Taken from the Chronicle and Echo 19 April 1993

THE sights, sounds and smells of Par Cotton past were the inspiration for this week's Chronicles winner. Here, 56-year-old Mrs Audrey Labrum (nee Ward), of Ardington Road, Northampton, relives her childhood days for all to share. Her letter has been broken into two parts, catch the second half next week ...

Childhood Challenges



I WAS four years old when I came to Northampton in 1941 with my parents and my younger sister Cynthia. I was not a bit impressed with Far Cotton with its mean, narrow, little streets. The sound of the train whistles and the shunting, the sooty atmosphere, the river and the alien smells of NBC and Phipps' breweries assailed my senses. (Later, those same sounds and smells came to mean home). My parents came from Northampton, originally.

They moved to Sussex in the Thirties, but when war came my father (once a regular soldier) wanted to help the war effort and set off a chain of events that brought them back.

Our relatives could find only a run-down house, (two-up, two-down, privy in the communal yard) in Henley Street. Plaster was falling from the walls. The windows leaked. It was cold and damp. The kitchen was a kind of lean-to and was freezing.

On Mondays, that kitchen would be full of steam from the washing in the old brick copper in the corner. In the summertime, I remember sour milk in muslin, suspended from a shelf over a basin which stood on the cop-per. 'Waste not' was the watchword then. It made good cheese, or so I was told. I was not convinced! In another corner there was a metal mesh meat safe. There was never much in it! We were privileged to have a gas stove. (Rented I believe). Though I felt deprived. I wanted to take our Sunday dinner to be cooked at the bakehouse in Oxford Street like everyone else.

Water was saved too, in a butt outside the back door, providing water for the privy (back-to-back, brick outhouse shared with the neighbours. The seat was built of planks with a hole straight to the sewer!) The soft water from the butt was used for washing too and my mother liked to rinse her hair with it. One rainy day, my sister Cynthia and I filled the butt with small frogs. My mother, Hetty, dipped in her bowl and shrieked like a film heroine. Frogs leapt everywhere. We ran for it!

They built shelters in the narrow streets. Ugly brick boxes that no-one used, except for hide and seek. There was no shelter in front of our house and we made full use of the space. We played whip and top. There were jacks and home-made kites. We skipped with a purloined washing line, three or four kids in a row.

We sang rousing hymns at the Sally Army Meeting Hall or talked to the Captain in the back room.

Before we went to bed we listened to programmes like ITMA and Henry Hall and Just William. I also remember the cryptic messages for the resistance in France. I had to fetch another recharged accumulator from Abbey Road, when ours ran down.

A nice treat on Sunday afternoons was a pint of winkles from Brutons, more fun than food, armed with a pin, to coax that elusive morsel, whole, from its snail-like shell. The secret was all in the twist! "And don't forget to remove its hat." we would chorus.

There was a pub or shop on every corner. We lived opposite Mrs Duggan's corner shop and a sooty black foundry tip, belonging to the Crown Foundry.

The Co-op baker delivered and his horse always stamped on the blue brick path outside and licked the window, showing his teeth until my mother found him something to eat. We stood there, giggling if a pile of manure appeared. We knew what would happen next! A neighbour would rush out with a bucket and shovel, but the fun would start when two neighbours reached this prize at the same time!

Mr Matthews delivered the coal by horse and cart. He and his father had two big horses and at the end of the day we all clamoured to be allowed to ride them home to their field over the canal.

The canal and fields were our playground as far as Hunsbury Hill and Danes Camp. We waved the Blisworth trains by on the railway line by the canal and the London trains on the main line.

There was no better way to pass a summer's day than to lean against one of the 'humps? in the hills and hoilows field, train spotting. Those wonderful engines belching steam and smut, were part of my childhood and epitomise the Forties for me.

There was always something to do. We collected strips of silver paper from the fields and were told that it was dropped from bombers to confuse the radar.

If we tired of trains we crossed the local line to the canal. We could play on or under the bridge or if we took a short cut under the signal box, we could 'help' the barges and butties through. We copped it from the signalman if he saw us. We swam by the bridge, risking our parents' wrath. Getting caught meant a hiding and no supper!

Then there were tanks! Great lumbering monsters that shook the houses as they rumbled along Main Road. Cythia, Maureen and Lynne (from opposite) and I used to dress up and give 'concerts' in the middle of the street. We sang, danced and recited.

There really was not time for school. I was a very reluctant pupil at Far Cotton Infant and Junior School.

I yearned to be old enough to be excused school for a few weeks to go potato-picking or pea-picking. Giddy heights of ambition!

I was not to do either in Northampton, but near Leeds I went pea-pulling a year or so after the war. Then I learnt the difference.

In Northampton you picked the peas and left the stalk growing. In Yorkshire you pulled up the whole thing and then picked off the peas.

Unforgettable days gone by



SHIRLEY Watson (nee Wood-bridge) of Chiltern Avenue, Northampton, clearly recalls life in Far Cotton...

"IN the twenties my grandfather, Harry Woodbridge, built a grocer's shop in Far Cotton on the corner of Haines Road and Delapre Crescent Road. This he ran, helped by his youngest son (my Uncle Em) until he died, aged 81 in 1959.

On the opposite corner was a newsagent's shop owned by Archie Baines. Not only did it sell just about everything but it also had both a barbers and a ladies' hair-dressing salon attached.

During the war years an ARP post operated from the garage. If Archie Baines was unable to provide you with what you needed, he knew a man who could!

I remember many names of families who lived in Delapre Crescent Road. There were the Tipplestons, the Griffiths, the Waters, the Hewins and the Evans. Mr and Mrs Evans lived at No 107. They had two sons, Owen and Derek and a daughter, Audrey.

The local doctor was Doctor Noel Stone. He practised opposite the recreation ground. As there was no appointment system and he spent about 15 minutes with each patient, a visit to him usually took all morning or all evening. Not only was this time-consuming it was also frustrating as he would talk about anything and everything except your symptoms, so it was not unusual to find oneself back in the street without having got round to telling him what your problem was!

Memories of my schooldays in Far Cotton are mostly hazy, but I was taught in my scholarship year by Mr "Bogey" Allan.

My memories of Far Cotton span the years between my birth in 1936 until I married in 1958. I lived behind my grandfather's shop with my parents.

My father worked all his life from his 13th birthday Until he died aged 62 in 1968, at Northampton Chronicle & Echo. He was a compositor and I still have my maiden name made up by him in lead type on his linotype machine."