A Bradford Childhood 1944-1955 – Part 3

Our move from Thornbury to Eccleshill inevitably involved enrolment at a new school:

Wellington Road Junior School was about a mile away from where we lived, and I walked there and back, lunchtimes included, every school day until I was eleven.
It was stone built with slate roofs and mullioned windows, some of them gothic in shape and set high in the walls. There was a bell tower near the head teacher’s office and this had an inscription in the stone that indicated it was an original Board School built in 1880.

I had several teachers in the earlier part of my stay there, but for my last two years leading up to the 11 plus I was very much under the permanent influence of Miss Davis, probably the most senior teacher in the school other than the head. She was highly respected, strict, methodical, skilled and sensible.

She was probably in her fifties when I knew her. She was of average height, quite slim, had a longish face and wore her greying hair swept into a bun at the back of her head. Like my mother, she put on a little make up and powder. Everything about her was sensible and controlled. She wore long, sensible woollen or worsted skirts, often some kind of herringbone or plaid, and a smart woollen twin set or blouse and cardigan and low-heeled shoes. She occasionally chose to wear some simple jewellery: a brooch, or a modest string of pearls, but no rings.

She read to us a lot in the afternoons. She would let us engage in simple handicrafts while she read, the boys often crocheting long chains of wool via the holes in old cotton bobbins. One afternoon she involuntarily revealed the softer side of herself when reading a sad passage from ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’:

We were all listening and knitting or crocheting when we suddenly realised the narrative had stopped. When we looked up we saw that Miss Davis was attempting to say the words, but no sound was coming out, and that tears were streaming down her face. Eventually she stopped attempting to read and began to sob, her shoulders heaving and her face beginning to contort. Two girls stood up and walked down the stepped aisle and made awkward attempts to comfort her. The rest of us looked on in stunned silence.

She recovered and eventually carried on reading, but the incident always stayed in my mind and often in later years made me think about the power of art and the mysteries of the human soul.

My father was determined I should go to grammar school but some of the coaching he organised for me at home didn’t always bring happy results:

One evening I became so upset and frustrated, I threw the pen down on my exercise book and swore, saying I would never do any more, ever. The action produced an explosion of ink from the pen resulting in a huge blue-black arc on the wallpaper of the adjacent wall complete with drips and runs flowing downwards from the ceiling to the skirting board. There was silence apart from my mother’s tears, and then she attacked my father verbally and I was forgotten in the midst of their bickering.

By the time of the examination itself I had IQ tests coming out of my ears and I had more or less forgotten it was even going to happen:

There was no warning given before the day that we were to begin our 11+ examinations. I remember walking, as usual, along the Harrogate Road to school on a blustery spring morning happily fascinated by straining trees, glinting puddles and ragged crows flung about in the sky, unaware something serious was about to happen. Only when required to file through long rows of quiet, sombre desks that had appeared overnight in the main hall outside our classroom did I realise that the long anticipated day had arrived. Miss Davis took the register and had a few discreet words about it being the first day of the dreaded 11+, how we should not be flustered by the event and should approach the whole thing with confidence. We entered the hall, took our places where our names were written on a card on a desk, together with a number, and then, when prompted, began to read the instructions, fill in our individual details, and answer the questions.

Taking the 11 plus was the last significant thing I did in Bradford. After that, we moved across the Pennines to Cheshire and my Yorkshire citizenship was ended. Except that it wasn’t, of course, because it never leaves you no matter where you go or how old you become. Yorkshire remains my spiritual home even though I am no longer a resident. My childhood experience in Bradford was enormously important to me and I suppose that is why I felt impelled to write about it. I was just turned seventy when I started to write and I didn’t want to lose the memory and, more importantly, I wanted to share it with my children and anybody else who might be interested to read it.

If you take the whole piece out to read, I hope you enjoy it and that it might either remind you of your own early life or give a reasonably accurate account of life as it was lived by a little boy in Bradford immediately after the Second World War.

Bob Nichol

Bob Nichol


A Bradford Childhood Part 2 – 1944-1955

As a family we were what would be called these days “upwardly mobile” and our move from Thornbury to Eccleshill was a modest first step up the social scale:

 When I was about eight, we moved to our new home in a sunnier, less tightly packed part of Bradford where we were more likely to play in each other’s gardens than on the local wasteland and back streets as we did at our previous address. It soon became apparent, however, that there were several forbidden places of excitement close by and I began to explore them eagerly with my new friends.

One of my early adventures involved being in a group of boys that climbed up a nearby fire escape running down the side of a local mill:

We set foot on this first metal rung and began to climb. The first few steps were easy but, as you could see straight down to the ground through the open mesh of the steps and, as the railings were also quite open and apparently fragile, the climb became more challenging with every step upwards as the ground below grew increasingly distant. We got about two thirds of the way up and were just beginning to appreciate the view over the nearby roofs and chimneys when we noticed the whole structure began to wobble. We stopped and discussed the issue, but decided to carry on and see if we could make out the roof of the Ring O’ Bells pub from the top. Then we heard a voice from way below:

‘Oi! What do you think you’re doing? Get down here now!’

Our lives became less parochial after my father bought a car:

It was about this time we started to travel out to the Dales and other parts of Yorkshire almost every weekend in our second hand black Morris Eight saloon. It was very small, but it had real leather seats and a curtain to pull down over the rear window. Mum and dad sat at the front and Pauline and I sat in the back.

I think the windscreen wipers may have been hand operated and it had to be started with a crank handle. It had black painted wire wheels and chrome plated round hubcaps with a large ‘M’ pressed into them. We all absolutely loved it. The registration plate announced we were DNW613, but we, like so many other aspiring lower middle class families of the time, gave her our own name. We decided, for reasons that now completely escape me, to call her ‘Flossie’. It was my father’s pride and joy and we were all required to put on our best clothes to take a trip in her. My mother would wear her grey suit and my father his grey flannels and the green Harris Tweed jacket with leather buttons and elbow pads that he kept for weekends. The car had two doors, narrow running boards and a spare wheel attached at the back over the small boot. My father often smoked his pipe when driving, which, combined with the smell of waxy shoe polish from my shoes, made me feel quite sick. He had special leather driving gloves with string backs and he almost always wore his flat cap. There was no radio and no heating.


Our journeys and holidays at that time still provide me with many of my better memories:

I still miss the grass, the moors, the large skies, the limestone, the becks and brown rivers, the hills, the cry of the curlew, the bleat of the lambs, the waterfalls, the wild places, and the villages of the Dales. When I was a child I saw in Grassington a farrier shoe a carthorse and, in Reeth, a wheelwright put together an entire cartwheel, hub, spokes, metal tyre and all. I saw farmers cutting wheat with simple farm machinery and making stooks from the sheaves in the fields.

If it rained all day, we drank coffee in the car from my mother’s flask and nibbled ginger biscuits; if it was warm and sunny my sister and I would scramble up the sides of the nearest hill and look down on the tiny figures of our parents sitting by the car in their little picnic chairs, reading the paper or drinking tea. We collected stones, twigs, sheep’s wool, broken birds’ eggs, and cast-off feathers. We picked bilberries by my father’s hatful and took them home for my mother to bake in a pie. It was all very simple, very innocent, and we loved it.


I expect all of us of a certain age remember the year of the coronation:

We had been in our new house perhaps a year when preparations for the queen’s coronation began. It was a more innocent age and everybody seemed keen to participate in the occasion as well as be an onlooker. I can’t remember much deviation from our normal lessons at school, but at home there was quite a lot of excitement and activity. All the residents did something to decorate their house. In our case, where others in the street were satisfied with bunting, my father erected in the centre of the front garden a white flagpole planted firmly in the lawn and supported by guy ropes attached to huge metal tent pegs. It reached beyond the top of the roof. For the week before the coronation, he ran the union flag up the pole every morning before leaving for work and took it down again in the early evening. At each event anybody in close proximity was expected to line up to attention on the path by the side of it (there were usually half a dozen kids, or so, and a sprinkling of adults) and salute whilst singing the national anthem at the same time. I think we may have had a special ceremony during the day when the news of the conquest of Mount Everest came through immediately before the big day on 2nd June 1953. There was not the faintest hint of irony in any of this.

When the Queen came to Bradford some time after her coronation, dozens of us went to see her as she was driven down Pullen Avenue to the roundabout by The Ring O’Bells and on into the Harrogate Road and beyond.

Ring o Bells Harrogate Rd, Eccleshill

The Queen’s car slowed to less than walking pace as it came close. There was a soft light within the car that caught the glimmer of her youth, the richness of her dress and the brightness of her jewels. She looked utterly beautiful; she was like a film star; glamorous and self-confident, important and revered. She passed slowly, smiling and waving, then, towards the tail end of the crowd, the chauffer kicked onto the accelerator and she was silently swept away at speed into the vastness of the Yorkshire night.

Last time I wrote about a few memories I didn’t put in my memoir and I said I’d try to think of a few more.

Does anybody remember when Leeds, Bradford Airport was simply called Yeadon Aerodrome? I remember watching De Havilland Dragon Rapides take off and land from there many times.

Perhaps you were there at the air display my family and I attended when a jet flew very low along the whole length of the runway at the same time as breaking the sound barrier, crowds of spectators being only yards away either side of it!! How’s that for Health and Safety!! I can still recreate the resulting BANG inside my head!! The jet later climbed almost vertically into the sky and disappeared into the clouds. This makes me think it was probably a prototype English Electric Lightning, but I can’t be sure.

Another memory is of walking one summer evening with my father and looking over the top of a high wall into the premises of the Jowett Motor Car Works.

Jowett Motor Manufacturer.jpg

I think they may already have been experiencing difficulties because my father said something about it and I could also see for myself nothing but rows and rows of (presumably) unsold Javelins and Jupiters filling the whole of the car park outside their factory.

Do you remember the Jowett Javelin, often referred to as the doctor’s car as it was steady and reliable and slightly upmarket? I saw quite a few out and about in Bradford when I lived there.

Jowett Javelin advertisement c1950

Next time I’ll tell you about my junior school and the teacher who prepared me for the 11+.


Bob Nichol




A Bradford Childhood 1944-1955

About three years ago I decided to write a family history and made a valiant effort to fit the pieces together for my children; but, as time went on, I found I was increasingly inserting my own memories and the whole thing was beginning to take the shape of a memoir instead.

I discovered a need to place myself in the centre of the writing because some kind of half understood force was requiring me to write in a particular way about my own memories; but I was still able to use the documentary information I possessed to provide a historical context. It is as accurate an account as I can deliver. It should give a reasonable idea of what times were like for a small boy in Bradford just after the war and, although personal to me, might very well arouse complementary memories in those of my own generation who lived in Bradford as children at more or less the same time. If it has any historical value at all, it may even be of interest to later generations who will have no memory of this time but may be interested in exploring the flavour of those days which, although possibly dominated by drab austerity for adults were, in fact, for ‘us kids’, times of joy, adventure, colour, excitement, exploration, emotional richness and hope.

I was born in a nursing home somewhere in Bradford Moor in early 1944 and spent the first seven or eight years of my life with my parents and, later, my younger sister, in a terraced house on Evelyn Avenue in Thornbury. Some of my earliest memories are my clearest. This is one of the ways I remember my mother:

She was a talented singer who had been encouraged by her schoolteachers to enter competitions and to join the children’s pantomime chorus run by the local impresario Francis Laidler. For several seasons she had been a ‘Sunbeam’ at the Alhambra Theatre in Bradford and had sung and danced in front of capacity audiences; but now she sat alone, beside me, her hands smelling faintly of chopped vegetables, singing softly, as I lay in my little bed, half asleep, half awake, drifting towards oblivion.

 Lulla lulla lulla lulla bye bye
Does you want the stars to play with
Or the moon to run away with?
They’ll come if you don’t cry.

Lulla lulla lulla lulla bye bye
In your mammy’s arms be creepin’
And soon you’ll be a-sleeping
Lulla lulla lulla lulla bye.

Out towards Fagley Woods?

And my father, who I loved very much, but who could seem rather frightening at times:

After leaving school and beginning work in a textile company, my father had won a scholarship from the Bradford Chamber of Commerce that allowed him to travel in Germany for a few months. He won this opportunity because, after starting work, he had studied hard at night school to become fluent in the language, even though he had never been to Germany. By the time he returned, he was bi-lingual, which is why Army Intelligence later became interested in him when he ‘joined up’ just after the war started. He was drafted into field security, acting mainly as an interpreter helping to interrogate captured German officers, suspected Nazi collaborators and spies.


Life in the back streets was rich and varied. The alley at the back of our house saw a procession of colourful visitors over the years and was the main focus of our games and social lives. Here is one regular visitor I remember:

I was fascinated by the rag and bone man’s cry that pierced the air above the rumbling of his cart’s wooden wheels as it progressed over the stone and cinder surface of the alley. My friends and I sat on our garden wall in silence watching the grimy faced driver pass by clicking his tongue at his scrawny pony as it pushed against the creaking leather bindings between the shafts, its hooves clopping and slithering over the stones as it made its way to the end of the terrace. A stringy, mop-headed boy sat on the back of the cart staring at us from amongst the worn out army great coats, pots, pans and bits of old stove already collected. Occasionally, a pinafore-and-turban clad housewife would appear at her back garden gate and the boy would jump to the ground and collect an old washtub or bag of clothes to put with the other items on the cart in exchange for a couple of shillings or a few balloons.

Transport during my early boyhood didn’t involve a family car; that came a little later. I found Bradford’s public transport, especially the trams, a constant form of fascination and excitement:

Swaying tramcars, cream and brown, rattled on their iron rails along the main Leeds Road at the top of our street, clanging, rumbling and sparking beneath a dull yellow sky. They were intriguing, exciting, slightly frightening and wonderful fun to travel in. I was therefore sad to see one day workmen dig up the cobble bedded tram rails and replace them with smooth asphalt for the new, usurping trolley buses that immediately began to creep along the road on big fat rubber tyres, wheezing from stop to stop and swishing in the rain backwards and forwards between Bradford’s sooty outskirts and its monumental city centre.

Last day of trams on Church Bank July 23 1949

Last day of trams on Church Bank ©Bradford Libraries

The Saturday morning cinema matinee was an exciting source of information about other worlds (especially America) as well as tremendous entertainment:

With our two pennies entrance fee clutched in our hands we boarded the bus amidst shrieking and shouting and the clanging of studded boots on the stairs accompanied by the thump of fists against flesh as some kids settled quarrels on the way to their seats. We found somewhere to sit and rubbed the condensation off the windows to see out onto the black shiny-wet roads and the slate roofed sooty buildings. We passed shops and chapels, a garage, a long terrace of houses, dusty privet hedges, an old factory and several pubs. When we got to Stanningley we would all leave the bus in a continuous stream and join other lines of kids from other buses and make our way into the cinema. The whole place smelled of cleaning fluid, stale tobacco smoke, bubble-gum and farts.

I spent many long summer evenings caddying for my father on Phoenix Park Golf Course:

I liked it best when we got to the lower end of the course where the main railway line between Leeds and Bradford ran adjacent to one of the fairways. There was a level crossing near the tee-off and, when we got there, if I heard the clanging bell warning of a train’s approach, I would run to climb onto a wooden bar half way up the wobbling gate waiting, fascinated, looking for the first signs of the train down the line.

The little black dot would grow larger and larger and my excitement would mount on discovering it was an express. The smoke billowed out of the funnel; the steam driven thrusts of the piston and the wailing of the whistle drew closer and closer. Then, suddenly, with a soft woofing explosion of hot air, it was upon me and I could smell the oil and feel the heat of the fire from the cab as the engine roared past, screaming and rocking and rhythmically racing along the iron rails. I would lose myself in the enveloping noise, hanging grimly on to the gate, refusing to get down, my eyelids forming slits against the onslaught of sparks and soot, my hair blowing about my head and the slipstream tugging at my vibrating innards.

In my next blog entry I’ll say something about our move to Eccleshill, but to be going on with, I’ll share a few situations with you that I didn’t put in my memoir to see if any other memories are jogged. Some that we might all remember include:

Queuing along the inside of a magnificently decorated grotto at Brown Muffs (or was it Busby’s?) to see Santa Claus.

Busby's Main Store Manningham Lane 19541

©Bradford Libraries

Eating pie and peas in the high backed settles at ‘Pie Tom’s’ in the Kirkgate Market.

Kirgate entrance1

© Bradford Libraries


Sitting in the burgundy plush seats at the Alhambra waiting to see (amongst others) Norman Evans (over the garden wall) and Margery Manners (principal boy)……………. I remember very well seeing Wilfred Pickles play Buttons there with half a dozen or so live ponies on the stage. This means I almost certainly saw a young June Whitfield playing opposite him as Cinderella.

Anybody recognise any of this? I’ll try to think of a few more next time.

In the meantime, my memoir is on the library shelves, I believe, if you want to take a look.

Bob Nichol