People of the North

A focus on those with a story to tell

Jane Thompson

Jane Thompson

“My Fifties’ childhood is a long time ago and my memories are composed of random snapshots, some literal, of those days. It’s tempting to see it all through rose-coloured spectacles and, of course, there was hardship at a time when the country was still coming out of rationing.  Having said that, it is true that I remember long days playing out with friends, little traffic on the roads to threaten our extended bike rides and simple pleasures in a world that revolved around home, school, and church.  My friends all lived nearby; most of us went to the same school and church so inevitably we were all part of tight-knit groups.

Ashton-on-Mersey in those days was still sufficiently separate from Sale to have its own identity. We lived on Carrington Lane so ‘the village’ was the natural place to shop. The shops were old-fashioned and I was sent on errands to buy potatoes or whatever. We only had sweets once a week and I have a hazy memory of the smooth wooden counter in the corner shop and the jars of sweets to choose from.

St Martins Church

St Martin's Church

The dominant buildings from my point of view were St Martin’s Church, St Martin’s School, whose playground was directly opposite our house, and Brooks’ Institute, a little further along Carrington Lane. My friend, who lived next door, and I watched the children rehearsing dancing round the maypole in the school playground prior to the Whit Walks.

At that time, Brooks Institute was a place for community events, jumble sales, amateur dramatics and who knows what other events.

It was built in 1887 for the use of the people of Ashton-upon-Mersey by George Truefitt for Sir William Cunliffe Brooks, a wealthy Victorian philanthropist. Quite an imposing building! Brooks was a barrister, banker and Conservative politician from Manchester who was a benefactor to Sale, Hale and Chorlton-cum-Hardy.

For our family, church and school was St Mary Magdalene, still in Ashton-on-Mersey, but further away from the village. We walked to school, up Ashton Lane, along Barkers Lane, and onto St Mary’s Road. On the way, we passed another notable landmark, the Fountain. Alas, the main structure is now at the side of the road.

St Mary’s C of E Primary School and church dominated my life as a young child.

I have happy memories of the school. At Christmas all the partitions were pulled back to open the building up into one large room for the Christmas Fair and Christmas parties.  What excitement!  I have a fond memory of my father being Father Christmas one year and I was appointed as one of the fairies.  My mother was serving teas and there were wonderful stalls filled with homemade crafts, books, bric-a-brac, and books. It was an Aladdin’s Cave. The school party was wonderful.

We worked hard at school. Expectations on us were high from parents who had to give up on their chances of further education.  They were the days of the 11 plus and everyone was fearful of not making the grade.  I was fortunate to pass and go on to Sale Grammar School for Girls.

In St Martin’s Church, we sat on the same row every week. My father was tone deaf, I think, but loved to sing. We never had anyone sitting in front of us! He and I walked to the early morning communion service together, a special time when I had him to myself. He used to talk nonsense to me – it was only as I grew older that I realised that half his stories were fables, to say the least.   

wedding St Martin’s May Queen sometime in the 50’s. Green Lane, Ashton-on-Mersey.

We attended church weekly, my brother singing in the (all male) choir and both of us going to Sunday School and later the Youth Group.  Brownies and Cubs took place on other evenings. I remember all our class at primary school being prepared for confirmation when we were 11; the service in church with the bishop laying hands on our heads. The Youth Group was very important to me.  We had a youth club every Friday night and a discussion group at the curate’s house, I think on a Sunday. The curate was fun and as well as discussions about all sorts of things, he was interested in amateur dramatics and I had great opportunities to perform. Under Milk Wood was a highlight for me, performed at Brooks Institute. I was Polly Garter, the rather questionable member of the community!


Ashton-on-Mersey Park

Other snapshots in my memory are of going to Ashton Park, riding bikes over the ground and around the air raid shelters where Wellfield Junior School is now. We only went home to eat – out all day in the school holidays.

Or there’s the memory of walking home from school in one of the pea-souper fogs of the time. Thick, grey, foul-tasting particles as we carefully found our way along Ashton Lane.

Or the memory of getting dressed in front of the coal fire in winter as there was no central heating and our bedrooms were icy cold.

Going to the Library in Sale and the swimming baths, simple pleasures which became the bedrock of life.

Standing at the war memorial outside Sale Town Hall on Remembrance Sunday Parade; welfare orange juice; going to see The King and I as a treat when my brother went to cub camp; Saturday morning matinees at the Odeon – a free for all with kids packed into the cinema and not an adult in sight (as far as I can remember.) The Lone Ranger and other such classics.  I suppose we went on the ‘little bus’ up to Sale, my brother in charge of me.

Life began to change in the 60’s, becoming more sophisticated as gradually people were able to afford a little more.  Traffic increased, pop music burst onto the scene big time and we started looking beyond the confines of our upbringing.  I have good memories but nostalgia puts a gloss on what the reality probably was.  I understand the strictures of the times far more now that I am older and have the luxury to look back. Ashton- on – Mersey continues to thrive which is good.



22 July 2020



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