We shifted coal in my dollies’ pram!

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Your story in Nostalgia by Anthony Buckless, who moved house in 1947 by sack cart (“Moving story of Ernie’s sack cart”, September 3), brought back memories of our move in early 1951.

I was born in 1941 and spent my early years at Scar Top, Upper Greetland, in a one up, one down cottage between Turbury Lane and the Sportsman pub with my brother and sister.

We had no electricity, just gas mantles for lighting. There was a tap with cold water – no sink, so every drop of waste water was put into a long row of buckets and carried outside to be poured down the drain.

Cooking and hot water came from an old, black-leaded fireplace with an oven at one side and a boiler at the other. Baths were taken in front of the fire in an old tin bath.

The toilet was outside, shared by all the residents on the row with newspaper on a nail behind the door. The loo consisted of a wooden ledge which stretched from one wall to the other with two holes cut into it, covered by large wooden lids.

Underneath was a large tin tub which was emptied every week when the muck wagon came round. You can imagine the lovely aroma from that area in the summer!

In early 1951 my parents were offered one of the new council houses being built lower down Greetland by the school. Mother was not too keen as she was hoping to go back to Elland, where she had been brought up and my grandparents were, but Father wanted to stay in Greetland so the house was accepted.

The idea of having hot, running water, electricity and a bathroom with not only a bath but also a flush toilet and separate bedrooms was almost like a dream.

At that time I had a doll’s pram, a proper pram with four wheels and a hood to keep my dollies dry; it was a smaller version of prams used at that time for babies. It was royal blue and my pride and joy.

There being no central heating and only coal fires at that time our coal ‘ole was always kept well topped up so – yes, you’ve guessed it – my brother, who was two years older than me, and I loaded up the pram and made journey after journey running down the hill to School Street to transport this very special commodity and tip our load into our new coal ‘ole’.

We ended up black as sweeps and took it in turns to ride back up the hill in the empty pram. Not a scrap was left at Scar Top as the coal ‘ole was swept clean and the dust all went into the pram with the final load. The pram was never the same again with buckled wheels and blackened interior and I don’t remember using it for my dollies ever again.

However I don’t remember the actual move because I wasn’t there. A week or so before the big day I woke up covered from head to toe in a bright red rash.

My mother took me down to West Vale to see Dr Greenwood, who had his surgery in the front room of someone’s house opposite the civic hall. There was no receptionist and the waiting room was a row of chairs placed along the back wall of the long passage leading from the front door to the back of the house.

When it was our turn Dr Greenwood took one look at me and immediately diagnosed scarlet fever, which is extremely contagious, although quite rare nowadays and easily treated with antibiotics.

He told my mother to take me to the far end of the waiting room, as far away from the other patients as possible, and rang for an ambulance to take me to Northowram Isolation Hospital. I wasn’t allowed to leave the building to go home and my mother had no way of letting my father know what was happening as no one had a telephone.

Once all the patients had been seen Dr Greenwood left us sitting there and went off home for his tea so we patiently waited on our own until the ambulance arrived.

I was admitted to the isolation hospital and put on to a ward with several what I assumed were old ladies but were probably only in their 20s or 30s. To a very young, naive and extremely frightened young girl just coming up to her 10th birthday anyone over the age of 20 was considered old!

Never having been away from home or my parents before you can imagine how scared I was. But being the only child there everyone made a great fuss over me, which was something that, being one of three, I wasn’t used to.

In those days most of the patients at Northowram were suffering from TB, which was rife then and extremely infectious, so everyone was isolated to try to contain the disease. Anything that came in or went out of the hospital was fumigated and no visitors were allowed.

I was there for several weeks and didn’t see any member of my family in all that time, although my mother did write to me.

However, an auntie of mine went on holiday to the seaside while I was there and sent me a parcel containing some rock, sweets and chocolate. This was brought to me on the ward – after being fumigated, of course – and I was shown the contents, which were then shared out among all the patients on the ward.

I can still remember how miffed I felt at seeing my precious goodies being given away in front of me – bearing in mind that we had only just seen the back of rationing and sweets had been like gold.

One of the ward orderlies had a party piece which he performed for us every day. He used to run the length of the ward leap-frogging over the bottom of each bed as he went.

We all sat and watched wide eyed, praying for him to trip over and fall flat on his face but unfortunately it never happened. It was the highlight of our day but, of course, it was only done when matron wasn’t around.

Can you imagine such horseplay in this day and age, and especially in such a strict medical environment? The health and safety brigade would have had a field day!

My brother and sister weren’t allowed to go to school during the whole of my stay in hospital in case they came out with the disease as it was considered so contagious. But neither of them caught it, even though my sister and I slept together in the same bed. Funnily enough nobody else at school caught the disease nor did any of the children we played with.

My siblings thought it was absolutely brilliant to be given this extra time off school and my mother had to put up with them hanging around the house.

By the time I was allowed home the family had moved so I left Scar Top unexpectedly and arrived at School Street unexpectedly in the front seat of an ambulance with a very kindly driver asking me to point out to him which house I lived in.

I was completely disorientated as I had only previously visited the house from behind a pram piled high with coal but we eventually reached the right gatepost.

When the children came out of school at teatime I was quite a celebrity as not only had I been in hospital I had also ridden in the front seat of an ambulance!

I still live in Greetland, although the village has changed dramatically since I was a child, but I have no desire to live anywhere else. Maybe my little story will stir memories for other readers who spent time at Northowram Isolation Hospital in the 1950s.

Thank you, Anthony, for bringing back to mind these wonderful memories of my childhood. Happy, happy days weren’t they? The kids of today don’t know what they’ve missed.

l Joyce Simms lives at Wood Cottage, Sunnybank Drive, Greetland.

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