The place where I grew up (5)

After Smart’s wool and dress shop, the next shop was Burton’s Stores, which sold food and general groceries. As a little boy, of course, I did not realise that this was just one shop in a chain of many hundreds, stretching across most of the East Midlands, and in particular, the area around Nottingham. Still less did I anticipate the fact that one day, I would spend my entire working life in the school where the founder of the firm, Frank Burton, had received his education, in the last decades of the nineteenth century. Here he is, ten minutes after he won the Gold Award in “Waxed Moustache Magazine” for December 1886:

Here’s Burton’s Stores today:

Just past Burton’s Stores was Shepherd’s the Chemists where, one day in the late 1950s, I was treated for the severe forehead cut which I suffered when I fell over on the pavement outside the shop, near the bus stop. Here’s the Chemists today:

Conceptually, the last business in the High Street was the Post Office which was just past the chemist’s. It was run by Ernie Chell and many is the First Day Cover I purchased from him over the years of the late 1960s and 1970s. Here is a first day cover from the early 1960s:

And here is the Post Office today, its presence in this rapidly decaying village guaranteed by government hand-outs, as was recently revealed in the local newspaper:

Next to the Post Office was the motorbike shop, which we as little boys always thought was the home of the Woodville Chapter of the Derbyshire Hell’s Angels. Now its changed its orientation and is home to “Chaps” and “Swishhh”:

Opposite was Dytham’s Dairy, which delivered milk to most of the area. Now it is home to “Timber Town Trophies whose opening hours are on their website“:

Beyond that on the right was the road which led up to the Infants’ School and to Woodville Secondary Modern, the destination, alas, of so many young people of the village over the years.  More striking, though, before its demolition in the late 1950s, was the vast bulk of the Wesleyan Church, which, in the vision of a five or six year old boy, towered as high as a medieval cathedral. Like the products of so many of the local pipe works, it was of a dark, reddish brown, made of bricks which may well themselves have had a partially glazed surface:

Beyond this was Leese’s furniture shop, which, despite its distant location at the top end of High Street, survived as a business for many years after I left the village.

Here is the shop today. Closed at 11 o’clock in the morning:

I was simply amazed at the economic desolation of Woodville today. So many shops were derelict. Presumably that is why everybody voted for Brexit. It was hoped that this gesture would be a punch on the nose of our politicians who have allowed the life of the ordinary working man in the north and Midlands to degenerate to an unacceptable standard. He no longer has any pride in what he does, and that is wrong.

I suppose the slogan will have to be “Let’s make Woodville great again”. Or at the very least, nice to live in.

One feature of life in the 1950s which has disappeared for ever from Woodville, and indeed from the whole of the rest of the country, was what used to happen at the end of every single working day, as all the factories closed down at five o’clock in the late afternoon.

Every single works, every single factory, had its own siren or hooter which would be sounded loudly in the still calm of the evening. From my Dad’s own back garden, he would have been able to hear perhaps as many as ten different factories closing down for the day, one after another.

Each hooter had its own distinctive note, and this, coupled with the direction the noise was coming from, meant that, with practice, every single one could be identified. Every night too, they would sound in the same order, a few seconds apart, and it was therefore possible to anticipate Outram’s, say, or Knowles’s or Wragg’s, all finishing work for the day.

Pretty much the same thing used to happen at the end of every lunch hour, as the managers and owners tried to bring their tired staff back for the afternoon. This was always less impressive, however, as invariably, the end of the midday break was always slightly different by at least a few minutes for every single factory.

I could only find a single factory hooter on Youtube. Listen from one minute onward:

Youtube also features the really unusual work of composer Arseny Avramov who created both a “Symphony Of Factory Sirens” and a second “Symphony of Industrial Horns” in 1922, using the various factory hooters of Baku in what was then the Soviet Union.








Filed under History, Humour, My House, Personal, Politics

22 responses to “The place where I grew up (5)

  1. Best wishes for Christmas mate, and a great new Year.
    Catch you around the traps in the new year John.

  2. Jan

    Thanks for an entertaining year of Blog posts. Time to clock-off until 2020?

    • Well, I’m delighted that you liked them, but I’m afraid I’m rather like one of those sharks that has to keep swimming or die. I can’t swim, so I write blog posts.
      In actual fact my technique is to have a lot of posts ready and scheduled and then to have, say, a month or so off, while I work on a book. My last one scheduled at the moment is in mid-February, and it is the very final instalment on the Sunderland. At the moment I’m working on new posts about Walruses, Bomber Command, and fairies.

    • Thank you for those kind words, Derrick. I try hard to be interesting although as an ex-French teacher, I am drawn almost irresistibly towards being boring. I just wish I had been able to find a bit of Mr Avramov’s “Symphony Of Factory Sirens” to include.

  3. You know my feelings on ‘Making Woodville Great Again!” Get the public working on it, John!!

    • That could be my New Year resolution, couldn’t it? I always wonder whether Mr Trump has had any joy with changing what seems an almost irresistible slide downwards of the western countries. He was on the BBC news last night making a speech, and I could see the people in the audience behind him. They could have walked straight off the streets of Woodville and they had such faith in him in their eyes and written on all their faces. I do so hope that they, and their cousins in England begin to see some kind of change for the better. They certainly deserve it.

      • Yes, indeed, John. We have been in a slide down with our politicians and that’s why I was hoping people would give Trump a chance, because he is the farthest thing from our politicians. He looks at things in the terms of business. With all the complaints about him, I have yet to have one of them say how their lives have changed to the worse since he took office. Their lives have either stayed the same or improved! So – what’s the beef?

  4. What I am completely unable to understand is why the working class of the North and the Midlands elected a Tory Government. Have they all forgotten Margaret Thatcher? Do the people of Grimsby think that Boris Johnson will bring back the fishing fleet?

    Be interesting to go back in another 50 years time and repeat the exercise. Stay healthy John!

    • Well, the ones I have seen interviewed said that they all wanted Brexit to go ahead and they were the only party who would do it. More significantly perhaps, they all said that Labour had had long enough in Leigh / Bolsover / wherever, and they had achieved b*gg*r-all, so let Boris have a go. I was quite surprised too that there was no sympathy whatsoever for Dennis Skinner, a man who I have always quite admired for his willingness to criticise.
      I presume that those northern constituencies may also have been influenced by all kinds of local details that I know nothing about. For example, Nottingham, bizarrely for me, actually stayed Labour yet again, despite regularly coming absolute bottom of every league for schools you see. And I know, from writing those books about the war casualties at the High School, that the city and county fifty years ago produced innumerable boys who won scholarships to a private school, did well and then got into Oxford or Cambridge. They don’t seem to do it now, although hopefully, when they do, it is just a case of the newspapers not bothering to report it.
      The people in Leigh or Bolsover might well be influenced by little things like that which I know nothing about.

      • I still struggle to understand what advantage there is at all in leaving the EU?

      • Well, I voted “Leave” because I didn’t want to have Parliament forced to adopt laws framed by unelected bureaucrats in countries with a very rich history of fascism (Spain, Portugal, Germany, Italy, Greece) and very little history of democracy (Poland, Hungary, Rumania, Bulgaria).
        The staff at our Co-op didn’t want to lose their minimum wage jobs to EC nationals from eastern Europe willing to work for peanuts. I have also heard how some small towns have been changed completely by the influx of eastern Europeans although I have not seen this personally, other than the last time I was in Penzance, the newspaper’s “In the Courts” was more or less 100% about drunken Poles fighting (each other) in various places.
        As a frequent flyer at our health centre, I do myself wonder just how much the free medical care for EC citizens costs the NHS because I don’t think there will be too many sick English people getting free treatment in the EC as part of any reciprocal agreement. I would freely admit that I know next to nothing about trade agreements and such, although personally, I would rather trade with the poorer Commonwealth countries such as in the West Indies and Africa, than help the ex-Warsaw pact improve their living standards.

      • I voted leave but regret it now. I voted leave because of the Brussells corruption but have come to realise that the UK government machine is just as corrupt. e.g. PM handing out peerages to people that did’t get elected and then appointing them to the Cabinet. That is not democracy.

      • Fully agree with you there. When I’m in charge the House of Lords will be the first to go. I will probably replace it with a “House of TV Stars” who will perform the same tasks.

  5. I think you hit the nail in the head there Iohn. “He has no pride in what he does”. Sadly the public today don’t have any pride in where they live and as a result many small towns and villages have lost their character, their small shops and the pride which once made this country great. I don’t see any politician who has the backbone to stand up and be counted, to fight for what this country needs and to get it going again. It was the capital of engineering once, not any more. These little villages had a heart and a soul, now that’s all gone, and all we are left with are run down and dilapidated properties waiting to be vandalised and then replaced with a fast food outlet that’ll create an obese community. Whatever happened to the ‘Great’ in Great Britain?

    • Well, it’s only my own personal opinion, but I think that the “Great” in Great Britain is lying dead in no-man’s land at Loos, Arras, Gallipoli, the Somme, Messines, Passchendaele, the German spring offensive of 1918, and any other WW1 battle you care to name. The young men from the universities (c 20 years old), killed in these battles in enormous numbers, would have been running the country around 1935-1950 and could perhaps have addressed our decline into mediocrity. As it was, the ones who survived WW1 tended to be the people who had had to be conscripted, who, by definition, were surely less decisive, more timid, even cowardly, than the ones already dead.
      It is certainly a well known fact that this was the case in Germany where the finest young men from their universities had all been killed by the end of 1915, leaving civilian life failures like Hitler to take over during the postwar years.

      • That’s a very interesting point John and a very valid one. So many of our top scholars were lost that it left a large black hole in the political scene. I doubt we’ll ever get back to that same state and restore the drive that we once had.

  6. Chris Waller

    Woodville, sad to say, manifests in microcosm what has befallen much of the old industrial midlands and north. The relative grandeur of the old Wesleyan church speaks of the prosperity of the past. I remember most of the shops you mention, though some I had forgotten. The shopkeepers of that time were all characters in their own little bit of theatre, unlike the insipid check-out operatives in so many of today’s supermarkets. Far more has been lost than is expressed in financial accounts and gross domestic product. The current state of Woodville speaks volumes about the effectiveness of government economic policy over the past forty-odd years.

    • I very much like your idea of shopkeepers at that time all being characters in their own little bit of theatre. Or even cinema. Eric Boss as Terry-Thomas, Albert Taylor as Jack Warner, Mr Chell at the Post Office as Donald Pleasance in the Great Escape. It’s funny though, but I can’t envisage any of the other people. Reg Ashmore always wore just an open necked shirt (and trousers) but I cannot remember a face. He and his wife are buried close to my Dad in Gresley Cemetery.
      I am working on a post for “Characters of the Village”, although it will be later rather than sooner.

  7. Tony tiger Poxon

    Dear John love your story and photos of old woodville think I might have gone to school with you your name sounds very familiar

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.