Bedford | 1941/42 |  Manchester | Whalley | School | Church | Early teens | Starting work | Bill's Page


Staying at Grandma Hebden’s cottage was a large part of my childhood. I frequently went there and from the age of about nine, spent all my school holidays there. It was without doubt my little piece of paradise.

I can still hear mother saying, “Don’t tell grandma we use tins” before a trip to Whalley. For my mum there was no nail varnish showing, very little lipstick and no smoking in front of father!

Billy & Nellie lived in, what is now, a grade II 17th.century stone cottage opposite the Church in Whalley. They had No. 2 Poole End. The cottage was known about, in the mid 17th century & was connected to Whalley’s Cistercian Abbey. Originally, it was one house and was made into three cottages. They backed onto the square and were across from the school. There was always the lovely noise of the swallows, weaving & diving around the square, plus the din of the rookery, in the trees of the graveyard. The garden was split by a wall, the front was for flowers & the behind the wall was a vegetable garden, with three outside toilets shielded by a Lilac tree in one corner. It sounds idyllic and felt it to me. All my fondest childhood memories are around Poole End. It was a haven of beautiful countryside; warm family ties and a free, safe simple childhood. Milk was delivered by horse & cart, in a huge churn, each pint being drawn by hand with a ladle & poured into your jug at the door. That horse must have lived on stale crusts of bread from all the kids. Gran was always there & Granddad was a driver for the Ribble Bus Company and caretaker of the Methodist church in the village. I can still smell and taste the acrid coke fumes from the fire central heating boiler he maintained. See those slippy floors, where they used to throw talcum down before a social evening, to enhance the slide for the old tyme dancing. There was always a pedal operated harmonium in the corner of a Methodist chapel, used for the Sunday school.

These were cottages for the workingman. No middle class, up market houses to invest in. Gran & Granddad raised four children in a tiny place, loosing a fifth, Eva, in childhood. It was a stone cottage with thick walls, with one big room divided by an oak panel that was reputed to come from Whalley Abbey. (“Its so hard you can’t drive nails in it!” Ken used to say.) Two thirds of the down stairs was the living room. A large black cast iron fire, holding a water tank on one side and an oven on the other, this was opposite the oak paneling on the adjoining wall. There were two chairs either side of the fireplace, and in one corner a chaise lounge. Above that was the small grandfather clock with the loud slow tick. It was wound once a week. The two brass weights on chains were its driving power & a big brass pendulum swung away keeping the rhythm.

In the centre of the oak panel was a door that leads into the one-third that was left of the room. Look left for the coats & Granddad’s bike and under the stairs was where the coal was stored. The stairs were covered in and there was a door, three steps up on the stairs. Look right & that was the kitchen. Gas stove, cupboards & the stone sink and water taps set in the window space. The cottage had a great toilet flushing system! The wastewater from washing went down the plug into a large bucket, below ground level, that tipped when it was full. This rush of water flushed the toilets at the end of the garden. All the cottages used this system. I thought it most effective. The toilets were just a hole in wooden planks over a huge, deep, brown pipe. There was one toilet per cottage. For night use, beds had their potty or "Guz under" to save that trek out into the night!

The walls were very thick; my guess was about 18 inches to two feet. The windows had the original diamond shaped glass, set in lead. All uneven, different shades & obviously hand made pieces. On the front window, there were a few signatures etched in the glass. I was told that weavers did it with a diamond ring. The floors were stone slabs covered in a carpet squares.

I remember when they changed over from gas lighting to electric bulbs. Whalley had been lit by gas since 1868. There was something comfortable about the hiss of the gaslight, the soft yellow colour it gave out. We took trips to the Whalley Co-op to get new gas mantles. I think they were asbestos or similar, came as a cup shaped lace with string to tie them on & burnt until they disintegrated. I often fell asleep in front of that fire, laying on the carpet, listening to the radio, with the hiss of the gaslights and surrounded by my Dinky cars. I seemed to get one Dinky a week! Grandma ruined me. The radio was run off an accumulator battery that had to be recharged at the garage, by the church.

I read for pleasure with Ken, borrowing books from him, Arthur Ransome’s “Swallows & Amazons”  and “The Lancashire Witches”. That scared me stupid. It was all about Ma Demdike & Ann Chattox and  how they lived around here. Of course, from Whalley, Pendle hill was spitting distance and Sabden was the heart of the witch country. I think it said that one of the witches had visited Whalley church yard. My God, I could see it from my window, with its Celtic crosses & stone tombs by the Church entrance. It seemed so near to that bedroom!

Upstairs was just two rooms. The Grandparents had the front bedroom & me sharing a huge double bed, at the back, with Kenneth, their youngest boy & my favourite uncle. (He was never called Uncle!) He was a real lad. Much older than me but a wonderful friend. The bed seemed so big! It had a flock mattress. When you made the bed  the mattress was shaken violently and then, at night, as you climbed in, you sank into this hole your body made. I swear there’s nothing as comfortable as an old flock mattress. (6)

Ken got up early to work in the cotton mill by the River Calder. I would often look out of the window & watch, what seemed like hundreds of women, in their clogs & shawls all going off to work in the dawn light. It was a living L.S. Lowry painting. I must have been there when clogs & shawls were regularly used, presumably by the old fashioned & poor of Lancashire, as normal working clothes. This would have been around 1947-49.

Building & flying Kiel Kraft gliders out of balsa & tissue with him, must have started my lifelong love of aircraft.  Ken had to run like mad to get it to fly on the end of a thin line. When I tried it I ended up dragging them along the ground! He was sure they had an early homing device to detect puddles & trees for landing in! There was lots of climbing, whilst praying for little damage to balsa & tissue. I had a pilot made of balsa he called Clutterbuck. He swore that none of the gliders behaved well without Clutterbuck to guide them.

Ken used to go to Spring Wood to get tree trunks for the fire. We both returned with a log over our shoulders. (I bet mine was a twig!). Spring Wood was a carpet of Bluebells in the spring. Mum used to pick great armfuls and take them back to grey old Manchester. They never lasted long. That was before it was not PC to pick wild flowers. I never noticed, that the bluebells got any less for the picking!

The other thing that got savaged was the lilac tree at the top of the garden. How she got away with huge bunches of flowers on a bus, I don’t know ... mind you, being the daughter of the bus driver might have helped!

The earliest memory associated with going to Whalley, was having to walk across Manchester to get the bus across the city, because of the fires & blitz damage during the war. Think I was carried a lot, so I’d be very young. Another family saying was “Carry me, I’m not tired”. ... And I complained about my Dads daft sayings?

Because the war, on 31st August 1938 the school was used as reception area for evacuated children from Manchester. A boy from Whalley Range, Frank Hall, was evacuated to Gran's. I have no recollection of him. I just know that my Mum didn’t want me to be evacuated. Wonder if she regretted that, as the bombs were falling? The Hebden’s lost their second son Billy. He was reputed to be one of the last off Dunkirk & got mentioned in Dispatches for his efforts. He died by accident in Belfast, whilst at a rest camp. He is buried in Whalley churchyard. In 2008, while getting photographs, I found that Bill's headstone had been moved to the wrong place. He is actually buried, with his father Bill & mother Nellie, further up towards the church. I shall try & get this corrected. I have a faint memory of him, home on leave and visiting Manchester. Dad was cutting my hair & I wouldn’t sit still. That may have been January 1941 as noted in dad’s diary, on the 19th, “Bill came home on leave, arriving at 10pm”. He doesn’t say when he left, but my memory is of him in uniform and having to sit still!

Very early on, I made long lasting friends in Whalley. David Haworth, Johnny Bradley & Pat Willan (my first “girlfriend”).

David’s Dad was a signalman at Whalley station. Once or twice, we went to the box & saw how it all worked. We were allowed on a steam train once. We stood still, not daring to touch anything - then the train let off steam! We stood there shouting, “We didn’t touch anything! We didn’t touch anything!” His dad kept his chickens near the signal box. We both watched him wring a chicken’s neck. This was a time when chicken was a luxury, only tasted at Christmas. Every day meat, were the cheap cuts, sausages & the meat in stews & hotpots. I met David later in life. He had a wholesale vegetable business in Clitheroe. He told me he was going to live in Ireland.

I never saw Johnny again. He was from London. I can remember his sisters getting scarlet fever and him being a bloody nuisance when they had boy friends home! I first met him when he threatened David & me with a stick full of hot tar! He was a bit on the wild side in comparison to a little Methodist boy but we were inseparable! He managed to go down in my estimation by nicking some money off us all. We had decided (God knows why) to all put money in a secret hole in the wall. It vanished! Later Johnny told me it was him! When he came to visit us in Manchester, he tried to “lift” a small knife from mums kitchen, as he got caught, maybe he wasn’t that good at it, maybe he had a problem or that was just Johnny! It didn’t affect our friendship.

Not that I was always a goody two shoes! It was me who nicked the fags from Gran's draw! They were for Johnny's dad who was very ill. It was David who told his parents and it was all of us that got into trouble! I was so ashamed to have lost granddad & grandmas trust I don’t think they expected me to be a thief!

Pat was lovely. A slim girl with plaits. Her Mum had a bakery shop on the corner of the square in the early days. Made fabulous oatmeal biscuits. I was in Clitheroe, visiting a toy account one day and the person tapped me on the back. I turned round to see this older lady. It was Pat. Still as pleasant as I remember her. Big beaming smile. Happily married with kids and still living in the same house her parents had. It was a joy to see her again. I heard from Ken, that she became a schoolteacher at Whalley School and that she died of cancer.

School holidays were freedom. I had fried bread for breakfast. I have never tasted the same since. It must have been a combination of real bread (there was really only white bread used then. Brown bread was different as eating a fruit loaf is today) and lard to cook in? Who knows, it was delicious and plenty of salt on it too, no concerns of unhealthy food then. One of the clues would be that I then left to play outside until lunch. We ran, climbed, discovered & made up games. The whole of Whalley was our playground. The dangerous River Calder’s banks. The Nab (the hill that overlooked the village). Spring Wood & St. Johns Wood. A huge field, known as The Canals.

The canals had a row of large Chestnut trees at the bottom end, near the coal merchants holding area. Over them, you could see many dips in the grass that used to flood, we never knew that these were the remnants of the ponds, that held the fish, essential for the monks of Whalley abbey.

After lunch it was more of the same until teatime. We must have burnt thousands of calories a day. We seemed to be out in rain, hail, snow & sunshine. I seldom remember playing indoors during the day. We probably did but it must have been the exception to the rule. I seem to think there were fewer rules in Whalley. Maybe gran was not as protective. Maybe she didn’t have the fears my mum had. We caught & tried to keep the stickleback fish we caught in the streams. They never lasted long. I remember having a large shallow seashell. We kept one alive in there for ages. One night we didn't bring it in & it popped its clogs!

We did things that you never even thought of in Manchester. Mountain climbing, well climbing up the Nab was mountaineering to us! Tree climbing. Ken once took me up a silver birch, which he reckoned it was 80 foot tall. I have no idea if it was but it felt more like 300 foot! We played at Robin Hood with homemade bows & steel tipped arrows (courtesy of Ken of course). One day, Johnny & I hatched a plot to nick all of Ken’s arrows. It worked really well. I stood up, arrows in hand, triumphantly crying out. Ken spun round & his arrow went straight in my ear! My screams cleared the whole field of all known animals! How dangerous, irresponsible and thoughtless! We lied like hell & told grandma that I fell & a twig went through my ear. I’m sure she believed none of this twaggle! Ken was in so much trouble! It remained a wonderful memory & family joke all our lives. At the time, Ken belonged to the St. John Ambulance Brigade. Unfortunately, he said he could never remember which way round the lint dressing went, so I would often end up with the dressing stuck to my ear!

When people say "Oh happy days!" These really were!

Next, Off to school.



(6)  “Flock mattress” These were old fashioned mattresses, stuffed with tufts of wool, hair, cotton, etc also wool refuse, shearings of cloth, old cloth torn to pieces, or the like, for upholstering furniture & of course, stuffing mattresses. You shook them up every day. As you climbed in at night, you sank deep inside them. They were brilliant! Beds then, were big high brass things, with sheets, blankets & a quilt. You needed it all in the winter with no central heating.