1915 - 1929
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
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 fathers 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 years 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 Solomons 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 1920s, long aerials mushroomed in everyones back garden. It
was the beginning of wireless transmission from 2LO, British Broadcasting House. Anyone
who had a crystal set operated by a cats 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 days 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 1920s, 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 Clements 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
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 1930s, 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
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 predominated my life. When, through the
influence of my fathers 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.
© 1998 Alan Rayment
Last revised: February 08, 1999.