the fifties part two 1955 - 1959

 Getting Married !

Before I could move up to Liverpool there were some formalities that had to be completed. Not the least of these was the question of my engagement to Brenda. We had not fixed a date to get married but the imminent move made choosing one a matter of some urgency. This was accelerated by the amazing statement of my employers, Churchill & Sim, to the effect that they felt it advisable that we should get married as soon as possible! This was said in such a way as to indicate that "you'd better get married or else!". Then went further to say that they believed I would probably leave Liverpool at lunchtime on a Friday and not get back until Monday lunchtime thus wasting virtually a whole working day just to be with my "girlfriend". Believe it or not, in those days we listened to our employers and more or less did as we were told. Hard to believe by present day standards (1997) but true all the same. Since Brenda and I had met on the 13th of March (1948) we decided to get married as near to that day as possible, and settled on March 12th 1955. With that decided I was able to plan for my move. I would go up there first, get settled, find somewhere for us to live and then be ready for the final move in March. I believe I went up to Liverpool early in February and again stayed at the Blundellsands Hotel.
 
House Hunting, Learning to drive etc…

Ronnie Craig, who was one of the guys in the Liverpool Office was designated to help me find somewhere to live and also to accompany me whilst I practiced my driving. He had a Morris Oxford which seemed huge to me especially since I was having lessons in a Triumph Mayflower, a some what smaller car, under the tuition of BSM (British School of Motoring). Both had steering column gear levers and of course they were manual NOT automatic. I recall that I was a fairly good pupil, after all I had been driving a Lambretta scooter for a year or so and therefore was used to the highway code and other traffic. I eventually passed my test after the required number of lessons (6 I believe) even though the examiner was not altogether happy with my clutch control!
Ronnie found me a flat in Hoylake on the Wirral peninsular.
 
41 The Promenade Hoylake, Wirral, Cheshire.

Hoylake promenade


Owned by the 80 year old, arthritic Mrs Gibson, 41 the Prom as it was known, was a 20's semi right on the sea front promenade in Hoylake. She lived downstairs and I rented the upstairs which comprised a good sized living room overlooking the sea, a small front bedroom also overlooking the sea, a large main bedroom in the back and what had been the fourth bedroom converted to a good sized kitchen.
 
Since we were upstairs we had the bathroom and toilet. Mrs G. was too crippled with arthritis to navigate the stairs so we had total privacy except for getting through the front door without being "collared by her. She sat like a large black bug in the front room and watched for any comings or goings like a hawk. Of course she was lonely so I suppose we cannot blame her. She had several sons, three, I believe, who popped in to see her from time to time.
The rent was 3 guineas a week, that's £3. 3s 0d. or in decimal £3.15. This vast sum was payable a month in advance at the rate of 13 guineas (£13.65). doesn't sound much now but remember my salary was about £20.00 a week before tax and other deductions. Shortly after getting married they did raise it to £25.00 a week. (sheer luxury!). Before we finally moved in I did some basic decorating and installed what was the then relatively revolutionary, but highly desirable, sink unit. There had been an old stoneware sink in the kitchen which was rather revolting. I also made some kitchen cabinets and hung them on the wall. We bought some basic furniture and scrounged the rest from Phyllis, Brenda's mum and Mrs. Gibson. I seem to remember a rather large double bed and an equally large wardrobe of dubious vintage. I also made a built-in unit in the corner of the living room to accommodate the old radio set that we got from the Smith residence. The dining room suite from number 6 Woodhall drive was shipped up to us as a wedding present.
 
An Incident in the Blundellsands Hotel


During my stay at the Blundellsands I got to know a fellow guest whose name totally escapes me. As it turned out he was also being transferred to Liverpool and coincidentally he was also in the Timber Trade. He seemed a nice enough fellow, 40 something I would guess. With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight I suppose I should have realized that he was gay! He was always talking about how much he missed his "dear old mum" back in Hull and he had a slightly effeminate way of speaking. Please remember that a) I was only 23 and b) homosexuality was not the common topic of conversation that it is today. It was the evening of the day I took my driving test. I decided to go to bed early since the trauma of the driving examination had left me feeling somewhat limp. Shortly after I got into bed there was a knock at the door. I said to come in, we didn't bother to lock doors in those days, it was my gay friend. "Just popped in to see how you got on with your test" he said perching himself on the edge of my bed. "Fine" I said, "Passed with flying colours". "Wonderful" he said, lunging forward as if to kiss me! I was out of the bed in a nanosecond and demanded his immediate withdrawal from my room. He got the message immediately, apologised , murmuring something about how pleased he was. Neither of us ever mentioned the incident again and we continued to have breakfast and dinner together until he moved on to a flat he had found. On reflection its probably just as well I've forgotten his name, he may well still be alive and one doesn't want to malign the guy.
 
The Wedding

The ceremony took place at Harrow registry office on March 12th 1955. Frankly I don't remember a great deal about it. I know that we held a reception for family and a few friends at The Orchard, Ruislip and then Brenda and I went up to London to spend the night at the Regent Palace hotel. The next day we took the train to Liverpool and duly started our life together at 41 The Promenade.

The Wedding. Left to right - Father, Phyl, Groom & Bride,
Phyllis Smith (Brenda's Mum), "Old Polly" (Brenda's grandpa)

My Wedding 12th March 1955

Life in Hoylake

41 The Promenade Hoylahe, Wirral, Cheshire
The picture shows Phyl, Pop and Brenda in the driveway. The left hand upstairs bay was eventually Jenny's room and the bay to the right was our living room. Pop reluctantly came up to stay with us for a weekend but fell in love with Hoylake, mainly because of the beach, and stayed for a week or more.
For the first few months we were busy improving the upstairs of 41 The Prom. I decorated the kitchen and also painted and tried wallpapering the landing (our hallway) The wallpapering wasn’t very successful, I omitted to notice that the paper had a distinct over all pattern and since I failed to make sure the first piece was truly vertical, the end to end effect was quite alarming, running downhill violently. I also chose a somewhat unusual colour scheme for the paintwork comprising, mauve, pale green and mushroom. Very fashionable colours for that time. Fortunately our landlady couldn’t climb the stairs so she never really saw it. Sometime in October we realized that Brenda was pregnant. Despite the fact that we were using a form of contraception, it obviously failed. I believe it was some kind of foaming agent called “Volpar Gel” or something like that. Any way what ever it was it didn’t work and the following May 18th 1956 Brenda gave birth to Jennifer Mary in Clatterbridge hospital. I believe she weighed in at around 8 lbs. 3 oz. and all was well with both mother and daughter. That is until we got her home! She was a real “howler” and we had many virtually sleepless nights with her. I had to relinquish the 2nd bedroom ( it had my model railway in it at that time) and redecorate it to accommodate Jenny. We would take it in turns to sit with her till she went off to sleep. As usual no sooner did we try to creep out of the room than she would start yelling again.
 The only surviving picture of the 41 The promenade layout

Christmas 1956

It was decided that we would go down south for the Christmas holidays and since we now had a 7 month old baby this proved to be quite an exercise. Firstly I did not have a car. But we soon realized with all the bits and pieces we would need to take, cot, pushchair, highchair etc. we would have to rent a suitable vehicle. Funds were strictly limited but I managed to strike a deal with a local garage for a rather ancient Morris Minor.

1956 Morris Minor
1956 Morris Minor

 I begged, borrowed or stole a rudimentary roof rack and we loaded up and set off for the 200 mile odd journey. If I remember correctly the M1 had not yet opened even though it was under construction. Therefore we had to travel via the A41 and the A5, neither of which were what you might call wonderful roads and, of course, with no motorways they carried the bulk of the North/South traffic. I believe the journey took us about 7 hours including stops, but to her credit Jenny seemed to thoroughly enjoy it and hardly uttered a peep all the way.
 
New tenants and Friends

It rapidly became clear that old Mrs. Gibson couldn’t continue to fend for herself and so it was decided that she would go and live with one of her sons. This left the downstairs part of 41 the Prom. Vacant. I’m not sure how it came about but I believe we already knew Alan and Betty Hilton, probably through Brenda having met Betty at the ante-natal clinic. Anyway they were looking for a new place to live and agreed to take the downstairs part of 41 the Promenade. This was in some respects a great arrangement since we were good friends and both had young girls of about the same age. However there was one small drawback namely we now had to share the bathroom. Previously we had it all to ourselves since Old Gibby couldn’t get up the stairs to use it. From what I remember it never caused any problems.
Allan worked for the Vidor battery company and drove one of their vans. His territory covered most of Liverpool and the Wirral and he had several dozens if not hundred of customers. He worked largely on commission and inevitably had to fiddle where ever possible. I recall that one such fiddle was to sell portable radios without the batteries (when in fact they were included) and then sell the batteries separately for cash, explaining that he had some surplus stock. He also worked some sort of fiddle with the diesel fuel for his van but I don’t remember how this worked.
 
An Interesting Sideline

Alan came home one evening with some small plaster of Paris framed colour prints. These prints were very popular at the time and were of the type used on greeting cards, chocolate boxes and so on. They were just glued to a plaster frame and had a small wire loop embedded in the top for hanging. Alan reckoned we could make the same thing for a fraction of what they were selling for and he could “peddle” them around his customers. I did some research and found out how to make the flexible rubber moulds, mix the correct type of plaster, cast, dry , trim and paint the frames. We located a source of pictures from a handicraft magazine and got their catalogue. We made an initial selection of prints and made up our own catalogue. Before we knew what had happened we had a business going. I don’t remember the numbers but I know we seemed to spend every spare minute casting, drying, trimming etc. just to keep up with the demand.
We improved the design and eventually produced a far superior product complete with a wooden frame, glass and a proper hanger. These sold for at least twice the price and we didn’t have the hassle of casting the plaster frames. (We only had six moulds so production was strictly limited) This new and improved framed print also came in two sizes again improving our profitability. We formed an informal partnership called Hilyer Products and whilst we didn’t get rich I believe it paid all our utility bills for several months. Eventually it all became too much for us all, the tail was wagging the dog! Alan and Betty decided they needed more room, I think Betty was pregnant again, so they moved to a larger flat somewhere else in Hoylake. We eventually wound the business up and distributed the profits such as they were.
 
Our First Home of our Own

Morris Minor 4 door de luxe circa 1958 Work wise I was doing quite well, I now had a company car (Morris Minor Deluxe 4 door)and my salary had been considerably increased. I was time to consider buying our own home. We spent a lot of time looking around the Wirral and eventually found a builder in Little Neston who had a corner plot available and who was prepared to build something more or less to our specifications on it. We roughed out some plans for a 3 bed roomed bungalow and he put them into architectural format and quoted us £1650. This seemed an enormous sum at that time but we were somehow able to raise a mortgage, I believe through The London Life Association who handled all Churchill & Sim’s pension schemes.

35 Waterford Drive-Little Neston circa 2009

35 Waterford Drive, Little Neston, Wirral, Cheshire - Ex Google Street view 2009

The above picture shows the bungalow as at 2009. research on the internet indicates that present day values (2014) are in the region of £325,000. (remember we paid £1,650)

As ever the house was late being finished and we experienced all the usual alarums and excursions during its construction. They missed out the door between the kitchen and the dining room, completely forgot to put any place for the electricity meter or fuse box. This despite the fact that the entire house had been wired. I was over at the site checking on progress and happened to ask the Builder where the fuses were, “Ah” he said “probably in the kitchen”, we looked; no sign. “No, of course they’re in the garage”, we looked again, no luck there either. “Hmmmm” he pondered. “Fred…where’s the fuse box”. Fred the electrician scratched his head “Kitchen?” ,“no eh!” “Garage perhaps” wrong again. Eventually Fred disappeared up into the loft to check where all the wiring went. He descended the ladder looking puzzled. “It should be in the hall” He bashed some of the plaster away by the front door. Sure enough, there were all the wires neatly buried in the plaster. No one had given any thought to the fact that they would need to be connected to a distribution panel, fuses, meter etc. Not only that but there was no electricity cable into the house from the street. On my next visit a couple of days later, a large hole had been bashed through the house wall, a ditch dug right across the front garden to the road and the Electricity Board men were frantically connecting everything.
 
The Great Gas Explosion (nearly)

35 Waterford Drive, our new bungalow in Little Neston was the last house to be built on this particular development. The workmen had a ramshackle shed that was moved around from plot to plot and it housed their rudimentary tea making facilities and so on. “Jack the Gas” very kindly ran a town gas pipe to wherever the shed was located, connected a meter to it followed by a single gas tap to which the workers attached a gas ring to boil the kettle. As you will know an English workman without his regular tea breaks is next to useless. Naturally the shed ended up on our plot, right next to the right hand side of the house. When they had finished the building, the shed was removed lock stock and barrel, all except for the gas pipe, meter and tap! I discovered this one day when I was mentally laying out the garden about which more later. I checked the gas tap and sure enough there was gas! As you can imagine this was a considerable hazard particularly as we had a 2.1/2 year old toddler and so did our neighbours who immediately adjoined our garden separated only by a rudimentary wire fence. You can imagine the chaos if one of the kids had accidentally or intentionally turned on the gas and then ran away. Eventually there would have been a monumental BANG and perhaps severe damage to local property and danger to life and limb.
I called the Gas Board first thing Monday morning. “I would like to report that there is a live gas meter and tap in my back garden”. “Oh yes sir” said a somewhat skeptical minion on the other end of the phone. “May I have your name and address please?” I dutifully passed on the required information. “I trust you will send someone round immediately to deal with it” “Yes of course sir – goodbye” Two weeks later we still had a gas tap in our back garden, still connected to the gas main. I called again this time in slightly more insistent frame of mind and pointed out that I would hold the Gas Board responsible for any accidents that might occur. I think they decided that perhaps I wasn’t some kind of nut reporting phantom gas meters in his back garden and sure enough later that morning someone did arrive to inspect the offending item. He rounded the corner of the house took one look and burst out laughing. Then he checked that there really was live gas there and suddenly became very serious. Of course we didn’t have cellular phones in those days but he asked if he could use our house phone and immediately demanded that the maintenance people send someone up post haste. (It should be noted that he was only an inspector, not a gas fitter) Half an hour later the fitter arrived, removed the meter and capped the gas main leaving it sticking up about 6” above the ground. “What about the gas main?” I enquired. “Can’t touch that Guvnor” he answered “Not my job you see, union would have my guts for garters if I touched a gas main” “No I’ll have to report it and get someone else to remove that”. Needless to say no one ever came, I made a few more desultory calls but to no avail. Eventually I dug under the pipe, lowered it about 9” or so and buried it. Who knows, one day you made read of an underground explosion in Little Neston when someone ruptures it with a digger or some such machine.
 
The Garden at 35 Waterford Drive

Since we were the corner house we had quite a large garden, albeit most of it was at the front as usually happens with corner lots. The surrounding area is largely red sandstone based and there were several large outcrops of it dotted around the garden. I designed the flower beds to incorporate these outcrops and after digging the entire area to a depth of 1 spit (a spade’s depth) I raked and leveled it all and sowed the cheapest grass seed I could find. We were, as usual, fairly broke at the time. Actually I remember the seed came from a shop in Liverpool called “Jones’s Pet Stores” I can’t remember the price but I believe it was around 1/3d a pound. (6.25p or about 15 ¢ Canadian) Of course it wasn’t the greatest grass seed in the world but it grew like stink and providing you kept it well watered and mowed it at least twice a week in the season it was fine. I also bought a 2/6 packet of mixed annuals. About 12 varieties. These were sprinkled at random throughout the flower beds. Result, a magnificent park like garden which was admired by passers by and neighbours alike. It’s a great pity that I didn’t take any photos of it in full bloom for the record.
 
The Great Russians Caper

One of the jobs that I acquired whilst in Liverpool was acting as an inspector of claims. These were made by customers who had received plywood that was not, in their opinion, up to standard. All of our suppliers had claims against them from time to time and in most cases it was only necessary for me to visit the customer or factory, inspect the plywood, confirm the problem and negotiate a settlement. However in the case of Russian plywood, our biggest single item, the Russian plywood company, "EXPORTLES", had a team of inspectors based in London who were dispatched all over the country to inspect the claims. At this time, early fifties, the “cold war” was at its height and in retaliation for the restrictions placed on travel for British persons in Russia, the Home Office imposed similar restrictions on Russian citizens living and working in the U.K. In practice what happened was that if a Russian inspector had to visit a claim that was more than 10 miles from Marble Arch he would have to present a detailed itinerary of his travel plans included all times of trains, car numbers, names of hotels etc. Once approved he could travel to the required destination and make the inspection. Normally whilst we were together, the Russian(s) and I we would be stopped and interviewed by the police at some stage of the trip. This was all part of the retaliation. The police hated doing it and were normally extremely polite and slightly embarrassed, the Russians just treated it as a normal process.
We had an inspection to make at a furniture factory in the west country somewhere between Gloucester and Cheltenham. It was arranged that I would drive down from Liverpool using Ronnie Craig’s car (I didn’t yet have my own) and pick up the two Russian gentlemen off the train at Gloucester, drive them to the factory, make the inspection and then return them to Gloucester to take the train back to London. Everything went according to plan except that the factory manager pointed out that they could catch the same train back to London from Cheltenham thus avoiding me having to “back-track” to Gloucester and then drive up to Liverpool again. This would save us all time and there seemed to be no difficulty in this arrangement. How wrong we were!
We proceeded as planned and I duly saw the Russians off at Cheltenham station. I then set off heading northwards to Liverpool. I recall that it was a Friday before a long weekend and therefore traffic was somewhat heavier than usual. About 30 minutes out of Cheltenham I noticed a Police car sitting in a lay-by watching the holiday traffic go by. I made a mental note to take it easy and not take any chances. As I watched in my mirror I noticed that the Police car suddenly started his lights flashing and pulled out into the traffic. By this time it was 8/10 cars behind me. I watched fascinated as the car dodged in and out trying to overtake the continuous stream of traffic on what was just a two lane road. Eventually he passed me and then to my amazement, with all lights flashing forced me into a lay-by. My mind raced, what had I done, I didn’t remember shooting any lights, failing to stop at a pedestrian crossing and speeding was impossible in the heavy pre holiday traffic. Both police officers leapt out of their car and ran back to my car. They wrenched open the two front doors, planted their feet firmly on the door sills and proceeded to cross examine me. “Who was I?’, Where was I going?” “Where had I come from?”, “Whose car was it?” and so on. I was totally baffled and so were they, all my answers were perfectly satisfactory and I was in no way displaying any signs of guilt. One of the officers returned to the car armed with my license, obviously to check on my credentials. While he was gone the other officer continued with his cross examination. Finally in desperation he said ‘Sir, can you think of any reason why we should have stopped you?” Then it clicked, The Russians! : I hadn’t dropped them off at their proper station. They had notified the Home Office that they would be departing back to London from Gloucester, but I had dropped them at Cheltenham. I explained to the Police officer. He looked slightly incredulous but by this time his colleague had returned from being on the car radio and now knew what the problem was. “What did you do with them?” he asked frantically. I explained about the change of plan suggested by the factory manager. Armed with the explanation he rushed back to the car radio to report the Russian’s whereabouts. Of course it was too late they had already boarded the train and were chugging happily towards London oblivious of all the kerfuffle that was going on in the West Country.
Of course I was then “released” with many apologies. They explained that they had been sitting in the lay-by watching the traffic go by when they received an “all cars” call saying “Stop at all costs and report Black Morris Oxford license plate ABC123”. They said just at that moment I passed in front of them. They couldn’t believe their luck, such things just never happened to them. The further explained that this was the type of call they got when there had been a major crime committed such as a bank robbery. They stopped the flow of traffic for me, I was saluted and sent on my way.
The repercussions were somewhat dramatic. Apparently a whole squad of police cars descended on Cheltenham station with sirens blaring, dozens of police swarmed all over the station, but to no avail, the Russian birds had flown. Similar activities took place at Paddington and the two fellows were virtually arrested when they got off the train. Of course they explained what had happened and eventually they were allowed to go home. I got a lot of flack the following week from my boss, I had to write a letter to the Home Office explaining exactly what I had done and promising never, never to do it again.
Who said selling plywood was boring ?
 
The Bert Neale story

The five and a half years I spent in Liverpool were fairly happy years generally speaking. I had a nice little house, a wife, and a daughter. I had a company car and my territory was virtually the entire UK with the exception of the SE corner. I had an opportunity to visit various parts of the country and made some good business associations whilst so doing. I was successful in my selling activities and I was well thought of by my bosses in London (Head Office). About 2 years into my stint up north there was a change in management at head office. I should perhaps remind you here that I was working in the plywood department. A gentleman by the name of Bert Neale had a “bust-up” with his partner Mr. Bech and the company known as Bech Neale Ltd. was dissolved and Bert joined Churchill and Sim. Bert was no chicken and was already into his mid sixties when this change came about. The one great strength that Bert had was his intimate connection with a Finnish Plywood manufacturer known a Kalso Grahn. Old man Karl Grahn was a long time buddy of Bert Neale and when Bech Neale broke up the agency for the plywood mill went with Bert to Churchill and Sim. C& S had long wanted to represent a Finnish Plywood mill and whilst Kalso Grahn wasn’t one of the greatest they had a moderate production and their quality certainly improved under the guidance of C & S. We sold well for them and the two sons Jarl and Helmer Grahn had both been educated in the USA and consequently spoke excellent English.
 
Shortly after Bert joined he started demanding regular sale reports from me and also detailed listings of all sales calls I had made each week together with any exchanges of information I had had with my customers. This was not the way we did things in C & S and my boss, Charles Tross, had always trusted me to keep him advised of any relevant information. There had never been any suggestion that I should submit any sort of formal reports and the whole idea was totally foreign to me. I made my feelings known to my boss and after a short time I was invited down to London to meet with Bert Neale to discuss our future cooperation.
 
We lunched somewhere in the City, I forget where, Bert, Charles and myself. After the initial exchange of pleasantries Charles, my immediate Boss, excused himself from the table on the pretext of having to make a phone call. At this point Bert Neale started to cross examine me as to why I had taken such exception to his request for regular written sales reports. I pointed out that I had been in the plywood department for over 5 years and had never been asked before and quite frankly didn’t much like the idea of starting now. He quizzed me further, “tell me” he said ‘exactly what did you say to your colleagues in the Liverpool Office when I telephoned you and asked for the sales reports”. I hesitated, should I tell him what I actually said or should I lie and say nothing. I opted for the first choice. “What fuck does this old bastard want now?” was what I yelled after hanging up the phone. There was a pregnant pause, had I really blown it with Bert once and for all, he smiled, then laughed out loud and said “quite right too”. “I hadn’t realised the sort of relationship you had with Charles in particular and C & S in general”. “You were quite right to object and let’s agree that you will keep me advised of any important information as it comes up”. The die was cast. Bert and I understood each other and from then on held each other in great and mutual respect.

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