Series about West Hallam in the 1920s taken from WHM Magazines of 1992 -1994
“Scargill Boys' School Sports Day”
THE Scargill Boys’ School Sports Day was the highlight of the year in the life of the school and village during the 1920’s as I remember.
Preparations were made early with pairs of boys going round the village with subscription books asking for donations to the sports. Anyone who contributed 2/6d or more received a gilt edged invitation card from the Headmaster and boys to attend the sports and tea. Always held on a Saturday in July. That Saturday was always kept blank by the White Rose Cricket Club in order to leave the Newdigate Rec free for the sports to be held. A lot of hard work was involved in getting the ground ready. In the early days a horse drawn mower was used but came the day when the School had enough funds to purchase an ATCO motor mower. The whole school assembled on the Rec to watch Mr Raby (the head) demonstrate the mower.
Much to the great amusement of the boys he somehow managed to get the controls fast and was unable to stop the machine finally coming to rest after running out of petrol.
After the mower had been used there was always a lot of long grasses ‘bents’ as we called them left behind. So the boys had to get down on their knees armed with shears to snip them off.
When the day came the ground was a magnificent sight, flanked by huge Elm trees on the Beech Lane sadly no longer there.
The 100 yard sprint track ran from the front of the pavilion up to the Beech Lane end of the rec. It had 8 lanes each lane being individually taped off with a starting grid marked off at yard intervals. The 220 yard track was an oval with a single tape marked at intervals with flags all the way round.
Programmes were printed and it was quite a thrill to see one’s name in print for the first time. Boys each had a number and were handicapped according to their ability, I always had the letter S after my name that stood for Scratch which meant I always started from the back. The events that took place were 100 yds, 220 yds, 880 yds, Hurdles, Sack, Potato, Stilt, Obstacle, Long and High Jump, Relay, Tug of War and Throwing the Cricket Ball, the last 3 were ‘House’ events.
To put you in the picture about ‘House’ events. When one joined the Boys School from the Infant and Girls School one was entered into a house in which one stayed throughout one’s school life.
The four ‘Houses’ were Scargill (Blue), Powtrell (Red), Newdigate (Green), Wright (Yellow). Throughout the winter ‘Houses’ played each other in a Football Championship and points for winning being carried forward to the sports day when points for winning the Athletic events were also added. The winning team were awarded silver medals embossed with the School Badge and the date. The School Badge consisted of the letters SBS intertwined and a scroll underneath with the words “SKILL BEFORE STRENGTH".
Back to the Sports. In the centre of the arena was the Box for the Clerk of the Course. Also a large frame for putting the winning numbers after each race.
The official starter using a pistol was my Grandfather, Mr George Toplis, later followed by Mr Ted Bacon who lived in the house on the comer of the village opposite the War Memorial.
Heats were run in the afternoon, the first two in each heat going on to the final. After all the heats had been run it was time for tea where parents, guests and friends made their way to the Boys School where tea was served using a large tea service made of white china with a blue edge and gold lining, the School crest and motto being emblazoned on each piece. After the finals took place and prizes and trophies were presented usually by a local celebrity, I remember the local MP Major Graham Pole doing the honours one year.
In addition to the prizes there were also 3 trophies: The Junior Cup, Gold Medal for the boy under 11 gaining the most points. The Senior Cup, Gold Medal for the boy over 11 gaining the most points. The Old Boys’ Cup, for the boy winning the Old Boys Race.
Throughout the day music was played on the Rec by local bands: Dale Abbey Band and Mapperley Colliery Band were the bands I remember.
West Hallam in the 1920s
Only the occasional horse and cart and the ringing of the Black-smith hammer on the anvil disturbed the peace as he fashioned the horse shoes for his patiently waiting customers. Usually there would be two of three horses quietly waiting to be shod.
Occasionally the peace would be shattered by Tommy the pony from Poplar Farm having somehow escaped would come galloping down the village.
The approach to the village down St Wilfrid’s road was superb. Elm trees and Oak each side of the road their branches intermingling to make a leafy canopy overhead. One huge Elm tree stood right on the corner against the hedge. We stood and watched from the safety of the Girls School playground as it was felled.
Having mentioned the cockerels crowing in the morning I must add that in the spring they had to compete with the dawn chorus which has no comparison today, I remember Father waking me up early one morning especially to hear it.
Writing of the wild birds re-minds me of the species we rarely see or hear today. One was the corncrake which although as boys we crawled on our hands and knees around the edges of the mowing grass meadow which was their habitat, I never actually saw one only the harsh cry of CORNCRAKE from which I always understood the bird got its name.
Another bird getting rare to-day was the Barn Owl. Most of the farms had a brood of Barn Owls the stock yards providing food aplenty, the com stacks were a haven for mice and rats the Barn Owls chief food. Another bird which seems to be diminishing is the Skylark although I saw and heard one the other day. Kingfisher also could be seen on Morris’s Brook. There was also a rumour going round that there were others on Buldock Mill Dam. They are, of course, an elusive creature that is probably the reason we never saw one.
I must mention the farms which played a large part in the village life with their neat hay ricks and corn stacks. Tn the perimeter of the village we had Poplar Farm so called as it had a large Poplar tree growing near to its front door. White House Farm with its butcher shop, stood where the present shopping area and Medical Centres are today. Cottage Farm was just round the comer on St Wilfrid’s Road a feature of which was its large Monkey tree standing on the front lawn. Other farms around the village were Nursery Farm (now gone), Glebe Farm, Grange Farm, Foxholes Farm and Thacker Barn.
At harvesting time there was a good community spirit in the village when all hands were needed to gather in the hay. It had to be turned or tended by hand. Each farm had its own collections of hay forks you could be sure to find one the right size! The com harvest was different after being cut into sheaves by the binding machine it then had to be set up in stooks by hand. Where it had to stay whilst the Church bells range 3 times.
One of my happiest memories was riding back to the hay and cornfields in the empty cart.
Later in the year the Threshing machine would visit each farm. The hum of the drums could be heard all over the village rising in pitch as each sheaf was dropped on to the revolving drum. Boys armed with sticks would be there to help keep down the vermin population and help with other tasks associated with Threshing. All the workers and helpers would be called in to the Farm House for Harvest Dinner. I remember one dinner especially at Poplar Farm— Beef and carrots and other veg superbly cooked by Mrs Pegg the farmer’s wife.
One fact of village life which has disappeared was the tolling of the Passing Bell. It would ring twice or three times for either male or female who had passed away. Finally it would toll once for each year the person had lived.
WEST HALLAM IN THE 1920’s
Part 2: by Hedley Weston
Amongst the traders who came through the village was Smalley’s, the greengrocer, who announced his arrival by the shout - “Smallayee, Smallayee" followed by "Dus yer mouver want a rabbit, sell’er one forninepence, dusyermouverwant it skinnin’, charge another fivepence." He always had a row of rabbits hanging on the back of his dray. Rabbit pie or stew made a cheap dinner and was very popular.
Another hawker was the Rag and Bone man, his cry — “Enny old rabbitskins”
Another trader was the Hardware man, Beecham, he announced his arrival in the village by ringing a large hand bell and calling out ‘Parafeen, parafeen’. Paraffin was an essential commodity as a lot of the cottages were still lit by paraffin lamps. Another vital commodity was the chamber pot. Mr Beecham had a selection of these arranged round the roof of his van. Plain and flowered ones, the plain ones were the cheapest. Watsons Matchless cleanser soap, Rinso and blue bags were other commodities he sold. Mentioning soap brings one to wash day, always on a Monday, the steady thud, thud, thud, could be heard all over the village as ponches pounded the washing in the tubs. Early in the morning copper fires were lit. Copper sticks were used to lift the washing out of the boiling water but disaster struck if the copper boiled over. The clothes would then be put through a mangle with huge wooden rollers before being hung out to dry. Another disaster which often happened was when the clothes line broke - nylon rope had not been invented then. Finally the day would end by ironing with flat irons heated in front of the fire.
I was born at the village shop (now the Post Office). The Post Office was then at the bottom of School Square and was kept by Miss Hobson and Miss Lowndes.
When father bought the shop it had also been the Village bakery. The “old bakehouse” as we called it, was on the right as one went in, the area where the P.O. counter is today. The property has been much altered. The old fashioned bay window was to the left of the shop door as was the main shop. In the shop itself we sold various commodities and medicines, these were kept in large bottles and sold loose by the ounce and weighed on a fine pair of brass scales. Sweet Nitre, Glycerine, Castor oil,Cod liver oil, Camomile Flowers, Syrup of Marshmallow and Iodine to name some of the items sold. We also sold Gas Mantles.
WEST HALLAM IN THE 1920’s
Part 3: by Hedley Weston
In the old Bakehouse there were thralls all around on which was kept butter (butter used to come in tubs before being weighed into amounts to suit the customer), lard, margarine and those marvellous round cheeses, sides of bacon hung from the ceiling and a large barrel of vinegar stood on the floor with an enamelled tundish and measuring jug nearby. Sugar came in sacks that had to be weighed into blue paper bags of 1lb and 2lb sizes.
Games: An exciting time in the shop was Shrovetide when we had a delivery of whips and tops of various shapes and sizes, shuttlecocks and battledoors, skipping ropes and marbles of all colours - Glassy Alley's with coloured centres.
Whp and top we played in the street. No traffic of course. One top was called a Window Smasher because if it was hit in the right place it would fly through the air, and it so happened that a top hit by one of the boys flew unerringly through the window of the forge. When the irate Blacksmith came out the street was empty. Yes! we were little devils but not vandals. Another popular game which cost nothing was Hopscotch. A grid was marked with chalk into six squares A tor, usually a piece of broken tile, was then nudged by hopping from one square to the next. If the tor straddled on the line one was out and the next player took his turn. This, of course, had a disastrous effect on the wear of leather soles of boots and shoes. So to offset this studs or blackeys were hammered on to the soles to preserve them.
Leap Frog was also very popular. Skipping was also played chiefly by the girls, who sang little ditties as they skipped. Sometimes a long rope was used which stretched from one side of the street to the other. A player at each end would turn the rope and as many who could get in, joined in the skipping. Other popular games during the summer was Snobs and Marbles.
Winters always seemed to have a lot of snow. The Village presented an almost Christmas card appearance with the soft lights of paraffin lamps and gas shining on the street. No street-lighting, of course. I remember on one occasion seeing a sleigh with its bells ringing coming up St Wilfrid’s Road.
Water: On the minus side — mains water had only been laid a few years earlier. No water toilets. The toilets or closets were sited as far from the cottages as possible, ours was right at the top of the garden. It was an eerie and somewhat frightening experience for a small boy going to the loo in the dark with a lighted candle casting shadow as one shielded it from the wind. Usually an owl would be hooting from the large Pear Tree we had in the garden.
Sunday, of course, was the day of rest. We always had to dress in our best of Sunday suits. No games played, Sunday School or Church twice a day was the order. Nearly all the men wore bowler hats. The fathers never went to church without wearing a hat. All Public Houses were closed. Even the farms did only the essential task such as milking.
The railway was also a very important factor in the life of the village. First train to excursions to the seaside were run at the princely sum of 2/6d (12½p). I remember how excited we were when we saw the first engine in its LNER Livery following the merger of the GNR and Eastern Railway companies.
The building of Council Houses started in the early twenties. My Uncle, Harry Slaney, who were the builders involved, told me that the contract price was £350 per pair. Amazing!
But alas the ‘wind of change’ was beginning to blow. Ribbon-building on the High Lane began, but worse was to follow. The Hall which had been the scene and centre of many village functions was demolished, as were also the stables and coach buildings on St Wilfrid’s Road. The Coach House was at one time known as “The Little Theatre”, it had a stage at one end and a full complement of bentwood chairs for the audience to sit on.
With the advent of World War II the Army Ordinance Depot took over one of the most beautiful valleys in the area, one where the trout streams (or “Morris Brook” as we called it) used to wind its way on its journey to its junction with Nutbrook. Sadly the brook had been polluted years before with yellow ochry. It also flowed past the meadow where the old Spa used to be. My Mum told me that the water was so clear and icy cold that one got hot-ache holding a glassful. Also on the subject of water before the mains were laid, the villagers had to obtain their drinking water from the three wells around the village. Mother told me that In the Summer there was always a queue of people awaiting their turn to fill their bottles and containers. (School Square - front garden of comer house, opposite the Church gate and High Lane West.)
Still to come was the devastation caused by opencast mining, large tracts of countryside around the village was laid to waste. Hedgerows and trees disappeared. Black Plantation, the wood at the bottom of Cinder Lane also went. Gone were the hedgerows which rose and fell and twisted to the contours of the land. Wild flowers, the brooks which flowed through the meadows. Rough- wood the stumps of which was the home for scores of rabbits, a real “Watership Down” all gone.