When I was a lad

Growing up in Miles Green


Jack Cross

A poem in Staffordshire dialect by Marjorie Peake

The Saga of a sickly lad.

Me father kept an oatcake shop at the bottom o ar strate.
Ay opened up at crack o dawn, cause the folks thee cudna weet.
Ay lit is fire beneath the plate, an fanned it til it shone.
An ay got a lad fer help im til all is work were done.
His mixture was a secret, handed dine from is owd mon.
Ey mixed it with his airy arm, til o the lumps ad gone.
The stein stud in the corner,set to rise beside the fire.
Then pour an toss an grease the plate he never seemed to tire.
They bought em by the dozen, an pikelets by the score.
All fat an thick wi curranty,thee could'st ner ask fer more.
This lad wot meed the fire op,young Jack from dine neck end.
Ad owys bin a gud un and me fathers was his friend.
Some owe y samed fer slacken, an eye did na do is bit.
So me father said "aye Jack lad","They know'st this is na it
"I pee thee rate gud weeges fer tending to me flame...
Cost tell me what's thee trouble? thee dost'na seem the same"
"I ann ungry sir" ay said "ar conna ate me snappin.
It's oatcakes what ar long fer. Cost put may some in wrappin"
"Ere tack some wom" me father said."Put some bacon on thee griddle.
Fill em up wi eggs an chaze, get some flesh arind thee middle"
So ey tuk some wom that very dee an eys et em ever sin
An a finer mon than Jack lad arm sure ther's never bin.
So if thee lad is lowkin peel thee know'st nar what fer dow
Just fill im up wee oatcakes..
an stand back an watch im grew.

Games we used to play.

That brings me to games we played as children. You were out playing on the streets after school - you were your own transport, your own horse with make-believe whip in hand or chasing one another, one group "the goodies " and the other the "baddies ". We played at night under the gas lamps and would swing on ropes suspended from the arms of the gas lamp, swishing around. A game we played was called "Jack-up-a-knob-stick " where you got into two groups of 4 or 5. One group would form a row of bended backs,  with one acting as a buffer at the wall end so nobody would injure themselves. The other group then jumped on the others backs hoping they would sag or cave-in and shout "Jack-up-a-knob-stick "; two fives are ten, out goes agen, BODGER ! whatever that meant (and this was said in our Staffordshire dialect).
Another night game was "Jack-show-your-light " or "Jack-a-Lantern " and here a group would have a jam jar with a lit candle in it and off they would go and hide from each other over the fields, probably up to our eyes in muck, until we were caught by the opposition and would shout "Jack-show-your-light ". I remember a game called " Bull in the ring " which needs no wxplanation as well as another game called " Kick Back Donkey ". We played all sorts of games on the Rec (which we called Whacks after the owner, Charlie Wareham) such as football, cricket - whichever was in vogue at the time. We would dig holes in the sand hole there , which became our battlefield or gymnasium (without the props). Then we would come to the point when one of us would say "oh yer not playing fair " at that age, who does play fair.

Local games and other activities played after school were kite flying-making your own of course and top and whip (they could make them fly) - the girls decorated theirs. We also played marbles or rinkers (as we called the game). We made a ring of approximatley four foot diameter and had four big marbles, one placed at each point of the compass. The idea being by flicking each stony marble from the knuckle-joint of your thumb and forefinger you had to knock the bid marble out of the ring and not drop inside it. If you were successful you had to then go on to remove the other marbles individually from the ring and finally knock out your opponents marble. There was another marble game called " Nunk " which was more like snooker than the previous game.We would make a pot hole in the earth sufficient to get our hands in but not too deep, otherwise all day would be spent fishing the marble out. From approximately 6 feet away from the hole, would be your starting mark. You would then try and canon off your opponent's marble into the Nunk-hole.

The best game was called "Tip Cat " or "Tippy " as we referred to it. You needed a miner's pick handle, smoothed down so you could grip it and it would be about two and a half feet long. The "Cat " would be a shorter piece of conical shaped wood about 4 or 5 inches long. You could play in in pairs or groups. What happened was you placed the conical piece of wood on the ground. You would strike it with the pick handle at the tip so it picked up in flight and then strike it again in mid-air, therefore banging it as far as you could. Now to retrieve the "cat " - you would tell your opponent how many strides it would take you to get get to it and then it was up to you to hop-skip-and-jump sort of action, to pace it out in the yardage given. In Yorkshire they have a league of a more ploished version of this game.

During the icy winters we would love to slide along in our clogs on the icy roads. We would also bobsleigh down the hills by crouching down and grip each other around the waist making a long chain sometimes ending up in a hen pen disturbing the wire netting fence. Not very nice for Mr Chatfield who showed us the way home - quick !

A game we played on the way to school in the fairer weather was called " Bobbers " which is similar to the French boules game. The " Bobber " was a fist sized stone collected from the roadside which you threw ahead of you. Your mate then proceeded to try and hit your "bobber " (the roadside stone) with his " bobber ". This was the procedure of the game which continued right up to when you reached Halmerend School, even if the game hadn't finished which more often than not was the case. This game of " Bobbers " passed the time going to school.

Other boyhood pursuits were hiking, picking blackberries and potato picking which was done in the summer time, like most kids, I used to run errands for my mother who would say "Take your bowler or hoop, put your cap on and race down to the chemist in Audley for me ". "I'll give you a buttered crust when you get back ".

Local characters

My great grandmother on my mothers side of the family was called Granny Mace and she had remarried later in life. Her second husband, William Mace bred young pheasants in the Craddocks Moss area. He was a gardener at the Apedale Hall wich overlooked our houses in Miles Green. During his time there, a gamekeeper who was in the confines of Apedale Hall estate was shot dead and the person responsible stupidly confessed to someone in a pub that he had shot him. The inebriated man indicated with his retracted index finger saying "this is the finger that pulled the trigger ".

More tales of yesteryears were when my mother told me of a man called, Danny Bowers and another man called Philpott came to blows and one said to the other "if thay beat me, thay cost bury me in the sand hole " Apparently, Danny went looking for a shovel when he'd knocked out Philpott but not for a rescue party coming to his aid. Danny may have done the dreaded deed.

Dan Harrison , another great character who was totally blind but knew his way around the locality was the local town crier. He would ring his bell and call out the local parish notices for everyone to hear then move onto the next port of call. Another story passed on down the line was of a Mrs Beckett who lived at the Craft, (Croft), Victoria Place, Miles Green. She had reason to get to Halmerend via the old corperation path, passing the old working men's club. She was a little anxious as it was a foggy day to walk along those second class lanes and paths that horse and carts travelled along - but Blind Dan took her safely to her desired destination !

Miles Green had its fair share of notables, not blue blood of course but we had old Webby who made herb beer in Camp coffe bottles as his source of supply and Yedy Proctor,who would have won a first at Crufts ! Then there was Sammy Downing (pronounced Dunning in Staffordshire dialect) - he was a wag. He was asked by Billy Parker what sort of taters (potatoes) he was digging up, he replied "primative Methodist, big holler guts buggers like thay " ! Again someone asked him what breed of dog he had and his reply was "like Parkers sausages, all bloody breds "! (breeds). There was Twarro Jones too, he used to put the fear of god into me, and would sort of growl or grimace whenever I went near him. I'd vanish when he was around.

I can see Cudger (George) Coops with his basket of pigeons; he used to have tumblers and tipplers (you don't see these types of pigeon anymore). When he bought a new watch and just as Big Ben was chiming the hour of the day, he said " Big Ben is slow tonight " !

The local doctor was one of the first to possess a motor car in our area - a Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang type. The doctor asked Cudger if he wanted a lift from Miles Green to Audley and he declined saying " No-he was in a hurry " and walked on. Then there was Rodney Jack he was a case and lived just over the wall from us. He used to shoot crows and cook and eat their breasts.

I remember Mr Ing (Mrs Dale's father) who was a WW1 veteran and had served at Khartoum, Sudan. He lived at 87 Heathcote Road and on the day of his funeral his coffin was drapped with the Union Jack and taken to Audley Church on Harvey Taylor's coal cart. Then there was Scotch Alec who lived near Rowbotham's (who was my mothers aunt Annie's ) and he saved someone from getting gored in Farmer Allen's field on his way home from working at the lamp house. We used to look at him in awe - a local hero. It was the same Farmer Allen's field that I was whacked with a cricket bat when playing cricket there. I was aged about 7 or 8 years old and there was blood all over the place. I had accidentally walked into the line of fire when getting some water in a stone flagon to give to the bigger lads.

Mr Simon ,the newsagent who lived opposite our home was a WW1 shell shock victim and at times acted strangely. He always gave you a top "C " greeting with " Hello Colonel " when deliverering your paper early in the morning. We grew accustomed to his ways and he was always jovial, never an embarrassment and in some ways we become fond of him. Which reminds me, around christmas time I saved up to buy from Guests shop (the Guests were the previous owners of this newsagency) a toy gramophone. We played the miniature record called " Will-O-the -Wisp " until the gramophone fell apart. By the way I helped on one occasion to deliver papers along with Sybil Guest (daughter of the shop owner). It was very snowy weather and she got me to help her out.


Our community was staunch labour voters and on this theme lads os our age used to parade in red and yellow colours, papers dangling from sticks, marching and banging tin cans as they went. In formation we would go and cry:-

" Vote, vote for Colonel Wedgewood ,

He is sure to win the day

He will come with his double barrel gun

and blow ol' Shawheath away! "

(Shawheath was the Liberal candidate) but glad to say Labour did win. I remember Colonel Wedgewood , our local Labour candidate, giving a speech in Wareham's field near Coop's house. He stood on a platform which was probably made from a plank supported by beer crates to address the crowd with his election speech.

One day Colonel Wedgewood was driving through our village in his bull-nosed Morris car and we were chasing each other around the roadside and I remember him pulling his car up quickly and looking very concerned as he thought he had hit Dougie who had run back for his hat that had blown off whilst playing. Colonel Wedgewood thought he had broke Dougies leg and being a noble man gave Dougies Dougie a shilling, which was a fortune in those days. As it turns out Dougie is unhurt and retrieves his hat and becomes a millionaire on that particular day.

Buses and Trams

I remember around the 1930's two Leyland single decker buses. There was one named "Leyland Lion " and the other was "Leyland Tiger ". I can see now the logo of the tiger worn on the side of the radiator bonnet, obviously at the front of the vehicle. Also the two drivers that come to mind were Bernard Knapper from Miles Green and a chap named Rigby , I assume from Audley.

When I was a child, I remember what appeared to be my first bus ride from Parkers Corner, Miles Green going to Audley for one penny fare on a Johnson's bus. I think it was red and the name and make of the bus could have been Napier. What sticks in my mind was the name " Overland " and I have never heard of the name since. I always associated the Johnson buses with the bulder in Audley who previously had   Foden steam wagons for heavy haulage and also had the sand quarry in Rye Hills prior to Harry Ellerton of Scot Hay.

The Potteries electric traction tram kept their name for quite some time on their buses that came frpm Newcastle to Miles Green via Black Bank, Alsagers Bank, Halmerend, Miles Green and Victoria Place. They were known as the PET's for short. Obviously as trams went out of business it was renamed PMT. I remember Sammy Dean (Dean & Holdcroft) had a W & G " Bluebird " bus and was I reckon the greatest bus of all time. It was ha'penny fare from Parkers Corner to Halmerend School. Sammy , more often than not, would pile us on and let us go free but it wasn't long before Pooles buses more or less took over. Then there were Rowleys buses with green and cream Livery of Miles Green which took the Newcastle to Stoke route.The trams were very much in evidence from Newcastle to Stoke and there was always a race for customers between trams and buses. Sounds daft but you could post a letter on a tram in those days. And that reminds me; a postman in uniform looked quite a site. He had a cap, more like a coal scuttle and he carried a large Hessian bag with straps. Just seeing a postman without receiving mail was sufficient in itself. They had two deliveries per day then. Even the breadman from the Co-op had a uniform and would blow a whistle when alighting from his van and you would go with your token or checks and swap them for a loaf or two. He would say " What do you want today Mrs...? "

The milkman was different from today's milkman as usually local farmers brought the milk on the milk float in churns and would measure half a pint or a pint of milk into cans for you. Frankie Tavnor was one of our real characters and a local farmer. My mother used to tease him and say " Hello Frankie, it's been raining again and you've left the lids off ! " This teasing comment used to send him crackers and with eyes afire he'd answer with "I'll get you Crossey ". He'd think nothing of flicking his horsewhip at you when going passed. But other times he'd act quite the opposite and you could hitch a lift off him, on the way to school. It seemed an age of nicknames, even the status conscious people had their names shortened.

The grocers representative from Melias, Newcastle would come for your order at night and bring bits and pieces for you. Other errand my younger brother, Alb and I did was taking our hen's eggs for hatching to a mate of my Dad's at Burley pit. This meant a mile walk each way with strict orders of " don't you crack any of those eggs or you'll know about it ".I was walking towards Apedale at the side of the rilway track hoping to see a locomotive so Icould wave to the crew as it went past and that is how perhaps one got broken!

Cigarettes and Newspapers

Cigarettes in those days were Woodbines costing tupenny for five, Goldflake, Players, Capstan, Robins, State Express, B.D.V., Black Cat, Clubs and Senior Service, Craven A and of course the Abdullah cigarette (either Turkish or Egyptian) which of course, you felt you had leapt into another world with one of those. I think we received silk flags of an international flavour from one of the cigarette companies. With the Clubs cigarettes you could smoke yourself to death in the hope of you procuring a prize of various articles of clothing (no not a shroud). As a child we loved cigarette cards, especially the train card sets from 1-50. Of course if you had two of a kind you did a swap. There were collectable card sets for the Great Western Railway (GWR). the knotty, from the Staffordshire engine and railway. The Robin brand of cigarettes cards did one in pull-out form showing the type of bird and what egg they laid.

In those days the newspapers were the Daily News. Daily Herald and Dispatch. Later the Daily News became known as the News Chronicle and then there was the Daily Express and Daily Mail. John Bull was a weekly magazine with the usual bullets-sort of phrase settings. To win a set prize for money you had to write a quip or saying.

School Days

When I first started school I recall the school mistress for the infants was called Miss Billington . I remember she took a wooden whistle off me, for blowing it in the cloakroom. " How terrible ", I thought as it wasn't mine it was my mates Bernard Walker's, how was I going to tell him and from then on I disliked her for that.

Games in the playground were "Ring a Ring a Roses", " Do you know the Muffin Man that lived down Drury Lane " and that sort of thing. In the second class, our teacher was a Mrs Poole and she was nice. She taugh us how to lace up our shoes and tease cloth and rags which kept us from getting bored and our hands busy. Then we went up to class 3 and ooh we had Mrs Tailor and I didn't like her and I'll tell you why. We were drawing our idea of a 12 inch ruler and I guess my inches were more like three quarters and by the time I got to the inch division it was looking cockeyed and creeping into the next segment. I received a hard rattle over the knuckles with the said ruler by Mrs Tailor .That is why I never became a draughtsman. I conveyed this tale of woe to my eldest sister Poll who needless to say had a word with Mrs Tailor about the incedent. She didn't rattle my knuckles again and that showed I was a baby and our Poll was there to protect me. Oh it wasn't all bad Miss Bailey , she was nice and I can see her now, her plump face with plaits round her ears like telephone adaptions. She was had a great smile and a warm friendly disposition. I can't remember what she taught us but it felt good to be in her class. In Miss Billington's class we had to draw Florrie Shuttlebottom ,the local butchers daughter and teachers favourite. She was pretty I guess ! Well my drawing of her wasn't too bad, except to say I only drew her with one leg. I was going to give her the full anatomy but the bell went. The bell rang like in a reception room - next please.

When I was still at infant's school, if my mother had a spare penny (which wouldn't be that often with a family of nine) she would go to the post office and buy penny stamps - they were a form of saving in those days. I never remember us getting the full amount saved in the stamp book which could have been up to 24 squares to stick stamps on. I can smell the post office now, It was also an ironmonger's and sold paraffin, nails, nuts and bolts. I remember the wire grill and scales of the post office part of the shop and the shopkeeper, D W Riley JP and County Councillor looking at you suspiciously from behind it.

Young boys wore their hair in those days in what was known as the "donkey fringe " style. The fringe came down to the eye brow level and that is the way I wore my thick gark bron hair until one day my brother, Norman who was some years older than me got hold of me and convinced me that I needed a haircut. And that was the end of my donkey fringe. I can recollect my mother hearing me cry and immediately came and pulled me to her comforting me saying " What have thay done to thee lad "? (There must have been more of them involved at the time). But I noticed as my mother held me close to her that she was trying to supress her laughter and her belly wobbled with this reaction. However all was put right by my eldest brother, Harry who shaped my hair into what was then known as a Prussian haircut, a style that came from Germany in WW1 I think. Despite this improvement, I remember I was still upset especially going back to school looking this way. I imagined being the object of ridicule, with lads pointing and laughing at me uppermost in my mind as in that period of time you had to wear a sort of skull cap (blue coloured) if anyone had head infections, eg, ring worm, head lice etc. I was worried stiff that they would think that I had one of these conditions because it was cut so short but as time went by my hair grew and I survived and the wearing of the dreaded skull cap never eventuated and the local lads from school came to our house asking " Can you cut our hair like your Jack's !"

When we compleated infant school we moved  into the "big school" that was just over the way. On that big day we filed across the yard and saw the big bell tower. I wondered what was kept in it and had visions of someone like "the Hunch Back of Notre Dame" swinging on the end of a rope from it. I was only to find that the bell was never rung all the time I attended the school. A whistle was used instead for such occasions.

Christmas time at school always seemed good. Each class made its own decorations, the usual paper chains, orchids and anything else that looked special. The skies though red, blended well with the festive season. We later aspired to doing a play called "Christmas Carol " by Charles Dickens - Old Scrooge never felt so well as we urchins came annoying him. Our teacher Joe Richardson , (a fellow pupil taking the main acting part), did a first class job on this play and I'd like to think that we made Charles Dickens famous! We had a few props and one of them I remember, was a clay model goose. Sadly to say poor Joe was killed in North Africa in the WW11. His status in the army was a trooper but he was a real trooper at our school. Another great teacher was Mr Reeves a Welshman and he was our John Barbarolli. Every Christmas came the usual carols but my favourite was :- " hail smiling mom that tips the hills with gold, that tips the hills with gold ".

Holly Holly Oak Day was celebrated on 29 May. In the morning we would carry ash and oak leaves. For some daft reason the boys would chase and try to tickle the girls legs with holly leaves (or could have been nettles) but the girls were always to quick and we could never catch them anyway.

A teacher called Boss Dale was an ex-army serviceman and a stickler for personal hygene. He used to check our knees and if your boots weren't shining then watch out. If you slumped whilst walking up to school he would reprimand you for this as well.

One of our teacher's - Wilf Beech trained as an artist at a London College and was great on classics and would love to tell a story. The book "Tom Brown's Schooldays " seemed to be his motivator. He got the best out of his students and was a good sportsman. He was a great cricketer and played locally for Alsager Bank, where he was born, and also Bignal End.This was the main team where the famous local lad, Johnny Ikin played too. Johnny Ikin became a Lancashire and England cricketer. Wilf was a fantastic slip fielder and he never missed with a piece of chalk if you weren't paying attention in class. His old adage was "empty barrels make a lot of noise" He could do with us by vocal commands what other teachers did by using the cane. Wilf Beech motivated most of our class in helping to build Miles Green Tennis Club which was built on Harvey Taylor's fathers land. The digging and wheeling of barrows was usually done after school hours and weekends. The female side contributed by caterering for the workers as you can imagine with supplying the sandwiches and hot drinks and were an incentive to get involved.

Lizzie Burgess was another teacher at our school. She was always well dressed, in Victorian long dresses, skirts and big hats, with hat pin stuck in. She wore pinz nez which were little glasses placed on the end of her nose. Once she had me out in front of the class saying I was singing out of tune. I resented that as it was like " one below the belt " to me. Lizzie though had an interest in my eldest brother, Harry  and mentioned him fairly regularly. I know what it was, they were in he same contingent in the Red Cross of Audley and Halmerend during the WW1. Miss Burgess took us on interesting nature walks and I can just about tell an oak from a sycamore ! Once we walked along towards Apedale Hall and returned past the bottom of the woodland where beautiful flowers grew but you don't see them anymore. We were taken by a charabanc which had solid tyres on a school outing to Bosley Cloud, not far from Congleton in Cheshire; that was magic and was only a few miles away but I thought we'd gone to foreign parts. The charabanc's speed would  have not gone more than 25 mph but you thought you were speeding. In the age of economy this vehicle was used also as a coal wagon during the week. They took off the canvas canopy and the seats out when using it to haul coal, This must have been a lot of work cleaning it up and changing it back to use for public transport.

We learnt country dancing at school and one dance was called " Gathering Peascods " and another " Sir Roger DeCovelely " which was my favourite. Mr Reeves didn't like my interpretation. I guess I put too many steps or more gyrations and probably had two left feet. I was put on the side lines to watch as the rest dancd to the HMV gramophone pouring forth.

We used to volunteer for stocktaking in the school holidays and we had lots of fun. We respected most of the teachers and didn't get into trouble. Obviously we would get up to some prank or oher but never anything serious. Boss Dale had a habit of pulling from his waistcoat pocket his gold Walham Hunter watch and one of his pet ploys was to say "I will give this watch to anyone who will give me any information on some committed offence or other ". He still had that watch when I left school. One of his fortes was on Empire Day when we would march passed the flyinh Union Jack standard in the school yard and then march back into our classrooms. We would also assemble in neat lines for morning pryers and in the early days a HMV gramophone was used for background music. Later the school acquired a piano from various fundraising events (such as jumble sales). May Smith would play the piano and I remember her playing "Policemens Holiday " a sprightly piece of music.

The boys and girls from our village would chant this rhyme to the opposing football team, in this case it was :-

" Woodlane Bulldogs, penned in the Pen

Can't come out for the Miles Green Men ".

Top of the list as my favourite lessons was always football. My brother Alb and I played for the same team and our trainer, advocate and mentor was Wilf Beech, the sports master. We won a cup beating Butt Lane School X1. ( Riginald Mitchell who designed the Spitfire came from Butt Lane. The trophy was the Carryer Cup donated by a Newcstle Furniture shop. I accidentally kicked my brother Alb in the jaw when we were both going for the ball. Alb ended up with a jaw bandage and I as a candidate for the high steppers.

There were always local derbies in sport around the schools in our area. We were blessed with a good litany of football teams and prior to me playing; Halmerend School won a shield and two cups which in those days was a great achievment. The girls had a good netball team and we thought we'd be clever and challenged them. So much for netball - we never saw the ball !

In school you could aspire to become a monitor. A monitor would keep a daily tally of the class numbers on a big slate blackboard at the back of the classroom (not one the teachers used). Names of some of the teaches were : Boss Dale (or " Rabbit Teeth " we used to call him), Harry Reeves and Miss Gifford . Miss Gifford   got off the train at Halmerend station with cases in hand and it was noticeable that there was always a few willing to carry her case, even for that short distance. You remember the bright guys and also the prettiest girls in the class and you never forget the bullies. I got out of this fairly successfully as I had a big mate, called George Green - I was no hero but I could run ! School seemed to occupy ones life and on the last day at School I was elevated to collect the dusters from each class. I felt like "I'm the greatest" for being selected for this job. When I was at the last class and after picking up the said cloth. I did a sort of dying swan act behind the teachers blackboard and as I thought , out of her vision, only to be asked by the new teacher (I can't recollect her name) " very nice, now come in front and do it for the whole class, where we can all see you " ! I was promptly deflated.




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