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1960s Fleetwood
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Memories from Fleetwood in the sixties – homes, shops and privies!

In the sixties, apart from losing the Manx steamers and the railway, the town itself was undergoing a metamorphosis – or to put it another way, someone was mucking about with it, and not, in many people’s opinion, for the better.

Much to the disgust of many residents, Fleetwood Council decided to demolish many of the well known, and much loved, streets in the old part of the town. Streets where most of the old Fleetwood families had been born and bred, knowing all their neighbours and being part of a close knit community.

They were uprooted and consigned to pastures new, and they were not all pleased about it, I can tell you. Despite petitions and protests away went Back Aughton Street, Custom House Lane with the famous flat-toppers, Cherry Tree Row, Elizabeth Street, all to become one big car park for the market.

On the other side of Adelaide Street, High Street, Flag Street (once Cottage Court) parts of Dock Street, Albert Street and Warren Street disappeared. Looking back it now seems as if they went over-night but, of course, they didn’t, although it certainly all happened very quickly.

I do agree that many of these houses were in a bad way and, sadly, as most of the tenants moved away and streets became empty with only a few houses occupied here and there, they were becoming vandalised.

I was very touched by seeing a pathetic little notice on one back door, still occupied, “please do no damage” – especially when I found that an elderly couple lived there and were quite frightened when youths gathered outside at night.

Many of the houses in the old part of the town, surprisingly, had never been converted to electricity, being still lit by gas, and few of them had indoor bathrooms or toilets.

Happily, Cherry Tree Row has been re-created and is quite a pleasant looking block of flats. I’m sure Mr Joe Walmsley, who built the original Cherry Tree Row, would have approved.

I have been amazed at the number of people who have told me that they, or their families, used to live in Cherry Tree Row and that their parents – or grandparents – paid 6d (six and a half pence) or 9d (5p) a week rent.

Some time ago I was talking to the late lamented Cyril Walmsley about Cherry Tree Row and he told me that his grandfather never initially intended building a row of houses, but wanted to build an hotel, which would be called “The Cherry Tree Hotel”, presumably with cherry trees planted in front of it.

Plans were drawn up but before building could be started Queens Terrace was built, blocking the view over the bay which Mr Walmsley wanted for his hotel, so at the last minute he changed his plans to a row of houses which he named instead Cherry Tree Row, although as far as I know, no cherry trees were ever planted there.

Private matters

Mr Joe Walmsley was quite an exceptional man with a very inventive mind and somewhat ahead of his time. Being a master plumber, one of his inventions was for a new type of lavatory basin and was called the “Tippler”.

It involved a pan on a chain which, when filled, “tippled” over to discharge its contents into the receiving bowl which contained water, thus being less odorous and more hygienic.

Cyril told me that one was actually supplied to Queen Victoria, although I cannot vouch for this, but as she and Prince Albert were fascinated by new inventions I can quite believe it.

In fact the idea was, subsequently, pinched from Mr Walmsley and marketed by an enterprising firm becoming, for a time quite popular.

Mind you I remember the days – and it is not so long ago, believe me – when everyone had a privy at the bottom of the yard and the toilet paper was a newspaper, cut into 9″ squares and hung on a piece of string on the door (which was usually just out of reach!).

This was long before the Civil Service invented Bronco and Andrex thought of puppy dogs. Before the war there was a toilet roll called Izal, a medicated paper with a slogan on each leaf with the words “Izal for the throat”, “Izal for the hands”, “Izal for the feet” and so on. More than one frustrated user went through the whole roll without finding the piece they wanted!

Talking of privies… did you hear about the old skipper who lived in Warren Street with his daughter and her husband? The old fellow was very partial to his sausages, bacon and eggs for breakfast, after which he went down to the privy at the bottom of the yard with his pipe and, along with other essential duties, read the previous day’s Gazette.

As his daughter worked at the prawn house she was up early each morning doing the cleaning and the washing before she went to work. One evening she left her husband’s oil stained overalls to soak overnight in a bucket of benzene, and early the following morning she tipped the benzene down the privy, washed the overalls, and put them on the line in the back street to dry.

While she was doing this the old fellow went as usual to the privy, lit his pipe, and dropped the lighted match into the receptacle.

Hearing a loud explosion, his daughter looked up from pegging out the washing in time to see the privy roof sail over the wall into the back street, followed by the old man who still had his pipe in his mouth.

Landing at his daughter’s feet, he looked up at her in astonishment and said, “Hell’s bells, where did those sausages come from?”

Memories of Church Street’s shopping scene

I’m sure many people watched with sadness the decline of Church Street, once a busy street full of shops with the names of many well known firms of yesteryear.

Right up to the time it was demolished the street still had the old gas lamps with the bar near the top which was so popular with the kids who were lucky enough to have a rope, which could be hung over the bar and used to swing around the lamp. And woe betide any kid caught by the local bobby, because in those days he could give you a clout if he thought you were misbehaving.

You didn’t go home and complain to your parents that you’d been in trouble with the police or you would probably have had another clip around the ear for being naughty, but you did learn to watch out for the bobby and to keep out of his way.

It wasn’t always easy for the children, though, for there were no playgrounds with swings and slides. Children had to play in the streets, and there were different street games for each season: hoops, whip and top, skipping ropes, hop-scotch, marbles, conkers… the list is endless and with no traffic on the roads, children usually played quite safely.

Once when I was talking to Mr Garnett, the grocer, he told me a story about Church Street, and his uncle who used to have a grocer’s shop there.

We are talking, of course, about the time when Church Street was in its hey-day, when it was Fleetwood’s main shopping street.

The shops in those days opened late on Friday and Saturday evenings and, as there were no fridges or freezers, everything had to be sold before closing on Saturday.

So thrifty housewives always did their shopping as late as possible, for prices were greatly reduced as the evening wore on, with the shopkeepers selling their meat and vegetables at a knock-down price late on Saturday night rather than throw the stuff away.

It was customary for all the shops to display their wares, and the shoppers walked down the middle of the road to buy from the stalls on either side, but the shopkeepers found the children would creep under the stalls and pinch stuff by slipping a hand up over the edge and nicking anything they could reach. After all, if a kid came home with a lump of ham or beef, or cauliflower, what hard-up Mum is going to tell him he shouldn’t do it? But the traders were concerned at the amount they were losing by these thefts and they complained to the police about it.

The following Saturday there was no sign of the law until 9pm, when two burly bobbies appeared, one at each end of Church Street.

They started to walk towards each other looking under trestle tables as they went, and every youngster they found who was not with an adult was given a thorough shaking, and told severely to “hop it and don’t let me catch you here again!”

Needless to say the would-be thieves thankfully hopped-it as quickly as they could and apparently the shopkeepers had little or no trouble after that for a very long time. A classic example of Willie Whitelaw’s swift sharp shock and, apparently, very effective.

Today the new houses in Church Street have certainly improved the appearance of the street, but it took me a few minutes of looking to find out what was odd about them – there were no chimneys.

Even some of the old alleys and back streets which still remain have been renovated and in many cases – for me – they have lost much of their attraction.

One such is Adelaide Court, once the home of the first Mr Preston who came to Fleetwood in the early days of the town and set up in business as an ironmonger, painter and decorator.

He built three very nice houses in Adelaide Court with an orchard adjoining them. In the orchard was a pump, and very useful that would be in the days before mains water came to the town.

The Midland Bank is now situated where Preston Orchard was, and the little courtyard itself is occupied by a firm of funeral directors. And although I must admit that the court now looks very smart and clean, for me it looks a little too modern.

(Sorry guys! But then some people are hard to please and, of course, they couldn’t have left it the way it was even if that was how I liked it!)

I miss, too, the old ornate street lamps. The modern lamps give more light but are positively ugly by comparison, and I really can’t think that in 50 years’ time someone is going to wax lyrical over them, the way I do about the gas lamps, or even the early electric street lamps.

Divine intervention?

I was talking a few days ago to a very charming man who for many years was head of one of the town’s leading firms of solicitors. Mr Rob Addie. He has a great sense of humour and is related to at least three very old families, the Carsons, the Addies and the Drummonds, a noble lineage indeed. He told me an amusing story of his father and his father’s brother Clive.

When the two were young lads they were very keen on shooting and in those days there were still plenty of hares, rabbits and even pheasants to be caught (Pheasant’s Wood in Thornton was aptly named).

One of their favourite hunting grounds was Poulton Road, which was practically out in the country, and on Sunday mornings they were up early thinking to go there, and see what they could catch, but their father, a strong disciplinarian and devout churchgoer, had impressed upon them that it was illegal to shoot game on Sundays.

Undaunted, however, the lads argued between themselves that to hunt with their ferret would not be shooting and, therefore, could be classed as quite legal. Off they went with the ferret and were so engrossed they nearly forgot the time, but suddenly realising how late it was they had to run to be in time for morning service at the Congregation Church in Lord Street, for they dare not be late and incur their father’s wrath.

When they arrived at the church, as they had not been able to take the ferret home, one of the lads put it in his pocket hoping no one would notice. All went well until the ferret became bored and decided to investigate his surroundings, slipping unnoticed from the boy’s pocket and arriving on the laps of some of the ladies sitting behind. The lads, who went on blissfully singing hymns, were quite unaware of the uproar going on behind them as the good ladies of the congregation proceeded to have the vapours, fainting at the sight of the strange fearsome creature sniffing at them, probably convinced they were going to be attacked and eaten on the spot.

It is not recorded what subsequently happened, but I’m sure the story entertained the men of Fleetwood for many weeks afterwards.


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