When we took my mother, now in her 90th year, to the opening of Hollingwood Hub, we enjoyed her recollections of how it had been to grow up there between the wars. I put the following notes together, using mostly mum’s own words, so other people could share her bit of “living history.” David Botham, January 2011
Childhood Memories of Hollingwood in the 1920’s and 30’s.
The Railway Children: We lived at No.21, Station Road in one of the Railway Company’s cottages. It is still there but later the street numbering was changed so it has an even number now. They were the first houses in that part of Hollingwood. I remember my mother saying how she had watched the rest of the estate being built from her kitchen window.
My dad, Jim Hobson, was a shunter and later guard on the Great Central Railway. Uncle Howard was a guard too. Jack North became the Works station porter when he left school. He married my friend, Phyllis Smeeton, who was the signalman’s daughter.
Dad often worked in the sidings with Daisy Belle, the little steam locomotive that took the wagons around the works. Uncle Howard worked on the local passenger trains between Staveley and Chesterfield. We could see the canal and the railway line from the bottom of our garden. We would lean over the fence and wave at the trains. Uncle Howard would wave back.
We never went by bus, only the train. Sometimes, we nearly missed it. I would be instructed to run ahead and tell the guard to make the train wait because my mum and younger brother were coming. He always did, even if he wasn’t Uncle Howard. It was a long way down all the steps at Chesterfield station to get to the platform. I remember one end of the Hollingwood platform overhung the canal underneath. I didn’t like that. We were good friends with the station master, Mr Godfrey. We would go to see him in his office and sometimes he would let us have an old railway map to take away and study. It may not seem much now but it was something special then.
We went to Sunday school at Mount Tabor Chapel. When I was older, I was allowed to go to the Ragged School Chapel in Chesterfield and visit my grandparents on Rutland Road. There were no trains on Sundays so I walked all the way. I used to get sick if I had to ride on a bus.
All the land north of the canal was part of the huge works. You couldn’t see Barrow Hill or the countryside beyond. There were slag heaps and two huge chimneys. I remember the day one of the chimneys was blown up. Watching it fall really upset me. My stomach still turns over if I see a tree felling or demolition work.
Hollingwood Health and Welfare: My brother was often poorly. The doctor’s surgery was at Barrow Hill so sometimes I had to go there to fetch a prescription. The road bridge over the canal was narrow with high sides and the water beneath looked dark, dirty and deep. I hardly dared to cross over. I would take a deep breath and run.
We always seem to be hearing of financial hardship and NHS troubles today. Those of us that remember the 1920’s and 30’s just quietly count our blessings. There was no such thing as a health service or welfare state until 1948.
When my brother, Philip, was ill, everything had to be paid for out of a pitifully small income. I remember one Christmas mother taking me aside and gently telling me that there wouldn’t be any presents because there was no money left. I knew then how bad things were. You just had to be brave and hope that you could avoid embarrassing questions in the school playground. There were aunts and uncles who were able to send small gifts so we didn’t go entirely without. Families helped each other through hard times.
At least school was free. My brother and I went to Hollingwood Primary School when it opened in the late 1920’s. Philip wasn’t up to defending himself against the playground bullies so big sister had to watch out for him. I remember sorting out a bigger lad and threatening him with worse if he ever touched Philip again. he never did!
Hospital was only for the very seriously ill. When I had to have my tonsils out I didn’t get an ambulance to the Royal. It was just another walk to Barrow Hill surgery and the doctor did the operation on the table. They did manage to afford a taxi to take me back to Station Road.
Eventually, my brother became so ill he had to have what was then a very serious operation to remove a diseased kidney. For weeks afterwards, he was on a strict diet that for some reason included chocolate (lucky thing!). Unfortunately, wartime rationing was in force and the hospital only prescribed what was needed. It was left to the family to find it somehow. People were very kind. Friends and neighbours joined in, giving up their precious coupons to help Philip recover. And it worked. He got much stronger from then on and was able to study for a career in engineering besides becoming an accomplished pianist. We were so thankful.
Staveley Works Station – Gateway to the World: Children in railway families did get one thing that most of their friends had to go without – holidays! We could buy tickets for local jouneys at half price but, better still, we got three family passes each year to travel anywhere on the network. We couldn’t afford hotels but we had day trips to the seaside and we had relatives, first in Nottingham and Newcastle and later in Romford and Somerset. They would “put us up” for a few days so we got to see the wider world.
All the biggest adventures of my childhood started and finished at Staveley Works Station. I relished every trip. I remember once going to the bottom of our garden and crying my eyes out because my brother had gone down poorly again and we had to stay at home instead of catching the train.
Dad’s Legacy: My father spent the whole of his working life on the railways through two world wars and three companies. He served a while on the French railways in the Great War and has some grim stories to tell. It could be a hard life in peacetime too. He would work long days and sometimes come home a bit bruised and battered. They had good safety rules but, even so, they would have accidents from time to time shunting loose coupled wagons. Dad would try not to let on to mother if he was hurt as long as he could still walk to work next day with his bottle of cold tea and his snap tin. The railway companies rarely gave compensation unless there had been a fatality.
When the Great Central became part of the L.N.E.R. in 1928, all the staff got new buttons and badges for their uniforms. dad was thrifty (you had to be in those days) so he put the old ones in an empty Golden Syrup tin. The same thing happened again when the railways were nationalised in 1948.
When the last ever steam locomotive to be built by B.R. “Evening Star” came into service, everyone knew that an era had come to an end. The Great Central’s Staveley loop line had already closed. It was the right time for dad to retire. He saved the last few buttons off his old uniform of course.
He died in 1963. When the time came to clear out his old shed, we found the rusty tin. Some people leave diaries or autobiographies. Dad left us his buttons. Funny sort of family heirloom I suppose, but we could never, ever, bear to throw them away.