I first saw the light
of day in November 1913, in Mottram Street off Hillgate. The children who
arrived before me were Peter, Helen, George, Nora (who was to die in 1936
after a long illness) and Joseph. Another brother, Henry, was born in
1918, completing the Hooley family, which was to make itself known to the
Board of Guardians in later years.
Mottram Street was a
typical street of that area: a thoroughfare of stone sets, going from
Hillgate to Wellington Road south. On the side where we lived [at] No. 36
starting from the bottom on the Hillgate side, and going up Mottram street
on the right hand side were – The “Higher Pack Horse”, nicknamed the “Big
Lamp”, three terraced houses, Charley Hawkins Rag & Bone yard, five
terraced houses, Mrs. Broadhurst’s corner shop, the commencement of Police
Street and then the long row of four roomed terraced houses, of which one
was the Hooley residence. In the middle of the row was a Mission Chapel, I
believe it had something to do with St. Thomas Church, Hillgate.
It was on the
corner of Police Street and Mottram Street under the old gas lamp that the
kids of the area would gather on a winter’s night for games. On the other
side of the street, opposite our house was Mellor’s cotton mill. On a cold
winter’s morning you could hear the old “knocker-up” tapping on the
windows and saying, in a mournful voice, “it’s six o’clock and a cold
morning”: enough to want to put your head under the blankets, that’s of
course if you were lucky enough to have blankets.
At 7.30 the mill
girls could be heard coming up the street, their clogs making music as
they faced another hard day’s work.
Hillgate c. 1900. The "Big Lamp" (Higher Pack Horse) on the corner of
Mottram Street can be seen on the right.
The house we lived
in at that time had four rooms: two bedrooms, one kitchen and living room.
With the mill facing the house we got dust and noise all day long. The
lavatory, which was shared by two families, was a good thirty yards from
the house. We were lucky; we had a flush lavatory, whilst many still used
the dry type which were emptied weekly, during the night.
From 1918 onwards
I can remember incidents in my life. By this time my father had returned
from the war and had started work as a bricklayer’s labourer: - in other
words, a hod carrier – joining the ranks of the vast army of hod carriers
and navvies that lived on Hillgate in those days. In the winter, like many
others, he was out of work, and during that period we had to rely on the
Board of Guardians (Stockport Workhouse) for outdoor relief.
My Grandmother on
my mother’s side was a great help in those hard times. She would send the
family money, food and other provisions. The old lady was born in Ireland
and was a character. She liked to sing songs and loved a drop of the “hard
stuff”. Like most Irish-women she was a wonderful story teller. I remember
her saying she came over to England at the age of about 13 and had to wait
under the clock at Liverpool Railway Station for someone to pick her up.
The story after that got somewhat mixed up. She remembered a “big war in
America”, that would have been the American Civil War.
My father was the
only child of his mother’s first marriage. Her second marriage was blessed
(if that’s the word) with twelve children. Not many survived. From what
little I know of my father’s father, he was born in King Street Stockport1
and was a
cotton worker in his early years. In later years he seemed to have
acquired some education for he worked his way up to the treasurer’s
office. This surely would have given him some standing amongst the people
of Hillgate in those days. However, it was a mistake to make him
treasurer. He went off with the company’s money and was, as the story
goes, never seen again. My father was brought up with his grandparents who
seem to have had a better standard of living than the average family on
Hillgate in those days.
Now, to give some idea of
the house where I was born. The living room was bare to say the least. We
had about two chairs, one table, a thing called a dresser (a long flat
contraption with six drawers – two broken), a small cupboard in the
centre, and a broken sofa. I don’t recall the floor being covered in
linoleum but there were maybe a few bits here and there, it was certainly
not covered with carpet. The pictures on the walls were not painted by
Constable or Turner. I remember two: one of the Sacred Heart which all
Roman Catholics had in those days – it was supposed to bring good luck to
the house, though the only luck we had was bad. The other picture was of
my father as a soldier looking sorry he had ever joined up.
The kitchen had a stone floor, a thing called a slop stone (sink), one
cold water tap, an old mangle, a brick boiler, a lot of old clothes
hanging up, a few pots and pans and a gas ring. On Monday mornings the
kitchen would be full of steam. My mother’s voice would be heard through
the mist: “Get from under my feet if you want any bloody tea!” The system
was; she would wash all the good things, shirts etc., dry and iron them,
and pawn them at Thompsons pawn shop on Hillgate to get money for our
There were two pawn shops in that district, Thompsons and Browns. Mr.
Brown’s house and shop were at the bottom of Radcliffe Street, fronting
Hillgate. The entrance to the front door of his house was up a flight of
about six stone steps and was a regular meeting place for the men. It was
a common sight to see a crowd of men sitting on these steps, both night
and day, hoping someone would take them into the pub and treat them to a
Mr. Brown was an old gentleman. Well mannered, he dressed very old
fashioned even in those days. With his full beard and his manner of
speaking, he certainly looked like a figure from the Victorian Age. His
pawn shop was the larger of the two, was very dark and had racks going all
the way up to the ceiling. On the racks were bundles of clothes that some
unfortunates had pledged. I often thought, looking at those bundles, what
stories each could tell. The pledging office was entered by a door in
Thompson’s pawn shop was on the opposite side to Browns. To pawn whatever
you had to pawn, you had to go round the back of the shop, up Radcliffe’s
Court, through a small gate which led into a yard, through, another door
into the shop, then down two or three steps into the back room of the
pledging room or “office”. It was a dark room with stone flags for
flooring – the counter was very high I remember. On Monday mornings this
semi-cellar was always full of women in shawls waiting to pledge their
bits and pieces. The staff of this establishment were the Manager, a man
about 35 or 40 years of age, and his female assistant about the same age.
The women would put their bundles on the counter and say “I want half a
crown on this” (or whatever was required). The manager’s job then was to
open the bundle and see if the contents were worth the required sum. The
women would keep him talking to take his mind off opening the bundle,
telling him jokes – the kind that would embarrass him. More often than not
he would forget to open the bundle and would tell his assistant to make
out the ticket for the sum they had asked for.
There was another pawn shop on Duke Street, where men used to pledge the
tools of their trade, such as hods, shovels and trowels, from Saturday
until Monday morning. There were also on Hillgate at this time a number of
old women who would, for a few coppers, take things to pledge for the
people who were ashamed to be seen going into a pawn shop.
Back to our humble abode!
All the water we used in the house was heated in a kettle on the living
room fire, or on the gas ring in the kitchen. Cooking was done in the
oven, which formed a part of the old fire grate. In later years we
possessed a steel fender which looked well in front of the coal fire: I
don’t know where it came from, maybe someone gave it to us, but I always
remember it being the brightest thing in the living room.
It was my sister’s job on Saturday afternoon, after she had finished her
work at the cotton mill, to clean the house. By this time we did have a
sort of linoleum on the living room floor. After the floor had been
cleaned it was covered over with newspapers as no-one dared to walk over
the nice new linoleum. On Saturdays all the women in the street would
clean the front door step and the first three flags of the pavement with
“Donkey Stone”, and one could hear the threats from the women to the kids
playing around – “I’ll smack your arse if you walk over my cleaning”.
Our house was illuminated with gas. In the living room was a gas mantle
which was broken at least twice a week, so a store of candles was always
on hand. In those early days we often had no curtains up to the windows,
these being replaced by newspapers acting for that purpose. With the
mantle broken and the candles lit, Charles Dickens’s characters would not
have looked out of place.
One bedroom was lit by a gas jet only, which made the room look like a
scene from Madam Tussauds’ chamber of horrors. The bedroom furniture
comprised two iron beds with very few blankets – we made up for that by
having overcoats to cover the occupants. The beds were double but this was
no consolation for us kids. Sometimes we had to sleep head to toe, and
there were times when one would waken in the mornings with someone’s foot
in your face. The floor was bare and remained so for all the years I lived
The back bedroom had one double bed, again with very few blankets, and
again overcoats were used. You had to be a contortionist to get into this
bed because it filled the room. The only light here came from the moon or
stars, and the view from this bedroom looked down onto the lavatories,
surely a romantic sight on a summer’s morning.
The houses in the row where we lived were very old, and in the summer time
they were infested with bed bugs. Each householder would launch an
occasional attack on these vermin, only for them to retreat into the next
house, to be attacked again and sent back; but like the British Navy they
And now to my parents. My father was a shy and quiet man. He liked his
beer, but in spite of that weakness he was a good worker when work was
available. My mother on the other hand was a mixture between a diplomat
and a “go-getter”, and she had a wonderful gift of getting out of paying
bad debts. She was the thinker and back-bone of the household.
The Hillgate of my story covers from what was Union Street, to Crowther
Street. At one time this was comprised of 40 courts and many cellar
dwellings. The population of this area in the early years was mainly
Irish, or of Irish descent. In my time the priest came round the Parish
once a month for a visit, but mainly for contributions for the church –
the more you gave the better chance you had to get to heaven when you left
the world behind. I am afraid the chances for our family were very slight
as we had very little to give.
The inhabitants of the area where we lived were poor, but the comradeship
which existed between families was a wonderful thing, especially where
authority was concerned. This was certainly a case of “them and us”.
Poverty was evident everywhere, but it is a strange thing that enjoyment
was to be had in those days far more than one gets today, or is it me that
is getting older and thinking like most elder people “of days gone by”?
The streets which ran alongside Mottram Street were Radcliffe Street and
Bamford Street, and the courts in those two streets were many. For
example, in Bamford Street there were Sun Court, Walmsley Court, Knowsley
Court, Coopers Court, Ormes Court, Pass Court and Broomes Court. Radcliffe
Street and Watchmans Court, Bennetts Court, Bates Court and Chapel Yard.
In all fairness I must say the people who lived in the neighbourhoods of
these courts were both clean and respectable, but some of the courts were
unsanitary and unhealthy, with open middens and one or two privies for the
use of maybe 20 people. In most cases there was only one entrance into
these courts and that was through a long passage – not very nice. When the
Corporation men came to empty the middens, the cry would come from the
women, “you would come today when we have got the bloody washing out!”-
The women who lived on Hillgate at that time were more “go ahead” than the
men. It was their job to keep the food coming in and to think of various
schemes to keep it coming in. The men on the other hand, if not working
(which was often) would gather on the street corners and discuss the
affairs of the day, both political and financial. During these debates one
could find more comedians than there ever were at the London Palladium.