Ilkeston Memories

Does anyone remember the game "Duck Stones" While growing up during the war; Ilkeston's rubbish dump was where Ilkeston Football Ground is now, just over the canal bridge at the bottom of Awsworth Road which was known as the tip. As the tip settled it became a playground for all the locals from the Awsworth Road area, also the Ilkeston Corporation road repair materials dump. Curb stones, gravel and huge amounts of three and a half inch cube blocks of gray or white granite gutter stones where there to build things and play with by general by the local lads. The miners and youth at the weekend, or in the evening played the game of duck stones during summer when it was light. A group of up to twenty or so, or just a few with one person being the duck keeper played it. The duck deeper had a regular red house brick standing on end with his duck stone perched on the top, everyone playing the game had their own duck stone. The field of play was two lines about 20 to 30 feet apart. The keeper's brick and duck stone were placed on one line, all the players stood behind the other. Each player in turn would toss underarm his duck stone attempting to knock off the keepers duck. If the throwers stone did not reach the line, the keeper picked it up and hurled it as far as could behind his line, the thrower then went and stood by his duck. If a thrower knocked off the keepers duck the keeper had to put it back on quickly, because while it was off the players standing by their duck could pick it up and run back to the throwing line to play again. When the duck was back on the brick the keeper could touch the returning players putting them out of the game. This goes on till there is no one left to throw. At this time the first one that was touched by the keeper becomes the new keeper, starting a new game. Duck stones was played in the Cotmanhay area for many generations creating the term "knocking someone's duck off ", or to knock his, or her duck off its origin.

Roy Gregory

    Sixty years ago, fall of 1939, my father and mother transferred from the Salvation Army at Eastwood, where we lived, to the Ilkeston Corps. Eastwood Salvation Army had shut down. I, a boy of 13 also transferred and joined the Junior Band, playing tenor horn and later cornet. My father played the euphonium and my uncle Bill played the cornet.
    The bandmaster was Mr. Meakin. The Salvation Army hall was on Chapel St., just off Bath St. We used to drive from Eastwood to Ilkeston in my fathers Rover 10. The 2nd world war started in Sept 1939 and soon there was no more driving so we used the Midland General bus. I left the S.A. soon after the war and got married in Eastwood Congregational Church in 1954 to my wife, Betty, also of Eastwood.
    We emigrated to Canada in 1955 and spent 33years in the aircraft industry in Montreal. After retirement in1989 we moved to London, Ontario, where incidentally there is a very good Salvation Army band.
    I remember Ilkeston with great fondness. All the best, Lawrence Rowley.

Jim Garner Remembers
Growing up in Ilkeston in the 1930s

    The Great Depression struck the world in late 1929 and lingered for most of a decade. Ilkeston probably didn't suffer as much as other places, but it was bad enough. Many of the employers put their workforces on part time -- a week on, a week off. Some closed up altogether.
    The shop keepers and the pubs had a hard time of it, scrambling after what little money there was. But one business did well. In the winter, a pensioner could go to a cinema in the early afternoon and stay warm for hours for two or three pennies. And Hollywood offered a dream-like escape from the harsh realities of every day. People who could barely afford to eat were able to identify with such as Greta Garbo, Laurel and Hardy, Clark Gable, Joan Crawford and Mickey Rooney.
    The Depression didn't bother me a lot as a kid. I suppose there was less meat and butter on the table than there might have been. Our clothes, raggedy-arse as they were, were more so through lack of money. But we had no standard of comparison; the world of the thirties was the norm for us. It was acceptable for a pupil to tell a teacher that he'd missed school because he didn't have any shoes.
    My parents had been born in Sheffield, but in 1925 there were jobs to be had at Stanton Ironworks, so to Ilkeston they came. My sister Sylvia was born in 1927 and I arrived in 1930. We lived in a couple of rooms at 120 Station Road for a few years and moved to a row house at 31 Blake Street about 1934. The weekly rent was 8s. 6d., which is 42p. But my father never made as much as three pounds at his job.
    I knew most of the Blake Street families, although I can only remember the Rileys, Crooks, Browns, Flinders, Oldnows and Bartons. The Bartons were from the family that ran Barton Buses, and they had electricity in their houses and a motorcycle. Everybody else cooked with gas, and walked or rode bicycles. No telephones, refrigerators or vacuum cleaners. We fetched our coal (the only form of heating) from a merchant next to the Co-op, a hundredweight at a time. For those who could afford a ton, it was dumped loose in the gutter for the householder to bring in himself. At least we all had WCs. They were outside, and that's where we recycled the newspaper.
Having fun
    But there was no lack of fun things to do for a kid. At the bottom of Blake Street were a few acres where one could play football or cricket or in the sandpit or on the swings. Doubtless the Town Council had a fancy name for this space, but to the locals it was "Johnny's". Then there was the canal to sail home-made model boats on and the Erewash to explore. Past the aqueduct (the "Akadock" in local parlance) was a green and interesting countryside to roam. Out past Cossall there was a farm house with a basement window at ground level, through which the farm wife would serve half-penny bottles of pop -- to those who had the half penny.
    Parents had no fears about letting their offspring roam the streets, even after dark, and I never heard of any child being attacked. The town had a number of marching bands and we'd happily string along behind them of an evening to support our favourite. My choice was the Middies, so called because they were decked out as midshipmen.
    And, of course, it wasn't unknown for some child to stand next to the trumpet player and suck a lemon. This would usually produce a torrent of curses from the player, when his mouth filled up with spit. It was the most fun to do it to the Sally Ann. They weren't supposed to swear.
    The day shift at Cossall pit changed in early evening, and soon after that, legions of tired men, coated with black dust, would come trudging by. They didn't have proper work clothes, so wore old suits. Most had, poking out of one pocket, an empty lemonade bottle that earlier in the day had held cold tea. The miners swore it was the best thirst quencher.
    We kids used to stand at the street corner and ask them for cigarette cards. These were pictures inserted into each packet of 10 fags, depicting football heroes or racing cars or whatever. The trick was to collect a whole set of cards sets that today dealers sell for pounds each.
    The miners and industrial workers mostly smoked Wild Woodbines, a cheap brand with a strong taste. Players were milder and a penny a packet more. Some shops would sell cigarettes singly.
    Sister Sylvia and I got tuppence a week pocket money. This was enough to get us to the children's cinema show on Saturdays, but not enough to buy lemonade or sweets. There was usually a western for the boys Buck Jones or Johnny Mack Brown preferably and something for the girls like a Deanna Durbin. Tarzan and Laurel and Hardy appealed to everybody.
    The cinemas in town were the Scala, Kings and New Theatre. The Ritz was built later, and a great wonderment it was, with what seemed like a huge foyer furnished with gold wicker chairs and a fine electric sign. The New Theatre wasn't that new. The story goes that during World War I, Ilkestonians were watching a film entitled "The enemy is among us" while outside a Zeppelin was aiming bombs at the railway viaduct up towards Heanor. The Germans missed, but there were two or three big holes in a nearby field that locals swore were bomb craters. The New Theatre was also the venue for the annual pantomime.
    November 5 was Fireworks Day, and for our neighbourhood, this meant going to the Tyler place on nearby Canal Street. That's because the day was also the birthday of the youngest son of the house, Snowy. I don't know whether he had a real name, but he had a great shock of near-white hair, so what else would he have been called?
    The Tylers had a big area of waste land behind their house, where for days people had been piling anything that would burn. Soon after teatime, the bonfire was lit and the firework began to bang. Everybody in the neighbourhood enjoyed Snowy's birthday.
    Poor Snowy didn't have too many birthdays, though. At 14 he was riding his bike, collided with a lorry and was killed. That would be about 1937. I wonder whether anybody today remembers him.
The grown-ups
    Life must have been much duller for the grown-ups. I can't recall any actual restaurant in Ilkeston in the thirties, though no doubt the Rutland Hotel had a dining room for the town elite, and there must have been places where a shopper could buy a cuppa. My parents' weekly outing was Saturday night at the cinema.
    I never saw them in a restaurant, but we had the occasional treat at Wesley's fish and chip shop on Station Road, where the window had a big sign: "We fry in pure lard". Most fish and chipperies made the same claim to attract custom. Cholesterol was not high on the list of things to worry about then most folk had never heard of it.
    Sunday afternoon, half the people in town seemed to take a walk in the countryside. But no hiking shoes and casual clothes for them. The Sunday walk was a serious business. Industrial workers who had been wearing old clothes all week put on their suits (with "weskitts"), white shirts, ties, armbands, suspenders and tie clips and went out to breathe the air of Mapperly, Cossall, Kirk Hallam or Shipley. Our favourite outing was past the Rec., across the golf course, over the Nutbrook via a little white footbridge and up to the windmill. I can remember my father talking to a cottager up there who'd been born in that same house it must have been soon after 1860. Sometimes we'd picnic at Wollaton or Alvaston or Trent Lock.
    With not much access to paid entertainment, meetings of all kinds tended to be well attended. Elections were fun to us kids. We followed the candidates around and cheered at what seemed to be the right moments. My father had been active in the union at Stanton and became secretary of the Ilkeston Labour Party and official agent to George Oliver in the last election of the thirties. We would often have town dignitaries in the house for a visit.
    I particularly remember Jimmy Ault, who was a councillor and maybe had a turn at Mayor. He never failed to give me a penny, which would have bought my vote if I'd had one. His completely bald head was a source of embarrassment to him and amusement to the townsfolk. Jimmy once wore a wig, to much merriment in the council chamber. One year, one of his opponents had Jimmy's face painted on a bunch of balloons, which were then distributed to all the kids in town. Jimmy still won the election; he was a good man. He finally abandoned his wig, and the townspeople joked that it was because he couldn't get rid of the nits in it.
    George Oliver represented Ilkeston in Parliament more than 20 years and was briefly a minister of state in the Atlee government. Labour supporters in the 1930s were pretty radical. No milk-and-water Tony Blairism for them.
    Yet, resentful as people were at their low incomes and poor opportunities, they respected the law. To be "summonsed to the top" was a disgrace. There might be the odd punchup outside a pub, but it was pretty well Marquis of Queensbury. Knives, clubs, kicks in the head weren't common. People with bikes could leave them around and expect to find them when they got back. Old people were safe walking out of the Post Office with their pension money.
The sporting life
    Football and cricket were Ilkeston's games, although some miners were keen on racing pigeons and whippets. There were rumours of illegal cock-fighting in the nearby countryside. Tennis and golf were not for Blake Street.
    In the thirties, the Derbyshire cricket team regularly played a week at the Ilkeston Rec. Those were great days. The county had won the championship in 1936 and fielded a powerful team throughout the decade.
    I got off school in 1939 to see the games against Nottinghamshire and Kent. There were giants in Ilkeston that week names such as Ames and Valentine for Kent, Hardstaff, Voce and Butler for Notts. and, for Derbyshire, at least seven men who had played Test cricket. Everybody in the town agreed that Bill Copson was the greatest bowler in England. In two tests that year against the West Indies he took 12 wickets, and when he was dropped for the third Test the howl of indignation should have been heard as far away as Lord's.
    Sixty years later, I still think the townsfolk were right. Bill Copson was the best bowler in England; the figures show it. But, of course, Derbyshire was an unfashionable county. Of the seven Test players in the team, none of them failed, yet not one of them played more than three Tests.
Holiday time
    Some time in the middle thirties, mother got tired of being poor and did what was then unusual for a married woman with two children she got a job. It was in Spondon, at British Celanese. Soon, breakfast began to be more than two slices of bread and dripping, and bits of new furniture appeared. Father went up-market from Woodbines to Players and even bought a bottle of sherry at Christmas.
    We spent a week's holiday in a tent at Watstandwell; the following year, 1936, and again in 1938 we adventured all the way to Abergele in North Wales. The LMS (London, Midland and Scottish Railway) offered low-cost runabout tickets that gave unlimited access to all North Wales for a week. We'd spend the mornings on the beach and the afternoons visiting Caernarfon, Menai, Holyhead or Snowdon.
    Across the tracks from our boarding house was Gwrch Castle, which was not actually a fortress but a fake -- a large mansion built in 1815. We gazed in awe; how could people have such a grand place to live in? I couldn't know then that 40 years later I would, as features editor of the Canadian Medical Association Journal, be writing to the castle to commission articles from its owner, Lord Taylor. I loved Wales and its courteous, lilting-tongued people and even learned to pronounce Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch!
    But to the true Ilkestonian, a holiday meant Skegness. Whole factories and works would close down for a week in August, and crowds would arrive at the town station each Saturday morning for the special trains that ran direct to Skeggie. There, the local kids had a good thing going with their little trolley carts, on which they piled visitors' suitcases and walked ahead to show the way to the boarding houses.
    At Skegness, Billy Butlin was king. He'd begun his career in the town, starting with a fairground, expanding it then setting up his first and biggest holiday camp. The town had bracing air and a broad beach so broad that at low tide it was a fair hike to get to the sea, and the end of the pier stood on dry sand. There was beer and fish and chips, ice cream and freshly caught shrimps, to eat which you bit off the heads, spit them out and enjoyed the tasty little morsels.
    On the coast four miles north of Skegness is Ingoldmells Point, today the site of two great resort developments. In 1939, the entire resort facilities were a field for tents and caravans, with a tiny shop that sold groceries, lemonade and ice cream, and there it was we spent our holiday.
    But just across the North Sea, the armies were on the march, and a crazy little man with a toothbrush moustache was screaming hatred before tens of thousands at Nuremberg. Ingoldmells was to be the last holiday our family ever had together.
    With a couple of family friends, we rented a smallish caravan only a few yards from the beach. To get to Ingoldmells, the grown-ups figured they could save over the train fare by having an acquaintance drive them in his old car.
    A good theory, except that the driver sprained his hand and his son had to do the driving. The son had only a learner's licence, so the car owner had to come along anyway, which meant six adults and two children plus luggage in a five seater. What with the traffic and the son's reluctance to go over 30 m.p.h., it took us four hours to get there. Mother spent the week dreading the return journey!
The schools
    Children from the Blake Street area went to Chaucer Street junior school. Here, the teachers didn't have degrees, but they had lots of common sense, which they needed to deal with the social problems they met every day.
    They taught reading and writing and arithmetic and told stories about King Alfred and the cakes, Drake and the Armada, Hereward the Wake and Robin Hood. Two teachers gave up a weekend to paint a huge map of England on the wall by the playground; ever since I've been able to draw that map from memory. We were taught traditional English songs.
    The teachers smoked in the classroom if they wanted to. The boys' teachers were called "Daddy" behind their backs Daddy Hooley, tall and thin, Daddy Syson, a small man, slightly overweight, who insisted he was merely "stocky", and Daddy Clemenson, who went a bright red every time he had to strap somebody's hands.
    The head, however, was a Mister. We chanted:

Mr. Dan is a very fine man.
He goes to church on Sundays.
He prays to God to give him strength
To give it us on Mondays.
The end of innocence
    During the thirties, the Great Depression eased. Gradually, oh so gradually, conditions improved. Toys began to appear under Christmas trees. Children more often had shoes to wear to school.
    At the cinemas, Technicolor appeared. We saw Disney's "Snow White" and Errol Flynn's "Robin Hood". "The Wizard of Oz" came to Ilkeston. Hundreds took the bus to Nottingham to see "Gone with the wind".
    But the war hawks were on the wing. There were tests of air raid sirens. Every morning we could see Tiger Moth biplanes from RAF Hucknall, training new pilots. Daddy Clemenson came to school one day, smartly turned out in RAF volunteer reserve uniform. He was killed in one of the early bomber sorties over Germany.
    By 1938 I was old enough to read a newspaper, and I knew about the Czech crisis. I heard neighbourhood women telling each other we should keep out of it. The relief in town when Chamberlain reached the Munich accord was almost physical.
    After we got home from Ingoldmells, the signs of coming war were obvious, even to a child. Air raid shelters were being built. More siren drill. The authorities issued gas masks.
    Stanton Ironworks had an hour reserved each week in the municipal swimming bath opposite St. Mary's, and my father was vainly trying to teach me to swim. Sunday September 3 was a warmish morning; the mood was subdued, I remember. It must have been about a quarter to noon that Wilfred Murden, the superintendent there, emerged from the little kiosk where he collected the two pence admission. "That's it, lads," he told everybody. "War's declared."
    After the hour's swim was up, we walked home quietly. My mother has since told me that as soon as we came in, she looked at my father and immediately knew what he was going to do.
    He'd been in the infantry in World War I, long enough to get to France but not to be at the Front. He'd stayed in the army for some years, serving in Mesopotamia (now Iraq) and India. In 1939, the recruiting offices were closed on Sunday, but the day after the declaration of war he volunteered for the Royal Artillery.
    The world changed for everybody that Sunday. For one small child in Ilkeston, it meant the end of so much that was familiar and dear. Within months, we had left Blake Street and I had left Chaucer. Our little family never reunited; my father died in Egypt.
    For six dreary years there would be no streetlights to play under. No Fireworks Days. No county cricket week. Daddy Clemenson would never again go red-faced when using his strap. My father would never swim with me.
    The street lights came back eventually, and so did elections and county cricket. But much else of that long-ago Ilkeston is gone. It exists only in the fading memories of those of us who were there in the 1930s.
    Jim Garner lived in the Ilkeston district until 1947. He later worked in London's Fleet Street and in 1957 migrated to Canada. He is now retired and lives in Ottawa, Canada.
Jim Garner, sage and dogsbody.


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