If you come from Liverpool chances are you have passed the pub, in Low Hill, on the corner of Holborn Street, the Coach & Horses an old Victorian establishment, now closed and showing its age, windows boarded up the, whole building looking very tired and down at heel but to me it is an icon of a time long ago when as a four year old I sat outside, on the newly tarred forecourt bursting tar bubbles with a discarded match stick while I waited for my dad, a Merchant seaman home on leave. It was Liverpool during the great depression of the 30’s when most people were dirt poor; knowing nothing better the kids never gave their situation a second thought, like their parents they ignored the poverty and just got on enjoying the life they had.
I lived in Holborn Street with me Mam and two sisters, I was second eldest, a four year old, my eldest sister two years older and the youngest two years younger; our family was my world, I loved my sisters and adored me Mam. Being away at sea, most of the time, my dad was a vague recollection of some one in my past but what I knew of him I loved, he smelt of cigarettes and beer but in my innocence it could have been after shave lotion, he was strong and he had tattoos, he was really my hero at the time and remained so until the day he died fifty six years later.
Holborn Street was a different place to the Holborn street of today, the modern houses are palaces compared to those two up two down Victorian houses of sixty seven years ago. The street was cobbled and very narrow, just wide enough to allow a horse and cart to pass through; with houses on either side it seemed crowded and overcast but that could have been an illusion, after all I was just four years old and those slum houses seemed to rise like the walls of a canyon on either side. The houses weren’t really that big, very narrow with three stone steps leading to the front door, a living room and small kitchen on the ground floor and two bedrooms, one atop of the other, there was also a tiny coal cellar with access via an iron grid on the footpath, where the coalman would dump his sacks of coal, it also had a small internal door, giving us access to the black gold, it was a scarce commodity at the time. We also had a small backyard surrounded by a wall which was kept white washed, not forgetting the tin bath hanging on a nail and the outside toilet that backed on to the neighbours next door, so it wasn’t unusual to hear some strange sounds which made me giggle insanely.
My formative years, a very interesting time when everything was a new experience for me, the rickety trams rattling along heading to the outskirts of Liverpool at the new housing development of Dovecot; I never went there but the Carbury boys, from up the street, once took me to Woolton Woods, the earliest tram ride I can remember … We took a bottle of diluted orange juice, it was meant to be used if one of us fainted, as you can imagine one of our gang would go into a faint every couple of minutes, the orange juice didn’t last long.
I remember one of the Carbury boys was old; he must have been about eight years and that was really old to me, we all played together in the street and parents weren’t concerned about stranger danger as parents are today … They mustn’t have been because we went to Woolton Woods alone and I clearly remember playing on the fountain opposite the Museum, the one with the statues of ladies with big naked bosom’s … I even remember walking down to the Pier Head with the Carbury boys, I particularly remember the boys lifting me so I could put my head into mouth of a bronze lion head that adorned the door of a building opposite the old Town Hall in Dale Street, that memory returned whenever I passed those doors, even now when I return to Liverpool for a holiday, only now I am in my seventies and no chance of getting my head in the lions mouth. The rag & bone man was a delight for this young scally, he had the horse and cart that came down Holborn Street, on the cart he had merry-go-round of about three horses, he would put you on for a spin if you brought him some rags, it was turned with a big round handle on the side of the cart that had come of a cloths mangle, the sort that was used for wringing the water out of the washing. Another interesting character was the knife sharpener, he had bike with a grind stone above the front wheel, he would jack the wheel off the ground, sit on the bike and peddle away spinning the front wheel that had a sprocket and chain attached to a sprocket on the grind stone, it was quite ingenious and fascinated us scally's. They were care free happy days and happy memories with the Carbury boys, me Mam and me sisters but it was nearing the end of 1939 and I would be turning five in December, soon to start school. I still have a strong memory of me Mam holding me in her arms, she was standing by the window telling me the bombers and Germans would soon be coming but she assured me I would be safe because I had fair hair and blue eyes … I had no idea what the bombers were, or the Germans but I was soon to find out.
To Be Continued