Growing Up In Buxworth


“Home on D'Ranged, a childhood during WW2.”
I was 4 years old in 1939 when my first recollections of Buxworth began. I played with a  toy wooden horse and cart and rode a tricycle on Barren Clough, Buxworth a lane fronting the village football field. There more rides in a three wheeled wooden cart pulled and operated by “Tee” Sidebottom the then local roadman. I didn't know it at the time but when family history later entered into my story, I discovered that he was a family relative. Mother and Grandma Platts (Nan) took me some afternoons to the meetings of the “Mother's Union” non-political unless there was some village scandal to report. These  Mother's meetings were held in the “War Memorial Institute ” known more affectionately as “The Club”.The meetings under the auspice of St James's Church, Buxworth, were not of a high religious nature but more of a meeting point to swap news, gossip, scandal and recipes, in no particular order unless there was some real scandal, which was worth giving it a proper good airing. I was puzzled why, despite the nomenclature “ Mother's Union” so many of the members  were buxom mature single matrons. But the news, good or bad,  was assured of a good and wide circulation. Older children attended at school holidays, I learned that “Mother's Onion” and “Mother's Mafia” were alternative misnomers.

Jackie and Terry Prior, family relatives living nearby escorted me to my first day at Buxworth School. I didn't realise it at the time but this was the first day of my independence. So my early education started in the Infants Class under the watchful eye of Miss. Littlewood. With a well built human frame, knitted woollen skirts and jackets together with pince-nez glasses, the spitting image for Miss Prism, She cosseted,  cajoled and corrected  her little charges in equal measure.
 
Buxworth School


There were no pre-school groups in the late thirties and early forties, just common or garden infants under the buxom but gentle-womanly Miss. Littlewood. I was a late starter to a full school life in Buxworth because I had been in and out of school and had spent a few weeks in Manchester Royal Infirmary with a suspected mastoid.  I can pin point the date from an entry in the Buxworth School Logbook. 16-12-1941. Dr Bamber made a medical inspection of all pupils. At 1-20 pm she examined Keith Holford and ordered him to be sent home at once -- likelihood of a developing mastoid trouble.” No mastoid, but the hospital justified their existence by removing my tonsils. My stay too, left me with a  lifelong anathema to the smell of boiling cabbage and fish poached in milk. Christmas Eve brought horror rather than happiness when a fancy dressed monkey monkeyed his or her way through the children's wards. Since that day I have never knowingly found time to utter a good word regarding monkeys. The bonus however was Christmas presents at both the hospital and later at home.

There were no Ladybird books, Janet and Johns, Ninja Turtles, Bart Simpson et al, just plain honest to goodness stories and tales from her ample repertoire and matching bodily frame. I looked forward to the late afternoons when we infants crowded around  to catch every word of her intonations and deliberations. It was considered a perk and an honour for two named infants ( always boys ) to polish her shoes whilst she read out loud, while she sat comfortably ensconced in an oak windsor chair. The chosen two were closer to her than all the other children, some boys bragged that they had even seen her knickers.

Mother had a ventriloquist dummy which for some reason was named “George”, he had belonged to Henry her younger brother. George changed loyalties and became a  favourite of Miss Littlewood, the infants sat enthralled by her manipulations of his strings. When my children were young George moved in with us and he currently sits quietly on an upstairs dressing table without making a muff or a fluff. Being nearly a 100 years old he is now beginning to show his age. Miss Littlewood got more mileage out of George than the Goodwood motor and horse racing circuits put together. George returned to Buxworth School when our children arrived on the scene, Miss. Littlewood was still there minding the infants. I have discovered through the internet that George's original name was “Charlie McCarthy” hand operated by an American named Edgar Burden, 1903-1978,  Charlie's name changed to Charlie Farnsbarns. The starting price for a similar George on ebay varies between £100-300, but I doubt if any of them have had the same experiences?
 
George, the ventriloquist's dummy
I was still in the infants class when I had my first fright. The film “The Wizard of Oz” was being screened on a special weekday matinee bill, venue Whaley Bridge Cinema. The timings were arranged to match the bus service that ran from Chinley through Buxworth, via Whaley Bridge onto Kettleshulme. The school was given a half day off to view the film. Mother and I caught the North Western omnibus to Whaley Bridge. She bought our cinema tickets and we entered “The Bughouse” the correct name being “The  Picture House”. It had formerly been a corn mill. The sight of the Tin Man, the Scarecrow and the Lion but especially the Witch, scared the living daylights out of me. Within minutes of the film starting, the pair of us were outside the cinema walking back home over the hill to Buxworth. It is true to say that she never ever held that outcome against me. I have boycotted the Yellow Brick Road ever  since

The reality of WW2 came home to Buxworth when increasing numbers of evacuated school children started to arrive in the village from local industrial towns where bombing had either taken place or there was a high risk that it could. Stockport and Manchester schools began the trek but then children came from a much wider field, Southend-on-Sea and Coventry. The nearest we had come to the reality of war in Buxworth was a red glow in the sky over Manchester and the drumming of warplanes overhead. Often the aftermath was collecting “silver chaff”, long silver metallic strands jettisoned from enemy planes, their aim being to confuse aircraft locating systems .

But it seemed no time at all before I moved into Standard One with Miss Isobel Porritt, under her tutelage, I learned to read fluently and execute joined up writing. I also discovered that black ink, brought round in big brown stone jars by class monitors, soaked into a blob of blotting paper went a long way when flicked with a ruler. She awakened my latent interest in natural history by taking Standards One and Two on nature walks around the village of Buxworth. No high visible jackets or highway code, it was come dressed as you are, no elves and safety to follow.
 
My old school cap
The most serious subject was “History” with Walter (Boss) Hallam, the headmaster of the school. When he rolled up his sleeves and brought down a rolled up 6 foot long “Map of the World” that normally rested on a line of coat hooks, we all knew that we were in for another chapter of his personal WW1 battle. Many years later, after his death, I learned from his daughter Margaret, that against all military regulations, he had kept a diary of his war service. I recommended that she donate his diaries to the Imperial War Museum. He was a stickler for keeping Empire Day in the minds of his little charges. His graphic stories knocked spots off Captain Marvel, Superman and Batman combined.

Britain still had an Empire in the 1940's, great land masses were shown in red, which he pointed to with an old billiard cue. Parts of it he had to admit were then currently occupied by foreign forces. He would have even less material to work on now ! He tried to instil an “esprit de corps” into to our meagre frames. During the war, special campaigns were brought to the fore. The “Dig for Victory Campaign” I realise now  that was an early pioneering form of self sufficiency. School allotments were created on land between the school and the railway line from Manchester to London. Under Boss Hallam’s supervision “The senior boys allotment parties” resembled slave labour en route to the mines or even worse. It was obvious that “Boss” could not be in two places at once, so with minimal supervision there was competition for places. It could be said without fear of contradiction that there were two winners – the rabbits living on the railway embankment and the local Smith family, but more of their history later.

Another scheme was “War Weapons Week”. We were given a week off school and encouraged to go out into the locality and collect such items as rubber tyres, cast iron, old iron, aluminium and other objects that could be recycled into the “ War Effort” At that date the Bugsworth canal basin was still in water but not navigable. Local neighbours of mine, the Fletcher brothers, Gordon and Brian, had the inspirational idea of using their mother's clothes line (without permission) with a home fashioned hook as a dragline. We were at that part of the Peak Forest Canal known as “The Wide.” One brother throwing and the other holding the end of the dragline, in fact things were going too smoothly. Due to communication problems between the brothers one threw but the other brother was not on hold so both hook and clothes line literally sank to a watery grave. It became even graver on their mother's next washing day.

The School Logbook 4-11-1942 reads In the two weeks ending Oct 21st, the school salvaged non-ferrous metals,  9lbs of Copper, 70lbs of Zinc, 16lbs of Aluminium, 50lbs of brass, 104lbs of lead, 450lbs-rubber  were collected. Boys salvaged most of the rubber from out of the canal basin. No names and no clothes lines were mentioned.

Those children living on farms were given an extra fortnight off school for “potato picking”. Due to the war, manual labour was hard to find. Senior boys were also allowed to help out in this exercise / alternatively hard work. It was a good excuse to  get away from the Boss and earn some money at the same time. In the autumn we raided the local hedgerows to pick rose hips, subsequently distilled into “Rose Hip Syrup”. The pay was three old pennies for each pound of hips, weighed in at school. The School Logbook 24-10-1941 reads – School has gathered 53 lbs of  rose hips. 24-Jan-1944 reads 165 lbs of rose hips collected. Paid out £1-6-8 to the children.

There was no doubt that we were at war, gas masks had to be taken to school. The masks were housed in a strong cardboard box to which an attached cord hung around the neck or over the shoulder. The youngest children had “Mickey Mouse Masks“, which older children envied and tried to swap. The gas van parked outside school. Donning a mask, everyone had to enter the van and sit on the benches whilst the gas was released. It was a toss up which was the lesser evil, the condensation in the claustrophobic masks or the poisonous gas. In the event of an air raid children were allocated to dispersal points. These dispersal points had to be within three minutes travelling distance from school, naturally everyone wanted to get home. Mary Solomon lived in Canalside Cottages adjacent to Britannia Wireworks. Mary had been given Mrs Cope's Navigation Shop as her point of reference, but Mary maintained to Boss Hallam that she could travel from Buxworth School to Canalside Cottages within the three minutes. The upshot was that Boss put her to the acid test by borrowing a stopwatch and timing her race against his clock to get home within the allotted time.

Most of the pupils at Buxworth School had a relative serving in the armed forces, indeed both my father and my mother's brother were called to the colours. One lad, whom modesty forbids me to name, suffice to hint, that he is now the owner of one of the largest funeral parlours in the High Peak, was to cause morning mayhem to Boss Hallam's normal calm and collected exterior. The pupil, a great pal of mine, arrived at school one morning (his father was home on leave from Malta) with what loosely could be called “white balloons”.  An older pupil who came from the large extended Hall family,  more worldly wise, blew up the “white balloons”, much to the joy of the large but toyless playground. Alerted by the universal and unusual acclaim, Boss Hallam appeared in the playground to enquire into this early morning enhancement. His normal calm and collected mood instantly morphed into a “Crackers”.  The spoilsport quickly gathered up the balloons and disappeared with them down the steps of the boiler house. He gave no explanation in assembly and the incident and items were never mentioned, which to my mind and many others was completely out of character. Later in life I discovered the secret for Boss Hallam's demeanour --- the balloons were condoms supplied at his Majesty's pleasure and accidentally for unworldly children.
It wasn't all “doom and gloom”, in the war years, we children made our own amusements. Iron hoops were still around, kick-can a form of hide and seek, hop scotch, sliding and skating on the frozen Peak Forest Canal, sledging in the winter. Tying adjacent doors together, then knocking on both doors. On dark nights pulling the chains down on gas lamps when people approached, stretching black cotton across the road in the dark. Crist Quarry, long since disused with the demise of the canal system and the advance of railways, became an adventure playground. A great setting for “Cowboys and Indians” though not many children volunteered to be the Indians. We traversed, with hand held candles, the long tunnel that led from Crist Quarry to the Bugsworth Basin, searching for the crosses etched in the stonework where former quarry workers were alleged to have been killed.

Decades later Crist Quarry was to be setting for the 5 year battle by Buxworth villagers versus the financial might of Ferodo Ltd over the indiscriminate illegal tipping of asbestos waste. A fight that ultimately helped to formulate the strict regulations regarding asbestos waste disposal. That fight was an epic “David versus Goliath” where people power and ten tenacious villagers led the battle against a bully of some magnitude with an unlimited source of money and local influence in the  public administration of the area.
Crist Quarry

The  “Piece de Resistance” in Bugsworth Basin was the original intact rhombus shaped Telford crane with a linked chain. The jib of the crane, with children power, could be swung around to dangle over the less than salubrious confection of reeds, mud and accumulated detritus in the canal basin. A child with either feet or hands firmly fixed in the hook at the end of the chain, would be swung by several children power round 360 degrees. It was a favourite trick for the least popular child or those with affluent parents, to be left hanging over the Basin. The chosen child then had a choice, either swarm up the linked chain and clamber down the extended jib arm or to drop into the Basin gunge.  A less than glorious day, especially when arriving home there was every likelihood of an additional parental punishment.
 
Telford Crane in the Canal Basin
At this date in the UK, there was not even a whiff of EU membership or a Brexit future, we had not gone “green” environmentally, in fact if someone in Buxworth had said “Green” it would been either referring to Brierley Green or cheese. Domestic waste was still being tipped at both Gisbourne Row (adjacent to the Basin) and Daisy Hollow near Brierley Green. Children scoured both sites for “Collectibles.” There were no secured boundaries or controlled supervision. A good many of these former coveted childish objects are now being offered at  flea-markets and on Ebay. Coloured bottles would be smashed to make jewels  for “Cowboy and Indians” and “Robin Hood” enactments. It was an over the moon situation if a Silver Cross pram was found and the wheels were in such a condition to make a decent trolley, the terminology then used was “a bogie”.

On marriage, Miss Isobel Porritt (at this date woman teachers on marriage had to resign their post) left Buxworth School,  Mr. P. E. N. Butt was appointed to the vacancy.  I cannot claim that I was a model pupil but only once can I remember having the ruler. 5 minutes into one of his early lessons, Pen Butt said “Stop ! All those who have not put their name and date at the top of the page come to the front”.  All the culprits had to bend over and receive 3 whacks with a 12 inch ruler.  I was a little sore in more ways than one, but I thought little more about the incident. Central heating was in the future, at home ours consisted of an elevated cast iron multi-purpose open grate and oven. I was dressing for school in front of this luxury when mother observed and expounded  “What are the black lines across your bottom ?”. Then the close encounter with a 12 inch ruler sprang to mind. Nan and Ma frog-marched me to school where I was put on display in glorious technicolour for Boss Hallam's closer inspection. I cannot speak about the glorious technicolour stripes but from the remarks played out before Boss Hallam I had a good idea. He may have faced the Hun but he had met a formidable duo in Nan and Ma. It would be true to say that I led a somewhat charmed life thereafter. The School Logbook stated plainly. “Mrs Holford accompanied by Mrs Platts came to school over Keith”. Many years later Pen Butt wrote me an encouraging letter of support from his retirement home in the Isle of Man when an article appeared in the Sunday Times expounding on the campaign to stop the tipping of asbestos waste in Crist Quarry, Buxworth. An accompanying photograph had me posed on the lip of the quarry. The ruler marks by then had faded.
 
The School Cricket Team.  Boss Hallam with glasses and Pen Butt
I was led to believe that I was a very active child, on arrival home from school my first question would be “What's for tea ?” Nan would invariable reply “Two jumps at the pantry door and a bite off the latch”. One day I took her suggestion literally and she never repeated those words again. Nan during the long summer Sunday evenings would take me by bus from Buxworth to Kettleshulme, where we would walk over Sponds Hill, Windgather Rocks and Charles Head, wending our way back into the village to a wooden hut cafe behind Kettleshulme School . The cafe served pots of tea and fancy cakes. The wooden hut has been long gone but the memory of those jaunts are always refreshed when I drive through Kettleshulme into Cheshire.

One afternoon the power of the printed word to an eight year old was brought into focus and disrepute. To save gas the coal fire in the cast iron fireplace was allowed to flicker and glow while I made out faces out of the disintegrating embers. Mother and Nan were chatting away and I with one ear cocked listened to the local gossip and scandal. The conversation reached the point where it concerned a married lady living nearby. Her son was one of my pals so I could honestly claim that I had a vested interest in listening in to the outcome.  Mum – “Don't you think that Mrs X is losing  her looks”. Quick as a  flash I said “I know why Mrs X is losing her looks !” Both ladies looked suitably perplexed by my words of implied wisdom. Nan said “How do you know ?”. I then produced a newspaper containing an advert for “Wincarnis Fortified Wine”. The top of the advert was headed “Why married women lose their looks !”. Mother and Nan, much to my disgust fell about laughing their heads off.

Great Grandpa Platts arrived in the High Peak through working for the Midland Railway. He subsequently trans-morphed into a master baker in a bakehouse  behind Goyt Road at Whaley Bridge. The building subsequently became the local sorting office for the Royal Mail. Both Grandpa and Grandma Nan Platts became dab hands at decorating and baking cakes of all descriptions. Grandpa Bert Platts became part of the local St Johns Ambulance Brigade, two of Nan's brothers, John Warren and Jack were in the same collective. He spent the Great War in India baking for the Royal Army Medical Corps. Nan regularly made the claim that this dual role was ideal, if his baking caused dietary problems he was on the spot with the medical knowledge to put things right.

During WW2 villagers trooped round to our house to have Wedding, Birthday and other celebratory cakes made by the two pairs of skilful hands. They had a black spaniel who usually answered to the name “Prince” who unfortunately had a penchant for cakes hot, cold or indifferent. During WW2 extra rations were allowed for the making of certain celebratory cakes, but there was no second chance. Our next door neighbour made the requisite order for her wedding cake, the cake was baked and left to cool on a tray. Whilst it was cooling, Prince decided to try a bit of self-service, having their cake and eating it. Luckily or unluckily depending on whose point of view you take, Prince had only demolished part of the cake before he was discovered. There was not enough ingredients left to make a second cake so Nan baked a smaller cake from the remaining ingredients and a portion of the replacement cake was engineered into the void created by Prince. The happy couple, well part of the time, went on to meet their maker, blissfully unaware (it is hoped) of  “The Drama of the Dog in daytime”. Meanwhile Prince came within an ace of being renamed “Black Prince”.

Grandpa Platts was a very easy going sort of soul,  I was only once made aware that he could be roused. Prince was a laid back dog, on his own terms, but there was one occasion when they acted in unison. Derbyshire Education Committee employed school truancy officers to catch children either illegally working or being absent from school with or without their parent’s knowledge. Unannounced visits to the homes of suspected violators was the modus operandi and I had caught “German measles” my infant reasoning  was that it must be due to the war. It was common practice at this time to keep children with an infectious disease away from school until the incubation period had lapsed. Grandpa Platts had been left minding the shop so to speak, when there came a knock on the back door.  The truant officer introduced himself by name and stated the purpose of the visit. I could then hear an altercation taking place on the doorstep with Prince weighing in with his seldom used  “I live here mode.”  It was a Mr. Platts versus a Mr. Platts and both assumed that they were taking the mickey. No 2 Mr. Platts never called again.

Being a young child and living in a rural village the war didn't have then same impact that it had on adults. Early in the war, Henry, mothers brother, volunteered for the RAF, hoping that he would be involved with flying aircraft. But after 2 weeks at Padgate, near Warrington, his generosity was turned down. On the rebound together with his pal Jack Hill they joined the Royal Navy together at H.M.S. Ganges. Chatham. I was the postboy for sending the family letters to him and CJX 354870, his service number, became perpetually etched into my memory bank.  He never ever elaborated on his wartime experiences, but he served on H.M.S. Arethusa on the supply convoys to Malta. Travelling to America to crew LST 198 (Landing Ship Tank) part of the American Lend Lease Programme. He was at the hell hole of the ferocious Anzio beach landing in Italy and also the dramatic and bloody D Day landing on the beaches of Normandy in June of 1944. He was serving in H.M.S. Abercrombie off the coast of South Africa, when the war ended. Whereas Dad, much older, was  conscripted into the Green Howards at Saltburn, North Yorkshire where the army attempted to make an infantry man out of him and failed. He was transferred to join the Royal Army Ordnance Corps at Old Dalby, Leicestershire. His claim to fame was that he represented the battalion at cricket. Emrys Jones who opened for Glamorgan was in the same team.

In November 1944 Arthur Dodd replaced Boss Hallam, when Boss took over the headship at Whaley Bridge School. The niceties of life took on a whole new meaning, it was out with the old and in with the new regime. Out in the playground in all weathers, before entering school, hands were outstretched to be inspected on both sides for cleanliness, “Cherry Blossom” shine was expected on our boots and shoes. Woe betide the children whose task was “to muck out on the farm” before arriving at school, the operation becoming the equivalent of being given “red card” at football. Nan had always been a stickler for clean shoes, her philosophy being that dressing up meant from tip to toe. When I skimped on cleaning the heels she excused me by saying  “Well, a good soldier never looks behind him”. Mr Dodd could never accept that I had personally cleaned my own shoes. He should have tried living with her philosophy.

There were some real characters at Buxworth School. Unless a pupil obtained a scholarship to New Mills Grammar School you were stuck at your local primary school, there being no secondary education at this time for the masses. The Smith family lived  on the school doorstep in Station Road Cottages, demolished in a 1960's B6062 road widening scheme. Their father only occasionally lived in residence, it was locally put about that he was “A night repairer of church roofs”.  The sure sign that he was home and a man before his time, was when the boys appeared at school with their hair shorn apart for a Mohican tuft at the front.  “The Nit Nurse” regularly visited  the school, the Smiths had cause to laugh, there was no hiding place for the little varmints on their heads. Purple patches painted on visible skin by the visiting nurse marked a child as entertaining scabies.

The Smith family names were in descending age were James, Mercy, Walter, Emily and David but they answered to Jimmo, Merso, Woggo, Emmo and Dabbo. They seemed immune to everything including frequent canings. Woggo never flinched or cried despite blatant attempts to achieve that object. Any veggies missing from the school allotment would be attributed to them without proof. Their ripped trousers and patched pullovers would be considered fashion icons today. Later in life the two girls  married into a well known “Rag and Bone” family from Stockport. My future father-in-law had the measure of the boys, he waited until their pockets were filled with unripe fruit from the orchard at Bugsworth Hall.  He then made his appearance, lining them up to eat all the unripe fruit that they had removed from the trees. His admonishment was “Come back and ask when the fruit are ripe and you can have them for free”.  Yes, they came back for more and yes, they got the same treatment.
Some of the senior boys were bigger than the headmaster. I was surprised that they didn't retaliate in some way to the canings. One occasion Mr Dodd caned a pair of the younger Marchington brothers still attending school. They were tough as old boots, living on an outlying farm at Clough Head, almost in New Mills. They had an older brother Trevor who was built like house side.  After a joint beating one of the brothers said “I'm leaving now and I'm coming back later this afternoon with my big brother”. Standards 1, 2, 3 and 4 waited with bated breath for the forthcoming afternoon contest of “Dodd v Goliath”. It is a fair walk to Clough Head and back so whether Colin decided against a double back we shall never know for Mr. Dodd on some pretext closed the school early.

Mr Dodd's three children attended Buxworth School, but no one could claim that he  favoured his own. Mary with another girl (to remain nameless) were both caught cheating in a mock examination for New Mills Grammar School. He announced the punishment in front of the whole school. Sadly and unfairly Mary was given twice the number of strokes as her co-conspirator.


The School Logbook 26 July 1946 ends my school days at Buxworth The entry reads- “Keith Holford was successful in gaining a free place at New Mills Grammar School as a result of this years examination.” It was the start of even more independence .

Keith Holford. April 2017.

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