THE sun is shining as I write this column, and we are still in the second week of the old Dewsbury Feast, and this is why my thoughts have turned to the club trips which early every child in this district used to go on.
Yes, it was this time of year when all the working men’s clubs in Dewsbury would hire scores of trains in which to take thousands of local children to the seaside, usually Cleethorpes or Bridlington.
For many of us, it was the only time we saw the sea because in those post-war days, many families couldn’t afford a holiday.
Although most of the kids up our street only saw the sea once a year, courtesy of Eastborough Working Men’s Club or Dewsbury Irish Nash, there were lots of other wonderful things we could do during the long summer months.
We were never bored and never lost for things to do because we were allowed to wander almost wherever we wished without adult supervision. It was a freedom our children and grandchildren will never know.
There was never a “Where are you going?” from our parents, who always seemed glad to see the back of us, especially when school holidays arrived. We played mainly in the street after school, but during the summer holidays we ventured to exciting places like Coxley Valley, Howley Ruins and Bluebell Wood.
We played near reservoirs and rivers, ponds and lakes, and came home dirty and muddy, clutching jam jars filled with cloudy pond water and wriggling tadpoles.
There were also lots of railway lines and embankments in Dewsbury at that time which needed investigating and we spent hours watching the trains go by.
We never saw any danger in these places and never dreamed we could be harmed, and our sense of security was reaffirmed every time the passing train drivers gave us a cheery wave
In Dewsbury there were so many railway stations, we took them all for granted, never dreaming that one day there would only be one left – Wellington Road.
The other stations I remember were Dewsbury Central, Earlsheaton, Batley Carr, Thornhill Lees,and Ravensthorpe, which is still operating but not staffed I believe.
There was also one at Chickenley Heath and, of course, the old Lancashire and Yorkshire station in the Market Place which closed before I was born.
All we took with us on these expeditions to reservoirs, woods and railway lines were bottles of tap water and slices of jam and bread wrapped in newspaper. No aluminium foil or clingfilm in those days.
Railway stations when I was a child were busy places and the trains ran frequently and the fares were within the range of ordinary working people.
Even little stations like Earlsheaton in their heyday had 60 passenger trains stopping there every weekday with 12 on Sundays. People living in Earlsheaton could get a train almost on their doorstep which would take them straight to Cleethorpes, always my favourite seaside resort.
I visited there every year with Eastborough Working Men’s Club, catching the train at Dewsbury Central Station, wearing a label pinned to my coat informing the world that I was with Eastborough Working Men’s Club, just in case I got lost.
An important part of this annual treat was the fact that we were given pocket money in a brown envelope on the train before we arrived at our destination.
We were also given instructions to meet at a particular cafe at a certain time where we were given a lunch of fish and chips, and again we would return at teatime for what to us was a sumptuous tea.
On the journey to and from Cleethorpes we were given packets of crisps and bottles of pop. No wonder we felt we were being treated like royalty. Oh happy days!
Nothing and no-one can take these happy memories from me because they were so special – just once a year – and we didn’t ask for more.
Sadly, Eastborough Working Men’s Club, like nearly all the other clubs like this in the country, is no longer with us, and I think in many ways we have lost something pretty special.
My favourite railway station was Batley Carr which was near my home in Springfield, and where my friends and I spent many happy hours playing ‘houses’ in the abandoned stationmaster’s house, which stood empty for years.
We took it over and made it ‘our house’, and went there most Sundays after Mass carrying with us all manner of little items we’d begged or borrowed from our friends and relatives or got from the rubbish tip.
Our treasures included a little buffet, a sweeping brush, an old lace curtain, a few chipped cups and an old cracked vase to hold the wild flowers we picked as we walked along the railway embankment.
Nobody stopped us, nobody questioned us, and we were left to allow our imagination to run wild as we created a new Sunday identity - that of a little family which had acquired a new house badly in need of a good cleaning.
We brushed and scrubbed, and our table was an upturned cardboard box and our chairs a few bricks laboriously searched for and lovingly carried to our new abode.
We decorated our little house with flowers and tree branches which we placed on mantle shelves and window sills, usually in milk bottles.
Of course, nothing lasts forever, and the day came when some official-looking person peeped through the window and told us to scarper, which we did in two minutes flat.
We didn’t even stop to collect our little treasures because we knew in those days that we had to obey authority in whatever guise it came.
I look back on those happy days and realise that we really were the Railway Children, long before the film of that name had been dreamed of.
Nowhere can I find a picture of any of our club trips, so this week I use what we would call a ‘pub trip’ which was organised by the licensees of the Station Hotel for the children of patrons.
The picture shows them standing outside Wellington Road Station waiting for the train to take them to the seaside.
I wonder if the few remaining clubs and pubs still operating in this area run trips to the seaside for children. I hope they do.