LAST week I wrote about my mother’s love of all things old and how fascinated she was by how the other half lived, especially the wealthy mill-owners who resided in mansions only a stone’s throw from our house in Springfield.
I decided this week to continue this memoir of childhood by recalling how mother and I always thought there wasn’t a nicer place on earth than Oxford Road with its grand Victorian houses and beautiful gardens.
On Saturday afternoons when the weather was fine and mother had done all her shopping, she would suggest we went for a walk before she started making tea.
I was always her chosen company, so with a spring in our step we’d set off up Halifax Road with the sole intention of looking at every fine house we passed.
Once in Oxford Road, we’d walk first up one side and then cross over at the top to come back on the other side to make sure we didn’t miss one single house in the process.
Back in Halifax Road, we would call at Burgoyne’s grocer’s shop for a Wall’s ice cream, which we ate while sitting on a bench in nearby Batley Carr Park.
Afterwards, mother would settle back to have a quiet cigarette while I did a few somersaults on the grass to make her laugh.
I can see her now.
But it was the trip up Oxford Road which she loved most because it gave her the opportunity to visualise what it would be like to live in one of those fine houses.
She would count all the windows and work out how many yards of curtain it would take to dress them up.
I still have an ache in my heart that I was never able to make her dream come true.
It always made her day if one of the houses was up for sale and unoccupied, which gave her the opportunity to walk up the drive and peep through the letter box and look through the window.
She only measured 4ft 8ins, so more than not she had to lift me up to look through the window which allowed me to describe to her what it was like inside.
She always wanted to know if the house had a tiled fireplace, unlike our black-lead one at home which took a lot of cleaning, and also if the walls had been wall-papered and not distempered like ours.
She inspected the back garden closely, not so much for the flowers and trees, but to ensure it had its own “hanging” space on which to hang the weekly wash.
Next, she would have a quick peep through the kitchen windows to see if it had a porcelain sink and not a dirty grey one like ours, which was made of stone with big lumps chipped out of it.
Some houses in Oxford Road had basements, cellar kitchens and attics, not to mention greenhouses, gazebos and garden sheds which were nearly as big as our little two up and down house in Springfield.
Mother had lived all her life in small back-to-back houses, and her dream had always been to live in what was called a “through” house with its own front and back door and a garden.
Where we lived, washing lines were strung across the street, and the woman who got up earliest to get her washing done first, was the one who got the best hanging space. Many a row ensued about this.
When we walked up Oxford Road we always wondered why the houses at the bottom were far more modest than those at the top which were much bigger.
I later discovered that the first houses built in Oxford Road were terraced, followed by semis, followed by detached which got bigger and bigger, the higher up you went.
It seems it was more to do with one-up-manship than design because as the houses were built, those moving in made sure theirs were built bigger than the one below.
Our favourite house on our journey up Oxford Road was called Moor Hills, which was more of a mansion than a house, but we never got further than the front gate because there were always people living in it.
Instead we gazed up at this magnificent Victorian structure from the bottom of the drive and tried to imagine the kind of lifestyle enjoyed by those inside.
Mother’s love of fine houses and beautiful things stayed with her all her life, and a lot of it rubbed off on me.
I have learned a great deal about Moor Hills over the years and I know my mother would have been fascinated by the stories I have unearthed.
In the coming weeks I hope to write more about it and also of the rich businessmen who lived there, also their wives.
I should imagine the “woman of the house” at Moor Hills never had to bother about sharing her “hanging” space with neighbours on wash days.
She wouldn’t even have had to do the washing because she had a myriad of servants to do it for her. Happy days for some in Victorian Dewsbury!
○ If you have any past memories of Dewsbury please email firstname.lastname@example.org.