The Nostalgia column with Margaret Watson: Life in a tight-knit community

No matter how hard we try, it’s almost impossible to recreate the community spirit which once existed in our various villages and townships.

Wednesday, 7th October 2020, 12:50 pm
Margaret Watson.
Margaret Watson.

When I receive photographs like the one pictured above I am reminded so much of my own childhood.

These were the days when people living up your street were more than just neighbours, they were friends.

They were there for each other in times of need and help bring up each other’s children.

Party time: It was just after the war and Mirfield people decided to celebrate with a street party in Grove Street, just off Flash Lane. Pictured on the left is Phyllis Musgrave holding her son David and resting her other hand on the shoulder of one of the orphan children invited to the party. Most of the little boys on the front row, dressed in overcoats, were believed to be from a neighbouring orphanage.

Extended families lived in the same street or just around the corner with aunts and uncles being just a heartbeat away when needed.

And when sons and daughters got married, they generally made their home in the same street where they’d been born.

There was a period in my life when I was a teenager living on the Flatts in Dewsbury when I had three married sisters living in the same street

One of them, Eileen, lived directly opposite our house in Woodbine Street, another sister, Winnie, lived at the top of the street, and Doreen, had a little shop at the bottom.

Their children were born while they were up the street which meant all these little cousins grew up playmates and also attended the same nursery at the top of the street.

My sisters never had any problem when it came to needing baby sitters because there were so many of us about to help.

The picture above was given to me 20 years ago by David Musgrave who was born on the Flatts near to where I lived.

What I love about this picture, which was taken in Grove Street, Mirfield, just off Flash Lane, is that it epitomises all that I keep writing about when I refer to community spirit.

Not only did the organisers invite everyone up their street, but also a number of little children who lived in an orphanage nearby.

And although we cannot identify who they were, David believed they were the little boys on the front row wearing overcoats.

David is the little boy being held by his mother, Phyllis Musgrave, who has a hand on the shoulder of one of the little boys from the orphanage.

The party had been held to celebrate the ending of the Second World War and among those pictured were some residents from nearby Flash Lane.

It has been many years since I spoke to David and, like so many of my generation, we have lost touch.

If David is still with us, I hope he will contact me because we had so much to talk about when we last spoke.

David was four when the picture was taken, and although he couldn’t remember a great deal about it, he knew it had been held outside his grandparents’ house in Grove Street.

He told me: “All the neighbours took part and we all had our photograph taken. I remember some little boys on the front row who had come from an orphanage nearby.”

David’s grandparents, Herbert and Harriet Gibson, had lived in Thornhill but had moved to Mirfield to live in a house with an orchard and a huge garden.

“I used to love to visit them because there was so much room to play in,” he recalled.

“I remember a plane landing in the field behind their houses.

“The pilot had run out of petrol and he ran to the garage to fill a can, and then got back in the plane and flew off.

“I was lucky as a child because my dad was a salesman at Wigfalls in Dewsbury and my mother worked at Wormalds and Walker’s.

“We didn’t have a lot but I remember my mother putting a small amount of money away every week in a special fund at work which paid for us a holiday at the seaside every year.

“I remember when food was rationed we had to take our own food with us.”

David recalled many happy memories from his childhood, but he could never forget those orphan children who attended the street party.

“It was just after the war and I often wondered what happened to them and if any of them were still living in the district,” he said.

Although David couldn’t remember much of the party, he could never forget those little orphan children and the lasting effect their presence had on him.

There were a number of orphanages in this district but not all children who had lost their parents were placed in orphanages.

If they were fortunate enough to come from a large and loving extended family, they were often taken in by them.

In my mother’s day, it wasn’t uncommon for families to return from the funeral of a young mother who had died in childbirth and then sit down to decide who was having which of her children.

The authorities were never involved and even though this system of sharing families meant splitting up brothers and sisters, it did at least keep them away from the workhouse and orphanage.

I have aunts who this happened to, and right up their deaths they spoke with gratitude of the love and care they received from the women who welcomed them into their home and brought them up as their own.

How lucky we were to come from such loving communities – even during the worst of times.

Email [email protected] with your memories of bygone days in the Dewsbury and district area.