From the back bedroom window – a Chesterfield childhood

by Simon Holliday

The following is by no means in chronological order. Rather; it is a selection of snapshots seen through a child’s eyes, as he grew up in Chesterfield. An unremarkable childhood, in an unremarkable place, in which nothing remarkable happened. The period is 1968 to 1975. The place was home.

The move from Springbank Road up to Hady Crescent coincided with the closure of Hipper Primary School, and thus I was one of the very first into the Reception Class at the spanking new seat of learning at Hady. There were two routes from 67 Hady Crescent: up Hady Hill, right onto Hady Lane, and down the path that ran alongside the vehicle access, or down to where Mrs Mather and her lollipop guided us across the road and into Spital Park, then out the other side and up the pathways to the main gate at the top, where the vehicle access and car park were. Both routes involved flats and hills for small legs to negotiate, as well as a really high concrete fence along the school lanes – but I bet it’s shrunk now.

hollis-lane

There was a ‘scary’ bit where the path crossed the top of Hartington Road, because a dog barked at anyone passing by. The same happened going the other way on Hady Lane. Dogs weren’t the only irrational frighteners for this small lad. I dreaded being under the railway bridge at the bottom of Hollis Lane when a train went over, and was convinced that, once under the bridge, large doors at either end would close and trap me in a big, dark space, with continuous rumbling above. Run, Forest, run! I ran, only to pass the little gents` lavatory against the bridge on the town side. Not scary, but fascinating on a dark night walking home with my parents after a concert by the Chesterfield Male Voice Choir – of which my father is still a member – perhaps with one of the many local works or pit brass bands at venues such as Bradbury Hall or the Goldwell Rooms.

I hasten to add that my interest in the loo was purely because it was yet another dark and mysterious corner to peep into on the journey back through town at that hour. A journey that involved either straight down Hollis Lane, or Spa Lane and Eyre Street, which were in a state of flux at that time, with condemned houses and pubs giving off smells and sights of dereliction, sad to a child’s senses. Those same senses were also alert to all sorts of strange sounds around town, and passing the places which made them provided reference points for particular journeys. In reality, of course, they were nothing more than things like the air conditioning unit belonging to White’s Bar, located on the wall in the alleyway, or the buzz from electrical equipment at a works or offices.

Trips to the shops as a nipper were full of adventure – unless, of course, I was feeling grumpy (mardy – but my parents would NEVER use such a word), when every little wait at the counter or visit to an ‘uninteresting’ shop was pure tedium. As with any town of any size, there were shops for everything: Bell’s for bread, Tinley’s for shoes, Save Centa (another fascinating trip down to those shops below street level) for some household items, Brayshaw’s for my Dad’s stationary, as well as the likes of Woolworth’s, Marks & Sparks and Boots (the old one with the paintings on the wall as you went upstairs).

The lovely smell of the public library next to the theatre, which didn’t quite make up for the boredom of waiting while my parents dealt with the business of returning and choosing books – a Friday ritual rewarded with the walk home along Eyre Street and the chance of seeing a train or two pass! And what youngster wouldn’t enjoy the market and market hall, with their variety of produce (no doubt dull by today’s standards), their stallholders barking out bargains, and remembering which lane to run down to find the toy stall. Saturday evening as the light was drawing in and the market traders were packing away. The smells of fruit and veg, chip paper and other ‘proper’ litter on the cobbles, and rows of naked light bulbs under the awnings.

Day passed to evening, but for this child, evening was at home in our cosy little world unless, of course, culture called. I have already mentioned the Choir, but there were also trips to the Civic Theatre and other concerts, plays and whatever. We were carless, so walked almost everywhere. Yet the town in full swing on a Saturday night seemed to pass us by, even though we went right through it. Of course, I was sometimes ‘on the buses’, such as the Hady Circular, Hillstown and Spital services (my mother asking the conductor for “One and two halves to Hady Crescent, please” in her BBC English accent), or to Ashgate School for extra swimming, and Tupton for piano lessons. These were with a Mrs Johnson, whose council house living room was almost entirely taken up by a magnificent Steinway grand – easily above the value of everything else in the house! The piano, along with Mrs Johnson (Fräulein Something-or-Other) had survived the war and made their way from Germany to England, and both bore the scars of flying glass. Her pupils never saw her husband, who worked either down the pit or at Avenue, and was confined to the kitchen during lessons.

Bus trips out to the Peak District or Fox House for summer walks and picnics involved taking what my parents called Hulley-Gulley buses from Beetwell Street. Yes; they always got us there AND back again in time to get the blow-up paddling pool out in the back garden, and to commute between that and the neighbours’ gardens.

Summers went on forever back then! But whatever the season, Hady Crescent was a good place to grow up, with plenty of ‘playing out’. As well as the road itself, there was the ‘tip’, the greens between the front of the Crescent and Hady Hill (games always took place on the top green), and the surrounding fields and lanes. Spital Park may have been fun, with its two ‘dips’ to explore, but a trip to Queen’s Park was s lot grander, as I not only went on the swings and roundabouts, but insisted on ‘inspecting’ all the pavilions and bandstands, as well as feeding the ducks with bread out of a Mother’s Pride or Sunblest wrapper. Then back over the bridge above Markham Road and under the AGD, in order to ‘meet Daddy’ out of work. My contact with ‘the office’, other than to occasionally meet him out of it, was the Christmas panto and sale of work, both of which took place in their canteen, which had a fully equipped stage, upon which the Chetwynd Players strutted their stuff. Coming home after a Choir concert was better, though, because I was allowed to stay up longer and, over cocoa, help Dad count the evening’s well-gotten gains, as he was Treasurer – a post he has only recently given up.

agd

At the age of 8 (I think), I joined the 18th Chesterfield Cubs, and this marked a turning point in my mobility: I was soon allowed to make my own way to the scout hut, which was in a little alleyway off Newbold Road, beyond Spencer Street. However; we were always dropped off home, as it was ‘late’. Clad in my green uniform and short trousers, I could make the journey on the run – believe it or not –in under 20 minutes! There was never any trouble in the form of being chased or shouted at etc. My proudest Cub moment was bob-a-job week. I walked from home to Bolsover and back, and got 25p for tidying some newspapers and magazines away. That was it. One house, just after Hady Lane, and one yellow ‘Job Done’ sticker applied to their porch. AND it was on the outward journey!

But this extended freedom meant I could head into town and to other places by myself or with friends, perhaps to train-spot at Tapton, or wander round the shops. Then it was tea, play out or settle in the front room.

And so to bed, in my room with its fine view over the town and the hills beyond. If it was dark at bedtime, then I would always pull back the curtain for a ‘vast look at the vights’, as it was in child-speak. The drift into sleep would be backed by the sounds of fire appliances responding to an almost nightly call to Robinson’s, and the odd train rushing through the Midland station. Although the houses on Brambling Court, within the Crescent, blocked out the Crooked Spire and some of the town centre, it was still possible to see a fair amount of the place that, until I went to boarding school in 1975, aged ten, was my full time home. And I would happily do it all over again – bumps, scrapes, barking dogs an’ all.

Copyright 2015 Simon Holliday All Rights Reserved