George lived grew up at the Heid O’ the Hill until the age of 9, and has been a keen follower of the ‘Heid O’ the Hill’ blog. RIG Arts got in touch to see if he would write something up for us. George agreed, although he was worried that he would come across as “wallowing in the past, with nothing greater than trivia to offer”. However, I really loved his recollection of memories associated with ‘home’, and instead of getting a sense of wallowing, I thought the stories sounded fond and warm.”
I was born on 1st April 1945, in my parents 3rd floor home at 1 Prospecthill Street. The house, described as a “room and kitchen”, had previously been occupied by my grandparents. I lived there from birth to age 9 years. Young readers should be aware that most babies were delivered at home at that time, and the implications of that for infant mortality.
The house consisted of a small toilet “the lavvy” (no bath or wash hand basin), one bedroom, a hall cupboard “lobby closet”, and a living room/kitchen. There was also an outside lavvy on the landing, suggesting to me now that not every home on the landing had an inside toilet. The living room served as a kitchen and bedroom, with a “set-in” bed, which was effectively a large inset area, with a curtain in front to screen the bed from the living room. I recall 3 of us children shared the bed space. The bed was fixed at a height of about 1 metre off the floor, with a spring base, and a horsehair mattress. The mattress could be lumpy, and occasionally a spring would break and stick through the mattress. The pillows were filled with feathers, capable of poking through the pillowcase, and we always shared a “bolster,” which was a long single pillow the width of the bed. I don’t recall the furnishings in the room, other than a large square wooden table, and presumably some chairs. The fireplace was a “range”, an iron fixture incorporating a fire area, with a hotplate to the side. It may also have incorporated a small oven, all heated by the fire. Above the fireplace was a shelf or “mantle,” on which sat the clock and the radio.
The kitchen part of the room was no more than a sink with cold water tap, and a draining board (dresser) to the side. We did not have the luxury of hot water on tap. Behind/above the sink and draining board was a window giving an aerial view of Ann Street and Nile Street. There must also have been a gas ring, and possibly a gas oven. The floor covering was a square of cheap linoleum.
My parents occupied the bedroom, and my memory of that is vague, but I think there was a window which looked out to Prospecthill Street, and the side of the Overton bar across the road. The street, the close, and the house were lit by gas lamps, and within the living room there was a gas “mantle”, which was a very delicate fine gauze in the shape of a light bulb, which gave off a great light when the gas was lit. Today’s younger readers will appreciate the dangers associated with gas appliances in the home. If the delicate gas mantle was damaged, it was convenient to “borrow” one from the fixture in the close, leaving the stairway in a dangerous state during darkness.
There was no electricity, and therefore no electric appliances in the house. With all due respect to my parents, the phrase “we were poor, but we didn’t know we were poor, because most people were in a similar financial position” could be appropriate. That said I have no recollection of deprivation or hunger, and although not demonstrably over affectionate, my parents were nurturing, protective and proud.
The following minor recollections may be worthy of mention. The lobby closet was used to keep coal in, and about once a week the coal man would deliver a 1 hundredweight bag of coal and empty the contents into the closet, causing a cloud of coal dust. The closet door was quickly closed to avoid the dust spreading.
The radio was powered by an acid battery which I knew only as the “accumulator”. Because there was a cost associated with recharging the accumulator, use of the radio was limited. My favourite memories of radio were sitting by the fire on a Friday(?) night with my father, listening to the distinctive voice of William Boyd as Hopalong Cassidy, and his announcement about his sponsor, “pink and white striped spangles”. Also on a Sunday night(?), the classic BBC serial space adventure “journey to the red planet”, and for music, Bing Crosby and Louis Armstrong “gone fishing”, and Burl Ives “on top of old smokie” (WHAT no U tube or X box).
Often on a Sunday morning I would climb on to the dresser to look to the window at the passing Orange walk flute band. This parade started at the monument on Broomhill Street walked along Drumfrocher Road, and down Ann Street, and I could hear it in the distance in time to get to the window. From that same window on several occasions on a summers evening, with my Dad at home, I could see my mother and several neighbours sitting on a low wall on the opposite side of Ann Street, near Nile Street, singing the songs of the day, “Ill, take you home again Kathleen”, or “Too ra loo ra loo ral” and “Isle of Innesfree,” accompanied by a neighbour who played the accordion, and looking up and waving at suitable intervals.
When Mum was knitting, which was very common at the time, she would buy large “hanks” of wool from the mill shop in Wemyss Bay Street, and I had the responsibility of being her winding arms as she rolled the hanks into balls. Another laborious task my mother had were washing clothes in the sink, using a scrubbing board, and when she was ironing clothes, she used a solid iron which she heated by sitting it for a while on the hot plate next to the coal fire. She would spit lightly on the flat surface of the iron to test if it was right for using, judging this by the sizzle of the spit. Unknown to me at the time is that the residents on the landing were responsible for maintaining a rota, and keeping the stairways clean. I only knew that every so often my mother had to wash the landing and scrub the stairs, on her hands and knees, using a small scrubbing brush.
Bath night for us children was Sunday(?), when water would be boiled by the kettle full, and added to some cold water in a large tin bath, which could accommodate myself and my brother at the same time. When we were too big to share this bath, the second person bathing was getting dirty water. The only minor relevant recollection I have of Christmas, apart from the popularity of cowboy outfits, toy guns, and toy LEAD soldiers, was that my paternal Grandmother always knitted my brother and me a large woollen Christmas stocking each, in which she put a 2 shilling piece, and a tangerine (a luxury due to rationing).