Nostalgia with Margaret Watson: Fond memories of life on The Flatts in Dewsbury

Whenever I show a picture of The Flatts in Dewsbury I know I will get a response from readers, especially those who lived on Granville Street.

Sunday, 12th September 2021, 6:30 pm
HAPPY DAYS: Ethel Atkinson, pictured more than 60 years ago outside her home on South Woodbine Street on The Flatts, with three of her children who took part in Granville Street Chapel’s Flower Sunday

My recent picture showing a lady sweeping the flagstones in front of her house was no exception and it caused some speculation as to which street it was.

Quite a few said it was Granville Street but couldn’t give any direct evidence to prove it.

Others also felt the lady doing the sweeping might be Ethel Atkinson, who had lived on The Flatts most of her life.

But this week I received a letter from Ethel stating that it certainly wasn’t her, although she did admit doing a lot of sweeping in her time.

Ethel, who is 97 and living in Thornhill Lees, has no idea which street was in the picture because all the streets there looked the same.

This means the jury is still out as to which street it was, and, if Ethel, with all her knowledge of The Flatts, can’t recognise it, no-one else will.

Ethel, who lived in South Woodbine Street, says in her letter how delighted she was to see the photograph of her beloved Flatts, which brought back happy memories.

She first went to live there on her marriage to husband Raymond after he’d come home from the war in a little two-up-one-down back-to-back house which had no electricity or running hot water.

The family got bathed in a zinc bath in front of the fire, and the toilet, which they shared with neighbours, was outside.

Ethel as a child lived in Lowside, Earlsheaton, and had attended Eastborough School, which was a good distance away.

There was no money for school meals so she had to go home for her dinner, which meant she was walking to and from school four times a day.

Later she attended Dewsbury’s Home-Making School where she learned everything there was to know about running a home.

Ethel, who was one of ten children, worked for many years as a cleaner at Wellington Road Railway Station.

In winter she could be seen risking life and limb walking along the railway lines picking up pieces of coal which had fallen from trains to put on the office fires.

Ethel and husband Raymond moved from The Flatts to a new council house in Thornhill Lees shortly before The Flatts was designated for slum clearance in the early 1960s.

It was a wrench for Ethel because she had loved her life on The Flatts and was sad to be leaving old neighbours behind.

The couple had six children, one a little boy who was in a wheelchair, but he sadly died when he was 14.

Ethel always said she was helped in her loss by good neighbours and her involvement with the local community, especially at Granville Street Church.

Some years ago I wasn’t a bit surprised to learn Ethel had been to Buckingham Palace with Raymond to meet the Queen and had actually been able to speak to her.

They were there to attend the Royal Tank Regiment Standards Parade, and this lovely couple certainly deserved their moment of glory.

Ethel, I recall, always seemed to have the knack of getting up and close to famous people whenever they visited Dewsbury.

When Margaret Thatcher visited Dewsbury nearly 40 years ago, Ethel not only met her but the two women were able to have a short chat together.

Although the then Prime Minister was surrounded by security men, Ethel had somehow managed to get through and shake her by the hand and have a few words.

Even today, Ethel doesn’t know how she managed it, but she did and as a result made headlines in the Reporter. I know because I wrote the story.

Some years earlier, Ethel had been in the news when she was given priority to stand on the platform at Dewsbury Central Railway Station to see the Queen arrive for her visit to the town.

Throughout most of her working life, Ethel was a cleaner at various local businesses, most now closed, including Pickles and Whitworth’s newspaper wholesalers on Nelson Street.

Also, George Helliwell newsagent on Wellington Street, and also over the border at Batley Variety Club, and, of course, British Rail.

Despite working most of her life, Ethel always found time to involve herself in community events, helping to organise fancy dress parades and Whitsuntide processions at Granville Street Chapel.

She has lots of photographs and memorabilia of those happy days, including a hand-drawn map of The Flatts which shows all the many streets, shops and businesses there.

It was drawn by Teddy Coates, who used to live there, and I’m grateful Ethel kept it safe and allowed me to take a copy.

Looking at it, I still marvel that so many streets and houses could be fitted into such a small area or how all those shops so close to one another managed to make a living – but they did.

I’m sure those who used to live on The Flatts will love to see some of the names of those old shops which supplied our every need before supermarkets came on the scene.

Therefore, I am publishing the list of those shops which served the good people of The Flatts before the bulldozers moved in. See how many you can remember.

Starting from the end of Ashworth Road, at the corner of Willans Road, stood the Co-op, which was directly opposite Springfield View.

Next door was Secker’s fish and chip shop, and across the road, at the bottom of Woodbine Street, was Woods and Shaw’s grocers.

On the other side were Goodall’s off licence, next door was Irvine’s fish shop, at the corner of Crescent Place, and further down was Percy Field’s off-licence.

At the bottom of South Woodbine Street were Eastwood’s butchers with Jubbs on the other side, and further down at the bottom of Elmwood Street was Harry Mason the cobbler.

Standing between Beech Grove and Savile Place was Turner’s plumbers, and at the bottom of Granville Street and Eastwood’s yard stood Granville Street Chapel.

At the top of Granville Street were Dixon’s shop, and on the other side Hirst’s the bakers.

At the end of Vulcan Road, facing Milton Terrace, stood a little sweetshop, name unknown, and on the other side was Coupland’s post office.

On the corner of Eightlands Road was Cross’s butchers, and a bit further down was Jackson’s hairdressers.

Further on Vulcan Road were Tattersfield’s butcher’s, Popplewell’s sweet warehouse, Dunford’s fish shop, William Henry Mann’s off licence, the Elephant and Castle pub and St James’ Mission Church.

At the side of the Elephant and Castle was George Street (still there) and further along were Webster Street and Back Webster Street.

Other streets on the map were New Street, Eastwood’s Yard, Trinity Buildings, South Elmwood Street, Back Granville Street and Trinity Place.

I wish to thank Ethel for keeping this map safe because it is an important part of our social history.

But for this little document, the names of all those streets and the businesses which served them would have been forgotten.

You can email your recollections of Dewsbury in years gone by to: [email protected]