We enter the world with fate already decided as to our sex, nationality, with or without parents, healthy or handicapped, born in a Royal Household or just in a commoner's cottage.
I was lucky for I had parents who reared me in a caring manner, along with my elder sister, Edith. Both my father and mother originated from Luton, then the centre of the millinery industry. My mother was a hat designer and my father's family of nine children had their own hat cottage industry. He left home as a youth and worked in the millinery department of SJ Watts, Portland Street, Manchester.
I was a first world war baby, having no awareness of the slaughter taking place in France. Only when my father returned to England as a mustard gas casualty, did I become acquainted with the horrors of war. When hostilities ceased, my family stayed at Buxton, Derbyshire to help my father recuperate, where the pure air was reputed to help cure chest illness. Mrs Middleton, a kindly lady with a roundish face, became our landlady at her cottage alongside Fairfield Common for the duration of our year's stay. I was aged five at the time and became fascinated with the coloured tapers she used for lighting fires and candles. When winter set in and Buxton became covered in snow, I imagined that this is what Switzerland would look like. I joined other children tobogganing on the snow-covered hill known as the Solomon's Temple Slopes.
On returning to Cypris Street, Stretford, where I was born, I could hear again the Manchester Trams clanging along Chester Road, plying to and fro from Altrincham. Cypris Street was well known for having a public indoor swimming baths open one day for males, the next day for females, alternating on a continuing basis. It was not uncommon for boys to be peering through the baths' keyhole on ladies' day. Part of their sex education, you might say.
My father was a self-taught organist and on Sundays would officiate at Weslyan Church, Urmston. As a special favour, I was allowed to sit alongside my father while he played. Occasionally, I could help operate the hand pump at the rear of the organ, these were days before electronically operated pumps were used. My mother, from time to time, would take my sister and myself to the Sunday morning service at the Henshawe Blind Institute on the Chester Road, Old Trafford. Seeing so many blind people made you feel sad, but I used to play around in the high pews where I could be hidden and certainly was not seen by the
majority of the congregation.
Around the early 1920's, long aerials mushroomed in everyone's back garden. It was the beginning of wireless transmission from 2LO, British Broadcasting House. Anyone who had a crystal set operated by a cat's whisker and wearing headphones could spend hours tuning in.
Lighting in the streets was by gas light, which was switched on by the gaslighter riding his bike, using a long pole. This was the period when cotton workers were awakened by a cyclist knocking on their bedroom windows, again using a long pole. On Sundays, there was usually a mass exodus of cyclists leaving Manchester District, making their way through Altrincham en route to Wales and back for a day's spin. At that time, the standard working week included Saturday morning.
My father became a commercial traveller in millinery for his firm, and it was only on weekends that we saw him. It was during this period, around the mid 1920's, that my family moved to Urmston a few miles away, to be nearer his Weslyan Chapel. Before moving, we stayed with relatives in London. Whilst there, the British Empire Exhibition was being held at Wembley. Since then, Wembley Stadium has become world famous for holding the major soccer and other sporting events in the world.
So much more happened in the smaller community of Urmston. I joined the local cubs attached to the baptist chapel. On my first camping holiday I was scared because I frequently wet the bed at night. The camp was held in the local Urmston Meadow adjacent to the river Mersey. Because I mis-spelt my name as 'Ragmat' I was ever to be called that by the cubs.
All the main interests were centred around the local churches. There were chapel and church football leagues. St Clement's Church, Urmston, in its records from 1906 shows that there were 600 children attending Sunday school with 30 teachers. I went on a Sunday school trip to Southport. Whilst there, a few of us decided to hire a rowing boat on the Marine Lake. Unfortunately, I slipped off the landing stage and, by good fortune, I was able to hold on to the edge of the stage. I could not swim, although I had been attending Cypris Swimming Baths with the cubs from Urmston. Instead of swimming, we all fooled about in the hot water showers. Thankfully, a kind lady took me home to dry my clothes. I had a new school blazer and after it had been put through the wringer, all the brass buttons were bent. When I arrived home, I was afraid to tell my mother the truth and said that I had slipped and fallen. She told the next door neighbour that she could not understand this explanation! I made sure the next time I visited the swimming baths that I learnt to swim.
The home we lived in at Braddon Avenue, Urmston, was typical of many houses of this period. We had a cellar, where coal was delivered through the coal hole outside the front door. The coal hole was capped with a metal lid when not in use. The cellar was used to do the family washing using a dolly tub and wooden rollers in the mangle. The front door steps were always stoned to look smart, a task that usually came my way. Sadly, my mother became crippled with arthritis and my sister and I had to take over most of the household chores and shopping. Nevertheless, I still remember happy times with the gang I belonged to. We specialised in making dugouts, making gunpowder, scrumping and playing cycle polo. In those days, I was known as 'Monty', short for Ray(ment). As fate plays tricks over a life span, in the gang was Ella Bennett, later my wife, and my best friend Sam Irwin, who became ex-husband to Ella. One claim to fame, I was chosen 'beefeater' to protect the beauty queen in the open carriage en route to the crowning ceremony where the Urmston Carnival was taking place on Golden Hill Park.
I entered Urmston Grammar School as a fee paying pupil and have my parents to thank, for money was in short supply. Indeed, the whole of the country was suffering at this period of the early 1930's, all jobs were at risk. My school academic achievements were nil. My sporting attainments included gaining school colours at football and cricket. I did, however, become elected as one of four stage erectors when school plays were about to be performed!
I am not sure why I failed to take advantage of a very good school education. My father, being self-taught, did not push me but relied on my own ability to make progress. All that I can recall is that sport seemed to have pre-dominated my life. When, through the influence of my father's connections I was offered a job at JN Phillips, Manchester, prior to the Matric examinations, I decided to leave without a certificate. Although I appear to have wasted my education, in fact this is never wasted, provided that one has acquired the discipline of learning.
© Alan Rayment 1998
Last revised: January 14, 2001