​ Memories of a Darwen Childhood | Elizabeth's Photograph Gallery

 

​ Memories of a Darwen Childhood

 
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The War Begins...
It was a great feeling for me to find on the web articles about Darwen as I was born in one of the Blanket Hall cottages on Darwen moor.
 
Later on my parents moved us to 60 Marsh House Lane, Darwen and there I lived until around about May 1944.
 
I attended Hoddlesden School until we left Darwen when I was eleven years old.  The headmaster was Mr Bury. The minister of the church next to the school was the Reverend Redman or Redmond.
 
The school I attended was a mixed school and girls and boys alike were asked to do something for the war effort.  I can’t remember what the boys did but the girls were asked to knit something for the ‘forces’.  I was given the task of knitting a pair of mittens in air-force blue.  After several shaky starts I managed to knit them.  They were a bit different from normal mittens as they had a thumb and forefinger separate from the rest of the mitten.  I then had to write my name and address on a piece of paper and attach it to the mittens.  I later got a lovely letter from the air-man that got them saying it was great to be able to smoke a cigarette without having to take the mitten off and he thanked me for knitting them. 
 
There was an air-raid shelter which ran under all of Hoddlesden and there were entrances from different points in the school.  We all thought it great fun when we had ‘mock’ runs through the tunnels.  There were also entrances to the shelter from different points all over the village, one of them being under the bus shelter in the centre of the village. 
 
I was waiting in the bus shelter with two other children the day a single German plane flew over firing his machine gun.  That was the plane that dropped bombs on Darwen but there was no damage done to my home.
 
The house I lived in had no electricity, only gas; even my mother’s clothes iron was a gas iron.  Our lighting was with ‘gas mantles’ which were very fragile. The back yard was where the toilet was and toilet paper being hard to get we had to manage with any sort of paper we could get hold of.
 
The local shop was on the corner of the next block of houses down Marsh House Lane and was owned by a lady called Miss Martin.  It was there my mother used our ration books to do the weekly shopping.  I used to get my ‘sweet’ ration at the same time even though there wasn’t much choice.  A small box of chocolates was like finding gold.
 
Further down Marsh house Lane was a fish and chip shop but during the war fish was hard to get and we usually had tripe and chips or potatoes sliced and fried in batter which were called ‘scollops’.  The radio we had ran off a battery and an accumulator. The accumulator had to be charged up from time to time and I had the job of taking it to the fish and chip shop where the owner would charge it up in the back room.
 
I remember the war starting. I remember listening to the radio with my parents and hearing Mr Chamberlain telling us we were at war with Germany.  I remember my father coming up to me when I was playing in the street with my friends and telling me he was going to be a soldier.
 
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War-time Memories
I remember the war starting. I remember listening to the radio with my parents and hearing Mr Chamberlain telling us we were at war with Germany.  I remember my father coming up to me when I was playing in the street with my friends and telling me he was going to be a soldier.
 
I remember the Ritz Cinema opening.  I remember the street lights had to be blacked out at the top and only showed a small light on the ground and I had a torch that had to have the top covered so that it hardly showed any light.  We had to have tape on the windows and black blinds through which no light had to be seen.  If any did the ‘air-raid’ warden would knock and the door with orders to cover the window up properly ……or else!!!!
 
I remember the train stations having their name signs removed.  Also no-body shouted out the name of the station when the train stopped. I remember the posters on the walls of the stations and public toilets that said. "Careless talk costs lives" and "Coughs and sneezes spread diseases, trap your germs in your handkerchief".  Sign posts in the streets were taken down and the metal on them used for the ‘war effort’, as were all the metal gates along Marsh House Lane, our gate included.
 
My mother went to work in a munitions factory.  It was called ‘Hibberts Munitions’ factory (the spelling may not be correct but the name is.)  As she had to do ‘shifts’ 6am-2pm and 2pm-10pm as well as 10pm-6am it meant that I had to sleep at a friends house when my Mum was on nights.  So I had a bed at home and another small bed to sleep in at the friend’s house in Essex Street (just off Marsh House Lane).  I also have a recollection of being told that the first Churchill Tank was tested out on Darwen moor, I don’t know if that is correct but it just sticks in my mind.
I remember the cobbled streets and being Queen of the May round the maypole.  I remember going to Bolton on the tram.  I remember being told how the Duke of Kent came to open Darwen’s Baths which had a floor that you could empty of water and then hold dances on it.  I remember having my first pair of (and only pair) of clogs as my I had outgrown my shoes and there weren’t any coupons left to get new ones.
 
My mother would go to the markets to get remnants of material to make clothes for me.  She even made a coat for me out of an army blanket which kept me as warm as toast.  She also knitted gloves and socks for me out of darning wool.  When I think of that I wonder at her patience, but there was a war on and we had to improvise and utilise whatever we had.
 
I did sewing in the ‘next to the top’ class in school, and because I had been shown how to sew by my mother I was one of the best in the class.  The teacher, like my mother, would get remnants from the markets and we girls made pinafores as well as blouses.  We also did leather work in that class, and I made purses, handbags and wallets.  Starting with the leather being untreated we had to soften it, cut it to size and engrave it and stain it before punching the holes to thong it together.  I made things for some of the women that worked with my mother and the money I got helped the teacher to purchase some more materials.  Hoddlesden School was an excellent school.  (When I went to the school in Chester it amazed me that I had to start printing my work again as they only taught ‘joined up’ writing in the top class.)
 
I remember snow falling till it reached the bedroom window.  I remember listening to the radio and hearing ‘Lord Haw Haw’ saying ‘Germany calling..Germany calling’ and my Mum turning the wireless off quickly and muttering to herself.  I can guess now the things she would have been saying.  I can recall seeing the barrage balloons in the sky and remember the look on my mother's face when she got a letter from my Dad.
 
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 Introducing...Betty Blackburn!
Round about 1940-41 a talent competition was held in the Ritz Cinema in Darwen.
 
My mother entered me into it and I won first prize.  I was either eight or nine years old at the time. In the audience was a gentleman who came backstage and introduced himself to my mother as Mr Davies.  He was the organist for the parish church in Darwen.  He said my voice had moved him very much but it needed training and he would like to be the one to do it, and so my singing lessons started.
 
From then on I was taking part in concerts on a regular basis.  My mother had to get permission from the town hall for me to take part in concerts and there were strict rules that I had to be home by a certain time.
 
The concerts were always for the war effort and as my father was in the army my mother and myself were 'doing our bit' as it were.  For a while I sang with an accordion band which was formed by a Mr John Reid (or Reed) and I also sang in concerts in the 'Olympia' Cinema in Darwen.  By this time the local press were calling me 'the girl with the golden voice'.
 
There was a concert being held at King George's Hall in Blackburn.  It was arranged for me to perform there.  I remember I laughed to think I would be introduced as 'Betty Blackburn' singing in Blackburn, but being there was something I have never forgotten.  I can still remember walking on stage to the sound of applause from the audience.  I was such a little girl, with a voice that filled the Hall.  I had the confidence of a grown woman and I never ever felt nervous when singing.
 
To walk out from the wings on to the centre of the stage with the spotlight on me is a memory that is as fresh in my mind as though it was yesterday.  I don’t re-call what I sang but the audience would not let me go for quite a time.  I had to keep coming back to take another bow (in my case it was a curtsey).  I can't remember the date or even the year but it had to be between 1941-1944 as my mother and I left Darwen in May 1945.  All my press cuttings have been lost due to the number of times I have moved.
 
Elizabeth would love to find any information about the performances she gave.  Do you remember Betty Blackburn, the 'girl with the golden voice'?  Do you have any old newscuttings or memories of her performances.  If so, please email us at cottontown@blackburn.gov.uk and we will pass any information received on to Elizabeth.
 
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Leaving Darwen
I was almost eleven years old when my mother and I left Darwen to stay with my father’s sister who lived just outside Chester.  It was supposed to be just for a holiday and it was at my father’s suggestion that we went.  He knew that he was going over with the D-Day landings but was not allowed to write and tell my mother.  He just wanted my mother and me to be with relations in case anything happened to him.  

 

However my mother liked the area and she loved Chester so much that she didn’t want to leave there which is how I came to leave Darwen, and eventually make a home in Chester until moving to North Wales which is where I now live with my husband.
I have a happy life here with my husband and a lovely home which I don’t ever want to leave but Darwen has always been in me like the writing in a stick of rock.  I was and still am a Darrener and will always be proud to be so.

 

I hope you find any of the enclosed useful to your project and entertaining enough to use.  I also wonder if you are writing any article that will be published (like a newsletter) could you mention the following names.  Pat Baron, Mary Waddacre, Janet Oldham and Joyce Livesay (or Liversage).  They are names from the past but not forgotten and it would be lovely to get in touch with them after all these years.
I thank you for your patience and wish you well with your project which I will follow with a great deal of interest and a lot of nostalgia.


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Elizabeth's Photograph Gallery

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This photograph shows Elizabeth's mother and her younger sister Margaret (or Maggie). 
Elizabeth's mother is the girl on the right, the name of the photographer was E. Kershaw, from Darwen
 
 
 
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This is a photograph of Elizabeth as a little girl
 
 
 
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 This photograph was taken in a park at Darwen, the lady you can see (wearing a flowered dress) was Elizabeth's mum and the little girl in the dress is Elizabeth.  The girl holding out her arm was Elizabeth's best friend
 
 
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This photograph was taken at Blackpool, the man on the left of the picture was Elizabeth's Uncle George who was married to her Auntie Clara, her dad's sister (who Elizabeth and her mum went to live with outside Chester when she left Darwen)
 
 
 
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This was taken at a play area at the top of Marsh House Lane before you got to Hoddlesden.  It had all the usual things to play on, swings, slides and roundabouts to name but a few!  When it was school holidays (during the war), Elizabeth would get some hard black liquorice, put it in a bottle of water and leave it overnight.  The next day after a good shake it would be a lovely drink.  She used to go to the play area with 'butties' and 'pop' and her dog, a large black labrador named Duchess.  Duchess would lie there watching whilst Elizabeth played, she always felt safe as houses when her dog was around and then she would take Duchess to an area where there was a pond and let her have a swim
 
 
 
 
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 Elizabeth pictured with her mum
 
 
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Elizabeth thinks this one speaks for itself.  She says, "school photographs were not always brilliant!"
 
 
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  Elizabeth with her mum, dad, and Auntie Clara
 

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Elizabeth with her grandad (her mum's dad) taken in their back yard.  Her grandad came looking for her the day the bombs were dropped by a 'lone plane' and as a result of the noise he went deaf for quite a while
 
 
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Taken again in Elizabeth's back yard.  She is pictured with the lady who looked after her when her mum was working shifts at the munitions factory.  Her name was Nancy Ellen Truewick (Elizabeth is unsure if she has spelled this correctly) and she lived on Essex Street just around the corner from her own house.  Elizabeth's mum had a bed set up for her there for when she worked the night shift
 
 
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Elizabeth slightly more grown up than in previous pictures
 
 
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A photograph of Elizabeth wearing a long dress which she used to wear on stage when she appeared as 'Betty Blackburn'
 
 
 
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 Elizabeth with her Auntie Maggie (who is shown with Elizabeth's mum in the first photograph).  Again, you can see Elizabeth is growing up
 
 
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 This photograph is Elizabeth when she was aged 21

 
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 This photograph of Elizabeth and her husband was taken last December

 
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This is a copy of Elizabeth's mums birth certificate.  As you can tell the original is very delicate.  Elizabeth's mum was born in America, she doesn't know how her grandparents came to go there, she was told that her grandma wasn't happy there so they all returned to Darwen

 
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 This is a copy of Elizabeth's mum ID card
 
 
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This is a copy of the letter that Elizabeth's mum received giving permission for Elizabeth to appear on stage at a Charity Concert given at the Olympia Cinema on the 26th December 1943.  Elizabeth appeared in many places, singing under the name Betty Blackburn 
 
If you have any information, or can remember Betty Blackburn, please email us at cottontown@blackburn.gov.uk as Elizabeth would love to discover any information (press cuttings etc) from the places where she performed.