her sister was tragically knocked down and killed by a ​tram in Penny Street, Blackburn some years later.
The Devaney’s must have been devastated.

Chapter Four
Image 21.jpg

Playtime in my childhood meant playing in and around Mount Street.  The street was like a small community where everyone looked out for each other and for each other’s children.  There were also hardly any motor vehicles so the street was a pretty safe place to play.  But a deserted, cobble stoned street can only hold the attention of two young lads for so long.  One of those lads was me and the other was my mate Carl Holiday.

Image 22.jpgAcross the street from the house was the disused burial ground mentioned in chapter one (map ref 1).  The ground lay between the old chapel building and number eight Mount Street with a high brick wall at the back.  Across the front there was a low wall which originally had cast iron railings along the top.  These had long since been removed to support the war effort and all that remained were the stumps so it was very easy for Carl and me to get into the graveyard.  Sadly no pictures of it exist of it but picture A gives an excellent impression of what it looked like.
In a street of stone built, soot-coated buildings that little graveyard was an oasis of greenery where Carl and I played out the roles of our comic book heroes.  We could be soldiers fighting the evil Nazis or cowboys fighting the Indians – the options were endless.  Tombs became forts or covered wagons or anything our imaginations wanted them to be.

Image 23.jpg
At the end of Mount Street were the gates to Spring Gardens (map ref 2).  This was originally the home of the Anderton family who built Spring Hill Mill, the second cotton mill to be built in Blackburn.
However when I was a child the mill had disappeared and the house shown on the left, the original Anderton home, was occupied by a Mrs Mottershead.  (We called her Mrs Mophead).  She fiercely guarded her little domain and woe betide any children she caught sneaking into the grounds.  Not that it stopped us.  We thought it was great fun to sneak into the gardens and see how long it took her to spot us and chase us off.

Image 24.jpg
At the bottom of the gardens was All Hallows Well (map ref 3).  This used to be the town’s only source of fresh water but had long ago been abandoned and fallen in disrepair.  In the Middle Ages pilgrims came to the well to take its curative waters supposedly very good for bad eyes. Also known as the “Treacle Wells” the word “treacle” originated from the Latin “theriacea” meaning an antidote or medicinal compound, and was anglicised to “treacle” in Middle English, which was formed between 1150 and 1500.  Thus, it is likely that the term “treacle” dates from around that time. I just know that when I knew the well you would not want to drink the water or even wash your hands in it! Alongside the garden gates the wall curved round to a high wooden gate behind which was the “coke yard” (map ref 4).  This was where Thwaites Brewery stored their coke and hundreds of old empty barrels.  Getting into the yard entailed climbing over the wall and even today I still have the scars on my knees as testimony to the many times I slipped in the process.
The yard sat between Spring Gardens and the alleyway that ran down to the station.  Running the length of the alley wall was a single storey building which may once have been stables but was now where the barrels were stored.  I cannot recall how many “dens” Carl and I constructed using those barrels, nor can I understand how none of them ever fell on us causing serious injury.  The main body of the yard was where the coke itself was kept in great mounds that were level with the top of the building.  By climbing up the coke “mountain” we were able to walk up to the roof and watch people walking along the alleyway without them knowing.

Image 25.jpgBut our favourite haunt was most probably the Fish Dock or, as most people knew it, the Fish Hillock (map ref 5) shown on the right in picture B.  This was where trains arriving from Fleetwood unloaded their cargoes of fish for the waiting fish merchants. Now we knew how to get through the gate and onto the dock or platform.  Quite often the train would leave the empty goods wagons alongside the platform to be collected another day.  When this happened we would become Wild West “train robbers” diving in and out of the wagons.  We even used to climb across the buffers and drop down onto the track below. Along the Back of the platform there was a canopy beneath which the fish merchants kept their weighing scales and boxes.  Occasionally there would be some boxes full of fish left there waiting to be collected by a local fishmonger.  When this happened it was not unusual for a nice cod or haddock to disappear- well, you cannot beat a nice fresh piece of fish with a few chips can you?  Once again it was a miracle that we never had a serious accident.  The platform and the wagons were always very slippery with fish scales and a fall could have had serious consequences.

But there is worse to come!!!
Image 26.jpg
At the far end of the “dock” the platform sloped down to ground level beside the tracks.  This was where the “circus train” would unload the circus horses and elephants that would lead the parade through the town to the Big Top.  Before leaving the railway sidings the elephants were very often used to help push some of the heavier wagons around.  In those days animal acts formed a large part of the circus performance.

Image 27.jpgIt was also where; once a year, that the Household Cavalry horses and the Blues and Royals mounted band horses were unloaded to take part in the Royal Lancashire Show.
This was where I saw and stroked Pompey, the famous drum horse of the Blues and Royals. He was an enormous, but very gentle, Shire horse.  As no good photographs seem to exist of Pompey I have used the picture on the left, which is actually of Spartacus who could, in appearance, have been Pompey’s twin.

Image 28.jpgFrom here the railway disappeared into the Daisyfield tunnel also known as the “Black Hole”.  Carl and I would walk across the tracks to the side of the tunnel mouth.   Once there we would press ourselves against the wall and wait for the express to come through the tunnel from Daisyfield.  As it entered the far end of the tunnel we would feel the wall starting to vibrate.  The vibrations would get stronger and stronger as the express got closer until it finally “burst” from the tunnel mouth, its steam whistle blasting to warn the station it wasn’t stopping.  The noise and feelings it all generated was indescribable!  The picture on the right shows a slow special leaving the tunnel – we would have been standing against the wall on the right hand side just about where the circular sign is!
How we were never sucked under the trains wheels by the back draught I shall never know.

Image 29.jpg                                                                                              Image 30.jpg
  Me with Angela                                                                                                                      ​Dolores
Of course Carl and I weren’t the only kids on the block.  There was Angela, who lived round the corner in Well Street but we didn’t see very much of her as she didn’t like boys games, and then there was Dolores who lived at number nineteen Mount Street.  Dolores lived with her Mum and Aunty and was completely different to Angela.  She was a real tomboy and loved to play boys games.  Many was the time she would tuck her skirt into her knickers (little girls didn’t wear trousers in those days) so that she could climb trees or scale the coke yard wall more easily.  The photo on the left shows me, age 8 and Dolores age 6 outside the old Mount Street chapel.  The one on the right is Dolores aged 7.
What do you reckon to my cardigan then – pretty cool eh lad.

Image 31.jpgOnce we were old enough we were allowed to go to Corporation Park, which involved walking down to the boulevard and catching the bus to Preston New Road and the main entrance to the park which was very close to Springfield Maternity Home where I had been born.
Originally the Pemberton Clough estate, the owner, John Fielden, sold 50 acres to the Blackburn council for £65 an acre.  Work began on landscaping the park in February 1855 and the new Corporation Park opened on 22nd October 1857.  The Snig Brook flowed through the park into two lakes, formerly known as The Can and The Big Can.  These two lakes were the first reservoirs for the town’s water supply.


Image 32.jpgThe park was great and had a “secret” path, which branched off from the main path known as the Broad Walk.  You walked through lots of bushes and trees and eventually came to some steps.  These led to two big round concrete platforms each of which had a cannon standing on it.  You can just see the platforms and the cannons in the top of the left hand picture.
The canons were two Russian guns that had been captured at Sebastopol during the Crimean War.  Here are some pictures of the park:-

Image 33, 34, 35.jpg

Image 36, 37, 38, 39.jpg

​The Tunne​l

Another picture of the tunnel where Carl and I used to lean against the wall and wait for the express to come through.

Image 40.jpg 
The Tunnel into Blackburn Station 
Looking at the Picture you will see two goods wagons on the left, that was where we got down onto the track.
We would then walk along the tunnel mouth, lean against the wall, and wait for the express to enter the tunnel.  We would feel the tunnel wall begin to vibrate and as the train got nearer the vibration got stronger until the train burst out of the tunnel.  Only now, as an adult do I realise just how stupid we were and how lucky I am to be alive to tell the story.  The bridge over the tunnel carries Cicely Lane over the railway and I would walk up Cicely Lane on my way to school.​

Late Extra

Another shot of Blackburn railway sidings taken from the road above the tunnel.  The points of interest are:-

Image 40a.jpg

Don’t know what the girder construction is but its placing would be approximately where Spring Gardens used to be.
Not sure when this was taken but suspect it was after much of Mount Street had been demolished.
The rear wall of the public house has had its lettering removed and the crates stacked up to the left of the public house are where the first houses in the street would have been.

This is an extract from a later chapter when I returned to Blackburn from London to show my then wife where I had lived as a child.
“My next visit was several years later.  I walked up the alleyway from the station and turned into Mount Street alongside the Dolphin Hotel.  Except it wasn’t Mount Street! It was as demolition site.  The entire street had been demolished.  Everywhere there were just huge piles of rubble.  I looked across to where my childhood home should have been and a lump came into my throat.  Sticking up out of the rubble like a lone sentinel was the privet tree still standing in what had been my back-yard.  It was, for me, a very sad moment and the end of a chapter.”

Image 41.jpg

The tree can be seen behind my mother and me – the white brick wall was part of the Dutton Brewery Offices which I now think were built on the land where Sower Court had once stood.​

Image 44 Map.jpg

Published October 2023