Friday, 27 February 2015

Teapots and Rodents.

In an earlier post I said that my granddad (Poppa) was taught music at the Sailors Orphan Homes, Newland in Hull.  He found he had a natural aptitude for music and playing various instruments and became a very competent musician playing to a professional standard.  Some years later when he was married he was offered a place in a London orchestra as a full time professional musician but, as he had a very good job in engineering and a family to keep, it was too risky so he declined.  He said to me in later years that he never once regretted his decision, as music was his pleasure and he didn't want it to become just a job.
My Granddad playing his favourite instrument,
the trombone.  Looking at the letters on the piece
of stage set I think this was when he played with
the Bob Walker Dance band.
Poppa played in local dance bands, the Grimsby Philharmonic Orchestra and the Grimsby Borough Brass Band. 
My Granddad is on the front row at the extreme right with his trombone.
Just below him can be seen where my mam wrote "Dad" on the photo. 

Granddad can be seen here, 2nd trombone from the right with a tin hat in front of him.
He taught music to young students and many people went on to play in various bands & orchestras around the area and beyond, something he took a great pride in.  The music lessons took place in the "infamous" front room at my grand parents house.  You may recall, it was only used for special occasions, well, it was used for music lessons too.  The pupils would arrive at the front door (another exception to the rule) to avoid having them coming through the house and would disappear into the front room for their lesson.  I would often sit outside the closed door and listen to how the lessons were progressing; maybe that's where my love of music was first formed?
Poppa taught musical theory and also how to play the 3 main instruments that he himself played.  The trombone, clarinet and euphonium. 
He played other instruments and in fact could get a tune out of most of them to a standard that allowed him to deputise at short notice if another band member cried off at the last minute.  I remember once seeing him in the orchestra pit at the Empire Theatre, he had been called in at short notice to replace a member who was ill.  They asked him if he could play the double bass and, despite never having tried it, he said he could!  Afterwards they asked him to be the reserve double bass player.
He was once asked to fill in as the percussionist (drummer) in the Grimsby Philharmonic Orchestra, he usually played clarinet but agreed to give it a try.  The occasion was a performance of Tchaikovky's 1812 Overture, a piece of music that required the sound of cannons firing at it's climax and the drummer was expected to produce this sound effect.  As the drummer was positioned at the very back of the orchestra on a raised part of the stage, poppa arranged for a tin bath to be positioned behind him.  At the required point in the music he dropped large chunks of coal over the back of the staging to crash into the bath, making loud booming sounds.  It was a huge success but quite difficult as he had to calculate the delay in the drop to coincide precisely with when the cannons should go off!
You'll probably appreciate how proud I am of my granddad's musical abilities, he could in fact play any instrument and to quote him he "could get a tune out of anything".  This was very true, his party trick was to put a trombone mouthpiece into the spout of a teapot and play a very good tune on it using the lid to change the notes by raising and lowering it!  He also did a pretty good impression of a set of bagpipes by putting the mouthpiece into a length of hosepipe and swing it around while "playing it".
Poppa had a selection of mouthpieces for several instruments that he had made himself.  he was a metal turner on the docks and any scrap end of brass rod would be turned to produce a new mouthpiece.  Many musicians around the town where grateful to Poppa for their custom made mouthpieces!
As I've already said, Poppa was a Metal Turner working on Grimsby Docks for Bacons Engineering.  In those days Grimsby was a very large, busy port with fishing boats and commercial boats which all needed regular repairs and maintenance.  He worked on all the engines and made replacement parts for them. When a boat came into port needing a spare part he would go on-board, measure the part and then return to the workshop to make it.  The parts were exposed to severe friction and wear so needed regular replacement. From very early on he started to keep a notebook of all the boats and the parts that were needed so, when he was summoned to go and measure for a new part he only needed to look up the boat & part in his book and get straight on with it.  I still have that notebook and have reproduced a couple of pages here.  The book is very dirty, remember his hands would be very grimy and oil covered, time has faded it somewhat but it's still possible to read the names of some of the boats.  On the right side I can just make out "Locarno" and "Shepherd Lad".  The rest doesn't mean a lot to me.
Poppa's job record book.
Once a week my mam had to go down dock, I'll tell you why another time, and sometimes I would accompany her.  Before going home we would go to see Poppa at his workshop on Fishdock Road where I could watch him working for a few minutes.  Just before we left he would stop his lathe and let me pull the big handle (it seemed big to me but probably wasn't) to start it turning again!  I remember the loud rumble and the floor starting to shake.  Health and Safety Regulations hadn't been though of in the early 1950's, these days a small boy would not be allowed to even enter the building. 
One last story about Poppa.  He often related the time he was working, in the middle of the morning, in bright daylight, when he and his workmates heard a strange sound outside.  When they went to the door the whole street, from one side to the other was a sea of rats!  They stretched for as far as the eye could see and where running past at an alarming speed, Poppa said it seemed an age before they all passed.  No-one knew where they had come from, where they went, or why they had stampeded. 

Sunday, 22 February 2015

I do like to be beside the Seaside.

I'm jumping back into the 40's again for this week, mainly because most of the photographs are from 1948.
My grandparents house, where we lived, was on Harrington Street in Cleethorpes.  The houses were on one side of the road only as the railway line into Cleethorpes station was on the opposite side.  As a boy in the 40's & 50's I spent hours watching "real trains" going by our house with their thundering, clanking steam engines straining to pull the seemingly endless line of coaches and thick smoke and steam belching from the engine. 
The Railway Station was built in Victorian times and made
The station was built in Victorian times but
has undergone several changes.  The Mermaid CafĂ©
shown here though has retained it's original
design and is a listed building. 
Cleethorpes a popular seaside resort for the Victorian gentry to come and bathe in the sea, it was considered good for the body and soul.  However it was in the 40's & 50's that the "masses" descended on Cleethorpes for either a day trip or longer stay in the many guest houses along the seafront.
Most of my memories from the heydays of Cleethorpes as a seaside resort come from the 1950's and I remember the "Seaside Specials" trains bringing people in to Cleethorpes in their thousands!  The trains would come in, one every 15 minutes at weekends and then at the same rate for every day of the 6 week summer holidays.  Most of the "trippers", as we called them, were from the industrial areas of Yorkshire; they came from the steelworks of Sheffield and the mines of south Yorkshire.  When the government passed a law that all workers should have paid holidays this prompted the exodus to the coast for the annual trip to the seaside.  The 2 most popular weeks for the summer holiday were the last week in July and the first week in August.  The mine and steelwork owners decided that if the workers were to have paid holidays they would close down for those two weeks every year and take the opportunity to carry out any essential maintenance whilst the mines and steelworks were deserted.  In Cleethorpes these two weeks were known as "Sheffield Week" and the population of the town increased dramatically as thousands of holiday makers from Sheffield had their annual holiday here.  There were special events, games and pastimes arranged for the children and newspaper shops and sellers even sold the local Sheffield newspaper called "The Greenun" for the adults on holiday to keep up with events back home.
The people would spend a week or two in the boarding houses and
A recent picture of the Big Wheel
but it is largely unchanged from
when it was first erected barring
a few coats of paint.
enjoy the sea air and beaches, there were lots of penny arcades, beach rides, a big wheel and of course donkey rides to keep the kids happy.  At the south end of Cleethorpes we had the largest outdoor swimming pool in the country and also an indoor saltwater pool on the promenade.  Both have sadly gone long ago.

The beach would be full from very early in the day and the visitor had to get down there very early to secure a good spot. 
A day at the seaside would not be complete without a
donkey ride.  There have been donkeys on Cleethorpes
beach for as long as I can remember.  This is a recent photo
taken in Oct 2013.
Deck chairs could be hired for the day and it wasn't long before the last one had been taken.  The popular pastime of "Promenading" occurred on Bank Holidays, especially Good Friday

My Nanna & Granddad
at Easter time when everyone would turn out in their finery to walk
along the seafront and "Promenade"!!
Me and my Granddad also

The largest number of folk though came for the day and it was great for us lads to sit on the fence opposite our house watching the trains come by and take down the engines number, a pursuit known as "Train Spotting".  I said earlier, trains would come in from quite early at 15 minute intervals and, after a bit of practice + one or two grazed knees, I found I could run across the road to the wooden fence alongside the tracks and jump up, using three knot holes to gain a vantage point on the top before the train approached.  We would sit up there most of the morning until the trains stopped coming, just before lunch.  Each train that unloaded it's passengers at the station would then reverse back down the line a short way into the sidings to have it's locomotive engine turned on the turntable and placed at the opposite end ready for the homeward journey.  They would be kept fired up to maintain a head of steam and then in the late afternoon they reversed back to the station, one at a time, to collect their weary passengers for the return trip.  The sidings were vast and held many trains, they were also directly opposite my grandparents house and I can still remember the dramatic site of scores of trains "parked" there, all in steam and just ticking over.    
Now you might think how lucky we were to be brought up in a thriving seaside resort but, although we did go "down the prom" and onto the beaches my mam hardly ever took us for days on the beach, mainly because of the crowds I suppose.  Also, I suppose we just took it for granted and didn't appreciate how lucky we were to live in a town that others spent their holidays in! There were, and still are, three main beaches at Cleethorpes.  North Beach which stretched from the north end were the railway station is to the Pier, Central Beach from the Pier to Brighton Slipway and South Beach from Brighton Slipway to what was then the outdoor swimming Pool.  
However we did go to a beach, the locals went to a secluded bit of the beach beyond the north end and away from the "Trippers", it was called locally "over the bridge".  The bridge in question was Fuller Street Bridge, a cast iron pedestrian bridge that gave access over the railway lines to a lovely area of deep, soft sand where we spent many happy times.   There was a high fence along the seaward side of this beach to cut out the ever present sea breeze and our mam would sit behind it knitting while me and my sister played in the sand.  The beach was very close to the railway lines which were not fenced off at this point and we could play with our buckets and spades whilst waving at the trains passing by, the drivers and firemen always waved back and often called out to us.  One or two whistled at our mam, by the fence, I could never understand why!  There was no such thing in those days as Health & Safety Regulations, if we were to go there now the Railway Police would soon be down to arrest us for trespassing.
They were happy days and I enjoyed that little beach but I hated the sand in my shoes on the way home!  Now matter how well mam washed and dried our feet the sand gritted our feet all the way home.  
A compilation of photographs of my sister Kathleen and
me on the beach at Cleethorpes.  Most were taken in the
summer of 1948 and I would have been about 18 months old.
Kathleen is five years older than me. 


Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Entertainment and the Two Singers.

In the 40's & 50's the main entertainment was the cinema.  We had dozens of cinemas in Cleethorpes & Grimsby, the inside page of the Grimsby Evening Telegraph newspaper would have a complete entertainments guide listing which films were on at each cinema.  Some of the smaller independent cinemas ran older films that had "done the rounds" and put them on with a B-Movie and also a change of program mid-week.  The larger cinemas in the ABC
group (Associated British Cinemas) would show the latest blockbusters from America, although not as quickly as we enjoy now.
It was possible to pick and choose between the shows on offer and see a different program each night of the week.
On a Saturday morning the ABC Cleethorpes had their kids matinee show and we would go along to see cowboy films, cartoons, comedy films (The three Stooges, Chaplin, Harold Lloyd etc). There would be a weekly serial that ended in a "cliffhanger situation" to ensure everyone came back the following week!  The series I remember most was The Adventures of Flash Gordon.   The ABC group ran a club which we could join called the ABC Minors, all
members received a badge and at the halfway point, if you'd had a birthday during the previous week, you would be invited up to the stage by the manager to be introduced to the audience.  This usually brought all manner of missiles up from the front few rows though!  As the cinema emptied after a Saturday ABC Minors matinee show it was always obvious what films had been shown, the boys would run down the road smacking their own backsides if a cowboy film had been on or some would be whooping and chasing the others if they had more support for the indians!  Duelling with imaginary swords meant the main feature had been a "Cavaliers & Roundhead" film.

We had a live theatre in Cleethorpes, The Empire Theatre on the seafront which ran variety shows nightly in the summer season and amateur dramatics for the locals in the winter months.  my granddad often played in the orchestra and I would get a box circle seat overlooking the orchestra pit so I could see him playing.

We had gramophone records, made from shellac which ran at 78rpm on wind up gramophone players, I've mentioned them previously.

The main form of home entertainment though was the radio.  TV
was in it's infancy in the 50's and only affordable by more wealthy folk.  On the radio we had a wealth of comedy programs on the BBC Light Program, the Home Service catered for news bulletins and the Third Program ran "high brow" music and intellectual discussion programs.  We stayed with the Light Program.  We had a mains valve radio which could be tuned in to these stations plus many more from the continent, the reception for these though could be questionable at best.  The main way people in Cleethorpes and grimsby received their BBC Radio programs though was via the radio relay.  A local firm called "Radio Rentals" provided a receiver that was wired up to a local piped network going back to a central transmitter, for which subscribers paid a weekly rental fee.  The wires ran along all the terraced houses facia boards and the receiver in the houses had a 3-way switch to select the 3 BBC radio broadcasts.  It was a forerunner of CABLE TV!
There were dozens of comedy programs where lots of famous household names began their careers but I'll not go through them all.  
One of the most popular shows was called "Have a Go" and was presented by Wilfred Pickles, a popular Yorkshireman. The weekly show was what later became known as a "chat show" and broadcast live from places, towns & villages all over the country.  Wilfred and his wife Mabel invited local people to talk about themselves and answer a few questions where they could win the princely sum of £1-19s-11d.  The show was hugely popular and ran continuously from 1946 to 1967 and attracted listening audiences of 20 million people in it's heydays.  The show also received an average of 5,000 letters a week.  Anyone could apply to be on the show but they seemed to pick characters and people with a good story to tell, one such participant was my "Little Gran", my great grandmother.  Her early life is described in this blog, see  We all listened to it on our Radio Relay set, I remember it as if it was only yeterday!

The tale of The Two Singers!
My great grandma was on "Have a Go" when it was broadcast from the Central Hall, Grimsby in the early 50's, by this time she was an elderly woman in her 80's.  Wilfred asked her to talk about her early life and she told him about how she took in washing to make ends meet and also did a lot of sewing for people making mens shirts for one shilling and 6d for a vest. A childs' dress was 9d and so on.  She did this along with the washing and also "charred" for local better off ladies for many years to earn money, all the more surprising as she was born with only one hand!  Wilfred asked how she managed to do the sewing and she revealed that she had used some of the money in the early days to buy a sewing machine to allow her to take on more work, a very enterprising woman. He asked her if she still had the sewing machine and she said "of cause, I still use it daily, I've had it for 55 years now, it's one of Singers' machines and it's as good as the day I first got it!  This brought a tremendous round of applause, in those days it was almost a crime for anyone to advertise on the BBC!  Wilfred though, being the old stager that he was, covered it up very professionally by saying "we'll be on ITV any minute now" (ITV was the commercial TV station that had only just started broadcasting and relied on advertising for revenue).  He went on to say "well, it's jolly time they (Singers) presented you with another one.  At the end of each interview Wilfred would consider how the participant had performed and if he thought they had done well he would utter the immortal words "give 'em the money Barney". Barney was the show's producer and I don't need to tell you my Little Got the money.
As a follow up to this story, a couple of days later, the manager of the local Singer Sewing machine shop called on my grandma.  The broadcast had been covered by the national papers and, being a shrewd business man, he decided to visit her with a photographer from the local paper to indeed give her the latest Singer electric sewing machine, free of charge for the publicity they had received on the BBC!  He demonstrated it to her showing her how much of an improvement it was over her old machine but she wasn't very impressed.  In fact although she thanked him politely for it she said she preferred her old treadle sewing machine and said her daughter Emma could have the new one!
The whole thing was reported Singer's in house magazine called The Red S Review   under the headline of  "Mrs. Connolly and Her Two Singers".
Little Gran trying out the new electric sewing machine under the guidance of
the local Singer Sewing Centre shop manager.  looking on is her daughter, my aunt
Emma who gran gave the new machine to!

You can listen to a short clip from "Have a Go" on You Tube via the following link:

She was quite a please find time to look at the link above.

Saturday, 7 February 2015

The 50's. John Peel and Tinned milk.

I'm moving on now into the 1950's but if I recall something from the 40's I'll skip back again.

I said before, my dad was a deep sea fisherman sailing out of Grimsby.  When they came home the men had only 2-3 days in port so they had to make the most of their time.  My dad always went to visit his mum, we called her "Granny Bennett", and occasionally he would take me with him.  Although I was pleased to see her it was quite boring for me as I had to sit while they talked.
The highlight of the visit though happened before we even arrived at Granny Bennett's house; as with all the fishing families in Grimsby my dad's relatives all lived either in the same street or very close by.  My dad's sister Gert (I suppose that was short for Gertrude) lived just half a dozen doors down from Granny Bennett and we had to pass her door to reach grandma's house.  The houses were long terraced buildings, no front gardens, so the front doors opened straight onto the pavement which made them ideal for the kids game of "knock & run".  This was when you knocked on the door then ran and hid somewhere to watch the householder come out!  My dad was a bit of a joker and encouraged me to not just knock on Gerty's door but give it a hefty kick!  I would then run to grandmas door further up the street but never made it inside, my dad would wait anyway to see Gert come out.  She would stand there shaking her fist shouting "I knew it was you our ****** George".  
Aunty Gert was quite a character, she had a house full of kids and was married to my uncle who was known in the family as "Wiffles".  This was due to his habit of smoking Wills Wiffs cigarettes made by WD & HO Wills, the large tobacco company.  Like most men in Grimsby he too was a deep sea fisherman.
When we got inside Granny Bennetts house we were ushered into the middle parlour (remember, no-one used the front room!) and they would talk for what seemed like hours.  I recalled in an earlier posting how my dad helped his mam when he was still at school, doing various jobs to contribute to the household expenses.  He still
This image courtesy of Ann Kennedy
Please take a look at her blog.

helped her until she passed away and always gave her some money each time he was in port.  While we were there granny Bennett would bring out cakes or biscuits and make a cup of tea using water from the large brown enamel kettle that was always on the hearth of her large black range.  I can still remember the taste and smell of that tea, it was thick and strong and the smell came from the Carnation Evaporated tinned milk that she used.  It's years now since I last had a cup of tea made with Carnation Milk but as soon as I see it on the supermarket shelves I'm transported back to Granny Bennett's Middle parlour. 

My granddad rode a bicycle all his life, only giving up in his 70's following a stroke.  Each weekend he would go out on his bike for a ride and visit his mum ("Little Gran") and sister Emma.  When I was big enough he bought a childs seat that bolted onto the crossbar of his bike between the seat and handlebars and I would ride out with him on his travels.  I would sit on the little seat, holding the middle of the handlebars, my granddad would pedal us along albeit slightly bowlegged with me in front of him!
We would visit his mum first and his greeting was always the same..."hello, I'm not stopping!".  After a short chat we would go just around the corner to aunt Emma's house but as we were leaving he would always shout "toodle-pip, I'm off now".
When we got to aunt Emms house it would be the same greeting, years later when I married he would include us on his "visiting round" and we got the same greeting..."I'm not stopping"!!
The highlight of a visit to auntie Emms house was to see her John
A John Peel musical jug like Aunt Emms
Image courtesy of Wikipedia.
Peel musical jug which took pride of place on the top of the dresser.  If I asked politely aunty would bring the jug down for me to see it.  It had a pin underneath and when it was lifted the musical movement inside played the well known tune " Do yer ken John Peel?".  I thought this really exciting.  Occasionally though, even though I asked very nicely, aunt Emm would say "not today, maybe next time eh?"  I never understood why, still don't!  My granddad would say the usual toodle-pip and we'd be off.
On the way home he always stopped at a shop in Freeman Street and propped his bike, with me perched up on the kids seat, against the plate glass window and left me saying "I'm just popping in here for my baccy and a mirror".  I was terrified the bike would slip and bring me crashing down but that never happened. When he came out he did indeed have a tin of his favourite pipe tobacco, St. Bruno or occasionally Ogdens, but no sign of a mirror!  It was many years later, when I was married in fact, that I recalled this mystery one day and the penny dropped.  The shop was a tobacconists and also a NEWSAGENTS......the mystery of the mirror was solved, it was a copy of the DAILY MIRROR NEWSPAPER!! 

Sunday, 1 February 2015


It's a while since my last post, I must apologise.  I recently had some minor surgery and was told not to put any strain on my arms so, apart from this short typing session, I've had to stay away from my PC.

I hope to be back on track soon but in the meantime here's a picture of me being taught, by my granddad, to play the trombone !

Hope to have the blog back on track very soon.