Di Rayburn – Coley

AA few odd notes on Wolseley Street.

During the fifties Coley Boy’s Club was held in a hall at the bottom of Coley Hill, just before you crossed the road into Wolseley Street. I always knew it as the Mission Hall but I’m not sure if that was its correct name. It caused quite a stir when the local lads discovered a way of making themselves faint at will. They had a great time passing out on the gym mats at the club, until for safety reasons they were stopped much to their disgust. We girls had nothing as exciting. Our club was run by Mrs. Robbins and held in Coley School, where we spent the evening learning lady-like handicrafts. I particularly remember making pictures on glass with the coloured, metallic wrapping paper that sweets, particularly toffees were wrapped in. Eventually in the late fifties, a mixed youth club was started up and held once a week in St. Saviour’s hall. By then jive was all the rage, but we had some hilarious ballroom dancing lessons there as well.

Socials were regularly held in the church hall, as well as a weekly Old Tyme Dancing club and the Coronation street party was moved to the hall, because it was such a cold day.

Whist drives with refreshments and nice prizes were held in a large room over the Blue Lion pub. I think they were held to raise funds for the local Labour party. Veronica’s mum, Mrs Pike, used to help run them. I only went once and was very impressed with the cheese and onion sandwiches they served at half time. It was the first time I’d seen a sarny containing grated cheese. Mum always put slices of cheese in hers.

When sweets finally came off ration in the fifties, my Gran made a celebration of it. She took me to a sweet shop in St Mary’s Butts where she knew the owner and let me have my pick using the last of her coupons. She could have taken me the next day and bought as many sweets as she liked with not a coupon in sight, but it wouldn’t have been the same.

Mum used to take me to Bert Bristow’s grocery shop in the morning before school to buy a wagon wheel for break time. There were few goodies to choose from in those days and only one make and flavour of crisps: Smiths plain with the salt in a blue paper sachet.

There was no pre-wrapped food; no fridges, at least not in our street, and so most of our food was bought daily from Bert. Greens had to be cleaned and then soaked in a pan of salt water for a while to draw out caterpillars, and various other insects. Potatoes still had field dirt on them. Cucumbers were only available during the short summer season, consequently were a something of a luxury.

Election Day was always exciting. We usually saw at least one politician on his soap box under the lamp outside Bert’s shop. The neighbours used to gather round and heckle him if he was from the wrong political party.

Coley school was used as the polling station. It meant a day off for us, which only added to the buzz. Cars with loudhailers toured the streets reminding us to vote and were decorated with either blue or red streamers but whichever party it was, their aim was to get people out to cast their vote. Veronica Pike’s mum used to let the Labour volunteers use her front room as an office where tellers records were checked against the electors roll and countless cups of tea were made and drunk.

In the run up to Election Day we kids would chant:

Vote vote vote for Ian Mikado.
Chuck all the others in the sea.
If we had a lump of lead we would bash him on the head
And he’d never go a voting anymore.

Sunday mornings usually saw the Salvation Army band in a circle in the road outside the Bricklayers Arms holding a service. There would be a few sleepy eyed neighbours leaning out of their windows listening, to the band playing hymns, but apart from the usual nosy kids, very few adults came out and joined in. I suspect there were many who wished they’d go away on the only morning of the week they had the chance to lie in.

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