MEMORIES

My early years on Walney Island by 'the late' S. P. Bundy


In the early 1900s Walney Island was being developed rapidly to house the increasing workforce at the shipbuilding and armaments firm of Vickers. On our arrival at the end of 1913 my parents had to find lodgings until the house that had been allocated to them in Delhi Street was completed.  This was to be the last street to be built but when the Great War commenced in 1914 more and more employees were required by Vickers and more streets were built. My earliest memories were not of the Isle of Wight,  but whilst lodging in Lord Robert Street where I played with the neighbours’ boys and remember two events.  The first was a ride on a huge rocking horse and the second was when two of the boys lost my small toy yacht at the ferry landing stage on Walney Island.

On moving in to Delhi Street I began school at the age of 5 and attended Ocean Road 'Tin School' – a temporary corrugated iron building on the corner of a field in Mikasa Street.  This was the site of the Ocean Road Elementary School which opened in 1917.  The 'Tin School' was an infant school staffed by a headmistress by the name of Miss Dobson(?) and two class teachers Miss Nellie Campbell and Miss Perry(?).  The school was designed to house about 100 children.  Heating was by coal stoves and lighting was provided by oil lamps.  As far as I can remember there was one impressive picture on the wall of my classroom.  This was of ‘Nibbles’(???), a fair curly haired boy.  I can’t remember learning to read but have memories of slates and slate pencils and of one afternoon when my teacher Miss Campbell told the class to be ready to meet an important visitor.  From the classroom we could see a path through the grass from the road to the school and low and behold the important visitor turned out to be my sister Gladys who was due to start school in 1915! 

It was a happy school and many of the children were meeting for the first time as, like my family, their parents had recently arrived in Barrow from various parts of the country such as Glasgow, Newcastle and places in Ireland.  I received a letter recently from a former girl pupil who reminded me that we both started school on the same day and that she, myself and two other boys were destined to become head teachers; one of them eventually holding the headship of Ocean Road Junior School in the 1960s and 70s.

After two years my class moved to the former(?) church school (Michaelson Chapel School) at the bottom of Church Lane where I was taught by Miss Harland who later, in 1917, took over a wooden building in Biggar village to cater for the younger children of that area.  I was there for a year and was due to be transferred to Vickerstown School – a mile further along the Promenade.  Fortunately Ocean Road School was completed by this time and I made a new start in a new school; new teachers, a large playground, new heated classrooms with electric lights and a woodwork room in the basement.  The school had a Boys’ and a Girls’ Department under the headships of Mr Lawton and Miss Freeman. Conditions in the new school were very good and my class teacher Miss Emily ? , Miss ? , Miss Geldard and Miss ?, under the eagle eye of the headmaster Mr. J. W. Lawton made my Junior School days happy and interesting.  In 1921 I sat and passed the scholarship examination for the Municipal Secondary School for Boys and began my secondary education in September 1921.As a reward for passing the examination my mother’s sister, Aunt Rose, sent the railway fare and I spent the Summer holiday in the Isle of Wight decked out in my new school blazer and cap.   

Childhood on Walney Island was a happy time in spite of the rigours of wartime 1914 -18 and the depression from 1919 onwards – a period when the majority of Vickers manual workers were “on the dole”.  I rarely left the island except for a trip to Barrow with my parents, usually with the pram carrying Nell (born1914) or Fred (born1916).  The whole family, dressed in our 'Sunday clothes' went out together.  Once we thought we had lost Jack but he was riding on a bar underneath the pram.  On another occasion I was punished because I had gone across the bridge on my own and my parents had been anxiously looking for me.  Our visits were to Barrow outdoor and indoor markets where food was cheaper than at the Co-op.  The atmosphere created by salesmen shouting their wares, the pet section, and the roundabouts and swings was exciting to us children.

If the weather was fine we sometimes went to Barrow Public Park where we strolled round or listened to a band on the bandstand.  I remember an outing to Furness Abbey, attired in my white sailor suit and of Sunday School trips by steam train to Kirby, Lindal or Haverthwaite where we had races and were regaled with a bag of buns and cakes and a cup of tea!!  The Sunday School teachers hired the train and arranged to take us and bring us back again, usually to and from Barrow Island railway station as this was a shorter walk for us from Walney.

After school hours, at the weekends, during school holidays, most of our games were carried out in our own or neighbouring streets or at Biggar Bank and West Shore.  These were team games and girls of all ages such as 'tin can nerky', 'tig', 'guinea' – with a stick and a pointed wooden guinea about the size of a cricket ball, skipping rope games, high cock alarum (where teams of 7 or 8 formed a ‘horse’ and the opposing team vaulting onto the ‘horse’ - if the horse broke down ‘need(?) horse’ was shouted and the teams changed roles), and a ‘wide game’ called ‘leooy’(?) which took two teams further afield.

Games involving one or two people followed each other in season.  Whip and top, booly bowling with a wooden or iron hoop and a stick, marbles, cigarette card flicking.  Football was not very popular in our area until the farmer’s fields in Amphitrite Street were sold as a building site.  The lanes and fields between Amphitrite Street and Biggar Bank provided interesting place for walks, bird nesting, frogs, blossom and blackberry picking.  I went to hear a corncrake in the fields next to Delhi Street.  Conservation was not a consideration in those days.  Bird egg collections were not frowned upon and wild flower competitions at church fetes were quite common.

In the summer holidays things were different.  Biggar Bank and West Shore were popular venues and on bank holidays the trams brought hundreds of town dwellers where they put up tents, picnicked and bathed.  The ‘Walneyites’ spent a lot of time on the sea shore and tide line.  The older ones dug bait – sand worms – and set lines of fish hooks to hopefully catch fluke and codfish.  Winkles were collected and taken home to be boiled.  Winkle parties were held in back yards where the winkles were winkled out of their shells by means of a long pin.  A song was written by Wynne Large which extolled the delights of winkle picking -  “I’ve been looking for winkles on Walney”.  Beach games were very popular and, of them, Leap Frog, French Cricket and Duck Stones stand out in my memory.

The tide line was scoured in the search for any unusual or interesting object thrown overboard.  There was one very exciting occasion when a boat carrying potatoes came ashore near Thorny Nook.  People were allowed to take the cargo in the hope that it could be re-floated.  Hordes descended on the wreck with every conceivable conveyance.  The wreck didn’t re-float and after partial demolition the hull was left lying on its side and for some time was used as a swimming pool which was refilled at each high tide.

Childhood memories seem to come back in snatches.  Reading a letter in the North Western Evening Mail triggered one such memory.  The writer remembered that in the 1920s his father made a box wheelbarrow to collect horse manure ‘dropped’ in the street.  This was known as ‘coddimuck’.  We had such a box on wheels and my brother and I collected ‘coddy’.  The horses drew the carts which brought goods to the door, e.g.. Laundry van, milk float, coal cart, dust bin cart, ice cream cart and so on.  This ‘collection’ was needed to fertilise the allotment which was quite large as my father had a double allotment and a single one on the field off Ocean Road.  He also collected seaweed in the autumn for the same purpose and of course used the droppings from the hen house.  Grit for the hen run, shells and stones, were collected from the shore and wood from the tide line, which was used to stoke the fire and if large enough to make fences etc. for the garden.  Wood of good quality was also saved as my father made wooden Christmas toys in the early winter evenings.

At this time most of the children on our end of the island attended Sunday School in the 'Tin School' run by members of the Gospel Hall.  They were very kind and generous and gave a sound knowledge of the New Testament.  Fact cards, small coloured text cards were given to us.  We were expected to learn the text for the next Sunday.  A weekly attendance register was kept and prizes (usually a Holy Bible) were presented each year.  I attended this Sunday School on Sunday mornings and went to St Mary’s Anglican Church with my mother on Sunday evenings, eventually joining the choir when I was 11 or 12.

Our other leisure activities were reading; Children’s Newspaper, books and homework.  We hadn’t a wireless set or a gramophone.  My father played the mouth organ and tin whistle and my mother the mandolin but no attempt was made to pass these skills on to us children.  My friends all lived nearby.  We played in each other’s back yards but only went into each other’s homes for such occasions as birthday parties.  My best friend at that time was Harry Granville and many years later I was the best man at his wedding and he at mine.


Note: The above is a duplicate of a handwritten account by Mr. S. P. Bundy who many locally will remember as having been a headmaster at St Paul’s School for many years, a member of St Paul’s church, one time District Commissioner for Scouts and in his earlier years a leading member of Walney Amateur Operatic Society, who passed aged 92 in June of 2001.  The account was found after his death on various scraps of paper and clearly incomplete.  Surprisingly for one who normally had very neat handwriting much of it was difficult to decipher and some words, particularly names, impossible.  I think that you will agree that it does shed an interesting light on life on Walney in the early years of the 20th century.      

 

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