Nostalgia with Margaret Watson: I loved every glorious minute of being a teenager in the 1950s
Margaret Watson writes: This is one of them, and I hope readers will forgive me if I keep resurrecting it, but I believe if a picture is worth showing, it’s worth showing again and again.
When the new Dewsbury technical college was opened a couple of years ago in the old Co-op building in Dewsbury, I wondered if the students would be as happy as I had been in the old one.
I also wondered if they’d have as much fun as I’d had because the two years I spent at the old college there were among the happiest of my life.
I’m sure there will be a lot from my generation who will remember the old college, especially the girls who learned shorthand and typing there.
Not to mention the boys who studied there for their City and Guilds and became, plumbers and builders, electricians, joiners and painters and decorators.
I well remember my first day there in September 1956 as I embarked on a two-year secretarial course after leaving St Joseph’s School, in Batley Carr aged 15.
My white ankle socks were replaced by 15 denier nylons (no tights in those days) and my laced up shoes for high heels, and it was a relief to know that if I was late for lessons, I wouldn’t get the cane.
I loved every minute of my life there, especially on the days when the apprentice joiners, plumbers and builders came on their City and Guilds courses.
These boys were older and wiser than us full-time students because they’d already started working and had money in their pockets to go out drinking at night.
But there was always one or two we fell in love with, and very soon we were living for the days when we’d bump into them in the college canteen.
We hoped they might come and sit with us, but they never did, even though we made sure we were dressed to the nines on the days we knew they were coming.
They never once showed any interest in us, but the fact that they were in the same building and there was a possibility we’d bump into them, was enough to add a frisson of excitement to our day.
Teenage girls in the 1950s, like the ones pictured above, might have been more confident than their mothers when they were young, but we still followed the same rules of courtship which meant the boys made the first move.
The Ben Riley Dance Hall in Union Street was the place where most girls and boys met their future husbands and wives.
A lot of the boys I knew did their National Service when they reached the age of 18 and we didn’t see much of them for two years while they did their bit for Queen and Country.
When they returned they didn’t return to the Ben Riley, but preferred places like the Mecca in Leeds, the Empress in Huddersfield, or Dewsbury Town Hall.
I loved every glorious minute of being a teenager in the 1950s. They were halcyon days when we stayed up until midnight on Sunday nights to listen to Radio Luxembourg playing all the latest Buddy Holly Records.
Being able to do shorthand, I could take down all the lyrics and pass them round to all my friends next day, and by the time we arrived at the Ben Riley on Friday night, we were word perfect.
We didn’t have a care in the world, and I will never forget the wonderful people I shared those days with, many of whom are sadly no longer with us.
Nor will I forget the Brown family who lived near me on The Flatts in Dewsbury, who threw their home open to all of us for parties most weekends.
I still remember the wonderment of it all, my first pair of nylon stockings, and the joy of suddenly growing two inches taller in my new stiletto heels, and losing a few inches off my waist thanks to my new elastic wasp-waist belt.
I started wearing my cardigans buttoned down the back because I’d seen Audrey Hepburn wear hers that way in a film, and plastered my face in Max Facto pan-stick, pale pink lipstick and blue eye-shadow.
Alcohol didn’t play a major part in our lives as it seems to do with young people today, but it was nice to have an occasional Babycham, with its obligatory glace cherry on a stick, in The Little Saddle or Royal Oak, with my friends.
But this was nothing compared to my first taste of frothy coffee in the Bon Bon Cafe in Dewsbury bus station which became our unofficial youth club on Sunday nights.
The excitement was palpable as we piled in and looked round the crowded room to see if the boy we had a crush on was there. The popular song – “A Boy Chases a Girl Until She Catches Him” – was never truer than in those days.
I was reminded of these days when looking through my photograph album and found the picture above, which depicts just how fashion conscious local girls were – and how gorgeous.
Look at those beautiful billowing skirts made to stick out with lots of starch and layers of stiffened underskirts.
If you hadn’t any starch, then a good soak in sugar and water would suffice, and we used the same mixture to spray on our hair if we hadn’t any lacquer.
This picture also shows the kind of camaraderie existing among young girls in those days. We all had a best friend but that didn’t prevent us from going around in groups.
*Readers interested in what the newly restored Arcade will look like might be interested in attending the next meeting of Dewsbury History Group on Thursday, July 6 in Dewsbury Town Hall at 7.30pm.
For in the interval, members will be able to visit the former Leeds Building Society shop in Foundry Street to look at a photographic display of the completed Arcade.