AS THE TWIG IS BENT

Chapter 7 - Marlborough Road

When I was about five years old we moved house.  The new home was only about a quarter of a mile away in Marlborough Road.  It was a road leading northwards out of Manningham Lane and as our house was only number four we could see what was happening on the main road.  It was at this time that it became evident to me that we had quite a circle of friends.  There was Mr. Slingsby, the painter and decorator. There were Mrs. Sheridan, Margaret Hill and 'Janey'.  There was quite a host who did not actually set foot in our house but they were friends all the same as we visited them with Mother.  There was Miss Eeles who knitted and refooted socks and stockings on a little machine.  Mother had been a worker in the St. Jude’s Guild before she was married.  Most of the members were mill hands. Margaret Hill and Janey were two of them.  They had worked in the mill as children and we were amazed at the tales they told.  Margaret Hill had several fingers missing and she related how she was working at a machine one day when suddenly she became aware of some odd looking objects going round, evidently caught up in the machine.  They were her fingers.  She had not felt the impact at all.  She was a docile, quiet-voiced woman and was always pleased to come in and clean silver or give a hand with anything in the kitchen.  Janey was older and was nearly always with Margaret Hill.  She had one of those good-natured faces that always seem to be smiling. Mrs. Sheridan was a washerwoman.  She said she was always happy when she had her hands in soapy water.  She was small and square and kind..  She was the mother of twelve children and her husband had never earned more than eighteen shillings a week.  She came to us on wash days for the day at half-a crown with meals.  But as soap and water were her joy she loved scrubbing floors.  So when we moved house she was very busy ahead of us, keeping Mr. Slingsby in order seeing that he did not make a mess with paint on the floors.  A few years later when we moved again she was there as before scrubbing floors.  Mr. Slingsby forgot about her one evening and locked the house up.  She upbraided him next morning as she explained how she had to borrow one of his ladders and climb out of the coalhole.  When he had stopped laughing he pointed out that she need not have gone to such trouble as the window of the wash kitchen was not bolted.

Yorkshire Reservoir (1979)
A reservoir scene on the outskirts of Bradford painted in 1979 gives a certain sense of being on the edge of the world

When we went for a walk northward I always wanted to visit Mr. Slingsby.  He lived in a most romantic house on the edge of a reservoir.  The road ran up-hill a long way and then you came to a solid stone wall with railings on it on one side of the road, houses on the other.  But Mr. Slingsby’s house was the last one before the reservoir.  He had a little porch with shelves full of tins of paint.  His ladders were hanging horizontally from brackets driven into the walls of the house.  The reservoir had a brooding, menacing quality, partly because you could not see anything beyond it except sky as the valley fell away behind the castellated walls with little towers at intervals like bits of baronial castles.  The feeling of light and space made it like the top of the world.

Our removal complete, it was strange to pass our old house on the way to school, looking blankly at the sky with the notice House to Let stuck in the windows.  The new house was larger than the other, though it too was part of a terrace.  They must have been solidly built as I never remember a sound from next door neighbours and I don’t remember any complaints about our noisiness.  The front garden was small,  just a collection of rocks and ferns and the inevitable laburnum tree.  The back yard still had an ashpit and a flagstone walk to the back door and red shale on either side of it, high walls separating us from our neighbours.  The hall was central so that there were rooms on either side of it.  We still had the heavy curtains half way along and I remember Father getting mixed up in these when he was trying to deal with the telephone.  The telephone always brought out the worst in Father.  The instrument in those days had a little turning handle which made a whirring sound when it rang the exchange.  The girl operators were very dilatory and Father used to lose his temper with them, which gave rise to great play with the little handle. There was a separate cup for the ear, with a long double wire, which got into all sorts of knots. The arm with the mouthpiece on it jutted out from a box of tricks, with its bells and handle and cubbyhole for engagement book. The directory dangled there by a string but it couldn’t be read in the dark. So what with the curtains and there being no electric light to switch on in the hall, it was a scene of merry pantomimes, Father shouting at the top of his voice, Mother gently trying to pacify him.  The girls at the exchange evidently knew who he was and one day after the usual irritated performance on the handle, a sweet voice said 'Hello! Is that you, Dr. Crippen?'

The stairs to the first floor were in two flights and at the turning there was a boot cupboard or gloryhole where dustpans and brushes, old carpets and such like were kept. But it was also a good hideout which I frequently made use of when I wanted to be alone.

There was a good-sized nursery and what we called the night-nursery and two or three other bedrooms and the bathroom, in which two of my sisters used to manage to get themselves locked in. Then there was another double flight of stairs that led to three or four attics.

The kitchen had undergone some alterations.  Mother was beginning to criticise our Victorian forbears for their stupid planning. To go to the back door the maids had to come into the hall, turn back down a passage, descend some steps and there you were. Mother had another door made in the kitchen, which opened on to a short flight of wooden steps at the foot of which was the back door.  She also had a good deep sink put in which I have reason to remember.

I have already mentioned my evident interest in ships, both drawing and making them.  I suppose all boys wherever they happen to live somehow get to know something about them from books.  Ships too, play an important part in the ancient legends and stories that children love, so it often happens that early efforts at drawing show ships of rudimentary form with enormous port-holes and with funnels belching smoke.  At school we had plenty of stories told us and I think pictures were pinned up of early ships.  I remember one of Christopher Columbus’ Santa Maria.  So my exercise books show drawings of ships wherever it was possible or impossible to have them.  There are quite a number in a book labelled Scripture. One shows Christ walking on the water, in another he is preaching from a fishing boat evidently telling the story of the sower, as a vigorous figure of a man sowing corn dominates the foreground.

The four years or so in which we lived in the new home I remember mostly for this interest in ships.  Father showed me how to make paper boats by folding newspaper on the cocked hat principle.  These I used to float in the bath or kitchen sink until the paper absorbed the water and they sank.  Father was very fond of walnuts and he cracked them cleanly so that the two halves made excellent boats and he stuck a matchstick in with sealing wax for a mast, a cotton thread for rigging and a piece of white paper for a sail.  I found that these moved slowly round the kitchen sink of their own accord and I became a thorough nuisance with them in the kitchen.  One of our maids was a strong lass and used to threaten me with all sorts of torture, one of them being to hold my head under the cold tap.  She did occasionally pick me up wriggling and kicking and put my head in that position but I don’t think she ever actually turned the tap on.

Then we had a fleeting visit from an American cousin also named Richard Eurich, who evidently noted my passion for ships.  He said he would make me one and, sure enough, not long afterwards a parcel arrived with a most perfect little rowing boat carved in walnut with two oars made from some white wood, a fine piece of craftsmanship.  Unfortunately it got trodden on a few years later which upset me very much as I wish I had it to this day.  It was about this time that Uncle Otto came to stay and made the yacht, which I have referred to in a previous chapter. He also brought me a huge sheet of cartridge paper (I suppose it was only Imperial size but it seemed much larger) and having pinned it to the wall I forthwith filled it with a drawing of a liner, probably the Titanic.

© Richard Eurich Paintings

Eddystone Lighthouse (c1912)
At the age of 9 Richard’s passion for ships and the sea are already evident.

And then one day Father came home from a case and announced that the 'Titanic was sinking', not 'sunk'. Why he put it that way I don’t know, but it has always remained in my mind.  Perhaps the phrase gave me the impression that the unsinkable ship would take a long time to sink or would only partially sink.  The fact that Granny was on the sea at the same time in the Victorian going to Canada, somehow made the terrible catastrophe more real but I did not draw any pictures of this tragedy.  There followed the second calamity when the Carpathia was sunk in the St. Lawrence River and for many years I kept photographs of the episode and the reports from eyewitnesses and Captain Kendal.  The events of these four years reached a climax with the news of the deaths of Captain Scott and his companions in the Antarctic.  The battle with the sea and elements went on as it will continue to do, and these events brought home to me that the stories of old times were not just very remote happenings of bygone ages but a continuous story of man’s heroism and defeat. 

 

Whilst we were in Marlborough Road we had a number of the epidemics which children have to go through.  I seem to remember that we enjoyed mumps and whooping cough as we were kept together and relieved our boredom by playing tricks on our lady-helps.  My brother was also born there.   So Mother must have had a trying time with five of us and Father’s practice as a consulting physician expanding and requiring her help, making appointments, answering enquiries and getting in touch with him at the Royal Infirmary or other hospitals or wherever he happened to be.

We always had the utmost confidence in Father’s medical abilities and whenever we heard of one of our friends being ill we had no hesitation in assuring their parents that Father would make them well again if they would call him in.  The earliest illness I can remember was when I was about four years old. I must have been running a high temperature for Mother was holding me in her arms with a mackintosh sheet about me, Father was bending over me with a jug of lukewarm water and pouring it over me and helping its distribution with a sponge. The words of concern which passed between them for my welfare (it must have been the middle of the night) gave me a sense of dependence and gratefulness.  

Queen’s Road was a continuation of Manningham Lane on the other side of the hill. Here it suddenly took on a sharper steepness running down the valley where the Midland Railway main line ran under a bridge, and a little further on was a canal. There were some strange people who lived in Queen’s Road.   There were a lot of Germans in Bradford and I can only suppose that some of them had known my grandparents at the end of the last century.  There was Miss Bauer and her brother who lived together. He probably taught at one of the colleges.  She was rather forbidding and I think thought we were not being brought up strictly enough.  Her brother was a tall man with white hair and bushy moustache, immaculately dressed and hardly ever to be seen without an umbrella.  He was like an old maid and very pernickety.  When the weather was wet he didn’t wish to upset his health by not going for his constitutional so he put on his coat and hat and, umbrella in hand, walked round the dining room table several hundred times.  No doubt he made measurements round the table to be assured that the distance covered was the same.  He used to call on us occasionally and once was so generous as to give me a copy of The Studio, which he bade me study closely, as it contained 'many beautiful and stimulating pictures'. So evidently there was some idea being circulated that Art was my subject.  Lower down Queen’s Road lived another pair of old maids, this time both of the female sex, called Engels.  We had been encouraged to learn some German folk songs and so we were shepherded down to the Engels’ house and lined up in their sitting room while the two prim ladies sat stiffly upright side by side with their hands folded on the table. We had learned the words by ear and had no understanding of the language we were singing, so our pronunciation must have been almost unrecognisable as German or any other language. But our excruciating performance was met with chirpings of appreciation.  We were marched out again into the street with some vague idea at the back of our minds that we had performed some kind of duty.  They must have lived a life of strict routine and when one day there was a wasp in the larder, they locked themselves into their room and signalled to a butcher’s boy to come and get the insect out.  They spent the rest of the day recovering from the intrusion and trying to find out whether the butcher’s boy had purloined anything.

Our whooping cough had to be got rid of and as it was pointed out that the canal was a good a place as any in which to lose it, we often went for walks there.  But the railway at the bottom of Queen’s Road was a good stopping place.  We looked down into Manningham Station and, as a train left in clouds of steam that enveloped us, we rushed across the road to see it when it emerged the other side.  There was also a coal yard here, where locomotives took on fresh supplies, and engine sheds and a turntable.  To watch the men push a large engine round was thrilling and we re-enacted this drama in the nursery with an overturned table.  The railway line ran perfectly straight to the next station, Frizinghall, which we could see quite well.  One of my drawings of trains that I did at this time caught Father’s eye and he was much interested to see that I had left a gap between the funnel and the steam, which varies in visibility according to weather conditions.  This piece of observation led him to view my drawings with a greater interest.

The canal was most romantic with stone bridges spanning it at intervals.  The narrow towpath for the patient horse sometimes went under these bridges but occasionally the horse had to be unhitched, led over to the other side where the barge had drifted and then attached again.  I felt very sorry for these animals as the weight of the barge pulling from one side gave them a gait between that of a drunken man and a crab.  Ragged urchins were to be seen sailing boats under the bridges, the draught being their only means of propulsion.

Queen’s Road continued from the railway up the other side of the valley to Peel Park where Galas were held in which balloon ascents were one of the attractions.  We would see the balloon rising from the attic windows.  There was great excitement also about this time (1912) when C.B. Huck gave flying demonstrations in a monoplane during which he looped the loop.  I believe he was the first aviator to achieve this feat.

Mother told me she used to cycle down the road from Peel Park, precariously hanging on while her feet were off the pedals as there was no free-wheel at that time, her hat flapping and the wind straining at the numerous hairpins threatening to pull her hair down.

The houses on the side of Queen’s Road farthest away from the town were mostly large and had gardens.  On the town side they rapidly became terraces of small houses occupied by working class people.  The larger houses were lived in by doctors and dentists and, further away from the town, were inhabited by wealthy merchants.  From many of these families came painters, musicians and writers who have made their mark, such as the Rothensteins and Priestleys, Delius and Humbert Wolfe.  Father had seen something of them at the Bradford Grammar School but they all left for London as soon as they could.  Some of our schoolfellows came from these more select homes and at Christmas time they held huge parties.  We were invited and I hated every minute of them.  If possible I hid somewhere and if this was not possible I usually cried and Mother was called up on the telephone and I had to be rescued.  I have never been able to understand how children could like the games organised at these parties with forfeits, the boys always coming off worst in such things.  I think I had the idea that I might have to kiss some ghastly girl in satin and pink ribbons, with long hair down to her waist.  I am certain my sisters were never dressed in such finery and didn’t show off as these spoiled girls did.  But I was forced to go to these parties until the war came which put an end to them.  I went to one party however, at which my great friend Maurice was present.  He had never been at the really swell affairs.  This was in a smaller house and the games were not organised by a lot of stupid grown-ups who thought they were giving the children a whale of a time.  Maurice was soon the life and soul of the evening.  He was entirely unselfconscious and kept up a flow of conversation to which everyone could contribute something.  He never wished to shine as a hero, in fact his technique was to show himself in a rather ridiculous light and invite further ridicule.  His Mother was there and she was wearing a locket with a portrait of a child with flowing fair hair.  It was evidently not her daughter who was dark.  Someone admired it and Maurice said 'Oh yes! That’s me when I was a little girl!'  All the girls giggled and frankly didn’t believe him. He kept them guessing and tantalised and then suddenly his mood changed.  He found two policeman’s lanterns, put candles in them and out we went into the night.  He invented some story about some bad lads swooping round that street and so we took all sorts of precautions and spoke in hushed whispers, dodged round corners and generally behaved in a suspicious manner.  The lanterns were troublesome. To start with they smelt, as all the varnish blistered with the heat and then they became too hot to hold.  Finally the wax ran down into a liquid pool in the base of the lantern, the wick collapsed and the whole thing seemed to be a mass of flame, the glass cracked and the soldering of the handle melted; in fact the disintegration was complete.  We arrived back at the party dirty and dishevelled, but somehow mysterious. Maurice made the most of it, tantalising the girls with imaginary stories of our adventures until it was time to go home.

Maurice kept turning up as time went on.  He came away for a holiday with us. He became a sort of lodger too at one time and when I went to Bradford Grammar School, he had been there for some time and persuaded me to join the Scout troop and we saw a great deal of each other.  We had little in common but no doubt admired each other’s talents.  He was dashing and debonair and I was timid and retiring.  He was good at all schoolwork; I was quite helpless.  I could play the piano and violin and draw and paint; he could do none of these things but he could be entertaining and amusing even when life was not so smooth for him.

One evening we were returning together after a scout meeting.  We were feeling particularly bright for some reason and we were clowning our way down a street near Lister’s Mill, a high stone wall on one side and grim stone houses on the other. The huge mill chimney towered above us at the top of the street.  There was hardly anybody except a few stray cats about and we made our way from the light of one street lamp to the next.  Just as we stepped out of the light of one into comparative shade a woman with a shawl over her head swayed towards us and we could not avoid a slight collision.  She was evidently tipsy but Maurice apologised for his clumsiness, to which she replied 'Say nart abart it lad, say nart abart it'.  We smiled sheepishly and moved on but she evidently liked the phrase and we could hear her voice in a rousing crescendo ringing down the street. 'Say nart abart it lad, say nart abart it!'

The Beldon family lived only a few minutes walk away from our house.  I used to go there from time to time to sail boats up in the attic bathroom.  It contained the largest bath I have ever seen.  We filled it very full and I always went home with my sleeves wet.  This attic, as I remember it, didn’t appear to have any proper rooms; there was a wooden switchback, which went everywhere, through doorways without any doors and long passages with only skeleton walls.  When Edgar and I stopped playing with his ships, Eileen told us outrageous stories in which a wholesome vulgarity was introduced to Margaret and me for the first time.  The whole family were mad on acting and I went to a performance at their house of The Chocolate Soldier, I believe.  Mr. Beldon was a Quaker and Mrs. B. a suffragette who made periodic visits to London to do a bit of window smashing.

The first time I was invited to tea with this strange family, one of the elder sons came in and upended the tea table with all its contents, which shot on to the floor.  No one seemed to take much notice and apparently this kind of behaviour was quite normal.  It was amusing to think that in this sedate part of Bradford in a private road of great respectability, a house existed in which  the Marx Brothers would have felt at home.