Nostalgia with Margaret Watson: Streets of my childhood

Nothing lightens my heart more than being given a photograph like the one above showing the street where I was born – Victoria Road, Springfield.

Tuesday, 21st April 2015, 10:00 am
This picture taken at the bottom of Victoria Road, Springfield, Dewsbury, probably in the 1920s or 30s,is an important piece of social history. It shows the kind of houses built during the Industrial Revolution. The houses were demolished in the mid 1950s during the town's massive slum clearance programme.

This particular street was one of many such streets in Dewsbury which almost disappeared during the 1950s and 60s due to slum clearance.

This was the street where I once played with my friends, and the shop in the picture is the one where we would buy our bag of humbugs before setting off to the Collins Cinema in Batley Carr.

Even the Victorian gas lamp hanging at the corner of Spring Street recalls when we'd gather beneath it on damp autumn nights to discuss our plans for setting off chumping in readiness for Bonfire Night.

Sign up to our daily Dewsbury Reporter Today newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Now, as I grow older, photographs like these become more important because I fear that I may be forgetting just what the streets of my childhood really did look like.

There will be many people who once lived in Springfield who will be delighted, I'm sure, to see this photograph which was kindly provided by Stuart Hartley, a member of Dewsbury Matters who knows the interest I have in Springfield.

This particular view of the old Dewsbury may not be as picturesque as many of those which normally appear on this page, but to my mind it is beautiful and a very important part of our social history.

It shows the kind of streets which were built during the Industrial Revolution to house the many workers flooding into Dewsbury – many impoverished agricultural workers, looking for work.

The houses were built mainly back-to-back, two-up-and-one down with outside toilets. One or two of these houses were "through houses" but these had probably been built for the mill foremen.

For readers who are not familiar with the area, Springfield was situated only a few hundred yards from the centre of Dewsbury, with Halifax Road running along the top and Bradford Road along the bottom.

A few houses still remain at the top of Victoria Road but because these were "through houses" they were not included in the slum clearance programme.

The Bath Hotel at the top of Victoria Road, which served this once flourishing community, still remains but the Craven Heifer, which was near the bottom of the street, does not.

Springfield Congregational Church was pulled down round about the time of slum clearance, and a doctor's surgery and health centre was built on the site.

The shop and houses pictured above were on the right-hand side of Victoria Road walking down from the Halifax Road direction, and on the other side of Spring Street was Springfield Co-op and the Institute for the Deaf.

Before the houses were built in Springfield, this part of Dewsbury was mainly meadowland, hence one of the streets being called Meadow Lane.

The little side street pictured above was called Spring Street, no doubt because it led to a sparkling spring which was later to become a stinking beck filled with industrial waste.

The first house to be occupied in Springfield was built in 1851 in Commercial Road, and the first family to move in was called Aspinall.

They had lived with their five children in a one-roomed tenement in Batley Carr at the junction of Mill Road and Leaming Fold, as it was then known, which subsequently became known as Willans Yard.

Their youngest child, Rhoda Aspinall, would years later give an interview to the Reporter giving a vivid description of Springfield from its early days.

She recalled how, according to her mother, after she was born in the winter of 1851, her father had said it was time they moved into a bigger house.

A contractor named Ingham had just started building a block of eight houses in Commercial Road, and the Aspinall family were able to move into the first one he built.

Commercial Road was unpaved then and for a long time the Aspinalls sank into mud and slush every time they stepped out of their door.

So anxious were they to get out of their overcrowded tenement in Leaming Fold that they "flitted" on the same day as the plastering on their new home had been finished.

The next morning when Mr Aspinall awoke, he looked out towards the fanlight and exclaimed to his wife: "Sitha, Mary, we've been sleeping all night without a fanlight!"

It seems that although the aperture over the door for the fanlight had been fitted, the glass had not.

Rhoda never left the house in Commercial Road where she lived from being a baby in 1851 to the day she died in 1933.

In her interview several years before her death, she was able to give a vivid description of the newly developed village of Springfield in the early 1850s.

She recalled how Springfield had been meadow and pasture land and young boys used the fields where Messsrs Mark Oldroyd and Sons were later to build their weaving shed as a recreation ground.

"We could see from our house right over Daw Green, and hear the old Primitive Methodist Sunday School scholars sing their hymns at Whitsuntide," Rhoda recalled.

Rhoda saw all the other streets and shops being built in Springfield and was also regular attender at the newly-built Springfield Congregational Chapel at the top of their street.

Rhoda loved telling the story of how she was baptised by the first minister of the chapel, the Rev Gilbert McCallum, after he had called at their home.

She recalled: "After tea I ran out to play, and when my mother called me in I found that all was ready for a christening service.

"Not only was it arranged that I should be christened, but also four or five other baptisms should take place at the same time.

"Mr McCallum duly christened us, and as soon as possible I ran back out of the house to resume my play."

Rhoda's working career started when she was seven years of age and continued until she was 70.

"I was winding bobbins for my father and another hand-loom weaver at Richardson's Mill at the bottom of Commercial Road when I was so small I had to stand on a brick to reach them," she said.