The Nostalgia column with Margaret Watson: When bingo events were held for good causes

Looking back I realise just how lucky I was to have been raised in a close-knit community where everyone knew and trusted each other

Tuesday, 7th July 2020, 11:28 am
Coronation event: These ladies from Daw Green, Westtown, all of them no doubt members of St Paulinus Church, would have been among the ladies who ran the Bingo sessions in the church hall which my mother attended in the early 1950s. They are pictured outside the Star Hotel where they had put on a celebration for the Queen’s Coronation in 1953. Rose Hodge, (fifth from left) was a helper.
Coronation event: These ladies from Daw Green, Westtown, all of them no doubt members of St Paulinus Church, would have been among the ladies who ran the Bingo sessions in the church hall which my mother attended in the early 1950s. They are pictured outside the Star Hotel where they had put on a celebration for the Queen’s Coronation in 1953. Rose Hodge, (fifth from left) was a helper.

We went to bed at night without fear of being broken into and we left our bikes outside at night, and shops didn’t put up shutters.

I remember our local off licence installing a cigarette machine outside his shop, and later a machine selling bubblegum.

They stayed there for years without once being broken into or damaged which I’m afraid wouldn’t be the case today.

The Rex Bingo Club in Dewsbury (now under the Ring Road) which was originally Trinity Chapel, later converted into the Majestic Cinema, and then the Rex Cinema. In the 1950s it was converted into a bingo club.

We left our coats in the cloakroom at school knowing they would be safe, and we didn’t lock our clothes in lockers at the swimming baths.

They were left in little cubicles at the side of the pool with only a curtain separating them from the people outside passing by.

They were still there when we got back dripping wet, and so were the pennies in our pockets for the warming cup of hot Bovril on the way out.

Honesty was a way of life and people prided themselves on living decent lives and setting standards.

Margaret Watson.

One of my mother’s proudest possessions was a note of thanks sent to dad after he’d found a wallet and handed it in at the police station.

It contained two one pound notes and some silver, and dad at the time was unemployed and we had no money coming in.

The owner of the wallet wrote to father praising his honesty, and I think mother showed that letter to everyone in our street.

That was over 70 years ago and we still have it, even though it was written in pencil and can hardly be deciphered.

It is a reminder of a bygone age when men and women were measured by their honesty and integrity and not by what kind of car they drove or what kind of house they lived in.

Mother put the letter in a little brown case in which all the things that mattered to her, like our school photographs, reports and birth certificates.

My eldest brother Joseph was honest like dad, which was why our parish priest at St Joseph’s in Batley Carr asked him to do what was called the “outdoor” collection.

It meant him knocking on the doors of Catholics and asking for a contribution towards the upkeep of the church.

Joseph wasn’t embarrassed asking for money because he regarded it as an honour and was proud to do it.

He would put all the money he’d collected on the kitchen table to count, and then wrote down in a little book all the names of those who had contributed.

He never allowed us to see who had given what because it was private but he always said it was the ones with the least who gave the most.

Later when our family went to live on the Flatts in Dewsbury, we became part of the parish of St Paulinus which seemed more easy going than the one we’d just left.

They were certainly more open minded and worldly-wise and they didn’t need to go knocking on doors to raise money because they’d just discovered something far more lucrative – bingo!

The church saw this as a fun way of raising money to pay off the parish debt and soon they were packing them in.

Sometimes the crowds were so big they didn’t have enough chairs and so had to borrow some from the Irish Nash next door.

I am sure that St Paulinus was the first organisation in town to start “bingo”, and although it never wiped off the parish debt, it went a long way towards doing so.

Mother and her friends loved their Friday night bingo sessions, and although she never won anything, she said the money was going to a good cause and that was all that mattered.

She used to laugh at all the new phrases she’d learned like “clickety click – 66”, “Kelly’s eye – number one” and “top of the shop – ninety”. But the luck of the Irish didn’t last forever because big business soon saw the potential of bingo and began opening more sophisticated venues with higher prize money.

The Rex Bingo Club which used to be the Rex Cinema was the premier one in town, and most of the people who joined were women.

I still remember with delight, mother getting ready for her bingo sessions, and her friends calling to collect her. The excitement was palpable.

Off they’d go all dressed up linking arms, as women did in those days, laughing and wondering who would win, but it didn’t matter because they were going to share their winnings anyway.

It was all innocent fun and they knew they were safe, and they weren’t afraid to come home at night, even though they were women alone.

Perhaps that was because there were lots of “bobbies” about in those days, both in the town centre and all over town, and women felt protected.

Those days are long gone, but thinking of them brings back happy memories, especially of those I loved – the people who taught me that honesty is the best policy.