Where I call home: Why I stayed in Oldham

Our new series asks our reporters to consider whereabouts they call home – was it the place they grew up, the town they first moved to or perhaps where they are settled now?

Our reporter Jean shares her life story of being born and bred in Oldham, where she still feels most at home.

It was cold downstairs one morning when I got up recently. With just my index finger I turned on the whole house heating. That was a far cry from the early fifties when I was born in this house.

Although there were fireplaces in two of the bedrooms, they were never lit, so when I was about to be born my dad brought a bed downstairs into the only warm room in the house.

This was December 1951. Britain had experienced some snowy winters in the 1940s and it seemed that this pattern would continue. A few days before Christmas I entered the world and my sister Margaret was born 15 minutes later.

Jean and her brother Bill stood in front of ‘Donkey Park’

My mum didn’t know she was having twins, there was no ultrasound and antenatal care was fairly primitive and my sister was stillborn. My brother had been born in Boundary Park, not Oldham Athletic Football ground but the hospital that is now called The Royal Oldham. As I was the second child this was not an option for me.

Snow lay on the ground for several more weeks so I did not go out for a while.

This estate had been built in the 1930s and my father and my half brother and half sister moved in as the second tenants in the 1940’s. They had lived with my aunties and grandmother in what was essentially a slum in central Chadderton.

Jean’s dad (pictured first on the right) at Heaton Park training camp (Between 1914-1916).

Before they moved, my Dad had said that the house he would like was the one that overlooked the fields belonging to the Tomlinson family whose farm stretched down to Chadderton Fold and that was the one that Dad, Jack, Rita and their mum moved into. My Aunties, Lizzie and Lucy and my grandmother moved into a similar house on the other side of the street.

Jean’s half siblings Rita and Jack

My Dad was 56 when I was born so by the time I was at Junior school he had become the lollipop man that showed my schoolmates across the road. No one, other than me, had a dad who had been in the trenches in the First World War. He was being fired on at Yrpes on his 21st birthday.

Jean’s dad is seated left – taken when he was a Lewis gun instructor post having been wounded and gassed at Ypres.

At some point, chlorine gas blow over those trenches and as a consequence my dad had chemical blisters on his head and back for the rest of his life. It damaged his lungs, and along with working in the mill, ensured that breathing was difficult and chest infections were inevitable. His poor health meant that working in Stretford and travelling from Chadderton became impossible, the smog in the 1950’s nearly killing him.

After leaving his job as a motor mechanic at Stretford Garages he then held a series of jobs that taxed his health. All through school I thought my dad would die. I tell you this because I think this has had a lifelong affect on me and on my security and where I belong. I am in my seventieth year of living in the house I was born in. Don’t get me wrong, I have been places and done things, but wherever I have been the pull of the mill chimneys and moorland has always drawn me back.

Jean’s dad (second from right) at Stretford Garage

I spent hours as a child lying in the fields across the road, watching the skylarks and hares, building dens with the farmers hay bales and was heartbroken when the Tomlinson family sold up and their farmland was built on. Still I stayed. I was 16 and soon went out to work. By this time my dad was in his 70’s and I felt that I had to financially contribute to the household. There was an insecurity that was always with me and somehow I had to make sure we were ok.

There’s probably a medical term for how this has turned me into more than a home bird and the person I am but I don’t know what it is. I am lucky enough to have someone in my life who treasures me and knows that I need my own space and I am lucky enough to love where I live.

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