The Nostalgia column with Margaret Watson – Memories from Chickenley

All aboard and ready to go: Three youngsters in the late 1950s enjoy a run on their home-made trolley through the new Chickenley estate. Paul Wilkinsonn aged two at the front with his sister, Linda, aged three, and David Firth, aged 11 at the controls.
All aboard and ready to go: Three youngsters in the late 1950s enjoy a run on their home-made trolley through the new Chickenley estate. Paul Wilkinsonn aged two at the front with his sister, Linda, aged three, and David Firth, aged 11 at the controls.

LAST week I wrote about the happy days of childhood, and I got a lot of positive feedback from readers who remembered those days well.

The picture I showed of children playing cricket with a pile of bricks for wickets, evoked memories of those days when we made our own fun, and with dad’s help, our own toys.

Margaret Watson.

Margaret Watson.

Old pram wheels and a piece of wood could make something spectacular, as we can see from the picture above of children riding on a home-made trolley through Chickenley.

Many reading this column may have been among the first to move there from the thousands of back-to-back houses being demolished in slum clearance areas.

These people were not given a choice as to where they would live but were literally uprooted overnight and sent to different estates far from where they had lived.

The Chickenley estate was one of the first to be built in Dewsbury, and with 1,000 houses, 100 of them steel houses and 50 prefabs, it was certainly the largest.

Rents and rates for these new semi-detached houses ranged from 13 shillings for a one-bedroom bungalow to £1 7s 0d for a four-bedroom brick house, all of which had gardens front and back.

Children, however, who had been used to playing in the streets, continued to do so, much to the annoyance of some of the older neighbours.

But they also loved the rural atmosphere of the new estate, playing in Chickenley Woods and swinging from trees on home-made swings made from rope.

Later a youth group was started under the leadership of PC Don Sellars of the old Dewsbury Borough Police which met three times a week in the old Co-operative reading rooms.

But there were enough police in those days to do this kind of thing and they were seen in the village every day, something you cannot imagine happening today.

But, for mums and dads it wasn’t so easy for them to adapt to a complete change of life as their children obviously were, and some never did.

A new school was built to cater for 250 children and the bus service was increased to five buses an hour to placate those who were used to being able to walk to work.

A parade of new shops was also built to satisfy housewives who had been used to having corner shops in every street and a market only a few minute’s walk away.

Many had come from Springfield, the Flatts and Eastborough, which were all within walking distance of everything they needed, shops, pubs, clubs, picture houses and churches.

Catholic residents in Chickenley complained their church was too far away and there were no buses on Sundays to take them to St Paulinus Church in Westtown and St Joseph’s in Batley Carr.

But eventually this was sorted out as well when a new Catholic church – St Thomas More’s – was built, and a new parish priest appointed – Father Manus Moyniyan.

Sadly this church, like so many in Dewsbury, is no longer with us, having closed down recently because of declining membership.

The estate had been carefully planned so that it would retain some kind of community spirit of the villages from which the new residents were coming.

And Chickenley residents were fortunate to have the Chairman of Dewsbury’s housing committee, Councillor Fred Fox, living on their estate at Number 13 Cedar Road.

Councillor Fox observed at the time that Chickenley had a wonderful chance to develop village life on communal lines.

By developing a community spirit in Chickenley, he said, the council had hoped the good tenants on the estate would help any bad tenants become good citizens.

He also hoped the privet hedges planted around all the houses would give the estate a village atmosphere and make it into a very pleasant place in which to live.

But he warned that the council should not spoon-feed the new tenants.

It was up to them to improve their own living conditions.

Before the estate was built, Chickenley had been a rural area, mainly agricultural, and all the cottages were built of stone.

There was a village school and a pub, two churches, the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, which was at the heart of the community, and St Mary’s Anglican Church.

There was also a little shop and the Co-op at the top of the village, and a newsagents, Mr C.C. Hitch, at the top of Chickenley Lane.

It even had its own railway station and a locally famous cricket club, and one can only imagine the sadness the old villagers felt when their familiar way of life was taken from them.

The noise of the bulldozers and tractors coming through the village daily and tearing up meadowland, ripping up hedgerows and chopping down trees, must have been heart-breaking..

Their rural life was being taken from them forever and like the new residents moving in, they would have to adapt to a completely new way of life.

But Dewsbury was changing and so was the world. Life would never be the same again.