School dinners, “kiss-catch”, free milk, bob-a-job week, Bonfire Night, snowball fights, power cuts . . . ee bah gum!
Wath-upon-Dearne is in South Yorkshire (in what used to be called the West Riding). The guidebooks will tell you that the A1(M), M18, and M1 motorways are readily accessible and that people in South Yorkshire are noted for their friendliness. This is where I grew up.
The area used to be a thriving coal mining district as it is close to Sheffield, the steel-making capital of England. Wath-upon-Dearne is so-called as it is situated on the River Dearne, but the waterway I remember as a kid was a filthy canal which has long since been concreted over.
Wath High Street - Then (above) and Now (below)
Although I was born in nearby Bolton-On-Dearne, from 1961 until 1974, I lived with my family in Chapel Street in a terrace house (the middle one of three).
My father worked as a bricklayer for a local building firm called Tabors which operated out of West Melton, and had a great old cream-coloured lorry which fascinated me when I was a kid.
Park Road Infants School
My earliest recollections are of Park Road Infants school. I can remember vividly how warm and colourful the school seemed in the midst of winter, due mainly, I suppose, to the central heating (a luxury we did not have at home).
As far as I can recall, we didn’t actually do a lot of work at Park Road; Just lots of painting and playing around in sandpits and water tanks and such. I loved painting and playing Thunderbirds in the sandpit.
Some of my most vivid memories from this time are Harvest Festival time when we would put together baskets of fruit to take to the old folk at the retirement village and Christmas, when we would invariably chuck on a nativity play. One year I actually scored a starring role as one of the three wise men but swapped it due to stage fright for the role of ‘Pedro, from Mexico’ (Don’t ask!).
Winter seemed much colder back in the 1960s, and my sister and I would often slip and slide our way up Park Road to school on the ice and in thick slush and snow.
While I was in Infants school, a firm of builders called “Wimpey” completely ruined the view from my bedroom window by bulldozing the orchard I used to play in behind our back garden and building a bloody great big estate.
While watching the bulldozers, cement mixers, and tip trucks was a bit like having my very own personal Play School ’round window’ in my bedroom, I did miss that orchard (and the smell of wild mint still reminds me of that place to this day).
From Park Road Infants (which is sadly no longer there and has been replaced with houses), it was off to Wath Central Junior School on Festival Road. This entailed me walking a few more blocks to school – a sure sign that I was growing up.
Wath Central Junior School
My memories of Wath Central are many; Visits to the local church (All Saints) for brass rubbing, trips to the local fire station and farms, drawing outside on the grass underneath a huge weeping willow tree on glorious sunny days, school dinners in the canteen where every table had a “monitor” whose responsibility was to cut the food into the required amount of portions and serve the table (and if you were very unlucky this duty would fall to a teacher).
At the end of school each day, we would place our chairs up on the desks and say our prayers (“Hands together, eyes closed”).
A mid-morning break each day for a bottle of milk (invariably warm from sitting in the sun), painting on huge easels with powdered paints (which did not taste as good as the bright colours suggested they would), the school tuck shop where Wagon Wheels were the main delicacy.
We were always going off on school trips to visit Lifeboat stations, old people’s homes, banks and factories, and it was on a week-long trip to Grasmere in the Lake District in 1973 that I witnessed the filming of the movie Swallows & Amazons. Memorable for me as the book (by Arthur Ransome) had been one of my favourites.
On The Buses . . .
Both my granddad and my dad used to drive buses for Dearneways (a local bus company around the Dearne Valley), and in the school holidays, I would spend whole days travelling on the buses with them.
Often the trips were to the collieries with the miners, which I loved because I was allowed to wear a big leather satchel and collect the fares (a threepenny bit to Wath Main, if memory serves).
Trips with my granddad on the bus to Sheffield usually culminated in a plate of tripe and vinegar at the markets near the bus depot – A glamorous life it were, on t’ buses!
My Dad and grandfather also occasionally drove coaches to the seaside and such for a company called Phillipsons Coaches, also operating out of the Dearneways depot.
The picture below shows their fleet of coaches lined up in their yard on 17 February 1963.
Phillipsons operated for many years out of Goldthorpe, carrying generations of local travellers to the coast and country, as well as operating regular local services. The company ceased trading in the 1970s.
Dad occasionally drove coaches for another (Huddersfield-based) company called Hanson which had four buses based at Bolton, operating out of a farmyard near the railway station.
Wath Grammar School
In September 1973, I crossed Festival Road and started at the “big school”. I was now off to Wath Grammar (later called Wath Comprehensive).
Probably the best thing about Wath Grammar (apart from the beautiful maroon and gold blazers which were a novelty to me as I’d never had to wear a uniform before) was the youth club on Festival Road.
The youth club was a great place to listen to the latest records, eat Mars Bars, drink Tizer and try and chat-up girls.
To Be Continued . . .