Adventures of ‘navvy’ gang

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AS a teenager in the 1950s I lived with my family in what were known as the “navvy” houses in Queensbury, built to house the men who, in the 1880s, built the Halifax to Queensbury railway line.

The 90 navvy houses were situated off the Brighouse Denholme Gate Road, Queensbury, between Chapel Street and Foxhill Park. We lived in Great Street, alongside Northern Street, Railway Street and Oakley Street.

The older lads in the “navvies” were always my childhood heroes and one day five of them set off with a home- made bogey cart made from wood, with a set of pram wheels (which were as hard to get hold of as sparrow’s teeth) steered by a piece of rope tied on to the front axle.

They set off in an excited and jubilant mood, heading for Station Road down the side of the Victoria Hall. Station Road starts off with a gentle gradient but lower down is very steep. Bear in mind that there were five of them and the bogey cart had no brakes...

Three hours later three of the lads limped back home, each carrying bits of the cart. One was OK, another had his arm in a sling and the last had a cut head. The other two had been taken to casualty by a motorist who found them wrapped around a gas lamp part way down Station Road.

Sledging was another means of transport and the favourite track was on the “Roundy”, below the scout hut in a field leading down to Queensbury station.

The “Humpty Dumpty” was a straight and fast track with a fold in the field part way down, which launched our sledges into the air at great speed, needing great skill to avoid being thrown off.

The “Egg and Spoon” was a straight run with a nasty dipping bend which took a lot of skill to negotiate.

Thinking about it I might have got the names the wrong way around but, what the heck, after 56 years I’m surprised that I even remember the names.

What I do remember vividly is steering the sledges with your feet and the snow going up your trousers and into your wellies. On arriving home, Fiery Jack ointment on to the red-raw skin at the top of your legs made your eyes water but the next day we did it all again.

We mustn’t have felt the cold as I remember lying in the snow before going home, staring up into the night sky at the bright stars.

At that time we were all members of the Queensbury Scout group, which had no leaders so on our way home from school on a winter’s night we used to call in the old wooden scout hut and light the pot-bellied coke stove so that it was warm(ish) for the evening scout meeting.

One night my mate couldn’t get the stove to light with the paper and wood and coke topping so he decided to speed things up by pouring paraffin into the stove.

Nothing happened for a while except for dense white smoke pouring out of the top of the stove. Throwing caution to the winds he decided he needed to look in the top of the stove to see what the problem was.

A huge explosion and flash erupted from the stove and spread along the scout hut roof. It receded back into the stove but it took a week for my mate’s eyebrows and fringe to grow back.

While we are talking scouts there used to be an old single-decker bus which went from Wakefield to Cullingworth on the hour and we frequently caught the bus to go camping to Manywell Heights at Cullingworth.

We loaded on to the bus tents and tent poles – which were often passed down the bus by other passengers – rucksacks, ropes, cooking utensils and much more camping gear. The surprising thing was that the driver and conductor never refused us entry with all that gear.

l Roger Hyde lives in Bradshaw Lane, Bradshaw, Halifax.