An Illustrated History of Old Sutton in St. Helens, Lancashire

Part 76 (of 92 parts) - Memories of Sutton Part 27

Introduction: Memories of Sutton is a series of recollections of Sutton's past that have been contributed by visitors to this website. If you have any memories or personal experiences - perhaps from your childhood - that you'd like to share, do please contact me. I'll be delighted to hear from you!  SRW

‘Sutton - My Early Years in the 1940s’ by Norris Kenwright

An Illustrated History of Old Sutton in St.Helens
Part 76 (of 92 parts) - Memories of Sutton Part 27
Introduction: Memories of Sutton is a series of recollections of Sutton's past that have been contributed by visitors to this website. If you have any memories or personal experiences - perhaps from your childhood - that you'd like to share, do please contact me. I'll be delighted to hear from you!  SRW

’Sutton - My Early Years in the 1940s’ by Norris Kenwright

An Illustrated History of
Old Sutton in St.Helens
Memories of Sutton 27
Researched and Written by Stephen Wainwright ©MMXVII
Introduction: Memories of Sutton is a 25-part series of recollections of Sutton's past contributed by visitors to this website. If you have any memories or personal experiences that you'd like to share, do please get in touch.

‘Sutton - My Early Years in the 1940s’ by Norris Kenwright

From 12,000 miles away in New Zealand, I am still drawn to my place of my birth. Maori has a special name for this, which is very special concept to them. It is turangawaewae, which literally means “a place where one has the right to stand – place where one has rights of residence and belonging through kinship and whakapapa (ancestry)”. Tūrangawaewae are places where we feel especially empowered and connected. They are our foundation, our place in the world, our home. It is somewhere that you should always be attached to, think about, and where to rest. It is a treasured place. A Maori proverb states: “Māku e ringiringi ki aku roimata nga ara e ahu ana ki te kāinga…”. It means: “I will water with my tears the trails that lead to home”.

Sutton Park is my Tūrangawaewae

I was born at 1 Marina Avenue, opposite Sutton Park, in a house that my father built in 1935 and where my grandparents lived next door. I went to Robins Lane School with my sister Iris and had dozens of friends who played in the Park and in the surrounding streets, which were not paved or sealed. I met my future wife (Rita Woodward) one day in 1949 in Sutton Park.

My father died in 1948 and my grandfather helped Mum, my sister and me. When I left school in 1953 I started as an apprentice carpenter with my grandfather. By 1962 I was a builder and designed and built my own house at 69 Marina Avenue and married Rita at St Nicholas Church. We had two children Diane and David who both went to Robins Lane School. Rita also taught at Robins Lane Primary and infant school. We had many family members who lived on the Kenwright Estate.
Beginnings – The Kenwright Estate
My Grandfather began as a plumber in Green End Lane and then started building houses when he moved to Robins Lane. The building company of A J Kenwright started in the 1920s and my father Donald became a partner in the 1930s. They built what was known as the “Kenwright Estate” of mainly semi-detached houses.
In the above photograph (left) my father Donald is pictured with the wagon. On the right are the Kenwright workers in 1935 pictured outside the building of 1 Marina Avenue in 1935. Dad is in the white suit and Grandad (AJ Kenwright) is shown to his right in the dark suit.

Due to the war all house building stopped and our wagon was commandeered by the air force to build airfields in Norfolk and Suffolk. By 1939 Marina Avenue only went as far as number 15. Kent Road was just built on one side but Kenwright Crescent, Robina Road and Highfield Street were complete. The rest of the land was farmed up as far as Sutton Cricket Club and Eaves Lane and a path called the style led across the fields. The October half-term holiday was a potato-picking week with families and children collecting the potatoes behind the tractor. Their payment was in spuds! We didn’t resume house building until licences were issued in 1946.
Above is a photo of an A J Kenwright & Son works outing to Blackpool in 1945. On the front row (L – R): Fred Howard; Bill Lympany; AJ Kenwright; Donald Kenwright; Charlie Kenwright (AJ’s brother); George Gardner. On the back row from the right are Harry Woods; Ernie Green; ?; ?; Raymond Wilde and between Bill and AJ is Jackie Wakefield. Rest ??
Early War Years in the Park
An early view of Sutton Park - Norris’s Turangawaewae
Sutton Park must have always been a special place for the people of Sutton and in the war years it was a favourite place for us kids. I remember Anderson Shelters in the field by Marina Avenue and we played up and over the domed grass banks. There was an old bandstand near the bowling greens and a merry–go–round which had an amazing speed and children were often hurled off. There were also swings and a large rocking horse for us to play on.

War-time allotments were planted on the big field and easily watered by a natural spring that emerged from the ground. There was always a line of fresh green grass that ran down the field to Marina Avenue. Mr Helsby of 5 Marina Ave had an allotment and grew lots of vegetables. He carved my name and my sister’s name on small marrows and we were both fascinated to see the names grow larger as the marrows grew.

The park became neglected over the years and the shrubs along the shaded path from Marina Avenue to the central rose garden became overgrown. The roses in the central rose garden by the flagpole looked a pale shadow of their former selves. A group of aged groundsmen had the unenviable task of tending the gardens and once a year dug over the soil between the trees – mainly elm that surrounded the park – and which was soon trampled down by tiny feet.

As young children we played soccer in winter and cricket in summer on the lower field. We had enough boys for a soccer team, which we called ‘Sutton Park Rangers’. Along with myself I remember Mike & Frank Melia, Louis Rigby, Brian French, Brian Fackey, Alban Fisher, Carl Armstrong, Jack Simms, John Woods, Brian French, Stewart Rimmer and Geoff Colquitt.

The dark nights were special as we played hide and seek and Tin Can Bung Off in the trees and local gardens. However at 6-45pm we all disappeared into our houses to hear the latest episode of ‘Dick Barton - Special Agent’ with Jock and Snowy, re-emerging at 7pm. It always had an amazing cliff-hanger at the end of each episode. Other programmes we loved were ‘Paul Temple’ with his wife Steve who solved a mystery over eight episodes. This had a lovely signature tune called Coronation Scott. Another later programme that held me spellbound was ‘Journey into Space’, which was quite a novelty for the time.

The bottom of Kent Road would flood when it rained hard because of the hills of dirt and no drainage and the floods covered the back gardens of Marina Avenue. It was a nuisance for adults but a boon for us kids to sail our handmade boats and small walnut shell boats. This hilly area was especially good in winter for we made icy slides on them.

The war years meant rationing and my father and five friends took advantage of a government scheme. It was launched in 1940 in which the government supplied piglets, which you had to fatten. When they were ready, you gave half of the proceeds back to the government and you kept half. A pigsty was built in my grandfather’s building yard and the pigs were fed by left-over scraps.
Along with my father there was Bill Lympany, Harry Woods, Jack Powell and George Gardner, who kept a shop in Robina Road. The picture above shows me aged three with Jack and Harry. Our cured half-pig hung in the garage for several weeks and we had a good supply of bacon. We also kept hens at the bottom of the garden and I remember breaking shells up to feed them grit. Spare eggs were preserved in a galvanised basin full of water glass (sodium silicate). They would last in there for months. We did have budgies as well but I was told that as a two-year-old I went to see them and left the door open and they all flew away.
My Arsonist Days
! My grandfather’s builders’ yard was quite extensive and with a friend called John Woods – who lived at 95 Robins Lane, opposite to me – I played there frequently. John was older than me and I learned great fire lighting skills from him. We would often have small camp fires at the back of the yard, near Robins Lane Primary school, burning scrap wood from the yard.

John’s superior knowledge, unfortunately, let us down one day, which led to these activities being curtailed. We’d found an old 40-gallon drum and had a roaring fire going in it; so good that it began to glow. John suggested that we put it out and thought the liquids we found in some tins would do the job fine; so we threw them in. An idea that would have borne fruit, except that the liquids were oil-based paint. So the fire took on a life of its own, which was quite terrifying! John’s next idea, although with good intentions, didn’t help matters. That was to knock the drum over with a long piece of wood in order to smother the fire.

This led to the flames quickly spreading to the grass behind the builder’s yard. The fire then headed off behind Robins Lane School, towards the clay holes and the wooden fences at the back of the houses in Baxters Lane. We realised that it was beyond our control and so ran to the workshops. The plumbers and carpenter came out to take control, as we surreptitiously slunk off to the sound of a fire engine. As a result we were banned from the yard and our little arsonist days were over (for a while anyway). However I have never forgotten the fun we had and still light bonfires at the slightest opportunity. Thanks John for the skills!
Mums, Games and Activities
With lots of children on the estate there were many birthdays to celebrate. Even in those hard times, Mums could usually rustle up cakes, jelly and sandwiches. With our birthday presents in hand we headed towards the party. However on one occasion, that proved to be disastrous for me. Running as usual, I turned to wave goodbye to my Mum and then proceeded to run full tilt into a cast iron gas lamp standard! My broken nose is still bent to this day and my birthday party was spoiled as Mum collected me from the floor and nursed me as only Mums can do.
Here is a picture of my sister Iris’s second birthday party in 1941. On the back row (L -R) John Woods; Norris Kenwright: Arthur Helsby; Sheila Howarth & Joyce Valentine. On the front row is Mike Melia; Brian Fackey; my sister Iris; Marie Howarth and Eileen Melia.

Mums would organise great parties with games of pass the parcel, musical chairs, statues, meet the King and Queen, spin the bottle and postman’s knock. We didn’t celebrate Halloween but Mrs Simms of 2 Kent Road always organised a duck apple night on the 31st of October. The Simms were a lovely couple and their children were Eileen, Joan, Rita, Jack and Betty (in that order, I think). The duck apple night consisted of pieces of apple suitable for small mouths, floating in a bath of water and with hands behind your back, you had to bite one and eat it. There was lots of fun, wet hair and towards the end of the evening the water was by today’s standards quite grotty – but we survived, mostly.

Of course children’s illnesses would sweep the area and at one time or another we all had chicken pox, whooping cough, measles and mumps. I had the lot! Perhaps a good lot of earth in the diet from playing outside may have helped bump up my immune system. There were killers and diphtheria and scarlet fever were feared. Mr and Mrs Cork in Kent Road lost a most beautiful daughter at a young age.
Another activity in the war years was the annual May Queen where children all dressed up in costumes and followed the queen around the streets, followed by eats and drinks afterwards. Above (left) is a May Queen group from 1944. On the back row is (L - R) Eileen Simms, Liz Wallace, Marie Howarth, Joan Simms, Norris Kenwright and Louis Rigby. On the middle row is Arthur Helsby, John Woods, Rita Simms and Iris Kenwright and on the front row is Mike Melia, Jack Simms, Raymond Melia, ?, Betty Simms and Brian Fackey. On the right is a picture of Joan Simms walking down Marina Avenue, with Brian Fackey carrying the crown.

Looking back, the ‘40s seemed to have beautiful summers and cold, snowy winters. We lived outside making up our own games. Home was where you ate before going out again. You got presents for your birthdays and Christmas but nothing else. Food was simple; jam butties were a treat when jam was available. With no electronics, our telephones were two cans with string in between. There were skipping games – every girl had a skipping rope – and lots of rhymes, such as: “Crawfords cream crackers, penny per packet; when you eat them they go crackit.” Hide and Seek and ‘Film Stars’ were fun and daring and there was ‘Doctors’, which we played in the air raid shelters.

Marbles or stonies were great as we played ‘rink’ and chased them up and down the hardened dirt roads. Coloured marbles were prized. We made ‘winter warmers’ out of old syrup tins by making holes and using a wire handle. Paper and wood were inserted first followed by coal and we whirled them around and around our heads as the flames shot out. Bonfire night was special and we let our fireworks off around the local bonfire (most streets had them) and then baked potatoes in the embers. It was a real community effort. There was lots of carol singing at Christmas as we tried our luck to earn pennies knocking on doors and singing carols – always in the dark and usually frosty and cold. If it was too cold or raining, our home activities included making peg rugs out of cloth scraps, roasting chestnuts by an open fire and making toast on a trident fork, shielding our hands from the heat.
Summers were spent in the fields casing hapless butterflies, hurling our coats and jerseys onto them and then putting them in our jars. Days were spent wandering across Marshalls Cross Road to the Score where in spring we raided the bluebell woods, taking some home to Mum. I loved playing cricket with friends and had fun in our back garden with my sister Iris and family, as shown in the photo above from 1943.

Autumn was conker time and we hurled our missiles high into the branches to knock down a treasured conker. There were, of course, injuries from falling sticks and stones as the law of gravity meant what goes up must come down. Brian Lympany discovered this (after Newton) as he went home with a gashed head one day. Then to thread it, harden it and play conkers with one another to see who had the best. Here in New Zealand conkers are never played and loads of conkers lie under the horse chestnut trees unpicked. I tried to get my kids to play but without success.

The Delph in Sherdley was a wonderful place to fish and whereas adults had rods, a bamboo stick, strong cotton and a bent pin were my trusty tools. With a jar of dug up worms and another for the catch, I set off on many occasions with friends. My catches were the sticklebacks that swam in the shallow end and a jar of them was often taken home. Nature conservation was not a lesson I knew then and after a couple of days they died, of course.

Looking back once more, I remember the freedom that we had to roam; it was safe, little traffic, lots of friends and although there was a war on, it never seemed to effect us. The community was fabulous and families and relations always lived close by. Dear Sutton; Thank you for the memories.

To My Friends: As I tread the paths of Yesteryear; my memories and thoughts come true. Days of peace and joy and happiness will lead me back to you.
NORRIS KENWRIGHT - November 2017
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Stephen Wainwright
This website has been written and researched and many images photographed by myself, Stephen Wainwright, the Sutton Beauty & Heritage site owner. Individuals from all over the world have also kindly contributed their own photographs. If you wish to reuse any image, please contact me first as permission may be needed from the copyright owner. High resolution versions of many pictures can also be supplied at no charge. Please also contact me if you can provide any further information or photographs concerning Sutton, St.Helens. You might also consider contributing your recollections of Sutton for the series of Memories pages. Sutton Beauty & Heritage strives for factual accuracy at all times. Do also get in touch if you believe that there are any errors. I respond quickly to emails and if you haven't had a response within twelve hours, check your junk mail folder or resend your message. Thank you! SRW
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