On Deanscales Road in the Norris Green area of Liverpool, a young man, Charles Edward Yearsley, Charlie to his friends, lived in a grim, grey, pebble-dashed, council house, along with his parents, brother and three sisters. On leaving school he joined the railway as a messenger boy (runner).
Breaking his employment with the railway only briefly, in order to set up an ill-fated fish and chip shop in partnership with his brother Ernie, he went on to become a Goods Porter. In this role he was liable to be posted away from home for periods of time.
British Railways, in common with all other publicly owned companies and the Civil Service in general, was run to a certain extent like the fighting services. And so, it was that he found himself, for some time, in Morecambe and then Manchester, where he was based at Liverpool Road goods depot. The worlds first ever railway station, and now the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI).
With the advent of the Second World War, along with many young men, Charlie volunteered for the Army. He was turned down on medical grounds. In turn he went on to attempt to join both the Navy and Air Force, each time with the same result. He was devastated, and joined the only force that would accept him, The Local Defence Volunteers, otherwise known as the Home Guard. ‘Dad’s Army.’ My dad’s army!
Yes, the Home Guard was, as depicted on T.V., composed of an odd collection of people, who for one reason or another couldn’t or wouldn’t join the regular services. For the most part however, they were sincere in wanting to serve their country in any way that they could and despite the second hand uniforms and out dated equipment, they really would have been the last line of defence had the invasion of Britain succeeded. A sobering thought.
As well as being part of the crew of an elderly field gun, (He’s the guy on the right) Charlie took a course in Bomb Disposal. Training which thankfully was never put to the test.
Having done as much as possible in the military sense, and still anxious to ‘do his bit’, Charlie then made every effort to get into essential war work. Success! He was sent to report to Henry Ford’s new factory, in Trafford Park, Manchester.
This plant was not the old home of the British version of the famous Model T, and later Model A Fords, but a brand new factory, set up by order of the government. The military needed far more aero engines than were currently being produced, so the government turned to Henry Ford, inventor of mass production. Two brand new plants, A and B, were built on land requisitioned from the Manchester Ship Canal Company, either end of, what is now, Barton Dock Road. The Ford Motor Company (Aero Engines) Ltd. Was in business, and Charlie, along with hundreds of other inexperienced workers, was given a crash course. His was in welding, and he did so well that he was made a foreman, in charge of the Valve Line. Making inlet and exhaust valves for the Rolls Royce Merlin engines, which the factories were required to produce in large quantities. These went not only into the fighter and bomber aircraft, which most people know about, but many tanks and self propelled artillery too.
After WWII, the land and factories were returned to the original owners and leased to the Massey Ferguson, farm equipment company. Today most of it is occupied by two huge retail developments.
Now, the valves on most engines, then as now, were machined from a single casting or forging. This did not meet Rolls Royce’s exacting standards however, and their design specified the valves be made initially hollow. This hollow was then painstakingly filled with a continuous spiral of weld metal. The machined result was deemed to be superior, in strength and resistance to distortion, than those produced by the more traditional methods, and hence far more reliable. The cost, however, in both time and labour was many times higher.
Both, because of the lack of manpower and to keep down the costs, this work was carried out by long lines of overall clad young ladies, hair in headscarf turbans, sitting at bench vices, each with their own welding sets beside them, and all in the charge of Charlie Yearsley.
One of these lovely young women a certain Audrey Pegg, ‘Peggy’ to her friends, became a favourite of Charlie. They became romantically involved and before long, engaged to be married.
Peggy lived with her parents, William and Louisa, her three brothers, Clifford (Cliff.), Victor (Vic.), and Eric, plus her sister Clarice, in a large four bedroom, council house. 194 Lloyd St. South stands at the outer end of one of Manchester’s lesser arterial roads, not far from the site of the old Maine Road football stadium. At that time, the wide roadway was cobbled and had twin tram tracks down its centre. The trams themselves, however, had long ceased to run.
Francis William Pegg was a businessman, with his own company, ‘Hill and Godbert’. The business was bombed out, the offices and contents being almost totally destroyed. All that remained was Will’s large, expensive desk; matching high backed chair and a vast supply of unused stationery, wrapped in brown paper parcels, tied with string. These were all stored for ‘the duration’, in the front parlour at 194.
William thus went, almost overnight, from being his own boss to having to go out and get a job, clerking for the CWS Tobacco factory. This he did, without batting an eyelid, in order to continue supporting his family.
William was also a religious man and held office at a local church. Platt Lane Methodist Church, known then as ‘Platt Chapel’, so as to stop confusion with ‘Platt Church’, the local Anglican Parish Church, Holy Trinity, further down Platt Lane.
Platt Chapel could have been the model for St. Bartholomew’s, Church, Westhoughton. The octagonal nave with attached hall, offices etc. differed only in size and materials. Also, it stands in a small tarmac car park, rather than a large churchyard. Methodist churches do tend to develop in this rather practical, unplanned manner.
Back at 194 Lloyd St. South, the boys were leaving. Two got married and set up homes of their own, and Vic was away in the Air Force. And so it was that there was plenty of room for an extra body, when Peggy and Charlie decided to get married and set up home there, on June 19th 1943.
William Pegg was slightly upset that Peggy and Charlie had decided not to get married at ‘the chapel’, nor at the local Anglican Church, St. Crispin’s. But a good mile away at Holy Trinity, Platt. (Platt Church) Why?
I was never told, but I suspect it was simply because Platt Chapel was as already described, St. Crispin’s was a very utilitarian building resembling a flat roofed, brick blockhouse, and Platt Church, by comparison, is a traditional Neo Gothic building, with spire, lychgate and nicely kept churchyard. In other words, it would look better in the photographs. It did!
St. Crispin’s, incidentally, was, in more recent times, given a conventionally tiled, pitched roof, in order to keep out the rain. Since when, it has been knocked down for housing. Platt Chapel too has been partly demolished for housing. The octagonal nave, alone, still stands, divided by a mezzanine floor.
Temporarily it also housed the congregation from St. Crispin’s. Both denominations under the one roof, until St. Crispin’s Rectory was extended to serve as a new church.
Sadly, as I write, the vacated land around the Methodist Church has not attracted any buyers. To date, all that loss and disruption has been a complete waste of time, effort, money and fine facilities.
The war came to an end in 1945 and with it, for Charlie, so did the war work and also the Home Guard. However, the government, realising how handy it might be to have a pool of ready trained soldiers in case of any further conflict, especially if they didn’t have to pay them in the meantime, decided to keep it going.
They gave it lots of slightly used modern uniforms and equipment, and incorporated it into ‘The Territorial Army’.
Yes, ‘Dad’s Army’ became the TA!
Charlie went back to The Railways and Audrey got a job with the CO-OP, in the cash office at their main store on Downing Street, Ardwick. Being an employee / member of the society, she was entitled to choose her own membership number with which to collect her Divvy. She chose the easily remembered 567.
Chapter 2 The Foundations of Labour
A couple of blocks walk around the corner from 194 Lloyd St. South brings you to Manchester’s main south arterial road.
Princess Road leads from the edge of the city centre and runs all the way out to Wythenshawe. Back in 1946, that’s as far as it went. The broad dual carriageway with its tram tracks down the middle just petered out into farmland, as did the ribbon development housing on each side. Now, of course, it continues, as Princess Parkway, on to Woodhouse Park and then becomes the M56 motorway which, joining the M6 at Warrington, directly connects Manchester city-centre with the entire country, via the motorway network. But that’s enough geography.
The short walk from 194 to Princess Road, brings you to a small row of once prosperous shops known as ‘The Parade’, directly opposite Whalley Range girls high school. At the right hand end of this row of shops, now stands a swish, modern BP petrol station. ‘The Cresta Court’.
This filling station, formally a Mobil, was named after one of the many local cinemas, on whose site it now stands. The original station, which the present one replaces, was actually created in a very economical manner. The cinema building was cut in two, literally, with a wrecking ball. The wreckage of the front two thirds being simply bulldozed, as hardcore, down into the stalls and on up to the stage, complete with it’s screen, which you could still see, at the time, hanging in tatters within the remains of the proscenium arch. After siting the big fuel storage tanks, the hardcore was then topped off with concrete; so as to form both the forecourt and the floor of the building in one go.
What was left of the Cresta cinema, or Regent as it had originally been built, was then given a huge corrugated metal façade, bearing the once proud Mobil flying horse logo, thus completely disguising its origins. All of this I watched, over a period of a very few days, from the top decks of corporation busses, with a great deal of mixed emotion.
Why the emotion, mixed or otherwise? Well, like most small boys I was fascinated with watching dynamic change of any kind. I still am. The rest of the reason lies back in time.
On the evening of Sunday, 18th of August, 1946, during the late feature, in the front stalls of the Regent Cinema, Audrey ‘Peggy’ Yearsley went into labour. Yes, I had begun my journey into the outside world, to see what the hell all the fuss was about!
A short journey by ambulance, along Princess Road, took Charlie and Peggy to the Maternity department of Withington Hospital, where I made my first appearance early the next morning. Look out world, Stuart Charles Yearsley had arrived. They never did get to see the end of that film.
Occasionally, I have reason call at the ‘Cresta Court’ to fill up with fuel. The new station is built ninety degrees out of rotation to the original, though still on the same ground plan. This means that it is now possible to stand, several feet above those front stalls, where they still sit, as part of the hardcore of the foundations. Spooky!
The original Withington Hospital too, has since been demolished. Some departments remain, on the opposite side of Nell Lane, but It seems that, piece by piece, as I move along life’s treadmill, the evidence of my passing through is being systematically removed, behind me.