Blackgate Yard, Mansfield Woodhouse,
Twenty years ago I corresponded with my Uncle Syd Booth who lived in Western Australia about our family history. I was interested in what he could remember about his early life living in Blackgate Yard off Albert Street in Mansfield Woodhouse.
Syd was my maternal grandmother’s second child by her first marriage. He was born in 1924 in Boston, Lincolnshire. My grandmother Dorothy (Dollie) Agnes Sharpe (b.24 1 1900 Boston) married Syd’s father Sydney Edward Booth in Boston but he died in an accident in 1924 leaving Dorothy with two young children and no support. She met my grandfather, journeyman painter George William Cox (b. 7 6 1881 Huntington) in Boston, they married 19 12 1925 at Long Eaton. George found work at Saxtons in Woodhouse and he and Dorothy moved there with her eldest child Reg (b. 1918 Boston) and found accommodation in Blackgate Yard. Syd was left in the care of his grandparents in Boston but then joined the family at Blackgate four years later in 1929.
Dorothy, (known always as Dollie) and George went on to have five children, Agnes Dorothy b. 16 12 1926, George Thomas b. 31 1 1930, Nora Margaret b. 25 4 1932, Rennie b. 5 4 1934 (my mother) and Rodney b. 23 1 1943.
Uncle Syd married a Derbyshire born girl who lived in Woodhouse called Betty Riley, her parents lived in a house that was demolished to make way for the ‘new’ Co op on School Lane and the High Street.
When Syd talks of his parents he means his mother and stepfather and when he writes of his brothers and sisters they were (bar his full brother Reg) his half brothers and sisters.
I have copied his words more or less verbatim.
BLACKGATE YARD – THE PEOPLE by Syd Booth.
A variety of people lived in that bit of Albert Street, here is a description of some of them. At the top end of the yard near Albert Street lived the Gills with their daughter Dulsie much older than me. The Withams with Horace, a tall lanky lad who was my playmate, classmate and bodyguard. Then there was the Inmans with their daughter Jean who when playing always wanted to be BB Daniels, a film star. Next door was old Swallow who lived alone and played a squeeze box. Centre left in the yard was Winnie Alexander a spinster and her Mum. They made the kitchen of their house into a small shop. We would buy vinegar from them by the pennyworth. Next door was stonemason Sam Ellis with his wife’s grandparents.
Tom Bennett and his wife lived bottom left in the yard, their children were Arthur, Joyce, Iris, Jack, Phylis, Tom and Willis. It was Joyce who married my wife’s brother Willis Bernard Riley, not to be confused with Willis Bennett the youngest of their tribe. Joyce and Willis Riley were cousins, Willis was a Petty Officer in the Royal Navy. Despite the fact all these lived around me I had never met, seen, or even heard of Betty Riley my wife to be. I met her when I was 18 years old. All of us children used to play together except for Joyce and Arthur who were a bit older than us.
On the right side of the yard was a wall ten feet high behind which lived Mr and Mrs Barlow with their children Norman, Gordon and Rosamund. Barlows collected the rents. Their children did not mix with the rest of the yard. When my Mother and George Cox first moved to Woodhouse they lived in the Barlows outhouse which was single storey and built against the wall adjacent to Barlows house. At the bottom of the yard lived Harry Morley the barber. He and his father worked together in a shop on the High Street. It was Harry who always cut our hair. Then there was the stone row of terraced houses No’s 40,41,42,43,44 and 45.
The Cox family had spells in both 40 and 45. Mr and Mrs Tyler, who sold sweets and other things at their shop in Albert Street lived in 41, their young daughter, I think her name was Edna aged four, drowned in the wash tub in the outside wash house that we shared. Mr and Mrs Poyser lived at 42. Mrs Poysers mother Mrs Brown lived at 45 with their children Vin, Gilbert and Minnie. Mr and Mrs Dickman and her daughter Doris (much older than me) lived at 43, Mr Dickman was a grump, he did not like children. An old man lived alone at 44, the burdens of life got too much for him and he hung himself from a meat hook in the pantry. Most of the people in the yard were poor to medium working class, those with the smallest families having the better standard of living.
The Cox family had also lived in Harry Morleys house before the Morleys, but it was too small for us.
I will describe both 40 and 45 to you as we lived in both.
Number 40 is the first house in the row, it’s attic window looked over the Barlows wall. Older brother Reg and I slept in the attic in a double bed, the ceiling was not safe it bowed downwards and had lots of cracks. I used to tell my stepfather George about it. He said it had been there over 100 years and had stood the test of time, stop worrying. There were only two bedrooms and sisters Dollie and Margaret and Rennie all slept together in a double bed. There was a living room and kitchen and we shared the wash house with the Tylers. One day when Reg and I were in bed there was a sudden crack and the ceiling fell on top of us, covering us with straw and plaster. When my brother George was born it put severe pressure on the sleeping space. We children each kept a chicken. One of us would get hold of a chickens tail feathers and we would all tag on behind playing trains. One day we lost a chicken and could not find it. Mrs Gascoine at the Beer Off asked me if we had lost one. She sold beer from a pump, the chicken had found it’s way there and drunk some of the slops and was staggering around intoxicated. My stepfather blamed my brother Reg for not filling the water bowl so it got thirsty and went for a pint. For leisure Mother and George senior liked the Greyhound Inn, one friend of theirs was a noisy character called Stan Clay who was a similar age to Mum. He would come home with Mum and Dad at 10 45pm and kick up a racket. Another Greyhound regular was bachelor David Cooper who was well known for his wit and always dressed well in sports type clothes and a trilby. He smoked Park Drive cigarettes. He was always teasing us with jokes like, how many legs has a horse got? four we answered, what if it held one up? three was the (wrong) answer.
Mr Puddock would come down the yard with his horse and dray with vegetables and other things including paraffin. I started school at St Edmunds aged five, hob nail boots made to last forever were the order of the day, trousers patched and re patched, socks darned and re darned. Mum made her own bread. Our Sunday joint of meat cost two shillings, it was my job to go to the butchers. The Great Depression hit hard and work for father was hard to find and he was out of work a lot but wherever possible he got private work wall papering, painting fences and the like, I was his helper, cutting and trimming paper, mixing paint, anything he needed. When Dad was lifting wallpaper up to do a ceiling his cheeks puffed out like those of a glass blower, he loved beef fat, in our family nothing was wasted, if anyone left some on their plate Dad would eat it all up. His liking for beef fat contributed to his death.
Number 45. The Brown family moved out and we, needing more space, moved in. Dad spent a good deal of time decorating the whole place, he also oak grained all of the doors. This house had four bedrooms and an attic so we were able to spread out and Reg and I got the front bedroom but still shared a bed. The three girls slept in the next bedroom. Our parents bedroom window looked out over the allotments. George junior slept in the end room that overlooked the back yard and toilet row. Downstairs was a front room but it was many years before we got a three piece suite. A passage came next with a cellar under the stairwell, Also off the passage was a small room set up as a pantry with large stone slabs for shelves and hooks in the ceiling. Next the living room with the window looking over the allotment gardens, the back door looked out over the yard. There was a large kitchen. We had no bathroom and bathed in a galvanised tub in front of the fire in the living room every Friday night. Our privy was the last one of the outside row, we kept a candle and Captain Webb matches on a shelf there for light, a night visit in winter was freezing! We saw the transition from an earth closet to a flush toilet but it was still in the row outside. Through the second world war we had gas lighting. Early in the war the air raid siren sounded, I was in bed but the family shouted for me to get up, I could not hear planes so took my time, when I finally got down stairs they were all in the cellar with their gas masks on. I had trouble convincing them that the gas warning had not been sounded!
My brother George and I went to explore an old stone row of houses on Warsop Road. Leaning on the wall of the bedroom of the first house in the row I fell through the wall, a doorway had been papered over. Crossing this secret room we came to a stone dividing wall. Cutting a hole in this brought us into a long roof section under the tiles. Stepping carefully from joist to joist we reached what we thought was the end of the row. Looking down I saw a sheet of glass glistening in the dark and further down some stairs with a red carpet, we decided we had had enough excitement for one day and left the way we came. We told the lads at school and several of us including Horace Witham my mate from the yard went to look again through the glass and as we did we heard someone coming and panicked. Suddenly Horace disappeared which made our panic worse, we got out as quick as possible but it was slow work negotiating the joists. Finally we ran down Portland Street and waited. After a while a tall lanky lad came running down the street covered in plaster and dirt. What happened? we asked. I fell through the ceiling onto someone’s bed said Horace, I then climbed on top of the bedpost and got back through the hole. Next day a policeman came to school and asked the class if anyone had fallen onto Joe Kinds bed at the Old Star Inn. No one knew anything about it of course and Joe never found out who it was.
Mrs Brown who lived near us had a son Gilbert who worked on Bakers Buses. I got a job each evening taking a jug of tea with a saucer on top and a packet of sandwiches from the yard to the top of New Mill Lane, six days a week for sixpence. Mrs Brown gave me a further job of fetching her groceries from Clarks at the top of the High Street, another sixpence a week. Then her daughter married Vin Poyser who had a smallholding and grew vegetables up Peafield Lane. He gave me a job pulling up docks, a weed with a long root like a carrot. I did well at school reaching the top class aged 12 but had to stay there as there was no where else to go. My mother got a letter to say I had been recommended for Grammar School but she could not afford it so I left school at 14 and got a job at Davies Bakehouse in Mansfield at seven shillings and sixpence a week, then Billy Brown’s Bakehouse on Chesterfield Road but found baking not for me so got a job as a roofer with Frank Blackwell of Woodhouse for eighteen shillings and sixpence a week, but tired of that and finally got lucky with a job at the Eakring Oil Wells.
My stepfather George Cox senior was about 5 feet seven inches in height, he wore a waistcoat and pocket watch, always a cap and always boots on his feet, his speech was that common to Huntingdon, “Git orf my bloody foot”. He had a dry sense of humour and would pretend to read the newspaper and say aloud “The Turner Memorial Dance Hall is to have extensions to make room for Syd Booth to turn his feet around”
He walked with a limp having been wounded in the Boer War, he also fought in the First World War. He smoked Diggerflake in a clay pipe and liked a few pints of mild beer at the weekend. He was a hard worker and turned his hand to any paint job required, one man used to bring him decoy ducks to paint every year, I remember them standing in rows, we were not allowed to touch them as they took ages to dry. He also painted milk floats and carts and all the fancy lines and lettering. He also did house decorating, and could paint plain pine doors to look like oak or mahogany.
During the war he was employed by Saxtons of Woodhouse painting at Pleasley Vale Mills. Dad was astonished by his wages and took them back thinking there was a mistake. Having tasted the good wages the Goverment paid for simple paint jobs, Dad disappeared down to the American Airbase at Sudbury where he collapsed and died while eating his snap in August 1943. He was respected in Woodhouse and well represented at his funeral which was conducted by Blackwells, his coffin was taken along the High Street with a Union Jack draped over it. He was buried in the Leeming Lane Cemetery.
Uncle Syd was ambitious for his family and while working at Eakring decided move his brood to Australia as ‘Ten Pound Poms’ in April 1958. There he gained a physics degree and had a successful academic career and retired as the laboratory manager at Curtin University, Western Australia. Syd and Betty had three children. He died in 2011.
After marriage George Cox Jnr moved left No 45 and moved into the terraced house two doors up and lived there with his wife Rhoda and children, David, Lesley and Alan.
In 1952 Dorothy married for a third time to a batchelor, David Cooper who, as far as I know, was from Woodhouse. After David’s death she left Blackgate Yard to live in a house with her eldest son Reg and youngest son Rodney at 51 Chestnut Grove. She died in 1978.
As a child I spent many happy hours at my grandmothers and playing with my cousins around the yard after school at St Edmunds (1960’s) My Mum married Alan Sutcliffe of Shelley Avenue in 1953 but was widowed in 1956. I was born in 1954. She went out to work, so at the end of the my St Edmunds school day I would walk along School Lane then on to Albert Street and Blackgate yard and have my tea with Granny and then play with my cousin David until Mum finished work, we would then walk back across the recreation field to our home in Stainforth Street. Like all the kids in the Yard I would roam across the surrounding fields poking into this and that and remember the farmhouse then deserted on the right just down from the fair field on Ley Lane (now demolished) and finding a pile of old scrapbooks brimming with newspaper cuttings of early motorcycle racing. My step grand father David Cooper would send me to the little shop one up from the corner house on Albert Square and Ley Lane for ten Park Drive cigarettes and reward me with a half penny with which I bought Black Jacks and Fruit Salads or a tin of Liquorice ‘Imps’.
I would be interested to learn of other peoples memories of the yard, Albert Street and Ley Lane.