The Nostalgia column with Margaret Watson

Margaret Watson.
Margaret Watson.

A GREAT deal has appeared in these columns recently about the Empire Theatre in Dewsbury and it seems there is more to come.

Many people have been contacting me regarding their memories of this never-to-be-forgotten place, and so the story goes on.

The happy couple: Winnie Taylor and Harvey Kettle on their wedding day with their bridesmaid and best man.

The happy couple: Winnie Taylor and Harvey Kettle on their wedding day with their bridesmaid and best man.

This week, I found myself recalling how film star Anthony Newley took my cousin Kathleen to Blackpool for a day out.

She was a part-time usherette there in the 1950s, and Anthony was appearing with the Saxon Players in repertory.

I have written recently about the landladies who gave board and lodgings to some of the most famous entertainers in the country, and I hope to be writing more about them in days to come.

But there was one young star, who appeared at the Empire who I will never forget because she was an old neighbour of ours.

Her name was Winnie Taylor, and she lived across from us in Woodbine Street, on The Flatts, in Dewsbury.

She was older than me and I looked up to her as an excellent role model because she taught me how to follow my dreams.

Winnie was the first girl I knew who had the courage to leave Dewsbury at the age of 16. She moved to London to pursue her dream of becoming a professional dancer.

She finally made it as a dancer with the country’s top dancing troupe, The Bluebell Girls, and toured the country working with stars like Laurel and Hardy, Morecambe and Wise and Anthony Newley.

But what I learned most from Winnie was that if you ever become a success, never forget from where I come and to never to be ashamed of your family background.

Winnie never forgot Dewsbury or her friends on The Flatts and during holidays, or when she was appearing locally, she would come to stay with her parents and bring her glamorous friends with her.

We lived in the house directly opposite their back-to-back two bedroomed house, and we watched entranced as taxis drew up and all these lovely dancing girls came tumbling out.

They often stayed overnight, but how they all managed to squeeze into that little house I’ll never know, but they did, and they never seemed to mind that the lavatory was half-way down the street.

Later, Winnie was to bring home her gorgeous cockney boyfriend – Harvey Kettle – who became captivated by the warmth of those living in our community.

He was never tempted to return home to London, and when they got married it was no surprise that they would come to live in Woodbine Street just a few doors from us.

Harvey loved Dewsbury and could never understand why anyone should ever look down on it. He used to tell us we didn’t know how lucky we were living in a place like Dewsbury.

And, he didn’t mind living opposite his in-laws, but actually revelled in it.

He just loved the idea of living in a close, warm community, among people who had no airs and graces.

It didn’t matter to him if there were no bathrooms or inside toilets, and that the dustbins were half-way down the street next to the lavatories.

Looking back, it seems that having to go round the back on a cold winter’s night to use the lavvy, was a small price to pay for being able to live in a safe, secure neighbourhood.

But all this changed when our little community was declared a slum clearance area in the late 1950s and we were all dispersed to new council estate in various parts of the town.

Some years later, by a stroke of luck, many of us were able to return to the Flatts to live in the new houses which had replaced our old ones.

Winnie and Harvey, my mother and my sister, also called Winnie, were among those to return and live where they had lived before.

The people I mention here are long gone but their memories, like those of the Empire, will always live on because our lives were so closely entwined.

I wonder if we will remember with such deep affection the neighbours we now live among, many of them whose names we don’t even know.

Writing about the Empire has brought back memories of so many people with whom I shared my early years.

I can still recall that as a child there was always something reassuring about living in a close-knit community where everyone knew my name.

We went to bed without locking our doors and children walked to school on their own and we all felt safe.

Many of the people up our street, both on The Flatts, and earlier when I lived in Springfield, were as poor as church mice.

But I know many would return to those days tomorrow if they could, but that can never be because, like the Empire, they have gone forever.

Still, we have our memories, and we can remember those days (at least the happy ones) with joy and much laughter.

Happy days.

Email tresham3@gmail.com with your memories of the area.