Wallasey Ramblings

Growing up in the Wallasey of the 1920s

Written by by Aldra Smith in 1991

My very first recollection is of our house in Bristol Avenue, and must have occurred when my young brother was born in 1924; Nurse Halfpenny was a formidable-looking lady with a long dark blue uniform, stiffly starched apron, and stiff white cap with two long streamers down her back. She appeared with a white bundle which let out a loud squawk, and asked me how I would like another brother – to which I replied that I would rather have a tricycle!

In the mornings the little trap would along with the pony trotting briskly and stopping at each door; the milkman would get down and go round to the back of the trap where the large churn of milk was sitting, and proceed to ladle out the milk into a large white china jug which our Mother provided. I think the first sight of bottled milk wasn’t until a few years later.

Next door there was an elderly little Welsh lady who was a widow; sometimes we were taken to visit her, and if we were very good she would allow us to look through the book of ‘scraps’; some of them were very beautiful, especially the ones of angels or baskets of flowers. Occasionally, my older brothers would walk her wheelchair up and down the avenue to give her a breath of fresh air. Her cheeks were so soft and pink, and her hair was silvery white and kept in place by a very fine hair net.

At that time it was not uncommon to see a lot of invalid chairs or beds which were more often than not made of cane; the mothers or nurses would parade the invalid to the Central Park and back. These children either had rickets or tuberculosis, or perhaps just went under the heading of ‘a delicate child’ who must be nurtured. Beef tea and calves foot jelly were to the delicacies most favoured as a diet fit for invalids.

When I started school, it was Manor Road School where Miss McGuire was headmistress; the downstairs classrooms had doors which could open out onto the playground in good weather, and there were several small trees planted into circles in the playground which were pretty in the spring and summer. Sometimes daffodils were planted around them to make a splash of colour, so one found the attention wandering from school subjects and looking out at the sunshine instead.

The children in my class were mostly children of the local shopkeepers: Jackie McKay from the bakers, Dorothy Siddall from the chemist, and Marion Bird from the gents tailors on King Street. I used to like going with Marion down into the basement of the shop, where one got the smells of the various bolts of material, the pressing irons and the chalks.

Saturday afternoon was matinee day at the Lyceum cinema with its pillars outside making it look a very imposing place; the favourite programmes were Rin-Tin-Tin, and Scottie the Boy Scout. Admission was 2d, but discipline was strict, and anyone that didn’t behave was soon thrown out.

Eventually we moved from St. Bride’s Road to Rake Lane and to Egerton Road School; at that time they were just beginning to build the Hebron Hall. We had a little tuck shop nearby where all the children spent their Saturday pennies. The lady who owned the shop had two tables – one with halfpenny sweets on it, and the other with farthing things on it. It took quite a while to decide what to choose from a selection of liquorice laces, sherbet dabs, caramels, palm toffee, gob stoppers, coconut strips, rosebuds, marzipan, teacakes, chocolate chewing nuts etc.

Playtime games were kept to quite a strict timetable; the skipping season – with a piece of Mother’s washing-line rope, exchanging scraps, ball games. Dancing and singing games, whips and tops and iron hoops, and – of course – cowboys and Indians.

I remember the police station on Urmson Road, and the builder’s yard nearby; the Gregson family used to play with us, but the girls went to the Maris Stella Convent in New Brighton. The Queen’s Arms was the bus stop for the red Crosville buses, and when we were small there used to a regular ‘hurdy-gurdy’ man there with his little monkey sitting on top to collect pennies.

Liscard VillageYes, the Monkey House was a very familiar sight, and a favourite meeting-place for people, and we were always taken to Panter Brick’s for our shoes. There was another shop that used to sell all the school uniforms, but I forgot its name; I used to send occasionally to get an old Grammar School tie for my older brother. He was always very proud of being at the Grammar School.

We hadn’t long been in the house in Rake Lane when we heard that the circus was coming to the Delph; the three of us got up very early one morning to watch all the paraphernalia arriving, then the cages with the animals, and the elephants walking in front – a wondrous sight in our eyes. We were taken to see the circus (Bertram Mills) and it was like a new world.

Liscard was a very good shopping centre, and I remember quite a lot of the shops; there was a wonderful needlework shop at one of the corners facing the monkey house, and my most vivid memory of Strother’s music shop in Seaview Road. When Mother went in there to choose a record, she was ushered into a little glass-sided booth where the two or three seconds were brought were brought for her to listen to before she made her choice. I still have a couple of these original records in their Strother’s stamped sleeve.

Woolworth’s made quite an impact when it was opened, and I still recall being sent there for Father’s favourite gingernut biscuits – one pound for 5d! The tins used to have glass lids on top to keep them fresh and the dust out.

The trams used to rattle along the various routes, and had letters instead of numbers – i.e. RL for Rake Lane, WD for Warren Drive. And P for Poulton, NB for New Brighton.

Time came for young to Wallasey High School, with the horrors of blazer and panama hat in Summer, and heavy navy cap coat and black velour hat in winter (compulsory!) We could take one of three ways home from school; the shortest through the grounds of Earlston Library and out through the cemetery gates. Second, by walking the full length of Mount Pleasant Road and back along Rake Lane, or going the other way to visit the little park known as ‘The Captain’s Pit’, and along Seaview Road. It depended how much homework you had and how heavy the case of books was!

With our house being on the main road to the cemetery, we used to see a lot of funerals passing by; in those days the hearse was drawn by black horses with black feather plumes in their headgear; the cortege was always carriages, the men with long coats and black top hats with a black crepe sash, the women in black from head to toe veils covering their faces, handkerchiefs bound with black at the edge.  When we left Wallasey in 1933 this was still the custom.

I can remember our local GP’s surgery; he was a red-haired Scot, and if we were taken to see him, he was always very patient with us. On top of his rolltop desk stood a Sharp’s toffee tin which was shaped like a parrot’s cage and had a brightly coloured relief of a parrot on the outside. If we opened our mouth to let him see our throat, we were allowed to open the tin and take one toffee for good behaviour. Magic.

Long before the esplanade was built at New Brighton, we had happy times as children along the sand dunes there, and watched all the big liners sailing in and out of the Mersey. The boys used to be able to recognise all the house flags of the various shipping lines, and we had to watch we didn’t sit too near the incoming tide, as a few minutes after a liner had gone down river came there came a huge backwash, and if your weren’t careful it would dowse everyone in sight!

The strip of shore between Egremont and New Brighton was a lovely stretch, and we spent many happy hours with spade and bucket, hunting through all the rock pools for small crabs or pretty shells.

This was a very happy time in my life, and leaving Wallasey was heartbreaking; nevertheless, I shall always recall the place with great affection.