Nostalgia with Margaret Watson: A night out at the bingo was the cutting edge of social society

​​Last week I wrote about all that we’d lost since slum clearance in the 1950s, including the thousands of houses which were demolished along with the pubs, clubs, churches, cinemas and corner shops.
The ladies of the Fifty Plus Club of Dewsbury Moor enjoying their weekly bingo session.The ladies of the Fifty Plus Club of Dewsbury Moor enjoying their weekly bingo session.
The ladies of the Fifty Plus Club of Dewsbury Moor enjoying their weekly bingo session.

Margaret Watson writes: A lot of the community spirit which existed in those days went with them, but I’m pleased that the children who moved to the new estates did build up their own community spirit.

They too will have good memories of what it was like moving to a new estate and making new friends, and I’m grateful to those who over the years have shared those memories in this column.

I mentioned also how many of those of my generation who moved to the new estates continued to come back into Dewsbury to visit the market, shop at Marks and Spencer’s and to play bingo.

There will be many from Thornhill who remember the Friday “Bingo Bus” which brought the ladies from the Thornhill Estate into Dewsbury for their weekly bingo sessions.

I had hoped that on reading that, someone might have written to tell me of those early days on the new estates, but so far, no-one has.

Bingo once played a big part in the lives of local women who generally played this new game in local church halls where it was first introduced.

I read recently about a doctor who was advocating bingo sessions as a way of helping older people keep their minds active.

Crosswords were good, he said, but they were often solitary occupations, whereas bingo got older people out into the community among friends.

He wasn’t talking about on-line bingo or that which is played in large centres, but rather the old fashioned type played in community centres, church halls and working men’s clubs, usually for winnings of as little as £1 a line.

This kind of bingo was once the main source of income for many voluntary groups in the days when there were no grants available and charities had to be self-sufficient.

I remember when bingo first came to Dewsbury in the early 1950s, and I think the first place where it was introduced was in St Paulinus Church hall in Westtown.

It was called “housey -housey”, and it was the place my mother went every Friday night with her friends.

Afterwards, whether they’d won or lost, they would round off the night with a visit to the Irish Nash next door to enjoy a glass of Guinness, or two, and sometimes three.

She always came home laughing (and sometimes singing) and why shouldn’t she after a hard week working in a local rag warehouse?

Mother loved the excitement of her weekly bingo sessions, and viewed this new-found game as the cutting edge of social society.

She was there from the very beginning, a pioneer of the game so to speak, and very proud that she’d learned all the catchphrases that went with it.

Clickety click, number 66, Kelly’s eye, number one, top of the shop, number 90, two little ducks number 22 and legs 11, self-explanatory I think.

The bingo sessions at St Paulinus were so popular that sometimes there weren’t enough chairs to seat everyone who came.

In the years it was running, the church raised thousands of pounds to help pay off the parish debt, and mother was proud that she was doing her bit to help.

Sadly, the luck of the Irish ran out once big business saw there was money to be made out of bingo, and St Paulinus couldn’t keep up with that kind of competition.

The Rex Cinema in Dewsbury, which had just closed down, was quickly converted into the Rex Bingo Club, and big cash prizes were being offered.

Little community centres and churches couldn’t offer this kind of money, and one by one their bingo sessions closed down.

But I still recall with delight those Friday evenings when my mother was getting ready for her bingo session, and all the excitement which surrounded her preparations.

Her friends would come knocking on the door to collect her, and off they’d go down the street, all dressed up and linking arms as women did in those days.

It was all innocent fun and they knew they were safe, unafraid of coming home at night, even though they were women alone.

Those days are long gone, and bingo is not what it used to be, but when I came across this old picture above showing the ladies of the Fifty Plus Club of Dewsbury Moor enjoying their weekly bingo session some 30 years ago, all the memories came flooding back.

I don’t know if the club is still going or if the lovely ladies pictured are still with us, (I hope they are) but these were the kind of people I grew up with, people like my mother, the salt of the earth.

This particular club was started in 1984 when neighbours in Kilpin Hill Lane realised there was nothing for older people to do after they retired..

Mr John Mercer was one of the founder members, along with Mrs Nora Taylor and Mrs Mary Croxall, and the first meetings were held in the chapel in Moorend Lane, Dewsbury Moor.

Friendships were soon formed, and it wasn’t only bingo which they enjoyed, there were also handicraft classes and socials as well.

But, they hadn’t been going long when they were forced to leave after the church authorities found out they were playing bingo which to their minds was gambling.

Even though money never changed hands and the prizes were just the occasional bar of chocolate or a hand-made cover for a hot water bottle, they were kindly asked to vacate the building.

Happily, Dewsbury Moor Rugby Club stepped in and allowed them to use their premises.

*These lovely ladies were pictured over 30 years ago at their weekly bingo session, all members of the Fifty-Plus club which met at Dewsbury Moor Rugby Club. Not sure if the Fifty-Plus club is still going, but fortunately the kind-hearted rugby club which allowed them to meet there rent free, is, and long may they continue.