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Eileen Bailey 2007
Growing up in Rushden

Growing up in Rushden in the forties holds wonderful memories for me as a child.  My earliest recollections are Southfields when we lived in one of those old prefabs.  Odd, that my parents returned there in their twilight years.  My father has sadly now passed on, but for my mother, being there is more acceptable because this is the area of Rushden she has known all of her life, living as she did as a girl, at the back of the old sweet shop close to the Hall Park. 

No 26 High Street South in the 1920s
Peggy Bird outside Jinny's shop
No. 26 High Street South in 1916
Number 26 High Street South as it was in my mother’s day used to be a second hand dress shop run by Jane Wells, affectionately known as Aunt Jinny.  Whenever I visit my mother I only have to close my eyes and I can still picture those small flat roofed, dull grey buildings that were so much part of my childhood.  My mother talks often of those days, especially now dad has gone.  Only this year, she was recalling how dad used to be able to lift up one corner of the roof, so we could see the sky.

Most of my early memories stem from 1947 and the big snow fall. Although as a child I thought it a wonderful time, my parents struggled along with everyone else, making sure there was enough coal to keep us warm and enough food to feed us.  I can still remember my father, digging around the side of the house to clear a path from the back door to our coal barn. Throughout this time, sweeping pathways and clearing roads became a daily task for all.

I also remember the snow leaving, as plants long hidden came into view, poking their way through the melting aftermath. I had started school in the September of 1946, so each day that winter, along with many other children, I made my way to Newton Road Infants school daily through the snow, and although I enjoyed that time, I now appreciate what how difficult and tiring it must have been for the grownups, who had the job of ensuring their children could get to school.   

The following spring and summer, must have been appreciated by all of us I think.  Everything appeared much brighter and more welcome. Mostly I recall dad’s Canterbury Bells, their deep violet blue blooms, practically glowing against the earth, just beyond of our back door. 

It is still strange for me as a visitor to my home town to see that the old Chapel has disappeared from the bottom of Devon Walk. I also remember it as a closing room, because I worked there as a tea girl. My first morning I met the most important tea drinker in this establishment. Actually he gave me quite a shock at the time. This was of course Dusty, Mr Underwood’s old golden Labrador who had his own cup with his name on. Underwood’s Outdoor Closing Rooms. (I think I actually have photo somewhere taken at the time when one of our girls, Bernadette Hullatt was leaving for America with her new husband, Sam, I believe his name was, who is also in this picture.) Mr. Underwood was in the photo, smiling as I always remember. He was a lovely man, a true gentleman in all senses of the word. I am sure for some this photo would bring many happy memories.  

I still remember our neighbours at Southfields, a Mr. and Mrs. Green, they had two sons, Roger and Rodney. Sadly the last time I saw them was at my dear father’s funeral, and did not realise who they were until after they had left. I would give anything to see them again, to thank them for attending and just to chat about times gone by.

Each time I walk around the corner, from Devon Walk into Park Road, maybe on a visit to my brother or to the chip shop for my mum, I expect the old Co-op store with the coal yard along the side, to still be there. Where, the inside of the shop window was so thickly covered with advertisements, showing bargains of the week, that one had to go inside to see if they had your desired purchases in stock. 

We are a large family, I am the eldest of seven; I watched my brothers and sisters come along, and meld into our family as if they had always been there. Of course, eventually we had to move from the prefabs, because we needed more space, as my brothers and sisters came along. We finally moved when I had just turned seven, into number 5 Oval Crescent, one of the old steel houses. 

Anyone reading this letter, who lived there in those days will recall the many problems brought about by humidity and condensation, coming from the cheaper type of heating, such as paraffin heaters. In those days central heating was only for the better off, we certainly could not afford any such luxury. So with only one coal fire, the heaters were a must. Paraffin heaters are smelly but warm. And now if I ever get this scent I am taken beck to my growing up years in winter. However, the condensation was a nuisance. The extra moisture eventually caused rusting on the steel framed window ledges, where my parents spent many hours rubbing down and repainting, sadly all one was left with was some very lumpy surfaces and it always seemed that corrosion won the day.   

Of course children do not see any of the above as a problem, these are the things that parents deal with, so to us as long as we were warm, fed and watered we never complained. Love was abound in our house and so it was our haven. Friends were always made welcome there, and I believe, totally that this is where I spent the best of my days while still a single person.    

Today I walk through Oval Crescent, recalling my life there, and see the many homes that have now been purchased, and I wish with all my heart, that I had been rich enough to buy that house for my parents. This was where I spent my childhood, my teenage years, up to the day I left to get married.

The street itself hasn’t changed and still looks the same. Though there some of the old residents, still living in that street, many are completely new faces to me. My old house, number 5, is now owned by a stranger. My childhood house has someone else’s ideas stamped onto it. But this is progress, and all I can say I hope they are as happy living there as we were. My youngest sister still lives in the street. 

I remember childhood days, with frosty and snowy winters. Summers where it never rained, apart from a light cooling shower. I know weather change is world wide, but nothing can take away those memories for me.  

Does anyone remember The Hedges, so called because of the wild and wonderful hedgerows and the added fact one could get from Rushden’s allotment garden fields right to Higham Ferrers, by just walking through those fields. I still have a friend living at the edge of the bounds of Rushden in The Hedges, to this day. 

Life was a lot safer then, as children we picnicked in those fields every summer.  Recalling the old wooden styles one had to climb and the panic when the gates were surrounded by groups of cows, waiting to be fetched for milking. Also the deep muddy and dirty holes left by the cows when they were taken back to their farms for milking. 

Along with my sister Marion and some other friends we built ourselves a camp in one of those hedgerows, filling it with personal things, like little cloths, a tin mug filled with wild flowers, cadging old spoons and things from mum to make it ours, and I recall it was raided by persons unknown and we were left devastated.  

A view of the cemetery, large trees in the distance
A view across the Cemetery
Adolescent days, walking backwards and forwards to The Hayway Girls school.  Dark winter nights playing tracking with school friends and neighbours, chasing each other through gardens, the cemetery in Newton Road, and all streets and alleyways off Newton and Cromwell Roads. Playing pongo, pongo, which involved counting to one hundred, while everyone else ran off to hide. The object of the game being, that someone had to get back to the post unseen, kick the tin shouting Pongo Pongo which would then restart the game. If you had been unlucky enough to be caught then off you went to hide again. I walked by the lamp post we used as our counting post recently and suddenly recalled the huge moths and tiny bats that used to fly there attracted by the light.

Entering adolescence as a schoolgirl at Northend School for the first time was very scary to start with, but became exciting as I settled in, making many new and good friends, some of whom I am still in touch with today. 

I feel I must tell you this tale from those times involving my friend Olive, who, after a cookery lesson with Miss Williams, kicked one of her rock cakes all the way home to Fitzwilliam Hill. The cake was still in one piece even though scuffed, we laughed till we cried, until her mother appeared at the door, and needless to say not the best amused by our laughter. Those beautiful flowering trees growing along the driveway leading to the first new girls school, by Spencer Park, were planted by our class, 3B in about 1953. The flowering cherry that Olive and I planted was still there last time I visited, and still just as beautiful. We felt quite proud that we were responsible for something, that will grow forever, to remind us of our time in the school and for others to witness our achievement. 

I remember we regularly picked fresh green water cress that was growing in a little brook, by climbing over a small fence on our way out of the games field and finally getting caught by Miss Wilson our PE mistress. I used to take it home to my mother until that day of discovery.

Those years were very happy years, I enjoyed school and when it came time to leave I was heartbroken. Growing up can be very painful I think but for some it is more scary than starting your first school. Our group were always together, during that happy time, myself with my three best friends, Jean, Olive and Joan. I wonder if they remember when we all bought identical lemon bobble hats from the wool shop on the High Street just round the corner from Queen Street,. We wore them each time we were together, with pride. 

The High Street is much easier to traverse these days, but the old High Street of my past will always remain locked inside my mind.

Walking along the High Street on a Sunday evening, just to watch the boys go by.  Sunday afternoons, walking around the long gone bandstand, or in the old Central Café along the high causeway of Bedford Road. Sometimes sitting in the old Cedar Café, drinking coke or orange, finding out who was going out with who, and maybe getting a date for the pictures that evening. Saturday morning, dropping into the old Waverly Hotel for coffee and having to stir one's tea, with an old tin spoon that was tied to a piece of string, while tapping ones feet to the juke box. Actually I wasn’t officially allowed in there by my mother's orders, but I still snuck [sneaked] in from time to time. 

The Old Royal Theatre looking forlorn
Royal Theatre boarded up - now demolished
Even though I no longer live in Rushden, I miss seeing the old cinemas where I spent many happy hours with friends on a Saturday or a Sunday night. As a child I belonged to the children’s club held in the old Theatre, those were the days.  I actually sang on that stage once upon a time. What do teenagers do now?  Where do they go? Is it the same as my little town here in East Yorkshire, where pubs and clubs are now the only outlet?  

It is sad that so many of the changes brought about by progress, had to halt the fun of growing up in a way that was more comfortable and safe. 

The loss of the safety aspect, the freedom we had then as children, roaming the fields, or walking home alone at night from a youth club or cinema without having to be picked up by adults.  

There are many strange faces along the High Street, and I feel that many may see me just as a visitor these days.

I married there. Had my three children there and it wasn’t until 1976 when my husband took another job in Warwickshire that Rushden stopped being my home.  However I can assure you, that although I now live on the East Coast of Yorkshire, I still regard Rushden as my home. Knowing I can get into my car and drive there at a whim, is the best medicine in this whole wide world. 

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