They do say you should never go back, but sometimes the invitation is irresistible, especially if you’re given the opportunity to re-visit the house where you grew up which you haven’t seen for the best part of 50 years.
So it was today. For reasons I won’t go into, me, my dad and my youngest sister were able to spend half an hour in 211, Astley Street, Dukinfield, empty because it had been recently vacated by the previous tenant. It is the place where my sister was born, where I spent my formative years and my dad’s greatest DIY achievement.
My parents bought the house in 1950 for the princely sum of £400, thanks to a mortgage from the Co-op, dad paying the installments every Friday at the Arcadia in Ashton.
It needed a bit of modernising though. For a start, it didn’t have electricity and my Uncle Jim and another apprentice electrician mate of his wired the house from scratch.
It didn’t have a bathroom either, so dad fitted one above the kitchen. Unfortunately, he had never actually seen such a thing, so he just installed a bath — no lavatory or hand wash basin. It was very spacious though, even if we had to make do with the outside lavvy.
Dad also wanted to let the light in, so he got another mate to make a very solid front door that was mostly glass. The door to the living room also had glass panels and he also put in what was, in effect, an interior window between the lobby and the front room.
Other improvements included a concrete floor in the kitchen, new ceilings upstairs and boxing in all the ugly bits, like water pipes and meters. Oh, and built-in cupboards by the chimney breast, on top of which sat the old valve radio for listening to Workers’ Playtime and Two-way Family Favourites.
And not forgetting the cellar, with its coal hole, that became dad’s workshop.
So what was it like going back? Well the house was smaller than I remembered it, but then I was prepared for that. The sad bit wasn that most of dad’s handwork had gone. And someone had pebble-dashed the rear walls and concreted over the flags in the yard.
One thing that hadn’t changed was the view from the front bedroom window that you can see on the right. The bus stop wasn’t there then, but the Chapel House pub was and I could almost hear again the rowdy noise at chucking out time when I was trying to sleep.
The walls and structure were essentially the same, but it was no longer the place I remembered. The difference between a house and a home, of course, are all the things we take with us, whether it was the clunky, leatherette three-piece suite, my dad’s toolbox or the yellow, black and white coffee set that was only for display in the sideboard cupboard.
We left 1963. Dad would have preferred to stay, but mum insisted that the offer of a spanking new council house was too good to miss and she may have been right, though I doubt our new home will stand the test of time as has 211 Astley Street.