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