An Illustrated History of Old Sutton in St.Helens, Lancashire
Part 55 (of 79 parts) - Memories of Sutton Part 1
'Arthur Normington? Who’s He?' by David Normington GerrardArthur Normington was born in Providence Street in Parr on the 8th July 1907. What made it complicated was that he was born out of wedlock and somehow it marked him for most of his young life. I’ll tell you why. On his birth certificate it says “father unknown” which was a stigma hard to live down for his mother. She gave him her maiden name of Normington, so he never knew who his father was. He was brought up by his grandmother and started work down the pit at the tender age of 13. He didn’t last long there and did all kinds of things before leaving his grandmother’s to work at The Research Establishment in Reginald Road as a government employee. This was often referred to by Suttoners as the Poison Gas Works, although its official title was HMRE Sutton Oak. He had to find digs and went to live with a widow and her daughter Hilda in Mill Lane. They became his family but tragedy occurred. Nanny Morris, as she was known, lost her husband in WWI at the Battle of the Somme and her only daughter, Hilda, was studying at college. Arthur got her pregnant, once again traumatic at that time, but even more so was the fact that Hilda drowned herself in the Mill Dam.
Arthur showed the gentleness of spirit and care for other people, which was a hallmark of his personality all through his life, by staying on with Nanny Morris and becoming her “son”. That’s when he made his darkroom upstairs and started amateur photography, which he became very skilful at, all the time working at the Research Establishment just down the road. The house where he lived in Mill Lane is still there and I believe it’s now a dental surgery. It was right at the top, 200 yards from the old post office opposite Marshall’s Cross Infants’ School.
A young Arthur Normington (left) and Nanny Morris (right) - contributed by David Normington Gerrard
Because of his job in the labs at the Research plant, he didn’t go to WWII but stayed on as work’s photographer as the work they were doing was top secret and had to be constantly recorded. Luckily none of the gasses were used in the War but Arthur got a bad mustard gas burn and had to give up work. He lived off the money he made taking photos. He met Bertha Gerrard, later to become his wife, and took her back home to meet Nanny Gerrard. Very difficult times. They eventually got married, went to live with Bertha’s family at 6, St.Nicholas Grove, had a son, David Arthur, and immediately went to live at 53, Waterdale Crescent, which was to be their home until it was demolished and they moved to live in Eccleston. A daughter was born in 1948 and still lives in St.Helens at Rainford, Elizabeth Ann.
Arthur was a lovely bloke, loved by all, and I think that he took the wedding photos of 90% of the people from Sutton – and also from the whole St. Helens area. He loved his Saints and was a season ticket holder until he died. He loved his ale too, and you’d find him at the Glassmakers every night for the last hour. He played tennis, cricket and snooker for Sutton Cricket Club and was a founder member. Everybody loved him. Small as he was at 5ft 4", his heart was huge. Although C.of E. he always took all the communion photos for St.Anne’s Church and Sister Albertus and some of the priests were regular visitors to his shop.
Arthur's mother Catherine Normington (left) and Arthur, David & Bertha at Sutton Cricket Club in July 1944 (right)
He was loved by his in-laws too and always did the rounds of the pubs and clubs on Fridays with Arthur, Gordon and Ray Gerrard, his “brothers”. He actually had 11 half-brothers and sisters as his mother married again. Her name was Catherine Glover and she came onto the scene very late in her life, about 1958, dying sadly a short while later. Arthur died on the 15th August 1987. He’d celebrated his 80th birthday the month before, surrounded by his family at lunch in Integrity Lodge where he was a freemason. I know all this because I was there. Arthur Normington? Who’s he? I’m proud to say he was my Dad.
St.Helens Reporter obituary 22nd August 1987 - contributed by David Normington Gerrard
'Being Sick in Sherdley Park and Walisdale Cottage' by Joan Heyes and Brenda MacdonaldMy mother Joan Heyes(née Williams) was born in 1916 and was brought up in Ellen Street and Mill Lane, living in Sutton until she married in 1938. After moving to Widnes, Mum emigrated to Australa in 1966 and is now 93. She attended Sutton 'Nash' school and is pictured on the right of this photo c. 1924 sat next to her best friend Margaret Baines. Mum remembers having school marches and then a picnic in Sherdley Park. All the children sat on the grass and were each handed white paper bags with their lunches inside. There was a sandwich, a piece of fruit and, the favourite, a meat pie!
Mum says on one hot day the pies were off and she and a brother were very sick! She remembers the big wall and gates around Sherdley Park too. The wall was known as 'long wall' and every Sunday evening the local teenagers would walk there in groups, then move on and meet others, which they called "walk long wall".
Going even further back, my great grandparents Mary (née Fildes) and Charles Prescot had a small holding in Gerrards Lane called Walisdale cottage near Pudding Bag. Charles was a miner and Mary looked after the farm, including six children. The house had a cellar and their son Willie - who was thought to be a park keeper in Sutton Park - trained boxers down it. The farm had chickens and pigs and they supplied the Sutton convent and monastery with fresh goods.
Mary & Charles Prescot at Walisdale cottage in Gerrards Lane - contributed by Brenda Macdonald
A group of women and children enjoying a tea party in Sherdley Park in 1923
'Diving in the Clayhole' by Ian Bate
This is a photo of a lad diving into the Clayhole with the Hospital in the background. Me Mam used to give us money to go to the baths and then we went to the bakery at the top of Robins Lane facing the Park Gates, buy a loaf which had just come out of the oven, eat it and then go down to the clayhole to swim. We were lucky we didn't sink without trace! There were three Clayholes. There was one on the side of the Hospital closest to Peasley Cross, only a yard from the glass brick wall surounding the hospital. The water was very clean but it was quite deep and the banking closest to the hospital was about 20 feet above the water, lovely for diving. A small pit backed onto the hospital nearest Baxters Lane and this was fenced off and belonged to the Ramblers Fishing Club. The Clayhole with the lads swimming in the picture was quite deep, about 30 feet at it's deepest and was where the new hospital has been built. So if it hasn't been piled or rafted they are going to have problems with subsidence in the future.
'Christmas Productions at Robins Lane Secondary Modern' by Ivy Swift
Under Miss Gee, the Christmas Productions at Robins Lane were legendary. Every other year there was a Nativity and during my time she also produced A.A. Milne's 'Make Believe' and 'Beauty and the Beast'. Pure Magic. Every child in the School was involved in some way, either acting, dancing or in the choir. Or making costumes and scenery and props, working as stage hands, selling programmes, making and serving refreshments etc. These dancing girls (pictured below) appeared in 'Make Believe'. Lovely girls. It was a happy school to work in, there were never any discipline problems. Doris Gee was a Head in a million, we both feared and respected her. She was only small and slight in stature but she made up for it with her presence and charisma. This was Miss Gee's last production and without doubt her best and most ambitious, possibly 1953 ish?
Full of magical effects that baffled the audience and held them spellbound. I will never forget the hush that fell when the Beast was dying and Beauty's rose began to fade and die. Slowly, one by one, the outer petals dropped onto the dressing table until there was only a central bud. Then the stem of the rose began to bend over and droop over the side of the vase. Aaah! Other magical moments included the doors to the Beast's castle opening by themselves and the Beast's flask of wine tipped up by itself to fill his beaker. The Wizard who was prone to boasting and telling lies about his prowess had a lie detector attached to the roof of his house. A ball shot up a wire and rang the blue bells when he told a porkie!
AA Milne's 'Make Believe' at Robins Lane Secondary Modern girls school - contributed by Ivy Swift
'Catching Sticklebacks in Sutton Mill Dam' by Ken WhittakerWhen I was a child in the 1940s, the gang used to play around the Dam in summer. We caught sticklebacks in the reservoir and played hide and seek in the undergrowth on the opposite side of the road where the stream came from a tunnel under the railway embankment. Now and again some brave (or foolish) lad would try to walk through the tunnel against the current, but nobody ever got right through. On the other side of the railway we played around by the dam itself. We also used to go up the hill on Mill Lane to Mill Brow where we used to walk down the path to the waterfall which splashed us when it was in full flow.
'School Memories' by Jan TickellI went to Sutton Nash primary and then Robins Lane school. I remember quite clearly the old Sutton Nash primary school that was rebuilt when I was 8 years old led by Mr. Anderton who was regularly caning the boys - we were terrified of him most of the time. The new Sutton High school was opened when I was in year 9 in about 1977 and there was a competition to design a new school logo and I entered and won it. I see the badge is still in existence today (pictured right). I can remember how I designed it and winning a £5 gift voucher. My name was Janet Tierney then and both my brothers and my mum also went to the same schools.
'The Best Ice Cream in Town!' by Ivy SwiftJames Ashton was my paternal Grandfather and in the Summer he churned his own Ice Cream in a little outbuilding in his backyard. The best Ice Cream in St Helens - thick and yellow and creamy. I can still taste it !! Across from the shop at 95 Peasley Cross Lane next door to the Hawk & Buck was a Football Ground. I don't know which team played there but Grandad had a wooden hut inside the ground and on match days he used to sell his ice cream and sweets from it.
James Ashton and his sweet shop in Peasley Cross Lane on the corner of Manor Street - Contributed by Ivy Swift
'St.Michael's House & Cromwell's Oak' by David Richardson
St.Michael's House was a very impressive old house with a moat surrounding it. The moat existed up to its demolition although it was not filled with water. It surrounded the house on three sides, the exception being the front which was filled to provide access. It was the late fifties when I used to sleep over at my uncle and aunt's at St Michael's. My uncle's name was David Eden and I believe he was the Sutton Manor Colliery Manager then. I remember a magnificent staircase which ran up the right hand side of a large wooden panelled hall. The staircase had a landing at the top which overlooked the hall giving an appearance of a "minstrels gallery". There was also a large york stone floored kitchen and a wooden panelled library. I distinctly remember the tree with the white wooden picket fence surrounding it, forming a quasi roundabout.
'Our Engine' by Ken WhittakerI was born and brought up in Sutton. I lived initially in Kent Road, then in 1945 my parents bought the newsagents shop in Waterdale Crescent and called it Whittakers. As a child I used to go with my father on the weekend paper rounds. On Saturdays we used to go to the Pudding Bag to deliver papers and collect the week's money from the customers. When that was done, we used to go to the Golden Cross where my dad would have a pint or two and I would play bagatelle in the back room.
A year or two later I used to go across the bridge to Penlake Lane and watch the shunting in the goods yard. There I met Teddy Abbott who lived in a house opposite the bridge and who's father worked at the Sheeting Sheds. In those days there used to be a daily goods train which ran past the front of the houses where Teddy lived, bringing in empty wagons and taking out others loaded with tarpaulin sheeting. The locomotive was usually a saddle tan or an 0-6-0 tender engine, one of which was 52397. Teddy and I used to go to the siding further down Penlake Lane where the engine would go for the train crew to have their lunch. We got friendly with them and used to call 52397 "our engine". Then one day it came no more and was replaced with 52393, but it was never the same again!
"Our Engine" no. 52397 pictured outside Sutton Oak Sheds off Baxters Lane, St.Helens