Workshop 9: Eccleshall Community Centre

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Distribution Workshop 15th Feb 2010
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13th May 2009.

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Fred Wells: Eccleshall Day Centre


When I was a little boy living in London before the War I never went to the seaside. The nearest I got was the River Thames. I remember going camping at Runnymede where the Magna Carta was signed and a gang of us would often go and see the University Boat Race at Putney because I didn’t live very far from there.

Even in those days the Boat Race was quite a big thing. At Putney you could watch them bringing the boats out and putting them in the water for the start of the race. Sometimes the water would be very choppy. I often wondered whether they regretted getting in the boats. The rowers wore tight trousers called drainpipes. You didn’t often see anybody in shorts. It used to draw a lot of people on to the towpath in all sorts of coloured clothes. Some of the ladies wore big hats and there were people entertaining the crowd. One chap used to be in a leather straightjacket. They put long chains around him and he would get out of them. He had a leather mask with steel over his mouth and to get out of the chains he would throw himself on to the ground. He’d wriggle about and get the chains off. Then he’d come round with the hat. It was a big day out and very enjoyable. We’d go out early in the morning and not get back until half past five or six o’clock.

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Sometimes when we got home there would be gang fights. One gang would go after another gang. They’d start arguing and that’s how the fights happened. They’d have dustbin lids, broomsticks and all sorts of things to hit you with. Once when we were fighting I was pushed through a window of a corner shop. I went through the window and landed in the sitting room. I got up and ran out straight through the shop. Nobody shouted at me or anything. They were bad times: one gang against another.


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John Weaver:  Eccleshall Day Centre


I came from a very poor family and from about 10 years of age I was really on my own. I did meet some very kind people, though, who treated me as well as any parents could have done. One lady who befriended me had a little car and she took me to the seaside for the first time when I was about 10 or 12 but I don’t remember where it was.

For ordinary folk like me, going to the seaside was a wonderful experience. I was amazed at all the water and there were people with their shoes off walking in it. It was magic just looking out to sea. You could see for miles, not just as far as the back of somebody’s toilet across the way.

When I first saw the sea, the tide was out and I just kept walking. I can hear them shouting me now because I was going too far. The first time I went paddling. I kept my shoes and socks on and I got into trouble for that. Then I lost a sock. I had to go and find it. It was criminal to lose a sock. You didn’t buy socks and shoes every day of the week when I was a lad and if your shoes needed mending you put the Daily Mirror inside.

I’ve often dreamt about that first visit to the seaside. My parents may have been as poor as church mice. I couldn’t do anything about that but I remember the people who were kind to me. I think that’s why I get on so well with youngsters. I know how I was treated and I know how to treat them. 


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Gwen Hall: Eccleshall Day Centre



I was teaching domestic science at a school in Birmingham at the outbreak of World War II when I was evacuated with the children. It was not a holiday for me as I stayed with them for the whole time because we couldn’t leave them without somebody they knew. 

The children and the school were given a week’s notice of the evacuation through the radio. We knew we were going and what time we were going but we didn’t know where we were going. Two days before the war started everyone met at the school and marched through Birmingham. They all had their name and their parents’ address pinned on their coats and a card to send back to their parents saying where they were staying. They carried their gas mask and a suitcase or bag of some sort. I remember thinking they didn’t exactly look like little soldiers. It was only when we got to the train that we discovered we weren’t going to the seaside but to a village in Gloucestershire.

When we arrived there were a lot of people waiting to get first pick of the children. The billeting officer had gone through the village a week or so before asking people if there was any reason why they couldn’t take children or whether they had to take a girl or a boy because they had to share a room. About half the children were taken away by people who lived outside the village. That left about thirty 10 to 14 year-olds including some of the not quite so smart children. We walked down the main street dropping them off, two boys or two girls or one of each according to what people could take. We got to the end of the road and the billeting officer said there was another house but she didn’t really want to take anybody there. That sounded ominous but eventually the last two boys got taken in. One of them got his parents to come and take him home almost immediately but the other stayed and I heard many years later that he lived in the village for the rest of his life.

Children being children, they weren’t much upset by all of this. They were excited. Gradually, however, the numbers dwindled to, I would say, nearly a half. Some went home because they were lonely and their parents wanted them back, others went back for family events and never returned. Those who stayed shared the village school, the older ones went in the morning and the younger ones that I looked after went in the afternoon. It all went quite smoothly really. It’s hard to imagine anything like that happening today but in 1939 it had to be done.


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Nora Thompkinson:  Eccleshall Day Centre


When I was a child I very often went to Blackpool during the school holidays. I had an aunt and uncle who had a flat in a big house in Squire’s Gate and I would visit them. I remember going when I was 14 and staying for three weeks. My aunt took me all over the place. We went to St Anne’s and to Stanley Park where they had lovely gardens as well as riding in an open carriage along the part of the front they now call the Golden Mile.

My uncle worked at the Tower Ballroom. He was the doorman and wore a uniform. I went with my aunt to the tea dances there. I suppose we got in for free. The Tower Ballroom looked huge to a child and the organ came up from below the floor. At the tea dances small tables were around the room and you had afternoon tea. The music was playing all the time so you could get up and dance if you wanted to. We were there in the school holidays so there were always lots of people dancing. We went to the circus and up to the top of the Tower in the lift. It seemed tremendous at the time and the view was lovely from up there.

On another holiday, just before the war started, we went to the Isle of Man. I was about 12 then. Mother was terrified of crossing the water.  As a precaution she took her teeth out and put them in her handbag and made us sit up on deck of the Isle of Man steamer all the way across.  We stayed in a boarding house in Douglas but also went to Peel and other places around the coast. We visited a factory where they showed us how they put the three legs of the Isle of Man into the sticks of rock. There were yards and yards of it arranged so the white rock had pink rock inside to make up the legs. I remember the smell of sugar being very sickly. They also had the most wonderful ice creams. They were about a shilling so were quite dear but they were made from fresh cream and much better than the stuff we had at home. I used to watch the fishing boats bringing their catches into Douglas. There was such a lot of fresh fish and the smells were wonderful.

It was a very unsettling time, though, not knowing whether there would be a war or not, and there was an awful lot of talk about Hitler. People in the boarding house were always acting the fool and I’ve got a photograph of them all standing on the front steps doing the ‘Heil Hitler’ salute.

While we were there we went to visit the cemetery in Douglas where my great grandmother was buried. She came from Liverpool but it was her wish to be buried in the Isle of Man because she’d got a lot of childhood memories of the place. She went on holiday to Douglas against her doctor’s orders and my mother went with her to the station, carrying two hat boxes because Granny loved her big hats. Mum saw her on to the train to Liverpool but she died a few weeks after she arrived in Douglas. We found her grave and Mum told us about her granny and the things they used to do together. It was a special holiday.

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