For­get-me-nots: A Shropshire Lass

This England - - News - Lynne Hay­ward

Sunday was the best day of the week when I was grow­ing up in the 1950s. There was no school, just long hours of free­dom and the an­tic­i­pa­tion of a de­li­cious roast lunch and a proper sit-down tea.

The high­light, how­ever, was the weekly visit by my much-loved grand­fa­ther who would take me on a gen­tle am­ble around our home town of Bridg­north in Shropshire.

Grand­dad had pierc­ing blue eyes and a full head of snowy white hair, with the faded re­mains of a boy­hood scar on his cheek. This was caused by a glass mar­ble stop­per which ex­ploded out of a bot­tle of le­mon­ade af­ter a spot of over-en­thu­si­as­tic shak­ing. Need­less to say, Grand­dad never made that mis­take again.

We lived in a ter­race house on a steep slope lead­ing down to the rail­way sta­tion, and I used to bounce up and down on the back of an arm­chair placed in front of the win­dow wait­ing for Grand­dad to ap­pear. As soon as I spot­ted him, I would rush out and grab his hand tightly, full of an­tic­i­pa­tion.

Grand­dad and I would in­vari­ably head for the Cas­tle Gar­dens first of all and spend time ad­mir­ing the cas­tle ru­ins, imag­in­ing the peo­ple who used to live there in those far-off days. Bridg­north folk are very proud of the fact that the Nor­man tower leans at an an­gle of 15 de­grees — more than three times greater than that of the Lean­ing Tower of Pisa — fol­low­ing an at­tempt to blow it up dur­ing the Civil War.

We would then wan­der past the war memo­rial and its bronze fig­ure of a sol­dier, arm out­stretched in the act of throw­ing a grenade. I chat­tered on re­gard­less, but Grand­dad al­ways went a lit­tle quiet as he took time to read the names on the sides of the plinth. Was he re­call­ing the faces of those lost com­rades who never came home again? I was too young to un­der­stand the sig­nif­i­cance of the First World War and the sac­ri­fices of a lost gen­er­a­tion but oh how I wish I could talk to him now about his memories.

Af­ter a suit­able pause we would walk out through the far gates and on to the Cas­tle Walk with its sweep­ing out­look across the River Sev­ern. This was what Charles I de­scribed as “the finest view in all my king­dom” when he stayed in Bridg­north for three days shortly be­fore the bat­tle of Edge­hill in War­wick­shire in 1642.

How I loved pick­ing the white trum­pet­like flow­ers of the bindweed that grew in such pro­fu­sion at the base of the metal rail­ings, and then reach­ing out as far as I could to launch them spin­ning into the air. Para­chutes, we called them, and much time was spent see­ing who could send them the fur­thest. I in­vari­ably won although, look­ing back down the years, I don’t think Grand­dad was try­ing too hard.

More ex­cite­ment came at the end of Cas­tle Walk when we stopped to watch the com­ings and go­ings on the Cliff Rail­way. This is Eng­land’s old­est and steep­est in­land elec­tric fu­nic­u­lar rail­way, and for more than a cen­tury it has been trans­port­ing the peo­ple of Bridg­north up and down the 111ft sand­stone cliffs that sep­a­rate High Town from Low Town.

We al­ways saved the rail­way for the re­turn jour­ney and in­stead made our way down to Low Town via the Stoneway Steps, which we called the Don­key Steps. Grand­dad used to tell me tales of the

days when Bridg­north was a thriv­ing port, and horses and don­keys car­ried cargo up these shal­low steps from boats ar­riv­ing on the River Sev­ern.

Half­way down we passed the Stoneway Chapel which we chil­dren al­ways be­lieved to be haunted. I held Grand­dad’s hand very tightly at this point!

When we reached the bot­tom of the steps we headed across the river bridge and called in at the Bri­tish Le­gion Club where Grand­dad en­joyed a glass of shandy and treated me to a bot­tle of Vimto and a packet of crisps. No ready salted in those days, of course — you had to fish out a blue packet of salt, sprin­kle it over the crisps, and then shake the bag fu­ri­ously in a vain at­tempt to dis­perse it evenly through­out.

If Grand­dad got in­volved in con­ver­sa­tion with other for­mer ser­vice­men, I passed the time by blow­ing down my straw and mak­ing the Vimto bub­ble up like a vol­cano. Much gig­gling en­sued be­fore we set off again and re­traced our steps home.

The trip back up to High Town on the Cliff Rail­way was some­thing I looked for­ward to with an equal mix­ture of fear and de­light — fear that the car­riage would plunge back down to the bot­tom be­fore we could get off, and de­light at the breath­tak­ing view laid out be­fore us.

My six-year-old legs would be get­ting very tired at this point so it was with re­lief that we made our way along Water­loo Ter­race, with its row of en­tranc­ing shops, down List­ley Street and back into Rail­way Street where we lived.

The strains of Fam­ily Favourites on the ra­dio­gram would greet us as we walked in through the front door, cou­pled with the ap­petis­ing aroma of roast chicken and sage and onion stuff­ing, or roast beef and York­shire pud­ding.

There would be ap­ple pie and Bird’s cus­tard to fol­low, or per­haps sticky trea­cle tart ac­com­pa­nied by a can of Car­na­tion evap­o­rated milk.

Our fam­ily weren’t church­go­ers, but in the af­ter­noon my big sis­ter and I would head off to Sunday School where I de­lighted in my grow­ing col­lec­tion of stamps de­pict­ing Bible scenes. They were brightly coloured and adorned with much gold and sil­ver, and I took great plea­sure in stick­ing them into my at­ten­dance book. I kept that book for years, but it was lost when we sub­se­quently moved house.

Back home again and it was time for tea — ham salad with let­tuce from the gar­den, tinned salmon or fish paste sand­wiches, co­conut sponge cake (Grand­dad’s favourite) and, if we were re­ally lucky, a Tun­nock’s caramel wafer. My mouth is wa­ter­ing as I write!

We waved good­bye to Grand­dad and then it was the usual Sunday rit­ual of hair­wash­ing and bath­time in the kitchen. No bath­room or in­door WC for us, but back in the 1950s we never thought of our­selves as de­prived or poor. It was a good life with lots of love and at­ten­tion — and what child could pos­si­bly ask for more?

The Cas­tle Hill Rail­way, seen from Cas­tle Walk. An old ad­ver­tis­ing sign on a build­ing along­side the bridge.

The cas­tle ru­ins and tower of St. Mary’s Church.

Stoneway Steps. In days gone by, horses and don­keys car­ried cargo up these steps from boats on the River Sev­ern. Left: The view down Rail­way Street in the late 1950s/early 1960s. The child in the cen­tre is the au­thor out­side the fam­ily home.

Swans on the River Sev­ern.

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