Joyce Cook is one of the few residents of Curzon Park who has lived here continuously since the major house building started in the 1920s. Her parents were from Bristol but they moved to Chester before Joyce was born.
Here are some of her reminiscences, recorded in a conversation with her neighbour Peter Bingham.
Q: Do you remember your street in those early years?
“My house was built in 1925-26. A very early memory, is being wheeled in a pram, by my sister, all the way home from the centre of Chester on a very bumpy road.”
“Originally, my parents named the house where I live: ‘Chilton’. It did not have a number until much later when all the houses at my end of the street were built and occupied. Neighbours chose all sorts of exotic names for all sorts of reasons, and if you go to the library you can check what they were in the old registers of electors’.
“My earliest memories were that all the gardens to the houses were fenced because it was only later that owners got around to planting hedges and trees. All the garden gates were single as there were very few cars. I remember the cars seemed to be owned exclusively by commercial travellers.
“Later, when I was a little older and the trees had started to grow I used to take out a stool from my house on sunny days and sit under treeS with pink blossom. They are still there!”
“There was so little traffic that it was such a peaceful thing to do.
“Tree planting in the verges happened a little later as I recall, but one of the earliest trees that I saw being planted was a willow sapling at the side of the lane that links Earlsway and the Green. It is still there today and is now very large.
“I remember at that time that the footpaths and verges were always very clean. Each householder looked after their own bit of property including the footpath and verge. Leaves and any rubbish were regularly swept up, and the snow was cleared and roads gritted early on winter mornings.
“The street cleaners from the Council came round every Friday. The man who swept the Lane was very slow indeed. He took so long over the job that we named him ‘Speedy Gonzales’.”
Q: What about other parts of Curzon Park?
“To a young child, Curzon Park was worth exploring; making our way to ‘Old Curzon Park’, which was already in place and well established, with its rather grand houses. We picked mayflowers and buttercups in the fields that today are occupied by Carrick Road and a number of other later roads. I can remember on one occasion that I was wearing a satchel as I was pretending to go to school. I can also remember at about that time – I must have been four years old – walking around Greensway wearing a new tailor made coat. The resident who had made it put a penny in the coat pocket because that was the custom.
There were several ponds in Greensway and once, wearing a green dress, I fell in one of them. My sister was blamed.
“We went for walks a lot. Then, as today, collecting conkers in Curzon Park North and South was very popular.
“We would take babies for a walk. If you did not have a baby in the family, girls would ask neighbours if they could take their baby for a walk around the Park, or you wheeled your doll and pram – I still have mine.
“There seemed to be children in nearly every one of the neighbouring houses. I remember the girls more than the boys although I do remember one naughty boy. When the water company put an ‘H’ sign for a water hydrant outside my house, a boy told me that this meant that my dad was going to prison. It is funny how these little events stay in the mind.”
Q: What about playing in the street and gardens, what kept you entertained?
“We played outside nearly all the time. We would play in the gardens of the houses being built, and in each other’s gardens. I remember lots of paper and pencil games. One was to write down the letters of the alphabet and then choose a topic such as ‘colours’. You then had to attempt to think of twenty-six colours, each with a different starting letter.
“My comics were “Chick’s Own” and “The Rainbow”.
A wind-up gramophone gave us endless pleasure, with the latest records such as “All by yourself in the Moonlight”.
“We even played in the street. There were so few cars that it was quite safe. We played rope games across the width of the street and tied the ropes to the lampposts. A favourite skipping chant was:
“House to Let, Apply Within/ ……goes out……comes in”
“Salt, Mustard, Vinegar, Pepper”
“We also marked out Hopscotch in the road. In fine weather the squares (in coloured chalks) lasted several days.
“However there were no outdoor games on a Sunday. Someone might complain! My father had been reprimanded for doing some weeding on the Sabbath Day”.
Q: What do you recollect about the changing Seasons?
“Perhaps we took more note of them in those days Seasons. Girls changed into white socks, and put away their winter socks, on the first day of May. The horses had flowers round their heads on May Day, and some children wore white veils.
“Each house also put a hanging blind to cover their front door for the summer. For some reason they were always striped. I have been told that it was to protect the paintwork, but there may be other reasons.
“The Green came into its own at that time of year. It acted like a magnet and children of all ages would go there to play. I remember playing there with my friends until dusk, when my mother would come out to call me in. It was so safe to be playing out in those days. It was also the season for boys to play marbles. I used to love collecting them.
“Greensway was an ideal place for learning to ride a tricycle – the later, a bike. The Dingle was a well-used and popular place fro cycling and for “hide and seek”. I was very excited when I read a headline in the local paper saying “BLACKMAIL IN THE DINGLE”. I thought that knights in suits of armour were there!
“Did we have more snow in winter then? I don’t know, but I do remember borrowing one of my mum’s trays and sledging down the slope at the top of Mount Pleasant.
“The field below Mount Pleasant was called the ”Gypsy Field” because now and then Romany caravans parked there. Beyond the field there was a delightful lane that led down to the river, which was a favourite evening walk. It ended up near the Golf Course where bells tinkled, but I am nor sure why!”.
Q: What about when you started school?
“I started when I was five years old. At that time it was a choice between going to Handbridge or to a school over the border in Saltney. I went to the Wood Memorial School, which was in the building that later became a Citroen garage and later still a Saab showroom. It is the building set back from the road just before you get to the Shell filling station.
“I came home for lunch so I walked to school, there and back, twice each day: down Mount Pleasant and along Chester Street. Just beyond the railway bridge as you walked towards Saltney there was a railway level crossing. I promised to always go over a little bridge and avoid crossing the lines.
“At the end of the school day I often had bread, jam and butter when I returned home because we always ate together as a family later in the evening. In winter, when I came home I would sit on one of the two stools that were at the side of our coal fire in the living room, making toast, which I then spread with dripping. The stools were hollow boxes into which you put your slippers to keep warm. Every house had a toasting fork”.
Q: Was shopping, and delivery of other services different from nowadays?
“It was all so very different then. There was a much greater variety of shops along Chester Street in those days. I remember two shops particularly well. One was a sweet shop in Hope Street where you could by a big bag of sweets for a penny. Anther was the large Coop shop. They had a bank there on Mondays. A man sat at a table to deal with deposits and withdrawals. I remember being fascinated by his fountain pen with Royal Blue ink. I had only used pens that you dipped into inkwells that invariably had had bits of paper and all sorts dropped into the well. I think my interest in writing began with the sight of that pen.
“As well as good shops in the neighbourhood, there were any number of travelling shops and mobile sellers with horse drawn carts. We had a bread man, a fishmonger, a grocer who had a van, a greengrocer called Lea, a milkman, a travelling hairdresser, and an egg man. The egg man lodged in Mount Pleasant. There were French Onion Sellers too, and of course the coal man. Every house had a coal bin.
“The milk came in churns so we carried it back into the house in jugs. If my mother ran out of milk I would be sent out with a jug that had a gauze cover weighted down by beads, to Mrs Davies in Hope Street, and walk back home without spilling any of it.
“It may seem strange to people today but you rarely went into town to shop. I can remember that when I was about eight years old I was allowed to go into go into Chester town centre on Saturdays with the Owen sisters who lived a few doors away from my home. We dressed up in our best clothes and wore hats…and walked down to the tram terminus to catch the service that ran along Hough Green. We collected the tram tickets and made toy concertinas.
“Telegram Boys could often be seen cycling around Curzon Park. The little yellow envelopes caused worry, as they often contained bad news.
“If there was a death in the road neighbours closed their curtains as a mark of respect.
“The doctor did not call very often – it was expensive! Our parents kept an eye our health – gargling every morning, taking a dose of Syrup of Figs every Friday night and being encouraged to “breathe in” when tar macadam was being spread on the road”.
Q: Did you go to the cinema?
“The local Saltney Cinema was very popular. You went with a grown up, and I can remember the days of the silent cinema. My piano teacher was the accompanist for these films and she was expert at following the drama as it unfolded, emphasising the highs and lows of the action. It was a great treat to go to Lowndes Fish and Chip Shop, which was alongside the cinema in Coronation Street, where the lawnmower repair shop now is. Lowndes and Hignetts were the two main Chester fish and chip families.”
Q: Were there any special events that you remember?
“We had a large Union Jack, and like other neighbours, hoisted it on special occasions such as the Coronation on 12 May 1937.
“Race Week was very exciting. We would watch the horses from the Grosvenor Bridge and listen to the tipster “Price Monolulu” as he shouted, “I’ve got a horse – a horse to beat the favourite”. However it was the Little Roodee with its annual fair that really attracted us. My favourite was the Waltzer and I believe a trip on this was rather expensive – tuppence!
“Elections were much more exciting than they are today. Loudspeaker vans whizzed up and down the roads, and we sang:
“Vote, vote for …
He is the greatest of them all”
“On the eve of the election the grownups would walk to the Town Hall Square and when a light appeared on the balcony a result was imminent. The candidates came out and loud cheers, or boos, resounded”.
Q: How about Curzon Park today?
“Well, one thing I do remember, which is still relevant today, is that the local bus was not welcomed at first. People said that double-deckers would spoil our privacy, with passengers peering into the bedroom windows, and picnics would take place on the grass verges. But we did get a bus service and it is a real lifeline for a lot of retired residents.
“In spite of all the changes, Curzon Park as described by old guide books as, “…a green and leafy suburb..”, is still a wonderful place to live.”