The Nostalgia column with Margaret Watson
THE lives of thousands of people in this district were changed overnight when the slum clearance programmes of the 1950s took hold.
People who had lived in the same street all their lives were suddenly uprooted, and children who had previously walked to school, now had to get buses.
I know, I was one of them.
We were issued with bus contracts, paid for by the Corporation, and it was the first time I had to carry something to identify myself with.
Children had to find new friends because the Corporation never considered sending old neighbours to the same estates. Instead they sent them in ones and twos all over the place.
We were like refugees being transported to a foreign land where our new neighbours were complete strangers.
It was for our own good – physically – but spiritually and emotionally, it was traumatic.
We were leaving our old friends and neighbours behind. It was 65 years ago for me but I’ve never forgotten it.
The novelty of having running hot water, an inside lavatory and a gas cooker instead of a coal oven, soon wore off and became accepted as normal. But we kids never accepted having to catch a bus to school and getting the cane nearly every day because we were late.
Worse still, our regular visits to the Collins Cinema in Batley Carr were curtailed because the Corporation didn’t give us bus contracts for that kind of thing.
No wonder we began to look back on the “good old days” through rose coloured spectacles, forgetting the overcrowding (five in a bed) and the shocking sanitation.
The photographs on this page show just how shocking some of our living conditions were, but despite this, we still cannot forget the happy years we spent there.
It was the camaraderie existing in such awful places which got us through.
People lending a few coppers when the gas meter ran out, or a few lumps of coal to keep the fire burning.
Children missed belonging to their own gang, not like the gangs we read about today, but friendly little groups of kids who went everywhere together and looked after each other.
I am indebted to Stuart Hartley for allowing me to use these pictures because they tell a story all of their own, and remove once and for all the rose coloured spectacles so many of us still wear when recalling those days.
We forget how many babies died from diseases caused through poor sanitation, and how many adults died prematurely from living in back to back houses with no through ventilation.
But when I write the history of those days, I cannot forget the memory of those friends and neighbours we shared those awful conditions with.
Over 5,000 people were re-housed in the slum clearance schemes in Dewsbury, and a similar number in Batley and surrounding areas.
I know many of those reading this column were among them, and they will all have different memories of those days. I would like to hear from them.
Please contact me on [email protected]