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Article by Bill Watson, October 2010

A Child of the '50s
– Life at 46b High Street

46b High Street, Burton Latimer
46b High Street, Burton Latimer, in October 2010 - seen from the yard behind the shops

I was born at St.Mary’s Hospital in Kettering on the 12th of April 1956. My parents, Margaret and Wilfred Watson lived in the top floor flat at 46b High Street, Burton Latimer, having moved from rented rooms in Polwell Lane, Barton Seagrave, before my birth.

The building we lived in was owned by Arthur Turner and had been turned into two flats. Millie and Bill West, who became my godparents, occupied the lower one-bedroomed flat, and we lived in the upper, two-bedroomed one. The building was constructed of local ironstone under a slate roof and looked out onto a large yard at the rear of Arthur Turner’s shop. Neither flat had any form of central heating, just a fireplace in the living room. We were lucky in having a bathroom with bath, washbasin and flush toilet; the Wests only had an outside privy, at the bottom of their small garden. At the rear of the yard was a high stone wall that bordered onto Edgar Denton’s farm. Next door and adjoining our flats was a large, rambling old house with a thatched roof [Editor's Note: featured in this article], which was occupied by Elizabeth “Nan” Robinson and her son Walter. “Nan” became like a surrogate grandmother to me and one of my earliest memories was of sitting on her hearthrug as a small child, in front of a roaring fire.

My dad Wilfred at bottom of our stairs 1956
Myself and Great Aunt Annie at the bottom of our stairs, Nan Robinson's house in background 1958
Me and my mum 1956
My dad Wilfred
at bottom of our stairs 1956
Myself and Great Aunt Annie at the bottom of our stairs,
Nan Robinson's house in background 1958
Me and my mum 1956

My father worked at Weetabix in Station Road as a painter and decorator and my mum worked part-time as a cleaner for Dr. A. P. Kingsley, Arthur Turner, and the Gravestock family in Warkton Lane, who owned a shoe factory in Kettering.

My parents had both moved to the area from County Durham in the 1930s, first living in Kettering, where they were married on the 31st March 1945. In the 1930s unemployment was rife in the north of England and both my mother and father and my father’s two brothers moved to Kettering and found employment. During the war my mother worked at what is now Alumasc, producing munitions for the war effort, and my dad worked as a locomotive driver at the Irthlingborough ironstone mines.

Female munitions workers at Alumasc (the Sterling Metals) during World War 2
Female munitions workers at Alumasc during WW2

Also living in the yard were the Rose family: Lizzie, the mother, and her two grown up sons: Dennis and the other one (whose name escapes me after all these years). They lived in an old converted maroon-coloured motor coach (yes really!) which even at that time appeared to be falling to bits. Some years later, possibly around 1963-64 they were rehoused in Finedon Street and I clearly remember a huge breakdown truck backing up the yard to tow the old bus away. The driver pumped up the tyres, hitched it up to the winch on the back of the truck and towed it away down the High Street with pieces of it falling off all along the road!

On the doorstep of our flat 1963
Cooling off on a hot day outside Millie West's front door 1963
On the doorstep of our flat 1963
Cooling off on a hot day outside
Millie West's front door 1963
The Shops

At that time, the row of shops at the bottom of the yard (opposite the Red Cow, which by then had become Rosemary’s Hairdressers) consisted of Arthur Turners, Crouch’s Fish & Chip Shop, Crouch’s Wet Fish shop, Colin Plowman’s gent’s hairdressers and a butcher’s shop at the end, which later became the VG Stores. On the other side of the entrance to the yard, going towards the Cross was Barlow’s cake shop and Smith’s newsagents. Our milk was delivered from Meads Dairy, and Mr.Capps, who had a bakery in Church Street delivered our bread.

David Crouch was my best friend at that time and we would spend Saturday mornings helping in the preparation room at the back of the chip shop, filling a huge enamel bath with spuds, washing off the muck and then transferring them to the peeler and from there to big plastic buckets filled with water ready to go to the chipper. For this work I believe we were paid the sum of a shilling each by David’s dad Norman - not bad wages for an 8 year old! Most of this money would disappear later on Saturday evenings, having been converted into six pennyworth of chips and a couple of pickled onions for my supper.

Life in the Yard
With toy aeroplane, Colin Plowman's Austin A30 in background
Playing in a box of junk c.1961,
the young man on the right is John Turner
With toy aeroplane,
Colin Plowman's Austin A30
in background
Bob? Rose in background, foreground left to right:- Joan Crouch, Mrs.Crouch (Joan's mother in law),
myself, my mother Margaret, and David Crouch on mum's knee 1958

At the age of 4½ in September 1960, I started school at the Council Infants and I must admit that my first day was not a happy one. We were asked by the teacher (whose name I will omit) if any of us could write their name and I put my hand up as my dad had taught me the rudiments of reading and writing before I went to school. I was duly given a pencil and a sheet of paper and asked to write my name. This I did with my LEFT hand, as I am naturally left-handed. I was then rapped over the knuckles with a ruler and told that I must write with my right hand.

Understandably, this upset me somewhat and at dinnertime when my mum picked me up I ran to her in floods of tears and recounted what had happened. She did no less than storm into the school, harangued the teacher in question, telling her exactly what she thought of her teaching methods. Needless to say, from that day forward all my writing was done left-handed and no mention was made of it again, either by myself or the teacher, and my time at the Infants passed without further incident.

In 1963 it was then time to move on to the Junior School and I was put into Miss Leach’s class on the ground floor of the two-storey school building at the top of the schoolyard. We were introduced to writing with a nib on the end of a wooden shaft, which we dipped into an inkwell sunk into the desk. Needless to say there were several accidents involving the spilling of ink and the floorboards had blue patches all over them. One of the smells I remember was that of burnt milk, which would happen on most schooldays. It was Miss Leach’s task to boil the milk for the teacher’s coffee at mid morning break and she would fill a saucepan and place it on a gas ring set on a side table. She would invariably forget about it and it would boil over onto the gas ring and flood the table. At playtime, Miss Leach would toddle off with her dripping saucepan of burnt milk and we would troop into the playground to drink our free 1/3 pint of school milk and play the usual games: tick, British Bulldog, cowboys and indians etc.

After my first year I moved upstairs to Miss Appleby’s class. Miss Appleby was a bit of a disciplinarian but fair with it. She would entertain us with stories of her travels during her holidays to Australia and New Zealand, which she illustrated with slide shows. I don’t think any of us had been out of the country at that time and she made it really interesting. I remember one day, it must have been the summer of 1964, we were sitting in class close to lunchtime when we heard the familiar sound of the siren going off, calling the firemen to the station in Duke Street. Sure enough, within a few minutes we heard the fire engine go by. I didn’t think anything of it at the time, but when the bell went for dinner I made my way out to the High Street to go home for dinner. There was a plume of thick smoke all along the street and I could see the fire engine at the bottom of our yard. Racing home I was met by my mother who told me that the house next door was on fire. This had been empty for some time, after Nan Robinson had moved to the new bungalows in St.Crispins Close. It turned out that they were in the process of re-thatching the house when the old dry thatch piled up at the bottom of the walls had caught fire. The house was gutted and demolished shortly afterwards. Thankfully our flats were spared but stunk of smoke for about a week afterwards.

I then moved up through the next two years via Mr. White’s and Mr. Pentelow’s class, ultimately passing my eleven plus in 1967 and gaining a place at Kettering Grammar School (now sadly wiped from the face of the earth) and thence on to an Engineering apprenticeship with Timsons of Bath Road, Kettering.

Leisure Time

When not at school, life seemed idyllic in Burton Latimer, but I’m probably looking back through rose-tinted glasses. Days would be spent with my friends, David Crouch, Jon Stack, Andy Beeby and the Hudson twins: Robert and David. We would play up the Rec, the Spinney, go exploring and tree climbing down ‘ugsole, trainspotting at the Hurdy Gurdy bridge or paddling and tiddlering in the brook near to Weetabix. In the winter we would go sledging in Dixon’s field off Finedon Road or make slides on the footpaths. Oh! The simple life, we didn’t have computers, video games or iPods: we made our own entertainment and for the most part were out in the open air. Television was in black and white and we only had two channels until BBC2 came along.

Myself and David Crouch on the waterfall
near the Hurdy Gurdy 1964
On the "Hurdy Gurdy" 1965

Later Life

In 1967 and coinciding with my move to the Grammar School, we moved house to 28 Bridle Road and here I stayed until 1976 when I married a local girl, Julie Lane, and started my married life at 76 Churchill Way. Our two sons Matthew and Gareth  were born here. Sadly, the marriage ended in 1987 and I moved away from Burton Latimer, first to Wellingborough and then on to Irchester, when I married my second wife, Joy, in 1991. We have been married for 19 years this year and have 8 grandchildren between us. My mother continued to live in Bridle Road until her death in 2005 at the grand old age of 91, my father having died in 1980 at the age of 70 years.

My dad at rear of Colin Plowman's barbers c.1966
School Photo 1966
My dad at rear of Colin Plowman's barbers
School Photo 1966

It’s now over 30 years since I left Burton Latimer, but I still take the time now and then to have a drive round the old place. So much has changed since my childhood but also, in contrast, a lot of things have remained the same. What we need to be careful of is over-development smothering the town, because then, the spirit and heritage of Burton will be lost forever.

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