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.
When I was going to school, it was customary for many of the pupils to be ‘dinner children’, This meant that they were allowed to leave school five minutes before noon (dinner time) and be home in time to run to the local mills with dinner for their fathers, or any family member. This was in the days when dinner was eaten at mid-day – no nonsense about lunch! and tea at tea time (5, or 5.30pm), and supper was Ovaltine and biscuits before going to bed. So those who were not able to get home from work in time to eat dinner had to have it provided, somehow. Remember there were no canteens or even school dinners – all pupils went home for dinner, even the Kerridge children like us (who lived a mile or so away).
The mother cooked the meal, then put the portion for the absentee in a pot basin, covered it with a saucer and then the whole thing was put in the centre of a large red handkerchief, the points brought to the top and tied in a series of knots, to be carried by hand. This more or less kept the meal hot.
Promptly at five minutes to twelve, the lesson would stop and permission would be given to the dinner children to leave, which they did with much clattering of clogs or iron shod boots on the stone stairs leading out of school. Then they were off like the wind, dashing home to pick up the all-important meal and streaking off to whichever mill their family worked. As the mill machinery stopped at twelve-fifteen for the mid-day break, the kids had to be like mountain goats to get there and then find the room to deliver the goods, run back home to eat their own meal and be ready to go back to school for the afternoon session. It was common practice and no-one thought it a hardship at all. We, who were not in the clan, because our Dad worked on the roads, were always a bit envious of the freedom these children had, when we had to stay behind for the last few minutes and say Grace before leaving for our own dinner period.
At this time we lived ‘up’ Kerridge and it must have been a good mile each way to and from school. Two of these journeys were downhill – no problem there, but the homeward ones necessitated climbing two quite steep hills (about 1 in 6) and one which was slightly less steep.
At the time of which I am writing I must have been around six or seven years old. My Dad was working in Stockport at this time and so was away all day. Our neighbours were Arthur and Maggie Fox, who had one boy about Peggy’s age. Arthur worked for one of the local quarries and his work meant loading ‘dressed’ stone – mainly used for pavement laying – at the quarry – then taking it, by horse and cart, to the wharf on the canal for transport by water to whichever town it was destined for.
He ate his meal at the stable, where his horse had facilities to rest. For some reason, Mother allowed me to take his dinner. So I joined the ranks of the ‘dinner children.’ It was somewhat of a thrill for me as I was to be paid sixpence a week for this – riches indeed. So, every day at noon I half-ran, half-walked up these hills and collected his dinner. This, in addition to being put in the red cloth, was then put in a sort of picnic basket which had a hinged lid, and when closed it fitted on to two loops and a long skewer was pushed through to make it fool proof.
Well, this seemed to work all right despite the miles I must have covered, the mile from school, another three quarters of a mile to the stable and uphill back home to eat my own dinner, and then the downhill mile back to school – can you imagine Andrew or Emily doing this?
On my way to the stable I had to pass Endon House, one of the BIG houses set away from the road. It was always quiet here and I never recall actually seeing the front of it, there were too many shrubs, trees and walls. The residents owned a bulldog, named JUMMY, who I am sure was a friendly and kind-hearted dog. He used to walk around the estate and stand at the front of the gate looking out at the world. I was a regular passer-by and he got to know the times I went by and the savoury smell issuing from my basket was too much for his appetite. He would amble across the road where I shrank against the wall, hoping he wouldn’t notice me. He ignored me but sniffed around the basket lifting his huge jowls in anticipation of a good meal. At that time I’m sure we were both nearly a similar height but to me he looked tremendously huge and menacing. I hated him and I think he sensed this, and although being of a gentle nature, the ‘goodies’ I carried turned him into a hungry hunter.
My life was miserable as I daily anticipated this encounter with dread. Mother told me to take no notice because he wouldn’t harm me, but she was a lot bigger than me and tougher too. I think eventually she saw bow much trouble it was causing me and either insisted on relieving me of the task – or it may have been just before I was ill – can’t remember. Jummy and I never had a showdown but the daily trauma left me with a deep distrust and dislike of all bulldogs. Sadly, my first attempt to earn some money came to an end, I rejoined the ranks of the rest of the class at school and stayed in my place when the ‘dinner children’ were dismissed.
© 1985 Enid Simpson