Peter Roughan’s memories
BORN IN ASHFORD, MIDDLESEX IN 1927
WHEN AND WHY DID YOU COME UP TO THIS AREA?
My father was a prison warder and he was transferred to Strangeways. That’s how we came here. We came up to Broughton.
BROUGHTON IS ON THE OUTSKIRTS OF PRESTWICH AND YOU WERE SAYING YOU WENT THROUGH THE PARKS, WHICH PARKS?
They call it Drinkwater Park, it is where the Isolation Hospital was on the banks of the river Irwell. We used to wind our way from Broughton across Kersal Moor then we followed Singleton Brook to Kersal Road, across Kersal Road, and I always remember there was a dew pond there which was fascinating because it had frogs and newts and things like that. Then we climbed up the hill which was a large sand hill at Rainsough Brow, it was still there, it’s completely disappeared now and houses are built on it. We used to stand on the top and kick the edges and watch all the sand fall down. Then we’d go down Rainsough Brow which in those days was still sets on one side and smooth the other side and at the bottom you’d come to the entrance to Drinkwater Park. There was a farm on the left as you went in and I knew the lad that lived there but I can’t remember his name. As you walked through the park you could see a long way. There were big trees, big Beech trees but you could see across to the Hall and as you got so far, there was a little road with white gates on it, and a bridge over the lake. I always remember they grew a lot of cabbages there. On the right of the path was a small flat area and that was a little field of wheat and then on the right behind it the hillside was completely wooded in those days. We continued then to near to Prestwich Clough and I always remember that valley, the stream came from the Clough, wound its way through lovely grass meadowland with cows in it. To me it was perfect. From there we’d go towards Thirteen Arches. I can remember the remains of the mill that were there just bricks and the old boilerhouse. The railway was still in use, I can remember trains crossing it. I can even remember a barge on the canal at Clifton, a broad barge, before they stopped using it. Sometimes we would come back on the other side of the river which we would have crossed at Prestwich and back towards Agecroft Power Station which had three wooden cooling towers on the banks of the river. Another favourite place was the outlet was from the cooling towers, it was warm water and there were lots of voles and water rats and we used to chuck stones at them! Other than that we’d come back through the Clough which has changed a lot now. Where the café used to be on the left of it was a field, no trees on it, you could play cricket there, it was just flat. The bandstand was still there. Then we’d come up to the main road and walk back to Broughton again. The trams I remember only came as far as Sedgeley Park and they were red and cream, not green.
WHO RAN THE TRAMS?
Salford. They probably came all the way to Prestwich, but I only remember them turning round at Sedgeley Park. I can remember the Astoria – it changed its name to the Odeon of course.
Going way back again, we didn’t really come to Prestwich much – we were only youngsters – the park was more interesting (Philips Park, we used to go in there as well). The hall was still there in Philips Park. I forget when they pulled it down.
COULD YOU GO INTO IT?
No it was still lived in.
GOING BACK TO THE FIRST PART OF YOUR WALK – DRINKWATER PARK – DID YOU SAY THERE WAS A HALL IN THERE?
No it isn’t there now. Irwell Hall it was called. Peter Drinkwater lived there. 1953 I think it was. It became an isolation hospital, then the Civil Defence set fire to it as an exercise and it gradually disappeared. There is only foundations left now. In fact, I don’t know if you know this, Ian Pringle who did a book on Prestwich (the Chairman), with the information I’d got and what he’d got, I’ve done a picture of Irwell Hall for the records. Nobody has a picture of it.
DO YOU REMEMBER THE HALL BEING LIVED IN?
No, only as the isolation hospital. We treated it with great respect! We never tried to get into the grounds or anything.
On the river bank behind it there were maybe four or six huts painted green, and they were the wards.
WERE THERE ANY AMENITIES IN DRINKWATER PARK?
Oh no, it was a wild park in a way. No bowling greens or anything like that. The people who had the farm looked after that part. After that you came to the old Prestwich tip and the incinerator and sewage works.
COULD YOU SEE THE ISOLATION HOSPITAL?
Oh yes, through the trees.
CAN YOU DESCRIBE IT AT ALL, WHAT DID IT LOOK LIKE?
It was a brick building with a porch over the front door with pillars each side and all the woodwork was painted white and it had a pediment (like a triangle) over the top. There were a lot of big trees round it, it wasn’t easy to get a clear view of it but the trees later on in the war they all died. We used to go there in the war and if you went along the canal they used to have notices up DO NOT LINGER IN THIS AREA. Well we did linger of course and it made you quite light-headed! It was the fumes from the magnesium works which drifted across. There was no grass, it was just black. All the trees were leafless and that’s how it was where the fumes drifted across. That was during the war of course.
DURING THE WAR A LOT OF PARKS WERE GIVEN OVER TO GROWING VEGETABLES – DID THAT HAPPEN THERE?
Yes, they had a lot of cabbages!
I can remember the ack-ack guns coming at the beginning of the war, they put them among the trees at the entrance of Drinkwater Park. I suppose the Magnesium was a pretty important place in those days. As kids were knew where they all were even though they were camouflaged and different things.
EARLIER YOU MENTIONED PHILIPS PARK, WHAT WAS THAT LIKE?
Well the Philips lived there. The notice on the gates – you only entered it on sufferance – Sundays you could go in but the rest of the week – no. They had some very nice gardens. A conservatory and banks of lovely rhododendrons –they have cut them all down now. There was always a park keeper about. You could walk through the park from one side to the other but you couldn’t wander around. It was restricted.
The Philips still had some connection with it then, and they sold it to Prestwich and Whitefield Council.
YOU SAID THAT THE CLOUGH HAD CHANGED A LOT.
I DON’T COME FROM HERE SO I DON’T HOW IT HAS CHANGED
Well the trees have grown bigger of course and there are more of them, it isn’t as open as it used to be. The café there was run by the Grimshaws. You could buy crisps, ice cream, sweets and that kind of stuff. They may have done teas, but we never went for one. In front of the café was a nice grassed area with the stream running through. If you saw it today you wouldn’t believe it. We used to picnic there. It was quite nice, but it’s completely different now.
WHAT OTHER BUILDINGS WERE THERE BESIDES THE CAFÉ?
There was a bandstand, but it has gone now. There were very few buildings in the Clough. It was a Clough, you walked through it. Rustic bridges but most of those have gone as well. I think they did have concerts on the bandstand at one time. With the war coming, from my memory, it probably put paid to it all.
THIRTEEN ARCHES, WHAT IS THAT?
It is the old Lancashire and Yorkshire railway line. It went to Bury originally, through Radcliffe. The Arches are still there, but the motorway has cut through it now.
AFTER DRINKWATER PARK, WHERE DID YOU GO AFTER THAT
Sometimes we’d go as far as Ringley. That was a long way if you were walking back to Broughton. That walk would mean going under the Thirteen Arches past the filter beds. There was quite a pong, but they grew marvelous tomatoes and cabbages there! Of course Ringley is an old village you know, with a stocks and an old bridge. At Thirteen Arches I can still remember the platform, there was a halt, Molyneux Brow halt was there. The platform was still there, and there was a big mill but I think it had collapsed in a storm or it was burnt down. Long before my time that.
SO, RINGLEY, YOU SAY IT IS AN OLD VILLAGE WITH STOCKS. WHAT WAS THERE BESIDES HOUSES?
There used to be a famous gardens on the river bank – Margaret Barlows it was called, where you used to go in horse and carts and it had swings like a fairground, but it’s a garden center now. I don’t remember it as a fairground. But it’s always been a garden.
WHAT DIFFERENT ROUTE DID YOU TAKE WHEN YOU WERE WALKING BACK?
We’d cross over the river, over the aqueduct – that was the Thirteen Arches and come back on the river side the opposite side to Drinkwater Park really. Back to the power station and then cross over the bridge.
YOU WERE SAYING THERE WAS ALL THIS MAGNESIUM AND NOTHING WOULD GROW. WHERE WAS IT COMING FROM THIS MAGNESIUM?
From what we could see there were big concrete vats and it appeared to be bubbling, we could hear it, and these fumes seemed to come from that and across. It killed all the big trees. The works are still there, yes. I presume they made incendiary bombs from the magnesium. That’s the reason why it was important.
YOU SAY THE ACK ACK GUNS CAME IN, SO PRESUMABLY THERE WERE TROOPS OR SOMEONE MANNING THEM. WERE THEY THERE ALL THE TIME?
They weren’t there right through the war, they were only there perhaps for 12 months if that and then they went away. Originally when they came they were in the trees, but later they just disappeared.
WHEN THEY WERE THERE, HOW DID THEY KEEP YOU AWAY FROM THE GUNS?
Well, you didn’t go right up to the guns, you kept your distance. We could see them and that was enough.
We were close, probably twice the length of this room. About 40 feet I suppose. There were some machine gun posts on concrete blocks nearer to the works and they actually drained a section of the canal so that planes flying over would be confused. Because the canal and the river and the aqueduct crossing it was a good focal point for bombing, so they drained the canal.
I SUPPOSE IT’S LOGICAL THAT ISN’T IT?
They put a big pipe in the middle of it and I suppose that was to carry water through but it completely dried it up. I didn’t see any more after that.
IF YOU WERE AT HOME AND THERE WERE AIR-RAID WARNINGS, WHAT DID YOU DO? DID YOU HAVE A SHELTER AT ALL?.
Yes we had a brick one in the back yard. Specially built, yes.
WHAT WAS INSIDE THE SHELTER IF YOU WENT IN?
We didn’t sleep in ours, we went under the stairs!
Some people used to take their pillows and tramp off to the shelter – the underground one, but we never bothered. We were never evacuated either, I can remember standing in the school yard and I think there were six of us that didn’t go and the rest of the school trooped out with their little bags and gas masks. Then, I don’t know how long it was, but we didn’t go to school for some time after that. There was no school at all. Gradually they drifted back and somebody said “Hey you’ve got to go to school” – two daus a week or something like that.
WHY DIDN’T YOU GET EVACUATED?
I don’t know – perhaps my parents didn’t want us to go and so we didn’t go. I can remember going round with gas masks for old people and you had an extra piece fitted on. It had an extra filter on the end of it. The original ones couldn’t cope with smoke I think. The extra piece dealt with smoke.
WHERE DID YOU GET THOSE EXTRA PIECES FROM – WHO TOLD YOU TO TAKE THEM ROUND TO OLD PEOPLE?
The ARP. They opened a center like. Probably at the school. They took over schools you know, for the ARP or the one up the road from us was a hospital. Yes, it was a convalescent hospital.
WHEN YOU WERE AT SCHOOL, WHAT WOULD HAPPEN WHEN THERE WAS AN AIR RAID?
We were supposed to go in the cellar. I can remember being in the playground and the school teacher at the top of the steps when this German plane came over and we were watching it and she shouted “come on, get down here!” The cellars were reinforced with girders and beams.
THIS WAS IN BROUGHTON WAS IT?
Yes, that was in Broughton.
IN PHILIPS PARK, YOU SAID THERE WAS THE HOUSE THERE WHICH HAS GONE, WHAT WAS IT LIKE THE HOUSE?
Well we have got pictures of it. From my memory it seemed as though it was cement rendered. I could be wrong it could have been stone faced, I don’t know. You couldn’t get near to it but you could see it through the trees. The gardens were very nice, where the conservatory was. There was a great bit urn with all plants growing out of it – we thought that was a fascinating place to go in – it was warm as well! The gardens were always very nice there.
Philips Park Road bridge – it had seven arches – different ones did daring things like walking along the parapet which we did, but there was one fellow who got on his bike and rode across. Mind you it was about 2 ft. wide, but it did slope off to the drop! They closed it to traffic because it was unsafe. It was a good short cut that back to the main road. They didn’t know who was responsible for it – you know – who owned it. Some say the Philips paid for it to get to their house, otherwise it was a long way round, but then we used to go to that place as well on the way to Ringley – the brickworks. Giants Seat brickworks. I think that the brickworks together with Philips might have built that bridge to the get the bricks to Manchester because it was the shortest route. I can remember all the kilns. It wasn’t in use on those days it was just the remains of it.
Actually in Prestwich itself, you know, we didn’t come in those days. But of course I remember all the old shops in the village, the Co-op and all those sort of shops. Coming up from Manchester there were many grocers shops like Webster & Peacocks, The Maypole, Halsteads, the Co-op, Hallams, they were all grocers shops, Taylors a fish-shop just dealing in fish which you don’t get today. I can’t remember there being like DIY shops there was a tool shop but not like they are today. It more or less had every kind of shop you can think of, the village itself, you didn’t have to go anywhere else. If you wanted a suit I think it was Dobkins and the Co-op had suits as well for that matter. Ice cream shops. It was pretty much the same on the Old Road – similar shops. There was still a Co-op on the Old Road and grocers and hardware shops and things like that. You could go and get some firebricks or a new grate bottom – some wouldn’t know what coal is today would they?
IT IS PRESTWICH THAT WE ARE REALLY CONCERNED WITH TODAY. YOU HAVE TOLD US QUITE A LOT ABOUT THE PARKS BUT YOU SAY THAT YOU REALLY DIDN’T COME INTO PRESTWICH MUCH.
No, not at that age. After the war, yes. But then I was courting my wife who lived and was born and bred in Prestwich. I got to know Prestwich better then.
WHEN YOU WERE COURING, WHERE DID YOU GO, WAS THERE ANYWHERE SPECIAL?
The Clough again! Heaton Park, or you could get a train in those days from Prestwich and go to Holcombe. We used to go up Holcombe Hill. In fact when our daughter was born we used to put a coach built pram onto the train and we used to push her up Holcombe Hill in those days.
WHEN YOU WERE COURTING, WERE THERE CINEMAS
Oh yes. We had the Odean, The Plaza, The Heaton Park and at Whitefield, The Mayfair. So there’s four. Well three, the fourth one is just over the border into Whitefield.
WHAT ABOUT DANCE HALLS?
The Co-op had a hall at the back which the firms you worked for held their Christmas parties there and dances. I believe it could have been a cinema before it was a dance hall. Where the Town Hall was on Bury New Road, that became a hall and a dance hall later. You need a chap like Fred Butterworth who ran the Guide to talk on that. I’ve not seen him about lately – perhaps he’s not with us anymore. He is maybe eighty or ninety and he remembers all these things. On the Old Road there was a very popular place, the 279 Club. That was when the RAF were in Heaton Park. I’ve helped many a chap back over the wall to get in. They all used to go there – The 279 Dancing Club – yes. 279 was the address of the building you see.
I CAN’T THINK OF ANYTHING ELSE TO ASK YOU, IS THERE ANYTHING THAT YOU’D LIKE TO ADD?
Well there is one thing that stays in my mind, Prestwich Station had a goods yard and the sound of shunting at night, the clink, clink, clink of the trucks. The coal wagons had horse and carts there wasn’t many motor vehicles and milks had horse and cart as well. Unless you think about it you don’t realize you that you miss them.
IT WOULD BE SO GRADUAL YOU WOULDN’T REALLY NOTICE
No of course not.
I was also in the Civil Defence in Prestwich and when they used to have the Mayor’s Sunday Parade, they used to ask me to help organize the parade which I think one year one Mayor had a film made of it so I’m on a film somewhere! Some amusing things happened on that. Like – the Parade was formed up on the main road and I was in charge of the uniformed section, like scouts and police and band and whatever, and this chap came out and said “do you think you could ask the band to move down the road a bit to make room for the Mayor’s party to fit in” – so I walked to the band – “can you move down the road a few yards or so please” – “righto” – and he strikes up the band and they all came running out of the school because they thought everyone was going without them, the Mayor and everyone! After the parade they went back to the school and they all got ice cream, biscuits and a cup of tea and that and the police and the band all had beer in a different school-room and I went in and thought “well where’s the beer gone for the band” – the police had it didn’t they – they’d put it in their helmets! “Come on lads – cough up – fair play!”
YOU SAY YOU WERE IN THE CIVIL DEFENCE, WHAT DID THEY DO?
Well there were different sections. There was the Rescue Section which was practising going in buildings – an Ambulance Section and a Signals Section which was mainly like office hours in that.
YOU WERE IN THE SIGNALS SECTION?
Yes. We used to go into Drinkwater Park erecting poles and wires and joining them together.
WHAT YEARS ARE WE TALKING ABOUT WHEN YOU WERE IN THE CIVIL DEFENCE?
About 1958 until it was disbanded and I can’t remember when that was. We used to meet further up here – Church Lane – what was the old Conservative Club. We had meetings once a week. We had discussions about operating and how to write messages and all the appropriate abbreviations like ETA and all the rest of it. You had to learn the phonetic alphabet. Talks on how to deal with matters if a bomb dropped and how far reaching the effects might be and so on. We’d have big exercises you know. I think one of the biggest was called Jack Rabbit and we were supposed to evacuate Ashton Under Lyne to Rochdale and I think all the Civil Defence trucks in the area came. It was very impressive actually. The police wouldn’t let any vehicle onto this main road because we were whizzing up and down in these vehicles. People were a bit worried. We would go to Chorley – I think it is a fire training place now. There were probably 50 or 60 of us in the Civil Defence. It was a voluntary service. Each town had its own Civil Defence Division. There were some permanent headquarters, but we were just part timers. In the summer we would mostly spend our weekends at civil defence, laying telephone wires and things like that. Just as an exercise – we would take them down again afterwards. You had to learn the proper method of how to pull a pole and how to put the stays to it and how to make a proper connection and all this sort of thing. We used to have competitions where different divisions would come and compete against one another. We never won. The competitions were held down at Belle Vue for the Lancashire CC area. I can’t really remember – perhaps a couple of years in between – not an annual event. The uniform I had I’ve still got. I’ve given it to the Heritage Society for their collection. It was an army type of uniform, but dark blue instead of khaki. Beret, jacket trousers, boots and gaiters. No shirt, you had to get your own. We had a big parade on Armistice Day – quite impressive.
IS THERE ANYTHING ELSE ABOUT PRESTWICH YOU LIKE TO MENTION?
You could get excursions from Prestwich Station. You could go to Arnside or Grange Over Sands which I thought fascinating because it left Prestwich to Bury and made its way to Accrington – you can’t do it now, its all disappeared – there’s no railway. It was great, you could get on the train at Prestwich and come back to Prestwich – great – Prestwich Excursions! It’s hard to believe now that you could do that.
There was the Carnival of course – Prestwich Carnival. We still have the Carnival now. All the local folks elect Rose Queens different companies make up floats with lorries and vans. There are dancers. It is held in June – the last week. It is a two day event now – it only used to be one.
THANKS YOU VERY MUCH FOR THAT