Forget-me-nots: A Shropshire Lass
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.