Childhood Memories: Growing Up in Little Hulton

A Salford creative writers’ group has created a book called ‘Memories Unlocked’ during the pandemic, which shares tales of childhood memories. 

Here, Chris Mutton from SWit’CH group (Swinton Writers in t’Critchley House) shares his memories of growing up in Little Hulton.

Before 1949 Little Hulton was a village of around 8,000 people and then Worsley Urban District Council agreed to the building of council estates for people living in post-war slum clearance areas. By the end of 1956 over a thousand families had moved into the area. By 1962, 3,060 houses had been built. I can still remember the division between the two disparate communities. I can’t see that the use of the term ‘overspill’ helped, nor did the reputation of people from Salford as ‘rough’ or the belief that the Little Hulton local folk were yokels. I remember an atmosphere very much of ‘us and them’ – on both sides.

I remember being taken to look at the foundations of some of the new houses that were being built on Captain Fold, one summer Saturday evening, on one of our regular family walks. This is just one of certain events, people, buildings, and places that feature in my memories of being a child in Little Hulton during this time.

When I was a child, Little Hulton was an insular place to grow up. I lived on Manchester Road East. We seldom crossed over Cleggs Lane to Manchester Road West, even though there were shops there. Of these, Timm’s Chemist was one place visited on a Sunday when there weren’t any doctor’s surgeries open. People used to queue to get in, so good was his reputation of being as good as, if not better than, the regular GPs. Further along, was Peel Park which was sometimes visited with our parents on a Saturday night. We would go from there to The Kenyon Arms Pub where we would sit outside whilst Dad had a pint, Mum a shandy and my brother and I a lemonade with a bag of Smith’s crisps – containing a blue twisted bag of salt to be added to the plain crisps. Sometimes this little bag was omitted but sometimes it just couldn’t be found – until scooped, with a handful of crisps into an unsuspecting mouth. If this happened to us we gained little sympathy and were told it served us right for putting more than one crisp in our mouths at a time. I’m not sure if we were supposed to eat them one at a time for good manners, thrift or to keep us quiet for longer. My Dad was a hod-carrier for Seddons, for most of his working life, and had worked on the rebuilding of this pub, my Mum told us that he had built it – and I literally thought he had done it single-handedly for years. (He also built The Lucozade Factory by himself)

There were other shops on this row but the only one I can remember going in is the shoe shop that sold Clarks shoes. Even though money was tight we always got our shoes from there because our feet were measured before a purchase was made. I remember peering through the window of Taziker’s Newsagents, which also sold toys – maybe that’s why we didn’t go in there. We did go to the churchyard at St Paul’s Peel to visit the grave of my paternal grandparents. This always felt very daring because, as Catholics, we weren’t supposed to visit other denominations’ churches. My Dad wasn’t Catholic and used to get really cross when I worried over this as a child. As an adult, I completely understand why.

Back on our side of the lane, we had all the little shops we needed. Bessie Tyldesley’s bread and cake shop – all made by her, was on the corner of the next row, and the row after that had corner shops at either end. One was called Harrisons and one Halinsons. There is a tale to be told for both of these shops concerning my childhood. Outside Halinsons was where my mother left me in my pram when I was newborn. She’d been there in the morning and gone home. A few hours later she thought she should be ‘doing something’ and then realised that the ‘something’ was feeding me! She dashed back there to find me still safely sleeping – the owners had kept their eye on me and told her they had wondered how long it would take her to realise she’d left me. Harrison’s event was when I was older. We had a kitten, which I decided to dress in my doll’s matinee coat and take for a walk in my doll’s pram. I went into Harrisons, with the cat in the pram, which the cat then jumped out of and into their shop window – demolishing the displays. I think I was actually banned from there as a result by them or my Mum, I’m not sure. For larger items and bigger food shops was The Co-operative, at the corner of Cleggs Lane. I remember being sent there on errands chanting my Mum’s divi number so I wouldn’t forget, – I can remember it to this day! The Co-op was a building of some merit, architecturally. It consisted of different departments on the ground floor and a large assembly room above – this was where my mother used to go ballroom dancing and where I would, years later, in the 1970s, also go to dance, when it became Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

I lived in a terraced house on the A6, at one end was a newsagent, owned by Mr and Mrs Hunt for many years, I remember her as a lovely smiling lady and not going into the shop when her grumpy husband was serving. It was from there that our Easter Eggs, fireworks, and Christmas sweets and annuals were bought. On the end of the row before that was Kay’s Off Licence which sold spirits, beer, and draught sherry – Dad used to take a jug for this when mum was making her egg whip – a concoction of raw eggs, Nestles Condensed Milk, and sherry – supposedly a tonic. At Christmas, we had QC sweet sherry and a bottle of their port. On Friday nights, we had a bottle of Lemonade or Dandelion and Burdock with a bag of crisps, provided we’d been good through the week. At the back of our row of terraces were huge corrugated hangers which housed the large delivery wagons belonging to Kays’. As children, we always had to leave the backs at 4pm and go into our gardens because that’s when the lorries left. I can still vividly remember one occasion, but not how old I was, when myself and my two playmates – both also called Christine, held a tea party – under one of these lorries which had left the depot but stopped whilst the driver went back in. He was just entering the cabin to drive off when we were spotted and dragged out – and into our respective homes, being shaken and admonished as we went. In later years the hangers were demolished and Bulmers Cider’s wholesale warehouse was built. As the building work took place, houses were overrun with field mice – we didn’t suffer because we had a cat, in fact, the neighbours used to come and borrow her. I vaguely remember a smug smile on my Mum’s face when she explained why the cat was suddenly so popular.

Opposite our row of houses, where the Madams’ Wood Estate now is, were Bluebell Woods and fields that used to stretch to Mosley Common. As children, we frequently walked to a place called City, which consisted of a row of houses and a phone box. Another freedom we enjoyed was being able to spend all day roaming on our bicycles. I would frequently turn up at my favourite Auntie Ann and Uncle Mac’s house in Walkden, prop my bike against their house wall, and spend the rest of the day with them. They had moved from a prefab house on Pemberton Street Little Hulton to a new council house on Sportside Avenue and I thought they were very modern and ‘posh’. I loved them both and was always made to feel welcome. Sadly, Uncle Mac, my dad’s brother, died in his early thirties due to kidney disease and the lack of dialysis machines.

Walkden was considered considerably better than Little Hulton. I first remember going to The Criterion Cinema with my Mum, who worked there for a short time, as an usherette, to see Annie Get Your Gun and Tammy, both musicals and starring Doris Day. I sat on the back row on the edge of the upturned seat -I remember being there and small sections of the films but have no idea why I would be there at night time with her. I can also remember going, and queuing, with her (dressed in our ‘best’ clothes) to the opening of Kenton’s Supermarket – a first of its kind in the area. After this, we must have shopped there more often because I remember looking through the windows of The Journal Office, at the bottom of Bolton Road, to see if I could spot ‘Uncle George’ who judged the children’s weekly colouring competition, crayoning up to a certain age (was it seven?) and painting after that. I only won once. Across the road from this was a row of terraced shops under a Victorian Veranda: The only ones I remember are Middleton’s Grocers, (we didn’t go in there, my mum said it was dirty) which later became the Journal Office when shops on the other side were demolished and Mr Lever’s Jewellers shop.

For me, as a child, other trips to Walkden were to the Palace Picture House on a Saturday morning. I received a shilling spending money, (5p). This was for bus fare – penny ha’penny each way, threepence for sweets – usually two ounces of pineapple chunks or pear drops and sixpence to get in the cinema. But, first, we queued to be let in a few at a time, kept in order by the long-suffering usherettes -and their arm, as it shot out to let us know when to stop, often knocking the breath out of the one who got ‘the arm’. Once through the main doors, the queue made an orderly rush into the downstairs part of the theatre, with its plush seats and impressive ornate facades, all of which we ignored. Anticipation and excitement grew as we waited impatiently for the films to begin. We shouted, cheered, and laughed as we watched the programme made up of films, cartoons, and always a serial, which ended on a cliffhanger to ensure we returned the following week. We always did – the cinema was full every week in those pre-television days. We watched Daffy Duck, Bugs Bunny and my favourite, Porky Pig. I’m sure we saw a black and white version of Batman and Robin and some weeks, William Tell. There was also The Three Stooges and Our Gang, which starred the young Mickey Rooney.

As I got older the cinema was replaced by the more sedate pursuit of ballroom dancing lessons, at Turner’s Dancing Academy – a large garage-type building built at the side of their house. This was just outside of the town centre, on the way to Swinton – foreign land! Also on the way to Swinton, in Wardley was my Godparent’s farm where I stayed for a week. I fed the chickens and was frightened of the cows. I hated using the outside chemical toilet but loved going to bed because Auntie Margaret left me a small present under my pillow every night – what a clever idea! I remember one was a child’s thumb-size book that had concertinaed pages and another a viewer which I clicked to move pictures around. Both contained holy pictures. As my ambition, at the time, was to be a nun, I was delighted with them.

In those days all our neighbours were borrowed aunties and uncles, I never knew my Grandparents – they all died within eighteen months of one another, my Paternal Grandad just months before I was born, So the elderly lady in the end house was my borrowed Grandma and I called her Nanna Brookes. She had a pug dog which permanently slavered and Grandad Brookes always smoked a pipe so their house smelled of pipe smoke and tobacco. She had a chenille table cloth and a matching door curtain and a Grandchild called Elspeth who I envied – not only for her exotic name but because she was Nanna Brooke’s real Granddaughter. My other ‘Nanna’ was Mrs Collier, who also lived on Manchester Road East, a five – ten-minute walk from our house. We used to go to visit her on our way home from school, she made me a Davy Crockett Hat from her old fur coat. I wore it all the time – even to bed. It was at this time that I started to have nightmares, usually about Mohicans and knives. My Mum took me to the Doctor’s, who recommended that my parents take away all my books as I had an overactive imagination- my Dad took away my beloved hat but left the books.

People’s doors were left open in those days, if it rained a neighbour took your washing in for you, if your line snapped everyone rushed to help. Help was also there whenever someone was ill – especially if it was the mother. For all that, we weren’t encouraged to go into other people’s houses, in fact rather the opposite. The house I went to most was my friend Christine’s, but not as often as she came to mine, much to my mum’s annoyance. There we read her flower fairy book – I never got to have one of those because it would look like ‘copying’ but I loved them (my daughter had the full set!) and, of course, we played with our paper dolls dressing upsets. I was envious of two things: They had Fray Bentos tinned Steak and Kidney Pie – my Mother was apoplectic when I suggested we have one because we had homemade everything. The second was their wall ornament – a ‘plate’ made from Capstan Full Strength cigarette packets, folded in such a way that it was a circle of the captain’s heads. I was always welcome next door to Auntie Annie and Uncle Tom’s. Possibly because she had three sons, Martin, Michael, and Kevin, and, according to my Mum, had always wanted a girl. My source of envy from this property was their leaded windows AND three ducks that flew in a diagonal line up the wall. I never understood my Mum’s refusal to get us some – I thought they were wonderful. They were also the first people to get a television set. It was a 12” black and white one with one channel, The BBC. In 1960 their front room was packed as we all crowded in to watch Princess Margaret get married. We didn’t get a set until 1966 when we rented one from Rediffusion – just in time for my brother to watch the World Cup. We weren’t supposed to go to Aunty Margery and Uncle Stan’s who lived in the house next to the newsagents – because she was too lazy to get a milk jug but rather put a milk bottle on the table. We weren’t invited to go into Aunty Alice and Uncle Stan’s (they were Georgie Fame’s Auntie and Uncle but I only knew that when he turned up on their daughter’s wedding day) possibly because they didn’t have children the same age as us.

People didn’t have house phones in those days. Mobiles hadn’t been thought of – even in my much-loved science fiction films, where computers filled rooms and tried to rule the world. But my parents always knew where I had been, who with and exactly what I had been doing. In a different world to today, we had the freedom to explore and run free within a community that looked after its own, related or not. Freedoms that our children, sadly, never knew.

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