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

Part 58 (of 89 parts) - Memories of Sutton Part 9

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 58 (of 89 parts) - Memories of Sutton Part 9
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 9
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.

'Memories of Sutton Leach' by Harry Hickson

Harry Hickson with Malcolm Foy c.1948
Start of School Holidays c.1948/9 with Malcolm
Foy (rt) - note the belts which most lads had then
General life in Sutton Leach in the 1940s / early 50s was good for kids, because it was country really. There was plenty to explore and enjoy with your friends, especially in the school holidays, when you were out all day. The first major memory has to be of the Air Raids and that siren that frightened the daylights out of everybody. Then that vision of the German planes in formation, silhouetted overhead against the moon, on their way to Liverpool, with their engines having a particular drone coupled with the Anti-Aircraft Guns that you couldn't forget.

Start of the school holidays c.1948/9 with Malcolm Foy (right) - note the belts which most lads had at that time

We had an air raid shelter at the bottom of our garden that my father had built at the start of the war into the sloping garden bank. It was double brick with a concrete dome, had a stove in it as well as two bunks and seating. Some neighbours used to come in when air raids started, and the basic structure is still standing today. Many years later after I'd emigrated to Australia, a chap that worked for me who had ancestors from Earlestown, went on a European Tour after retirement. During the tour he went into a War History Museum in Germany, and saw a flight plan used by the Luftwaffe to bomb Liverpool, and which included details of how to arrive at the target. The key on the flight plan, was the flight up from the South until they saw the Nine Arches at the Sankey Viaduct, with instructions to then turn West and follow the railway line into Liverpool.

In about early 1945, Harry Twist who lived in Leach Lane opposite the Wash (and who had a son Graham who played RU for England in the forwards), had German POW's helping him on his farm. They used to sit on the pavement at about 5-45pm waiting for the truck to come and pick them up. I can remember wondering if any of them had been in the planes that had come over in the Air Raids some years before.

He had married into the Garton farming family, and farmed the land down to Wheatsheaf Avenue, up to and along the Widnes Railway line. Along with his brother, and a builder named Albert Coates, he had built 26 houses in Old Mill Avenue, 20 in Crane Avenue, and quite a few in Mill Lane in the early to mid 1930s. In about 1937, he built five large stylish detached houses in Leach Lane, the first no. 247 was occupied by his sister Rebecca (and so it was known by us as Rebecca's) and her husband John Lee. The next house was the Abbotts Farm itself, which was set back off the road up a wide drive. We saw this as a very generous Farm House with a barn, along with other buildings spread out around it. The farm had been there for many years and is shown on Greenwood’s 1818 map of Lancashire. The other four detached houses followed on after the farm towards Clock Face.

Harry Twist's large house, barn and other buildings in 1947 - contributed by Harry Hickson

Harry Twist's large house, barn and other buildings pictured in 1947

Harry Twist's house and barn in 1947

This photograph taken in the winter of 1947 from Old Mill Avenue shows Harry Twist's large house, barn and other buildings. The drive up to the house is just in front of the no. 23 bus going to Sutton Manor, and no's 255, 257 striking roofs just about in view to the right. Rebecca's house is out of sight to the left of the barns, but you can see the sloping ground on the camera's side of the road that we used to sledge on during snowy days like this. In fact that is exactly what we did later on, after the photo was taken. This particular area opposite the Leach Lane exit of the 'Wash' track has been re-developed and is now known as the 'Beeches’, home to a number of detached houses.

During the war, the field alongside the brook (that linked the top Mill Lane dam with the bottom one), was cultivated by people from all round the area for growing extra vegetables, and they watered them from the brook. A 'swap' system was set up to get the items you wanted most, because of the rationing. For example, I would cycle all over the place (once to Hard Lane), to swap our eggs for something my mother wanted, usually cheese, and could you believe, some people wanted used tea leaves! Winter, however, cut back on this fresh produce, but people knew the art of preservation, and generally got through it reasonably well and every boy and girl at that time appreciated the way their parents managed. An amusing feature of the period was those men that picked up the used cigarette 'stumps' that lay on the pavements or gutters of our streets. They emptied the small amount of tar saturated tobacco out of them and then made a full cigarette using a little roller and a new cigarette paper, producing what we called a 'kerbstone blend'.

The brook offered great fun for us all, jumping across its various widths, fishing, playing cricket and blackberrying on its banks. The shortest way to Leach Lane, especially in winter when you could sledge down the steep bank on that side near the 'Wash', was down the gardens from Old Mill Avenue, across the first brook onto Josh Leather's Poultry establishment. He lived next door to Mr Tickle, the shoe, boot, and clog repairer, who had a little shop next to his house just in the Intersection Bridge part of Leach Lane, and he had a very large number of laying hens in big sheds between the two brooks. These were guarded by a serious old English sheepdog which had about a five foot-long light chain attached to his collar, with the other end attached by a ring to a wire that ran the length of the establishment. If you wanted to cross to Leach Lane you waited until the dog was in its kennel, and you made a run for it. The dog then raced down its well-worn path over the little bridge and down to the hen sheds. In reality it was less dramatic than it sounds, because the dog couldn't stray too far from the wire path, but it was fun for us to risk it!

Taken from Leach Lane the second brook from the old mill sluice is shown on the right - contributed by Harry Hickson

From Leach Lane - the second brook from the old mill sluice is on the right

Picture taken from Leach Lane

A photo taken from Leach Lane showing the Dam waterfall with its brook and the second brook from the old mill sluice is shown here. The hen sheds described above, were between these and stretching down to the right of the photo. Top right are the end houses in Old Mill Ave, then Mr Rennie's in the Wash and the large detached houses in Mill Lane (Royle's etc.), leading up to those at Marshalls Cross. The steep slope down to the brook in the foreground was the sledging area, and you could finish in the brook quite easily. As described in other Memories, the Top Dam, its waterfall and old mill sluice gate etc was a magnet to lads, with the open dam stretching to Clock Face Road being quite a sight. There were boat houses (just rowing boats), at the bottom of the large detached houses that we knew as Mill Lodge, Millersdale, and the last one in the row, Olivet, owned by the Turner family.

Left: Mill Lodge c.1910; Middle: Close Up of a rowing boat; Right: Millersdale - contributed by Frank Jones

Left: Mill Lodge c.1910; Middle: Close Up of a rowing boat; Right: Millersdale

L-R: Mill Lodge c.1910 and Millersdale

An interesting connection with Sutton itself, was that Mill Lodge was owned by Mr Fred Royle (son Fred Jnr. later joined the business), and next door at another large house, Ashfield, lived his brother Sam, joint owners of S. Royle & Sons (est. 1860), Grocers, Bakers, Wine and Spirit Merchants, of 9 Taylor Street, Sutton, with big branches at Peckers Hill Rd, Broad Oak Rd Parr, and 77 Higher Parr St St Helens. Their mother, the widow of Sam Royle Snr., lived next door but one to Sam (after Millersdale), in the house called Mill Bank. Mill Lodge had a lovely curved drive up to the house, and it was sad to hear of its demolition due to mine subsidence. Millersdale itself was owned by the Abbott family, with Thomas Abbott having farmed Mill Farm in Leach Lane for many years. So he could now look directly across the Dam to its fields.

Letterhead of S. Royle & Sons who had stores in Peckers Hill Road - contributed by Harry Hickson

Letterhead of S. Royle & Sons who had stores in Peckers Hill Road, Sutton

Letterhead of S. Royle & Sons

On the Leach Lane side of the Dam next to the 'Wash' track lived Mr Fishwick and family, who had the Butchers shop next to the post office further down Leach Lane. He later moved the business to Bridge Street in St.Helens, where his son Gordon developed it and later had a very large wholesale meat storage facility at Haydock. In the bad winter of 1947 the dam was covered in thick ice and hundreds of people went on to skate and slide from the Wash right up to Clock Face Road. For skaters, this was a big area.

This was in sharp contrast to the summer of 1945 in which one hot day in August, Alexander Duncan Smith aged six from Leach Lane, was playing with his friends around the Dam and decided to cool off at the waterfall end. The bottom of the dam at this point is concreted, and about six of them were hopping and splashing around in the water, when poor Duncan found himself out of this safe depth and off the concrete. The tragedy was that nobody could swim, including me standing on the bank, and I can see him now trying to dog paddle his way back, but going under the water as he did it.

I ran to get a stick but he couldn't grasp it, and eventually he didn't come up again. Everybody was screaming, and Mr Rennie who lived in the 'Wash', heard us and came running over, went in and brought Duncan up, but sadly he couldn't be revived. I had to go with my father to the Sutton Road Police Station and give a report to Inspector Tom Garlick who also lived at the station. This was followed by having to give evidence at the Inquest on the 13th of August, having been schooled by my policeman father on the procedures. That awful experience terrified me for years, but years later, having overcome these fears in the surf or pool, I still thought of Duncan and what a tragic waste of life that it was.

The Wash at Sutton Mill Dam about 1950 - contributed by Harry Hickson

The Wash at Sutton Mill Dam in Sutton, St.Helens c.1950

Wash at Sutton Mill Dam c.1950

This photo taken on a bleak day about 1950 shows the spot where Duncan drowned, with Farmer Abbott's barn (Mill Farm in Leach Lane) in the background, as well as the Sutton Manor Colliery chimney, and Mr Rennie's greenhouse is in the foreground.

Some years later, a few older lads had acquired redundant fuel tanks that used to be on the planes at Burtonwood Air Base, and were using them as canoes on the bottom Dam off Mill Lane. I went in one (still couldn't swim), with a lad named Derek Stokes out of Mill Lane. Although he had put a load of bricks in the bottom for ballast, they were still very unsteady because of their round bottoms. One of these tanks was used to block the flow of water in the brook about half way to the Wheatsheaf, and the bank was opened up to form quite a large safe swimming area. This attracted many children and the photo below, taken about 1947/8, shows that spot.

Having fun playing in the brook in Sutton Leach - contributed by Harry Hickson

Playing in the brook in Sutton Leach in Sutton, St.Helens

Fun playing in the brook c.1947/8

Sgt. W.F. Glover memorial in St.Annes graveyard, Sutton, St.Helens
Memorial to Sgt. Glover at St.Annes
The names I can remember in the above picture are Right to Left sat on the tank: Myself, ?, Barbara Fairhurst (Leach Lane - lived next door but one to Duncan above), her elder sister Joan Fairhurst, Audrey Cross (Leach Lane, opposite the Post Office). Stood on the bank on the far side are brothers Ted and Cliff Glover with their dog Patch, and in the water at the front is the Treacher brothers from New Street. The houses in the background in Mill Lane are Hosteads at no. 107 (left) and the one to the left of Hosteads (just the roof) is Edith Carter's (no. 109), who was well known for her many inputs to Whalley's World in the St.Helens Star.

The Glover brothers' father was a Sergeant in the Royal Engineers and was killed early on in the war carrying out its most dangerous job, that of diffusing an unexploded German bomb. They lived at 119 Mill Lane and their mother's sister also lived with them, a remarkable woman who I suppose was in her late 30s in 1945. She was born with no arms, and I never ceased to be amazed at what she could do with her feet, absolutely fascinated when she was brushing her hair or knitting, and I even saw her thread a needle with cotton one day and sew a dress. It was all so natural to her, she would wave you into the room, no embarrassment at all, smoking a cigarette between her toes, and then place it in an ash tray situated on the high mantelpiece over the fire. She was a very attractive woman, who would put her lipstick on, wrap a green cape around her, and walk down to the Cooperative Society shop in Leach Lane with all the poise of a film star.

She had a Dress Fabric shop for a period of time in Junction Lane, Sutton and Lily Twist, later Coffey, whose father was part of Thomas and Twist the building firm, and lived opposite the Glovers, told me the story of the day she went into the shop with her mother to buy some dress material. Being asked by Lily's mother for a certain length, she proceeded to get the roll of material in position on a low table, measure the required length out, cut it with scissors, fold it up, wrap it up in brown paper, and tie it up with string. She then took the money for it, giving the correct change, and Lily said she was totally mesmerised by the whole operation.

The American Air Force base at Burtonwood was very significant to Sutton and its surrounds because not only did you have the planes continually circling over on their landing flight path, but the Americans themselves liked to have a drink in the local pubs, coming in large numbers on service bicycles past Neill's into Sutton or up Reginald Road to the Wheatsheaf, Mill House, or the Bull & Dog. These pubs would be packed, of course, as they had many local customers apart from these extras, and if you were a pub landlord in this period you would be making good money. The Wheatsheaf's landlord, Cissie Rothwell, was married to the very colourful Joe Williams who had a lemon coloured two-seater American Dodge car, and actually gave my brother two shillings and six pence to clean it, which was a terrific amount at the time.

The Mill House landlord was Mrs Lawrence, assisted by her daughter Margaret, a South African chap named Fred Hall, and quite a few barmaids. She had a great business, in part due to the large singing room next to the car park and which was always packed, with smoke streaming out of the top windows. As lads we would listen to the singsongs / pianist, and occasionally climb onto the window ledge, and peer through the smoke to see who was on the microphone. It smelled awful to us! All the above pubs had bowling greens at their rear which were well used by regulars.

On the Mill House bowling green probably on VE day 1945 - contributed by Harry Hickson

On the Mill House bowling green in Sutton, probably on VE day 1945

On the Mill House bowling green

The photograph above was taken on the Mill House Bowling Green, but I am not totally sure of the occasion. It was given to me by Geoff Molyneux of Mill Lane, whose father is in the picture. We both think it was for VE day, with the set of bowls on the ground being just a token of its location. VE day was May the 8th 1945, and the tree foliage in the background would support this, but we may be wrong. The roofs of the houses are in Grimshaw Street, with the Coffey's house being about level with the gentleman on the extreme left of the back row. With such a large gathering it is certain that many viewers to this site could have relations in the photo, so make contact if you do know anybody.

John and Elizabeth Coffey
John and Elizabeth Coffey
with their young grandson Chris
There are 41 customers here and the few names I know (whilst knowing many more faces) are L-R First Row Seated Centre (behind the bowls): Mrs Lawrence, Mr Halewood (Mill Lane), ?, Margaret Lawrence. L-R Centre Standing: 3rd Mr Tinsley (Old Mill Ave), 6th Mr G Molyneux (Mill Lane), 11th George Rennie, I think, (Mill Lane), 12th Mr Astell (Belvedere Ave), 19th Mr Frank Mountford (Grimshaw Street). L-R Back Row: 3rd Mr James Bath, 4th Gerald Lee (Old Mill Ave), 8th Harry Tandy (Crane Avenue), 9th Len Bradbury (Mill Lane). Mrs Lawrence was licensee and having been very successful at the Mill House, she went on to become the first landlord of the brand new Woodlands Hotel at Haresfinch. (Kath Burrows on behalf of her mother Joyce Bott, née Appleton, adds that the fourth from the right on the back row, wearing a flat cap, is Joyce's uncle, Harold Twist. The man seated on the right at the front behind the lady in the white dress is her grandfather, Hugh Twist. Both lived on Leach Lane.)

It was a great talking point when Mr Coffey won £75,000 on the pools, and very appropriate it was for him to win it, as he had been shot in the first war through his mouth and had difficulty talking and required his food to be chopped up. His wife was a lovely woman too, and after providing for their children they bought a new Daimler car, and had a beautiful bungalow built at Eccleston next to the Carmelite. Being a friend of youngest son John, I later had many rides in the Daimler and one day went to see the house, which was a real treat for me. However, Mr Coffey died virtually without living there, and the estate was then hit with death duties. Mrs Coffey not wishing to live there, moved back to live her remaining years in Mill Lane (on the corner of Old Mill Ave), less than two years after winning the money.

Next door to the Coffeys in Grimshaw Street, lived a colourful character named Stan Leyland, a local builder with a yard in Leach Lane near the Intersection Bridge. Stan's identity was enhanced by the fact that he kept an African monkey he called 'Chico', and who sat on his handlebars when he cycled down Mill Lane to his yard, or alternatively on the bonnet of his truck if he drove down. He had him for quite a few years entertaining everybody, and it became very close to Stan's mother. Its demise, however, came in spectacular fashion, when one day in the house for some strange reason it attacked Stan and sank its fangs in his leg and would not let go. Mrs Leyland ran out in the street shouting that "Chico is attacking our Stan", who by this time was losing a lot of blood, and dragging Chico (who was still hanging onto his leg) to the shed in the back yard, he grabbed an axe and killed it. Everybody in the area was passing this story around for a long time.

At the top of Grimshaw Street were the 'Bevin Huts', buildings erected to house the people recruited to cover the wartime labour shortages in the local pits, and after the war it was used to also house refugees from Europe. It was quite a large open access area, and we used to chat to some of the refugees when we went in to play snooker, which they didn't seem interested in.

Catterall House on a snowy day in December 1951 taken from 114 Mill Lane by Lily Twist (head girl at Robins Lane school 1952)

Catterall House on a snowy day in 1951 taken from 114 Mill Lane by Lily Twist

A snowy Catterall House in 1951

A Mr and Mrs Fenney lived in a farm house named Catterall House (which in the late 1800s was called Olive Mount), which was accessed up a lovely rhododendron lined drive off Mill Lane opposite Old Mill Avenue (the drive is still there leading to Dale Crescent). Part of his farmland had a barn and orchard that backed onto the Bevin Huts and Grimshaw Street with his apples being a magnet for the local lads. He also had an old St Helens Tram, circa 1900, the open top and stairs type, which we asked if we could sit on the top deck. The field at the rear of his house ran right up to the railway, and his cows could access the fields behind New Street across a sandstone bridge over the lines.

In the 1940s, the St Helens to Widnes railway line was still operating both passenger and goods services. We used to go up Hawthorn Road, under the railway bridge and turn right to where the goods marshalling yard was. If you were lucky you might find an assembled collection of wagons waiting for a locomotive to come to take them, and be able to climb into the Guards Van for a look round. This was the area known as 'The Strappers', along a path that followed the Magnum factory and which was the shortest way to Clock Face Colliery. It was at the top of this, just short of Gorsey lane, and behind the Almond brothers farm house that Gil Bond lived in a very large house called Abbotsfield. He was born in Haydock in 1885, before moving to Fingerpost around 1900, and eventually opening a Newsagents / Confectioners shop next door to the Parr Pavilion (Parr Dog) Cinema on the corner of Jackson and Traverse Streets. This premises however served to cover for his large, well managed 'illegal' bookmaking business which he continued to operate until betting became legal in 1961.

Gil Bond's betting operation was big by any standards for a provincial town like St Helens, but even though it was illegal, and racing had many 'dodgy' characters, he had a very good reputation. My Father used to say he was a very 'ethical' bookie, as he always honoured his losses, paid on time at the nominated odds, and he also paid the fines for his 'runners', who were all over the town districts, when they got caught by the police. He was also very generous to local charity causes, and extensively supported sporting local activities especially rugby teams, founding the well known UNO's Dab's team with his brother (the name coming from the brother's football coupon alias).

Three photographs of bookmaker and bodybuilder Gil Bond of Abbotsfield House - contributed by Harry Hickson

Pictures of bookmaker and bodybuilder Gil Bond of Abbotsfield House

Bookmaker and bodybuilder Gil Bond

More publicly, he was quite well known and highly regarded in the world of bodybuilding, having won a number of prizes in various competitions, as well as writing articles on Nutrition and a Healthy Diet, in the leading magazine of the time, Health and Strength. My brother was interested in bodybuilding in the late 1940s, and he had been told by a friend that he should have a talk with Gil Bond who could help him in all aspects of the subject. He asked me to go with him, and we walked up the Strappers to the house where Gil Bond invited us into a large kitchen, sitting around this very large table. His married daughter with her family lived with him, and she made us all a pot of tea. My observations of him were that he looked and talked in a worldly manner, he had a good sense of humour, very friendly, and asked me about school, sports etc., so overall I had a good impression of him.

He talked to my brother for well over an hour on different aspects of bodybuilding, and he was impressed with his knowledge as well as his advice. Before leaving he gave him three photographs showing himself posing in his garden, which pictured him alongside a small table on which was a small silver cup. This he said was the cup he won for coming 3rd in the 'Mr' Great Britain bodybuilding competition for the Masters Class (Seniors category over 60 age), the year before, which would have been when he was aged 63.

I was certainly very surprised when I saw the photographs, because meeting him for the first time in his clothes, he didn't present as a bodybuilder with the very good physique that he had, maybe it was his aged presentation, and a schoolboy with a lot to learn. My brother pointed out to me what he called the classic 'Bulldog' pose in the frontal photograph. "Can you see the bulldog face in his chest and stomach muscles?", he asked, and looking at it you can. My brother said that his good physique was developed totally on the basic natural techniques of the day, rather than the later repetitious use of weights and high protein supplements. These included the Dynamic Tension techniques of Charles Atlas a famous American body builder, popular in the late 1930s, the use of wooden clubs (varying sizes / weight), which were swung in both hands to various arc patterns depending which muscle area you wanted to develop. The only weights as such that he used was the dumbbell to develop his biceps and upper back muscles, and his equipment was stored in a fairly large outbuilding that served as a gym in bad weather.

Another Sutton body builder after the war, was Don Fernley who lived in Oxley Street off Waterdale Crescent, and he represented the new breed of body builders that adopted the methods being developed in America described above. In 1950, Don won the prestigious Junior Mr Britain contest competition in London when he was 18, and for a period trained with my brother at the gym set up under the Priests Dormitory at St Annes Monastery, this being a strange combination of weights clanging below, and priests praying above.

Every district of Sutton had its own respected doctor, and reference has been previously made to those in Sutton itself. Sutton Leach and surrounds had Dr John Unsworth, whose surgery was attached to his large house in Leach Lane (now a Vet). He was considered a very good Doctor and liked by young and old. One of his characteristics when he came to see me, perhaps in bed with Influenza, was to completely ignore me as he came into the bedroom. He would then walk over to the window and talk about the view with my mother for about three to four minutes. He did it every time he came, over a number of years, so you could say it was part of his bedside manner. Sadly he died relatively young (about 60, I think) and the lovely Irish Dr Rory O'Donnell took over the practice.

Mill Lane by the Wheatsheaf Hotel which still floods to this day - contributed by Harry Hickson

Mill Lane by the Wheatsheaf Hotel in Sutton which still floods to this day

Mill Lane by the Wheatsheaf Hotel

Mining, of course, played a big part in Sutton life, but one negative aspect of it was the increased subsidence that came with the introduction of Long Wall mining. I have already mentioned the demise of Mill Lodge through this, but equally there were other houses in Mill Lane, Leach Lane and the Wheatsheaf hotel where floors were on queer angles. All of the houses shown here in Mill Lane were heavily subjected to mine subsidence and were progressively demolished. In Mr Smith's house (no. 4, the last one on the left), you literally ran in as you entered the front room, the slope being that great. The first house on the left was Mr and Mrs Newnham's (no. 16), whose daughter taught at Robins Lane Secondary Modern Girls School and is shown in the staff photo on the education page. The next house was Yarwoods and the third house from the left was William Johnson's house, the mayor of St Helens in 1967.

There always was some flooding after continual rain at the Wheatsheaf area, but this got considerably worse as subsidence dropped the bank levels along the brook and greater volumes of water resulted. On a number of occasions, the Council had to erect a series of planked walkways for people to pass down Mill Lane opposite the Wheatsheaf, whose cellars would be flooded. The photo above shows the area that flooded, where the planks were, with most of the houses shown having subsidence damage to varying degrees. With big floods the water level would be above the coping stones on top of the bridge and there would be corresponding high levels at St Anne's Reservoir.

On the left hand side of the picture you can just make out a wooden gate which was the entrance to Cherwell House (which was known as Brooklands in the 1800s), a large detached house that stood on a hill in large grounds. It was here that the quite famous (certainly in St Helens), Rebecca Riddell, or 'Becky' as she was known locally, lived and who was, I believe, an outstanding singer who performed many lead roles at the Theatre Royal in shows from Gilbert and Sullivan etc. She was married to a Mr Jenkinson who was the Science Master at Newton Grammar School. The brook in the photo after it had run under Mill Lane, fed into the 'Bottom Dam' and over the years whilst in flood had deposited quite a bit of silt along the edge of the Jenkinson garden's boundary rail / fence. This was to the extent that it had formed an island about 20 yards long and 8 yards wide. With the 'canoe' type boats mentioned previously, you could more safely get into them off the island, than from the wooden decking of the Pump House that was in deep water halfway round the dam.

To get to the island however you had to first climb over the bridge, and then walk along the stone wall that supported the iron railing around Jenks's boundary for about 20 yards, before finally jumping down onto the island. In the lovely summer nights, Becky Riddell would invite her theatrical friends and they would sit on the lawn drinking and singing etc. To see schoolboys negotiating this passage to the island was just too much for her (she thought we were spying on her, I think), and she would come across with her husband and hit our hands with a strap as we held on to the railing. The dam in the centre of its length was about 50 yards wide and it curved round the back of houses in Belvedere Avenue before discharging itself down a waterfall and then it travelled under the railway line into the smaller Gerrards Lane dam, followed by the Monastery Dam.
The above photograph was taken in the late 1950s and looks towards the rear of the houses in Leach Lane. The end house of the large semi-detached pair on the left being no. 98 Leach Lane. Also on the left can be seen the brick air raid shelter built during WW2 and which is still standing today. Flooding has made the brook much wider than its natural width, which we used to croddy over as lads. All the land to the right of the shelter was that under cultivation by local residents during the war. The boys on the far bank are in the approximate area of a farm house with its barn that was shown on an 1840 Tithe map. Then it was owned by an Edward James Pemberton and occupied by William Gee. The farm had an access track from Mill Lane next to the present-day Wheatsheaf Hotel, and another that ran up to Leach Lane at about the 5th house from the left. The 1929 photo in the Sutton Shops page shows Mrs Wells popular sweet shop, which is the same building. In the 1940s all this was gone, but we could still see remnants of the building's foundations.
This second picture was taken at the same time looking towards Mill Lane with the Wheatsheaf Hotel on the right. The 1840 map shows the original brook curving towards the present-day houses on the left. Although the land was always lower, we could still walk to Mill Lane on that side. The expanse of flooding shown was due to additional subsidence in the 1950s and the Council carried out considerable filling to the far bank alongside the Wheatsheaf bowling green fence. The bowling green was a much later feature for the hotel being built after the war, and the original fence was much lower allowing you to see the bowling. The house prior to the end on the left is no 87 Mill Lane, and was occupied in the 1940s by Mr and Mrs Travers, who are shown in the New Street Vicarage photo in the 'Can You Help?' section. I cannot put a name to the lad in the boat, but certainly the view in both photographs can no longer be seen due to the significant growth all along the brook from the 'Wash' to Mill Lane, no doubt aided by its cultivation history.

So life for the young lads and girls of Sutton in the 40's / 50's was pretty good. I certainly enjoyed it all, with just the one exception, but whilst many of those opportunities have long gone, some features are still around. However it's a different world today for children, sad to say most are missing out on the characters that were around, and who your way of life brought you into contact with. What more could you ask for than a whole day's adventure, sustained by a bottle of water, and a 'Jam Butty'?
HARRY HICKSON,  Sydney, Australia  hicksons@iinet.com.au
Also see Harry Hickson’s articles School Memories from the '40s & '50s and My St.Nicholas Choir Days
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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