Vic Wood: Memories of Croft Street

Croft Street ran from Newport Road up to Newport Street which ran parallel to the railway. Half way it was intersected by Cannon St. Locally we called the stretch from Newport Rd to Cannon St “High Croft St” and the stretch from Cannon St to the railway as ‘Low Croft St.’

The house was one of what the Victorians described as a dwelling for artisans. I was born there in 1943. It was my maternal grandparents’ house and my Mam was also born there in 1917. My grandparents had moved into the house from Stockton in 1912 when my Granddad got a job as a train driver in the Newport Iron Works. The last baby born in the house was my brother in 1952. My Nana died in 1964 so the house had been occupied by three generations of my family for 52 years
There were two rooms downstairs and two rooms upstairs and that was it. Strangely, it seems to me now, we called the front ‘living room’ the kitchen and what would now be called the kitchen the scullery. Maybe this dates from the old range fire in the front room on which you did your cooking. We had a ‘modern fireplace’ but I remember neighbours still with the old leaded ranges. (Of course then they were considered old fashioned and out-of-date…a sign of backwardness and poverty yet now it ‘s the rich and trendy who seek them…a black leaded range is a status symbol! ). We had electric lighting but there were still several of our neighbours with gas lamps.

By my time we had indoor cold water but my mother, who was born in the house in 1917, can remember the water only being in the yard. But as she says , “We were still better off than some places they only had one tap for, like, six houses.” The toilet or lavvy (lavatory) as we always called it, was outside in the corner of the backyard. And, by my time, it was a proper flushing W.C. The days of the ash-pan were long gone.

There was no hot water on tap until my father, who was a plumber by trade, installed an Ascot heater, a small gas burner that lit as you turned the water on. I remember being absolutely thrilled by this as before that, a wash meant boiling a kettle or cold water only.

Bathing was by means of the ‘bungalow bath’. A tin bath hanging on the backyard wall and brought in on Wednesday and Saturday night for us kids. We had gas boiler which attached to a gas tap by a rubber tube for heating the water for this. (This boiler also heated the water for the poss tub for doing the washing).

We got bathed in the shed. The shed was a lean-to built over the right half of the back yard sort of tapering into the wall of the lavatory. I once asked my Nana why they hadn’t built past the lavatory so we could have got to it without having to go into the open, She replied that it would be unhygienic to have the lavatory indoors!
We had a coke stove in this shed and I can remember the family roasting chestnuts on it. Even with this stove, bath night was cold most of the year. Once out of the bath we ran through the scullery into the kitchen to dry in front of the fire. We kids must have been bathed the same time every week because the radio programme ,as we dried, was always ‘In Town Tonight’. I reckon if I heard its theme tune now I’d go into automatic towel drying motions!

This is a picture of the backyard taken before the war. One wall of the shed can be seen on the left of the photo. Three of the four young men are my mother’s brothers and the fourth, George, was the lad next door who married my mother’s sister Amy. My mother can be seen just peeping round the shed door. Note the “dolly” hanging on the yard wall at the right. The dolly had four legs almost like a stool. It was used for swirling the clothes around in the tub. My mother said as a child she used to treat this as a doll dressing it in baby clothes because the handles were like shoulders. She even drew a face on the upper part of the handle. She called it “Betty”.
The shed had been built by my mother’s brothers before I was born, from any wood they could get their hands on. I have a photograph of a painting of my great grandfather and I asked my mother what happened to the painting. She cannot quite remember only thinks that the frame was taken and used to make a window frame for the shed!
©Vic Wood 2005

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