Geraldine Smith (nee Warburton): Memories of Cannon Street

Geraldine Warburton and Derek Smith on their wedding day

St Columba’s Church

We were a family of nine. Three girls and six boys, and we lived in Duncombe Street.

The Queen’s Coronation was 1953 and I was seven. We lived in a two-up and two-down and there were parties in the street. We all got dressed up and I was a bride.

Bath night was Saturday’s. The tin bath was brought out in the yard and filled with water from the kettle and big pans. It was placed in front of the fire. Me first, then my three younger brothers. No nightie or pyjamas, just a vest and pants.

I went to sleep (not to live) in the house of  a friend of the family who lived at the bottom of Duncombe Street. She was great. Her mam and dad weren’t very well so they slept downstairs. There were only gas lights in the house.

Every night she would whiten my sandshoes, wash my white socks and two white ribbons for my hair. After breakfast I had two plaits put in, the neatest in the class.

One Christmas I got a pink Witch bike…thought I was the bee’s knees. We played out in the street, twowy ball, hopscotch, a rope around the lamppost or skipping ropes. When it was time to go in, your mam would come and shout you.

When I was about ten or eleven we moved to a big house in Marsh Street. It had two flights of stairs and an attic with a bathroom that had a bath that never worked.

One side of Marsh Street was Foxheads. In Foxheads, the streets all had Royal names such as Queen Mary Street and so on. Marsh Street was busy, as it went down to the bridge and onto the forty foot road to the works. There was a coal yard down the bottom of Marsh Street, where women would go with tansads and prams for a bag of coal, Jonco Lemonade used to come round. There was slot T.V where you put your money in the meter to get it on. I think it was a shilling.

At the slipper baths there was as much hot water as you liked.

Bowman’s sweet shop was near Bulmer Street, where you could get a 2p woodbine and a match and 2 Oz of sweets if you had the money.

Nana had a shop on the corner of Cannon Street and Duncombe Street (Angie’s). Nana used to sell ice cream. In the early days, the shop had an ice cream parlour, a long table with seats both sides and mirrors right around. We all went to the shop, mam served in the shop as well as cook and clean for Nana with her two sisters.

If you were unlucky Nana would say “I have a little job for you”. It would be an empty sack and one full of chestnuts. With a pen knife, we would have to sit and nick the chestnuts one by one. Old Fred used to push the chestnut cart to the Scala Picture House or to the Farrer Street Wrestling Stadium. Sometimes I would stand and do the chestnuts. You got 6 and 3d for them. At about 10pm, someone would come and push the barrow home for me, because it had hot coals in. I can see the bread wagons now, going up and down Cannon Street. They had a step on the back and the lads used to jump on the step and get a ride. On every corner there was a different shop. Pawn shops, second-hand shops, fruit shops, a number of fish shops, a pie and peas shop. There was a little shop that used to sell sticks (bundles). He made wooden stilts and they were good fun.

One Christmas eve, my two uncles had been to the pub (one of many) and they were up and down Cannon Street on Pogo sticks, which were for the kids the next day. All our family lived near one another, so we seen a lot of each other.

Marsh Street house was a nice big house. When my oldest sister got married to Eddie (Smack) McQuen, that was wedding! Barrels of beer in the back yard. Dad and Eddie’s father were drunk for a week.

Me and my older sister slept in the bedroom next to mam and dad. The lads slept upstairs in the attic. Dad had a rule that the girls had to be in about 10pm or 10.30pm. The lads (the older ones) had to be in by midnight. If not, the doors were locked.

Every Friday or Saturday night at about 1am, there would be a tap on our bedroom window. Our older brother wanting to be in. He used to climb up the drainpipe onto the kitchen roof and get in through our window…but not only him, one or two of his mates as well. Up into the attic they would go. Mam and Dad never said anything when they all came down for bacon sandwiches! The year was about 1960.

Tuesday was dance night at the Astoria on Wilson Street. 2/- to get in. Me and my friends used to go messages, babysit and try and get the money for the dance. That’s all we needed. We would walk there and back, didn’t matter that you had no money for a drink of pop. You were at the dance, that is all that mattered. The music of the 50s and 60s was the best.

My oldest brother was one of the first to get a Teddy Boy coat. It was 3/4 drape, Royal Blue trimmed with a black velvet collar. In the summer, people would sit on the step late at night with a cup of tea, chatting to people coming from the pubs. I got married in 1964, all of my three younger brothers had Beatle haircuts and Beatle suits. They were seventeen, sixteen, fourteen and I was eighteen.

Cannon Street was a little town within a town. Good-hearted people, willing to help where they could. Very, very fond memories of Cannon Street. You will never see the like again.

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