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

Part 56 (of 89 parts) - Memories of Sutton Part 7

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
An Illustrated History of Old Sutton in St.Helens
Part 56 (of 89 parts) - Memories of Sutton Part 7
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
An Illustrated History of
Old Sutton in St.Helens
Memories of Sutton 7
Researched and Written by Stephen Wainwright ©MMXVII
Introduction: Memories of Sutton is a 24-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.

'Life in the Old Convent Part 2' - Extracts from 'Once Around the Circuit' by Dave Latham

'Life in the Old Convent Part 2' - by Dave Latham

'Life in the Old Convent Part 2’ - by Dave Latham

Mrs. Meadowcroft's Bottom

David Latham c.1953 aged 6

David Latham aged 6 years
David Latham c.1953 aged 6 years
I lived at the old convent in Sutton for seven years from when I was born in 1947. Our neighbours were Mr and Mrs Meadowcroft whose only son James had been killed whilst serving in the Navy. In hindsight I suppose this entitled them to be miserable and jealous of other families who had fared better in the war. However the couple made our lives a misery, constantly complaining to our parents about the noise we made playing “piggy” or “skilly” or one of dozens of games we played in the streets all those years ago without fear from paedophiles, muggers, or any other type of nowadays-common street crime.

Mr and Mrs Meadowcroft’s back garden was overlooked by Larry’s third floor bedroom window. He was the American boy whose family occupied the three storey house next to the convent and whose father we nicknamed “Whirly Gig”. After one serious complaint about one of Larry’s detonator bombs going astray and nearly killing Mrs Meadowcroft’s ginger tom, Whirly Gig felt obliged to “ground” Larry for a weekend. Larry retaliated by shooting his air rifle at Mr Meadowcroft’s clogs as he walked to the outside toilet. These days, there would have been a police armed response team and trained negotiators flown in but Mr Meadowcroft waved his fist at Larry’s smiling face and shouted “You wait, you little bugger, I will tan your arse the next time I see you”.

My cousin Tommy and I were severely reprimanded and smacked by our fathers after Mrs Meadowcroft accused us of throwing mud at her clothes on the washing line. In the days before washing machines, everything was washed by hand laboriously and dried on clothes lines strung across the gardens and back entry. Tommy and I were aggrieved by our punishment as we had been fishing when the deed was done. However, Mrs Meadowcroft swore she had seen us do it and our fathers acted accordingly using their thick leather belts to administer the punishment in front of a beaming Mrs Meadowcroft. Tommy and I seethed about this unfair punishment but held no blame for our fathers.

For weeks we planned various revenge attacks on Mrs Meadowcroft and then one day the St Helens Council provided us with just the answer we were looking for. One afternoon the council workmen turned up with a lorry and there was a wonderful smell accompanying the team of men, Gas Tar! They had come to reset some of the granite cobbles in the street that had been dug up to repair a water pipe. We had never seen Gas Tar before and its rich smell and putty-like texture drew us to it like a magnet. “Please Mister, can we have some to play with”, we asked. “Well, don’t tell your mothers who gave it to you”, the workman said as if she couldn’t guess and he handed us a dollop the size of a cricket ball each. “You can make it go farther or get it off your clothes with turps,” the man added and then gave us a pop bottle full of turps “in case.”

Tommy and I went and schemed in our hideout in Pa’s greenhouse under the staging. We knew that both Mr and Mrs Meadowcroft went to their outside “privy” at the bottom of their garden at 6.30 every night. They would take a Woolworth’s paraffin lantern with them which was kept on the windowsill in their washhouse. In this day and age it would seem incredulous that two adults would sit in an outside two-hole toilet side by side to “do their business” and chat away as if they were having high tea. But believe me in the early 1950’s that was what we did in Sutton. Slowly our master plan hatched.

It was nearly dark at 6pm. Tommy and I sneaked off from Great Gran’s house and went round to the Meadowcroft’s back gate. It was unlocked as was everyone’s in those days. Silently we crept up the cobble yard and opened the washhouse door. Tommy emptied all but a few drops of the paraffin from the Woolworth’s lantern. Then we tip toed to the toilet. I had brought a candle and a match to help us see what we were doing. There were no windows in the privy so we felt secure. Taking some of the sheets of carefully cut up St Helens Reporter from the nail (utility bog roll, for the use of, my dad, would say), we smeared the mixture of gar tar and turps all over the toilet seats. It was a wonderful treacly consistency and we spread it a good quarter of an inch thick.

We ran as fast as we could round to Larry’s house and after passing pleasantries with his mother we climbed upstairs to Larry’s bedroom to watch the “revenge”. At precisely 6.30pm by Larry’s watch, Mr and Mrs Meadowcroft appeared out of their back door chatting to each other. Mr Meadowcroft collected the paraffin lamp from the washhouse and after several attempts got it to light. By the time they had got to the privy, it sputtered and went out. This was the one weak part of our plan, would they go back for more paraffin or would they go into the privy in the twilight? We gasped a sigh of relief as they closed the door behind them, and then we waited, giggling uncontrollably. After a couple of minutes we heard first a scream and then a howl. Tommy, Larry and I hugged each other as we danced round the room in hysterics! However hard we were to be punished we felt that it was worth it.

Tommy and I crept back into our house, the family were settling down after supper to listen to the Archers that started at 6.45pm on the radio. The radio was a huge wooden piece of furniture “liberated” by my uncle Wilf from the Coop manager for a pile of petrol coupons obtained by exchanging bags of Sankey sugar with the baker. This accumulator powered radio was our most treasured luxury. The fifteen minutes that the Archers were on the radio was sacrosanct, no one spoke or moved, so we felt safe as we sneaked into the room and sat with the other children on the rug in front of the fire. The familiar music introduction came to an end and Walter Gabriel was in full flow with his usual catch phrase “me old pal me old beauty” when the inevitable hammering on the door broke the peace. “Who the hell is that?” said my father as if he were a surgeon being interrupted in mid heart transplant! Virtually everyone rose and went to the front door. That is except Tommy and I, we hung back as if riveted to the radio to find out what was going on in Ambridge. We heard the whine of Mrs Meadowcroft and the shouts of Mr Meadowcroft.

Tommy and I sneaked into the hall just in time to hear and see Mr Meadowcroft with his pants round his ankles looking like a penguin “It’s those bloody lads of yours” howled Mr Meadowcroft. Mrs Meadowcroft about-turned and flung her skirts over her head revealing a bare bottom with a perfect black circle around it. “Have you ever seen anything like this”, howled Mrs Meadowcroft ???? “Well”, said my dad, “many times, but never framed so nicely”. Expecting a serious thrashing, Tommy and I tried to melt away but the whole family fell round laughing until they cried. Even Walter Gabriel couldn’t compete with Mrs Meadowcroft’s bottom. Our punishment was to scrape off the gas tar from the toilet seat and sand it down with fine sand paper. Shortly after this incident the Meadowcrofts moved to a new council house in Peasley Cross, we heard on the grapevine, they had an inside toilet!

The end of Mrs Meadowcroft! - Illustration by Peter Horrocks - Contributed by David Latham

The end of Mrs Meadowcroft! - Illustration by Peter Horrocks - Contributed by David Latham

The end of Mrs Meadowcroft! - Illustration by Peter Horrocks - Contributed by David Latham

Fishing & the Maggot Farm
My father and his three brothers were passionate about fishing; every spare minute was spent fishing or talking about it or preparing for it. In summer we went to the Monastery Dam just 10 minutes walk from our house. Dad and his brothers were all members of the Sidac Angling club as well as the St Helens Angling Club. Sidac Ltd was the largest factory in Sutton at that time and made Cellophane. A stream called the “Stinking Brook” passed the factory and wended its way through miles of Sutton, Parr and Blackbrook. It contained wastewater from the production process and changed colour by the hour, pink, green, red, blue, whatever colour the factory was dying the cellophane. Nothing lived in the brook, it was extremely alkali but in those days it was tolerated and accepted. It seemed strange to me that the company that caused serious pollution had its own angling club. Most Saturday afternoons there was always a “match” during the fishing season. The match or competition would be attended by a ramshackle bunch of anglers who each paid two and sixpence into the sweepstake, which would be won by the three anglers with the heaviest weight of fish caught.

There was much competition and many secret types of bait were used to catch the fish. Dad and I used to gas wasp nests with Cymag, a lethal cyanide mixture, we always got stung but those wonderful wasp grubs won us many prizes in the fishing matches. Dad and I also bred maggots to use and to sell to other anglers and several fishing shops. Luckily we had a big garden and the breeding shed was sufficiently far enough away so the pong of rotting meat was not a problem to anyone, so long as you remained at a distance on a hot day. Dad and I became immune to the stink, but one lady relative who wanted to see what it was all about fainted when she stepped inside our maggot farm. We would get sheeps’ and cows’ heads from the slaughterhouse each week and hang them from hooks in the shed over wooden trays. The baleful looks of the animals, usually with their tongues hanging out, was a dreadful sight but nowhere near as bad as the scene a week later, as they were alive with maggots crawling in and out of their eye sockets.

Dad was very fussy about the process and would only use his special “pedigree bluebottles”. If a housefly or greenbottle laid its eggs on the meat, then the resulting maggots would have been very small. We wanted very big maggots to catch very big fish and so all the windows and doors in the shed were sealed with paper tape so no intruders could lay their eggs. Dad had a special incubator unit for his pedigree bluebottles and that was the secret of our success. We also used to dye the maggots different colours. I never knew if fish could see colours but when you caught a specimen fish on one of Latham’s yellow maggots, that is all you would use. We used to use special dyes, I remember the yellow one was called Annatto and many years later I read that it was carcinogenic; God knows how much of the dye we had rubbed into our hands!

The four Latham brothers on a sea fishing trip to Grange-over-Sands - Left to Right: Jimmy, Bob, Eric (my dad) and Wilf

The four Latham brothers on a sea fishing trip to Grange-over-Sands

The Latham brothers on a fishing trip

One day we were asked by the biggest fishing tackle shop in St Helens to provide 10 pints of Annatto maggots, this was a big order for us and worth £5 (my father earned only £15 for driving his lorry each week). One Saturday morning we filled five two-pint National Dried milk tins with ten pints of Annatto maggots. Dad put four of the tins into his knapsack and I was allowed to carry one. We walked to the bus stop in Sutton near the railway station and caught the red double decker Leyland bus into town. We sat at the very back of the bus upstairs and I put my tin on the parcel shelf meant for luggage. The ride took us about 30 minutes and we chatted about dad’s plans for some extension to our maggot farm if the order for 10 pints of maggots was to be repeated.

When the bus reached the terminus we alighted and started to walk to the shop. The shopkeeper was pleased to see us as he had no maggots and had a lot of customers waiting. “Oh no” I said, “I must have left my tin on the bus.” Dad was not pleased but didn’t make a fuss in front of the customers, “Don’t worry lad, the bus will still be at the terminus, there is a twenty minute delay to change the crew, before it leaves again”. We walked back to the bus terminus in happy mood, dad clutching his £5 note. As we approached the bus we heard a scream! The passengers poured out and I thought there might have been a fire on board. Dad realised what had happened. The new conductress had found the national dried milk tin and opened it. Seeing the contents she had screamed and dropped the tin at the top of the bus stairs. The thousands of maggots were everywhere, on the seats, on the stairs, wriggling along the fluted floors. “Keep walking and don’t say ouwt,” said dad. We walked nonchalantly past the bus, its passengers and crew. Women scratched and screamed, men, obviously not anglers, moaned about the incident. Dad whistled and I looked like an angel. In the St Helens Reporter the following Thursday, the headline read “Madman leaves maggots on bus”. Apparently the bus was taken out of service for two days and then again when the maggots turned into chrysalis and then bluebottles. The shopkeeper must have known it was us but bless him he kept quiet. We doubled the size of the maggot farm over the next few weeks. Ah! those heady days before planning permission.

In the house was a room that we were never allowed to enter, it was upstairs over the washhouse. Our parents told us kids that it was kept locked because it was dangerous. We of course knew different! We were convinced that it contained treasure, or a prisoner of war, or at least a dead body! All these and many more options were frequently discussed by us kids. What made our frustration more intense was that the keyhole was blocked off from the inside. We poked at it with sticks while others kept watch but the blockage remained in place.

Eventually one by one each family moved up the ladder and got their council house. Pa must have been 60 by then and had pnemonicosis (miners lung) and bronchitis. I used to love going to talk to my great grandparents. Pa would wink at me over his paper, suck his pipe and say “how you doing smiler?”. He would then say to Great Gran “put the kettle on mother and we will have a brew”. A few weeks afterwards Pa died peacefully in his sleep. Heartbroken Great Gran lasted only another month. Theirs were the first deaths that I experienced. First Pa and then Great Gran were laid out in our front room. We kids acted very solemn, though we didn’t appreciate why, it was just that all the adults kept saying “shush” and wagging a finger at us. One of the older girls stayed behind at both funerals to look after us kids as our parents went to the church and then the graves.

We had been allocated our council house in Blackbrook and it was planned by the church to demolish the old convent. By then, Whirly Gig, his wife and Larry had gone back to America. When Pa died, dad was disgusted by all the distant relatives who picked over the furniture and ornaments. “When Great Gran goes, that’s what I want” they said. So when everyone was at Great Gran’s funeral a van came and took everything that was in the house except our stuff. I had wondered why dad had locked our rooms when the hearse arrived. When everyone came back for the wake, dad announced that he had arranged for the “Sally Army” to collect all Great Gran’s and Pa’s possessions so that there was no arguments over who had what! You could have cut the atmosphere with an axe!

Three days later the van arrived to move us to our new abode. We didn’t have much and dad was unhappy, as mum would not let him take his maggot shed to our new council house in Blackbrook. I watched as the tea chests and utility furniture was loaded. Dad personally carried his fishing tackle into the van, they being his most valued possessions. I had a master plan, I waited until everyone was busy and I sneaked off to the secret room. I had a large wooden handled screwdriver “liberated” from dad’s lorry. Carefully I placed the blade into the door jam and put the whole weight of my meagre frame behind it.

After much huffing and puffing there was a loud splintering sound and the door swung open. At last! The secret was mine. But the room was completely empty, where was the treasure? the prisoner of war? There was nothing but dust and cobwebs. I walked into the centre of the room, suddenly I was crashing into the washhouse below followed by rotten wood and more dust than anyone would see in a lifetime. The reason the room was dangerous was!!!!!! Well, it was dangerous because the floorboards were rotten, after years and years of steam from the boiling water in the washhouse. My dad shouted “David” and I was relieved that I had broken no bones and that the next people to enter the house would be the demolition men.
DAVE LATHAM - Extracts from 'Once Around the Circuit'
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
This website is written and researched by Stephen R. Wainwright ©MMXVI  Contact Me
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