The memories of Norman Challinor

“From 1940 onwards we had access to a marvellous playground- no bunch of children could have wished for anything better, especially as our neighbour Mr. Powell gave up on trying to keep us out.

Our direct route was via the back gardens of numbers 95 and 97 Booth Road, Friar Park; both gardens consisted of a clay bank (the height being at roof gutter height) into which we built a form of steps- there was little else one could do with it.

The main players of our gang were Michael (Mick), Barry, George, Roland, Joseph and me (Norman).

The works site consisted of a main building the length and height of at least three semis with an adjacent chimney stack (equivalent to anything of its day), a large kiln with [about] 30 arched entrances (oblong in shape with rounded ends). It was, to us kids, ginormous.

The years of fun were derived from that one structure alone- we could play ball games on top of it and if the weather was bad we had the whole interior to do most anything we wanted.

From the chimney stack/boiler area ran a tunnel to the centre of the kiln, through which we could travel, and did. There was stabling for the horses and a couple of other smaller buildings.

The brickworks, which dominated the area, were built on a large plot- the same level of the existing canal tow path and was served by a purpose built vehicle access incline running up the side of the canal bank from Hydes Road.

The total area stretched from the original canal basin (serving both the Supreme Laundry and the brickworks) down to Hydes Road and from the canal embankment over to Walton Road Junior School, with the Black Brook (Tame) serving as the perimeter- into which flowed the Brown Brook (rusty colour). Both so called because of the contamination. Nothing could live in either in those days.

The land had been heavily excavated for its clay and at the commencement of war was more like a moonscape, but within 18 months or so the flat areas soon became more like meadows. The whole area was a complete mix of hill and dale, meadow and bog, two large pools and a small one from which we often caught newts on the way to school.

That was only a fraction of the open space that we were able to enjoy. We took in all the land on the opposite side of Hydes Road […] and all of the land now occupied by the Hillfields Estate, plus the whole stretch of canal. At that time the Millfields land was derelict with only one large old house situated some half way between the Millfields Pub and Holloway Bank and served by a dirt track.

There was a small gauge railway line criss-crossing the brickworks land complete with the buggies and tubs that would have been filled with clay and pulled up the incline by horses. This incline ran behind the back gardens of the Booth Road houses.

The rail line and trucks gave us a great deal of fun. Starting at the highest point we would jump into the tubs and away we would go, cho-chooing down the incline. Picking up speed, we would travel a nice distance; the downside, of course, was having to push and pull the trucks back to the top again.

As the war progressed we, and others, started to dismantle the track for the sleepers (firewood) and other uses. Having dismantled a couple of trucks, the tubs had a lip on either side to which we attached sleepers, and hey-presto, a CANOE, which was used by some of our group on the marl pool, but not by me, I’d already had my fill of marl pools and 1947 was some way off.

Over the years we had a great time on the canal having the use of, I think, three large barges, one of which we holed and sank in the basin. The barge came complete with poles and ropes, so we had no trouble manoeuvring onto the main stretch of the canal- we could travel just as far as we wanted to go- no interference from anyone. We only had to heave-to when the working boats came by, and would often make a [stop] on the Manor House basin.

The canal was also where most of us learnt to swim, but you had to keep a lookout for any object bobbing in the distance and when it got within a couple of yards, out you jumped until the dead dog had floated by. This was a regular occurrence, you’d be very lucky not to see at least one each time you played on the canal, usually the dog would either be in a sack or weighted down with a brick round its neck. We truly were a nation of dog lovers.

The brickworks afforded us an array of materials from which, with a lot of imagination we built or crafted numerous objects and things. Mick excelled at such projects resulting with us excavating some sizeable holes in which to build some excellent hideaway huts, large enough to seat up to ten.

Each underground hut would be fully brick lined and finished with brick bench seating on each side. Opposite the entrance we built a fire grate out of FIRE BRICKS, again courtesy of the brickyard.

The roof was corrugated sheeting and covered with the excavated soil. The entrance, large enough for us to enter and leave easily, and small enough to keep closed from any bad weather.

With our shared bottles of pop or water (think ten dirty faces swigging), potatoes roasting on the fire (or chestnuts when in season), and eyes smarting from the smoke, despite us having a chimney. It could be better than a home from home especially on winter nights- we would be out until well after 10pm, in a snug candle and fire-lit warm-to-hot hole in the ground, telling stories, jokes and mulling over the days adventures. What more could kids want in the middle of a World War.

If only we’d had access to beer in those days, I dread to think what we might have got up to- but you’d be lucky to get a sip in those days.

If my memory is correct, around 1941 an Ack Ack Gun and Search Light installation was set up on the site behind numbers 113 to 117 Booth Road, I think I remember a barrage balloon as well […]. The installation wasn’t in place very long and was removed as soon as the heavy bombing abated.

This didn’t bar us from our magic playground.

An electric pylon was installed around about 1943, this brought another dimension to our activities. Mick, always the adventurous one, organised a rope or thick wire cable to be tied, some way up, to the pylon. He even organised the pulley wheel.

So, with the pylon sited on a small plateau, a long length of rope/cable secured to a firm fixing point some distance away and below, the pulley wheel and strong rope grip, we had our very own army style training equipment from which we derived many hours of Tarzan like fun.

There were times when we had to defend our kingdom from marauders, we were pretty apt at throwing stones and quite good with our own made catapults- they never came back a second time.

[…]

[We used to take lead from windows and ] this, and any other lead we could obtain, would be melted down and turned into lead toys- soldiers, farm and wild animals. A mould would be made from the brickworks’ clay and the lead melted into an appropriate vessel, usually a glue-pot sitting on one of our fire cans, boy did they get hot, no health and safety zealots to spoil our fun.

The results were always excellent, any Booth Road kid wanting a toy got one- SOLID LEAD remember.

After five weary war years of scrimping and scraping VE day was well and truly celebrated with street parties and bonfires, and our brickworks didn’t fail us. It was pretty well stripped, anything that would burn was put on our street bonfire and what little remained was used for the VJ bonfire. Result- nice hole burnt in road”.