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Peter J Unwin Pre-School Memoirs.

 I don't remember much about 1934, I was not born until the 6th. December. I have been told that my mother had been listening to Gracie Fields on the radio and had laughed so much that this induced my birth. Our house was semi-detached. It was just outside the Sheffield boundary, one of a circle of properties build around a field which, during the 39-45 war, became allotments where we “dug for victory”. We lived on the main road from Sheffield to Manchester. From Sheffield, the road passed through Hillsborough where my father and grandfather ran the family business. Trams ran through Hillsborough as far as the terminus at Middlewood. At this time, this was the extent that Sheffield was developed. Past Middlewood, what was referred to as the asylum or “loony bin” was in large grounds, mainly to the left of the road. Those inmates as were judged harmless farmed the land on both sides of the road for about three-quarters of a mile from the tram-terminus at Middlewood. During most of my early childhood and the 1939/45 war, wheat was grown. At what we called “The Lane”, Stockarth (Also Mowson) Lane formed one boundary of our little estate before running steeply up to the rural community of Worral.
Grandfather Unwin had taken the family one notch up the class ladder when he moved from Vainor Rd. in Hillsborough to what I believe was originally known as 20 Middlewood Estate. This would have been about 1925 , before my father married and purchased another house on the estate. Within the family, grandfather's house was, for many years, referred to as "Number Twenty"…. "are we going to number twenty for tea ?". . . long after the properties had been renumbered and our stretch of road became Middlewood Rd. North.
My grandfather’s house was 356 Middlewood Rd. North, just past the lane. Our house was number 326, about 200 yards away, close to Middlewood Tavern and next to this, the “Little Shop” (now demolished). We called this stretch of road “The Front”. The houses were set well back from the road on rising ground. The view from the front windows was of our small front garden. On our side of the road, there was a footpath separated from the road by a grassed border with a tree to each pair of houses. There were no houses over the road where beyond a footpath and wall, the land fell away steeply to the River Don.
Beely Wood which covered the opposite hillside was referred to as "the woods". Steam trains ran through the wood on the old London Midland and Scottish line which took the Woodhead route to Manchester.
There was little traffic on our road which continued to Oughtibridge, Deepcar and Stocksbridge before running through the wild country surrounding the Flouch Inn and hence over Woodhead to Manchester. A 20 minute bus service connected Sheffield to Stocksbridge, a good service because this was where Samuel Fox had a large steel works. Our milk came by a horse-drawn cart carrying silvery churns and ladles with long handles which dipped deep into the churn, pouring a measured pint into jugs which each household left out with a saucer over the top or sometimes carried out to a low step at the back of the milk cart where the milkman dispensed his milk. Beer for the tavern came on drays drawn by teams of cart-horses.
 My earliest memories are of the sounds. Every weekday, at crack of dawn on the other side of the river from the inn, a forge started work. We were well shielded by the hillside but I can still hear the squeak as the steam which had raised the hammer escaped, followed by the THUMP as it fell on the steel ingot and shook the ground for about 400 yards around the forge. I can remember the sound of the steam trains on the hillside and away in the far distance, Chuff-ChuffChuff followed by a crash as a wagon being shunted in a shunting-yard crashed into a train of wagons being prepared for a particular destination.
One of my earliest memories is being in my cot in the small front bedroom. It was probably Sunday when my parents had a lie-in. Seeking amusement, I investigated a tin of Vaseline left within reach. Having dipped a finger, what to do with it ? I found that smearing it on the wallpaper had a most interesting effect. Standing in my cot, I proceeded to smear the entire contents of the tin over as much of the wall as I could reach, rubbing it well in. Gosh, there was a fuss about this. The wisdom of “spare the rod and spoil the child” was still adhered to by most parents. In my case it was the slipper. This was kept in the front room. On either side of the fire were two copper boxes with lifting lids. One stored coal, the other held father’s spats and slippers. Spats were felt-like covers worn over boots to keep the feet warm in winter.
The front room was the scene of most spankings, slipperings and banishments. It was an age when children were expected to know their place and to show respect to all adults, not quite in the Victorian sense but very firmly so. My father’s discipline was more predictable and understandable than my mother’s. I never resented father’s discipline, it was clear, understood and soon over. Bad behaviour or tears were never tolerated. I was either sent to bed or banished to another room.
The household ran with clockwork regularity. After a traditional English breakfast Father went to the family shop on the 9 o’clock bus. It was only a ten minute journey so he came home for lunch, and returned for tea at five. He worked on Saturdays, Thursday was Sheffield's half day. No shops opened on Sunday when the busses only ran a restricted service, mainly for church-goers.
It was roast-beef for Sunday lunch, then the cold remains on Monday because this was washday and cooking was impossible. On Fridays, father collected lunchtime fish from the fishmonger in Hillsborough. This was usually plaice or haddock.
Meat was delivered by a boy on a bicycle. Mother would take me to Hemmings the grocers once a week. The groceries would be delivered in a cardboard box by van, being checked against the bill as they were unpacked. The man was not allowed to leave until mother was satisfied, he was then paid and took the box away for re-use.
Housekeeping in the nineteen-thirties was not easy. The electric vacuum cleaner had only just become available. Electricity was little used except for lighting so fires had to be lit and cleared daily. The most important fire was in the kitchen range. This boiled the kettle and toasted crumpets held on a toasting-fork. The range heated the oven and a back-boiler. It had to be stoked for washing, cooking and taking baths. Every Friday, the range needed “doing”. Long flue brushes had to be poked up many orifices and the whole thing black-leaded. It was a matter of pride that the steps into the house be scrubbed and a donkey-stone used to whiten the edges. Meals had to be well planned because there was no fridge. Food was either on a high shelf in the kitchen, at the head of the staircase into the cellar or on a “cold slab” in the cellar.
Town gas and coal were the only fuels. The gas supplied a single burner gas-ring and heated a “copper” for boiling clothes. In the towns, smoke from coal-fires poured from row upon row of chimneys. Burning coal produced mountains of soot, ashes and cinders. Once a week the dustmen called to empty our galvanised iron dustbin. There were no plastic liners. The men wore caps and leather shoulder-protectors, carrying the bins on their shoulders with falling ash covering them from head to foot. Town gas and electricity were produced locally. There were no “grids” providing national distribution. Unlike “natural gas”, town gas was produced from ovens which drove off gas from coal, turning this into coke which although a smokeless fuel, did not burn easily in open fires. Town gas contained carbon monoxide (which is very poisonous) and hydrogen which made it lighter than air.
PJ Unwin
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