By­gone hol­i­days

Some old fam­ily pho­to­graphs cap­ture Alan Crosby’s ancestors en­joy­ing a rare hol­i­day in North Wales

Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine - - ON THE RECORD -

Iwas look­ing at some old fam­ily pho­tos the other day – tiny black and white ones, no more than an inch and a half square, typ­i­cal of hol­i­day snaps from the 1920s and ’30s. We’ve dozens of them, mostly un­la­belled, and among them are some of my mum and her brother and sis­ter on a beach with sand dunes, in about 1933 or 1934. I re­mem­bered sto­ries which mum told me many years ago about that hol­i­day.

They lived in in­ner-city Manch­ester, and were poor though cer­tainly not the poor­est ( grandad drove a horse­drawn bread van for the Co-op). They and their cousins were a close-knit ex­tended fam­ily: my grand­fa­ther’s sis­ter, Kitty, mar­ried my grand­mother’s brother, Wal­ter, so some of the cousins were re­lated to them twice over. Un­cle Wal­ter and Aun­tie Kitty had a mo­tor­bike and side­car – he was a painter and dec­o­ra­tor and used them to carry his tools and equip­ment around the place. This was long be­fore any­body could ever imag­ine own­ing a car – they were very rare in that part of Manch­ester, and even in the ’60s (when we used to visit) cars were pretty scarce.

Back to those hol­i­day snaps. Un­like many Manch­ester fam­i­lies, mine did not go to Black­pool: the pho­tos were taken at Rhyl in North Wales. They had a cou­ple of short hol­i­days there and Mum re­called that they had ac­tu­ally stayed at Kin­mel Bay, just over the River Cl­wyd from Rhyl it­self. Whether they were in a guest­house or in one of the wooden shacks and old rail­way car­riages which lined the shore I don’t know... by the end of the 1930s the area had be­come a no­to­ri­ous coastal slum, with un­made roads, no build­ing con­trols, and no proper sew­er­age sys­tems. But it was cheap and had golden sands – and that was all that counted.

Mum looks ec­static, grin­ning widely, her checked skirt tucked in­side her vo­lu­mi­nous draw­ers... she’d be about seven years old and I think she’d just been pad­dling. Noth­ing more than that – she hated swim­ming and go­ing deeper into the wa­ter. They had don­key rides and ice cream and loved be­ing away from the city for a few days, a blessed change from the noise, dirt and smoke.

She re­called how they got there. Un­cle Wal­ter’s mo­tor­bike and side­car was pressed into use. One of the adults took the train from Manch­ester to Rhyl, while Un­cle Wal­ter stuffed chil­dren in the side­car (no seat­belts!), perched some­one pre­car­i­ously on the pil­lion, and roared through 70 bumpy miles via leafy Cheshire and along the North Wales coast road to Rhyl, where he dropped them off with the grown-up who had al­ready ar­rived. He then went all the way back to Manch­ester, picked up more rel­a­tives, and re­turned once more to Rhyl. Much cheaper than pay­ing train fares for them all (at least four adults and five or more chil­dren).

When home time came, the same travel pro­ce­dure was fol­lowed in re­v­erse. No mo­tor­ways or dual car­riage­ways, no smooth road sur­faces, not a com­fort­able ride, but Un­cle Wal­ter was a level-headed man, not a tear­away, so as long as they sat still the chil­dren were fine (I never found out what hap­pened if it rained – per­haps they had one of those can­vas hoods for the side­car, but Un­cle Wal­ter would have been soaked to the skin).

Who had the camera, I won­der? Not my grand­par­ents – as far as I know, they never owned one even in later years. So I imag­ine Un­cle Wal­ter again – cer­tainly one of the fam­ily, for they don’t ap­pear to have gone to a stu­dio and these lit­tle pic­tures are am­a­teur­ish out­door shots. Happy days for them… the in­no­cent en­joy­ment of the sea­side, the ex­cite­ment of the jour­ney, the adults be­ing away from work for a few days, the chil­dren lib­er­ated from in­ner city life. Happy days for me, tinged with poignancy, to look at my mum 80 years or more ago.

They had don­key rides and ice cream and loved be­ing away from the city for a few days

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