Except for Mr Hitler dropping bombs on Manchester especially during the Christmas Blitz of 1940 I would most likely have grown up in Miles Platting rather than Longsight. Nowt wrong with Miles Platting many a good man came from there but Longsight was my only memory of youth, a grand place then and possibly still is.
At Christmas Eve 1940 my mother was courting my father and living in Sandal Street, Miles Platting close to the old gasworks which provided my grandfather with a living for 35 years. My father, a farmer’s son from Denton, had been brought up in the Protestant faith which held no terrors for him whilst my mother was staunch tricolour flag Catholic. An odd mix you might say until Mr Hitler’s Heinkels dropped their landmines on the gasworks, missed and took out nearly 50 of her neighbours on that particular night as well as destroying probably 100 houses in a true pack of cards fashion. My grandfather’s house amongst them.
That singular act, I think, accelerated my parent’s fondness fondness for each other and six months later they were married in St Robert’s Church in Longsight after my father took lessons as they called it and joined the Catholic Church. My grandfather had been re-housed to Duncan Road off Slade Lane, after those bombs and at the age of 66 rediscovered his life as an ARP man, out most nights on air raid protection duties in and around the streets of venerable Longsight. A man with regimental Irish Independent thought morphing into a person who cared for all.
I spent my first 16 years in that house in Duncan Road except for about a year in a prefab off Charlestown Road in Blackley, where my brother Kevin was born in 1947. I do not remember this as I was only 17 months old but I do remember the day possibly only months after when my parents bought a Acme mangle from an ironmongers on Beresford Road and it sat between us on the pram whilst they wheeled it home down Farrer Road. They had left their prefabricated dwelling in Blackley to return to Duncan Road to look after my Grandfather who was approaching 74 years old.
Life was good then. Nobody had any money, cars were a rarity on the streets and there were four shops that nearly sold everything a person needed within 100 yards of our house. Lambert’s the green grocer at the top of the street, Mrs Reynold’s grocers shop on Dixon later Driscoll Street and opposite, Ernie the butcher, whose door was always open at any time of year selling stuff you cannot now find. Cheap cuts of meat like scrag end (Sheep’s neck), pig’s heads and offal of all descriptions and shapes from animals that probably few knew about. Across the road on Clitheroe Road was the Off Licence that sold draft beer and bits of groceries and the odd half laggan of whiskey (quarter bottle). Further afield but certainly within a few hundred yards were cinemas, chip shops, billiard halls, tripe shops selling obviously tripe, cow heels and my favourite, pig’s trotters. All eaten raw, tripe especially in its three varieties, honeycomb, thick seam and a third I cannot remember were dishes to relish with vinegar and a handful of peas. I have never had it cooked but some used to prefer it that way. Further down Stockport Road were paper shops, furniture stores, cake shops and Raffo’s ice cream parlour. One of the many Italian families for one economic reason or another invaded Manchester in the 19th Century and started making ice cream, all with slightly different tastes. Raffo’s, Rocca’s and Pessagno’s were my favourites with Levaggi’s a close fourth. Where are they now after over 100 years in the freezer.
Us kids on Duncan Road were very territorial, rarely did we trouble our neighbours either in Palm Street at the back of us or in Clitheroe Road, north of us. We played in our own gang in our own street. Cricket all summer in our car free road, football all winter or swinging round the lamp post opposite our house. We were all boys, did not seem to see any girls until they started to appear as we grew into our early teens.
To tell the truth there did not seem to be many kids about, a few elderly men and lots of single women of all ages. The war which was a lingering feeling, was there on the lips of most adults but seemed to be in our mysterious past. Rationing was the norm, all we understood in fact. However we always had enough to eat in whatever form it took, Jam butties, dripping butties, sugar butties and stews with only gristle for meat. It might not look healthy but we were as fit as fiddles. Porridge for breakfast, a butty for lunch and potatoes with margerine mashed through them for tea with whatever was available.
Next door to us at No 11 lived Mr and Mrs Miller, a kindly couple. He was King of the Castle as far as I was concerned, the driver of the London train that used to run past the top of our road on the other side of Slade Lane. We used to go up there through gardens and onto the tracks. It was free access those days , no fences to stop trespass. We used to put pennies or halfpennys on the line depending our state of wealth and let these lumbering brutes of trains run over them as we crouched only feet away from these massive wheels. The coins were hammered out to twice their size and were prize possesions.
It was a very quiet road, everybody still subdued by the hostilities of the past and they never complained about our hustle and bustle. We lived at No 13, in a terrace of 10 houses. No 1 was used by the curate and his wife, if he had one, of St Agnes’s, the local protestant church. We never ever saw him and he certainly never bothered us. We were the only Catholics on the block of ten and come to tjhink of it, we were the only Catholics on the street of probably 40 houses. People lived in Nos 3,5,7, and 9 but we never saw them, I wonder if they existed. Then came the Millers at No 11 and on the other side of us at No 15 were the Mellors, an ugly couple who by some undefinable reason had bred an absolutely beautiful daughter, Evelyn. Even at the age of seven I knew she was beautiful because of the track made on the pavements of our street by GIs (American Army troops) stationed at Burtonwood, near Warrington. These men knew quality and they swarmed round our houses at the weekend hoping for a glimpse. She eventually married a lucky one and set up home with him in Tampa on the west coast of Florida. At No 17 lived the Alts. He was a Londoner working for Gerards the Builders. They had two sons Russel and Michael, who were our mates. We played together all the time. Poor Michael died in his twenties, a bright lad. With Russel I had a long friendship until I got married and moved away from Longsight. At No19 lived the Clarkes, a talented family with two children older than us. Mr Clarke at that time had a small shed by the river on Stockport road where he chopped sticks and bundled them to sell as kindling for the fires that everybody had in their homes. They eventually bought and ran a chip shop in South Manchester for years afterwards. Their daughter also married a GI and settled in I think Miami. She seemed to get Evelyn’s cast offs but the two girls kept in contact all their lives, only the width of Florida apart. Clarke’s son John was destined to remain in my ken for ever, meeting up some 40 years later when our wives became friends in leafy Whalley Range. Poor John died at the end of 2020 of a broken heart, his wife having been committed to an old folks home with galloping Altzimers. They died within a week of each other and were buried in our local cemetery here in Boyle, the week before Christmas 2020.
I will continue my story in Part 2.