Below is a further chapter from A Kerridge Childhood written by Enid Simpson. For a full introduction and index to all the stories please see the head page.
I have been watching an interesting documentary on TV called ‘Great Railway Journeys of the World’. The last episode showed a weekly train crossing the Andes and calling at various stations on the way. The platforms were full of people waiting to board an already packed train. They pushed their way into over-full compartments, perched on steps, and a few hardy souls even hauled themselves onto the roof in their determination to get on the train. Live chickens, bedding rolls, and huge baskets of produce accompanied them. The week before I had watched a train travel across the plains of India. Most of the engines were old steam driven British engines, long retired from British Rail, but still going strong under these difficult conditions.
Thinking of the program later, I had the curious feeling I had seen it all before. Never having been to the Andes or to India, I could not understand this familiar feeling. Then my subconscious mind came up with the answer – Bollington railway station on Wakes Saturday – yes that was it!
All the cotton-producing towns and villages were allocated a week when the mills were closed for the necessary inspection and repairs to be made to the engines. Wakes week in Bollington was always the last week in July and those who could afford it made their annual visit to Blackpool. Though only about 40 miles away, preparations were as great as visiting Antarctica.
Around January, when the ice and snow matched the cold winds in severe weather, the mill worker would begin to allocate a few coppers each week from the meagre wages and it would be saved towards the July holiday. Mothers would work out how they could scrimp and save a few pennies each week. Holidays were not paid then, and families came home from Blackpool to face a week without any money until the next payday.
However, that didn’t dampen their enthusiasm and once the ‘lodgings’ had been booked, it began to seem a reality. No-one stayed in hotels, the majority of visitors preferred (or could only afford) to stay at the flamboyantly named houses near Central Pier ‘Balmoral Court’, ‘Windsor Lodge’, ‘The Towers’, or ‘Sandringham Place’ – all for 1/- per night for a double bed and a little extra for the landlady to cook the food.
Travel to Blackpool in the regular way was by train to Manchester – London Road Station, and then a long walk to Victoria Station on the far side of the city for a train to the west coast. For the convenience of all the passengers at Wakes Week – L.M.S. ran a special train which was non-stop to Blackpool. It was diverted somewhere near Staleybridge and around Miles Platting before rejoining the usual route into Victoria Station. As a concession to travellers, tickets were put on sale the day before and once purchased, arrangements could be made for the porter to collect the baggage on Friday evenings and trundle it on his flat bottomed truck to the station, where it would be locked up in the waiting room overnight. The princely sum of 6d was charged for this service. What excitement this caused amongst the children who ran beside him and helped to negotiate the bends and curbs.
Mothers had been preparing all week, everything in the house had been washed, ironed and cleaned. Then Dad brought out the trunk or bags from their winter hiding places. A great smell of dust spread everywhere and a few days were needed to air them out. These bags were heavy before anything went in them, and once packed, needed a pair of elephants to lift them. Enough clothes, socks, shoes, towels, etc., had to be taken for the week’s visit and enough staple groceries with which to start the week.
Friday night was hectic, baths were dragged into the house, and all the children were scrubbed, hair washed, and put in curl rags (for the girls), then they were sent to bed early. By this time, excitement and tension were everywhere. Few mothers went to bed before 2 am, cleaning up the kitchen one last time and washing a few dirty clothes, raking out the embers and then making sandwiches for the journey. Dads sat in their armchairs, directing operations and giving out useless advice.
The special train left about nine o’clock, in between the regular services. Everyone who was travelling had to be up about 5.00 o’clock to make sure they had an adequate breakfast to sustain them on this perilous journey.
Many had to walk two or three miles to the station (there was no bus service) and about seven o’clock they would leave home, not without turning back once or twice to make sure the door was locked or for someone who HAD to use the lavatory.
The roads, usually quiet at this time, were crowded with families making their way to the station, children running on ahead and being called back by their mothers. Dads, unaccustomed to wearing their suits, collars and ties with Sunday shoes squeaking at every step were already working up a sweat.
They were hurrying on ahead to get their bags out of the waiting room and onto the platform in a position where they hoped the train would stop. Although it was still about an hour and a half before train time, mothers were taking no chances, they almost ran the last half mile, partly to beat other families and partly to get their children on to the platform.
Our railway station was quite small, maybe 500 yards long. There were waiting rooms on both sides of the railway’s lines and flower beds, bordered by white painted stones, made a splash of colour.
As each family appeared, Dad would bring over the luggage and tell them all not to leave it unguarded. As if they would! Then he would wander down to the end of the platform where it sloped to meet the level of the line, in order to grab the door handle of an empty compartment and run with the train as it ground to a halt. Others, who had travelled before and considered them-selves worldly in these matters, walked to the top end of the platform where the engine would stop (they hoped), and thus gain an advantage of an empty carriage there.
It was now mass confusion. Mothers shouting to Dads to get ‘t’ bottom end and grab a door handle, Willie was missing and his frantic mother spotted him up a tree with his friend Joey – what she wasn’t going to do to him if he didn’t come down was lost in the bedlam of noise.
Elsie was quietly throwing up by the railings that divided the platform from the pathway on the other side. Jimmy was having a temper tantrum because his mother wouldn’t give him his comic until be got on the train. The bottom fell out of a paper carrier bag, scattering the jam butties in all directions which were intended to fortify them until they reached civilization again.
A piercing shriek rent the air – Barry had caught his fingers in the folding push chair which Mother had got ready to leap on to the train. Blood streamed everywhere until a hankie was produced to act as a bandage and a sweet popped into his mouth. Then as train time approached, Nellie had to ‘go’; Mother said there wasn’t time and she’d have to wait until she got to Blackpool. Nellie started to wail and stood with legs crossed and said she couldn’t wait. Mother thrust the baby to Rose and rushed Nellie behind the waiting room, berating her for being so naughty. Now the baby began to cry as Rose’s arms were not as cuddly and warm as she was used to.
Lily dropped the comic she was holding and one page flapped on to the railway lines; her brother Walter offered to retrieve it by hanging over the edge of the platform but Dad said he was in danger of losing his head if he didn’t get up. Mother slapped his legs and shook Lily until her teeth rattled for being so careless. A fight had broken out between two older boys, cause unknown, and they were separated by their respective Dads and told to behave.
Another calamity, the elastic in Freda’s knickers snapped and the offending garment cascaded to her ankles. She began to cry and then someone found a safety pin and honour was retrieved. “Where’s our Frankie?” cried his mother – Frankie was seen on the other side of the rails doing a Highland Fling – or what passed for one. He was threatened with instant death by his Dad if he didn’t get back before the train appeared.
At last someone heard the bell ring, indicating that the train had passed the signal box higher up the line. “Signal’s down” was the general cry and the light showed green.
The would-be travellers sprang into action. The men and boys positioned themselves and with outstretched hands prepared for their moment of glory. As the train came round the last curve, steam fussily pouring out and swaying like a dancer, it slowly reduced speed and first one handle was grabbed, then another and another. Much jostling for positions, toes trodden on and the ‘grabbers’ ran along with the train, hanging on to the door handles with fixed determination. They would have done justice to any Olympic team.
Once the engine stopped, and with much mopping of brows, Dad then had to get the family and luggage inside and repel any intruders. Naturally everyone wanted a window seat and another scuffle broke out and more slaps were handed out. Next, everyone being established in their allotted seats, Dad had to get back on the platform to get the luggage aboard. The carriage doors bad been closed to prevent the children from hopping in and out and when Dad came back, puffing and panting with the luggage, he tried to push it through the window.
In his manoeuvres he often got the logistics confused and tried to push the long end of the bags through the narrow window. Lots of helpful suggestions came from the younger boys, who were now carried away with excitement and full of energy. The more they pushed and pulled, the more reluctant was the baggage. Then a friendly porter, seeing the confusion, quietly opened the door, and all was well again.
Those not going away often walked down to the station and formed a row of onlookers, standing on the other side of the platform, watching the antics of the crowd. As everyone knew everyone else, this would make good entertainment for weeks to come.
There were always the late comers, of course. Looking desperately for a seat and often having to sit in different compartments. “Serve them right!” said the smug window seaters. “They should get up early, like other folk!”
As the moment of departure drew near, the driver hung out of his cab, steam billowing everywhere, ready to go, all he wanted was to hear the Guard blow the whistle. All the compartment doors had been tightly closed and tested by the porters. At last the whistle blew and the train chuffed into action, and off they went into the great unknown.
Inside the carriages, several mothers were quietly having a nervous breakdown, wondering if it was all worth while. Children were demanding “Summat to eat” before they approached the viaduct which straddled the main road.
The bystanders wandered quietly home, chuckling at what they had seen and plenty of stories with which to regale their friends and neighbours.
The station settled back into its usual Saturday quietness, a few papers scattering in the wind and the porters ready for their morning cup of tea.
Wakes Week had begun!
© 1985 Enid Simpson