Barry Stockton

My early years were spent living on Birch Tree lane, having been born in the then ‘Police House'. I lived there with my parents Frank ‘Bobby' and Betty Stockton, and brother Neville. The earliest memories are bounded by the houses and people on the Lane facing the field above Critchlow's farm, later to become Dixon's.

Next door to us I spent a lot of time being introduced to ‘pobs' )a variation on bread and milk, made with tea) by Pam Brough, who later took me to Barber's Palace in Tunstall for Saturday matinees on PMT or Rowbotham's buses. Hers was a talented musical family, Pam played the piano, by ear or from music, her mum, Doris sang and dad, Sam played the bass. Brother John, played the euphonium and little Sam the trombone, I think; sisters Mary and Doris also sang. So it was no surprise when Pam married Alec English, principal trombonist with Foden's band. It was in Brough's that we all congregated in front of a tiny ‘console' TV to watch the Coronation through a large magnifying lens.

Next along the Lane were Harry and Kenny Moors and their parents, while at the end lived Sheila Booth with her mum, Winifred, and her dad, Harold; outstanding in my memory for having a large car, a Ford V8 Pilot.

The sycamore at the bend in the road, was at the corner of the track down to the farm of Cecil and Ivan Dixon, with their girls Madeleine, Rosemary and Isabel. Here the ‘road men' used to sit once a month with their sandwiches and billy cans of tea, to have their ‘snap' and I used to join them with my mini-can.

My horizons were widened in both directions by two events, family friendships, and going to school. As a member of Bank Chapel, my mum was friendly with Lucy Snelgrove, wife of Bert, who lived in The Highlands at the top of The Drumbers: my brother was friendly with Geoffrey Addams, of the Brittain Addams fireplace family, living in a green bungalow at the top of Cooper's field, just past the bungalow where Mr Charlie Eaton grew his sweet peas. To reach these we passed Orpington House and Treffanon, where ‘old' Mr Snelgrove kept his amazingly large and, to a toddler, frightening, Black Orpington hens. Both the Snelgroves and Addams's had cars: a Rover and a Standard Flying 12, but, like Mr Booth were always on the look-out for the children in the playground that was Birch Tree Lane in the late 1940s.

The Drumbers was also exciting for the test rigs from Foden's, laden with huge concrete blocks, just like the early steam wagon in the gallery, with their drivers swathed in black leather coats, and goggles in lieu of a cab.

School brought a walk to the top of Spring Bank, past Dixon's Haulage, with their large blue ERF's, to be picked up by Miss Mould, teacher of the first class at Scholar Green Infants. Soon Sheila Booth had moved to the last house in the Lane so Kenny and Peter Bebbington moved in to the end house of our block. After two years, Sheila and Madeleine Dixon from the farm joined me on the ride to Scholar Green. Lower down we collected Chris Hallem by Bank Chapel. On the way home from Odd Rode Boys Chris and I frequently ‘missed' our lift back with Miss Mould in order to walk down the path alongside Rode Rectory, or up Cinderhill Lane and along the tow-path to Spring Bank

About the time I transferred to Woodcock's Wells school, Sheila and her parents left to live in Congleton for a short time, though we were to become re-acquainted on a number of occasions as we grew older. The houses at that end of the lane were then occupied by the Wise's and Mr and Mrs Arthur Smith, the plumber.

Now more conscious of my surroundings, my walk to school took me past the dark bungalow where initially two elderly spinsters lived, later George Washington and family, and along to where Bert and Emily Grey lived above Dixon's Transport haulage yard, then past ‘grandpa Dixon's'. Also along the route lived Rosemary and Dougie Neeve, the Bowkers, and the Egertons. Then, though not Birch Tree Lane, there was the bungalow where Norma Ball lived, close to Richardson's shop, and The Brake, where the coal man Harry Ball lived with his wife and daughter Jean. The Brake seemed a long climb to an eight year old.

Throughout this time, we had a range of delivery services along the Lane. As well as Harry Ball's coal there was milk from the farm, bread delivered by ‘Dobbin' on his bike and the less frequent visits of Mr Walley, the ‘oil man', the Co-op laundry van and the Corona pop man. But Saturday morning was now a regular trip to Mount Pleasant to the Co-op and butcher Whitehurst's, usually walking one way and catching the bus back. Beyond going to Bank Chapel, there were trips down Spring Bank to ‘Cobbler' Booth, to enjoy the smell of hot wax as he finished repairing a pair of shoes, and to Mr Statham in Smith's Row for a hair-cut, as well as bus trips: Rowbotham's to Congleton on Wednesdays and Hollinshead's to Sandbach market on Thursday afternoons.

Meanwhile ‘Kenny Bebb.' and I had a wonderful time roaming the farms, fields and woods of this out-sized playground with my dog, Tim, in a landscape where the fertile imaginations of young boys, with bows and arrows and wooden swords, were enhanced by the fascinating images above us of the stark turret of Mow Cop Castle and its rocky base and, below, the doll's house of Little Moreton Hall. We carried our bottles of water up to the rocks, through the woods and round via Acker's Crossing and Hall Green Farm and the canal. Our packets of sandwiches rarely lasted beyond the first hour of our trek so a special treat was to buy ice-cream with our pocket money from Mrs Cotterill near the castle or a tin of Horlick's tablets from Mrs Ross at the café near The Wharf.

Major events during this childhood were the removal by a large mobile crane of a gigantic rock from the field opposite Grey's and the crash landing of a Tiger Moth in the field behind Hill Crest. The pilot did more damage trying to take off, after re-fuelling, and the ‘plane had to be dismantled and taken away on a lorry.

After a twelve month sojourn in Crewe, we returned, for my early teens, to live at The Highlands, at the end of the lane. By now the Snelgroves had a new bungalow at the top of The Drumbers and Mrs Cartlidge had replaced the Eatons at the end of Cooper's farm lane. Soon, Macbeths, with sons Ian and Nigel, were to move in next to us and by this time my first home had reverted to being a private house after the Fishers had been the last to occupy it as a Police House. Further along, the haulage business had moved to Jubilee Garage on the A34 and Mrs Grey had had the grounds landscaped. New along the lane at this time was Mick Hallen's ‘Iron Horse': a large, two-wheeled cultivator, with trailer attached, which Mick used to transport garden produce whilst sitting on the front of the rigid trailer steering with wheel-barrow like handlebars.

At sometime during this period there was the amazing incident of the new Congleton Fire Engine, on test, which passed our house rather quickly one afternoon and rolled down the Drumbers into a field. Fortunately without any serious injuries.

By now Kenny and I had bikes, a mixed blessing living half-way up the hill, but enabling us to widen our horizons, and adventures, still further. During this entire period, the farm across the lane, where we had had great fun among the hay and corn stacks had moved on from Dobbin the horse pulling his cart gently across the fields to a Fordson Standard, with no apparent brakes, to a ‘little grey Fergie' with all modern equipment, including a German pick-up bailer. In between had been the annual excitement of the cutting of the last swathe of corn, when the animals broke cover, followed by threshing days, when the green Field Marshall had chugged from farm to farm with threshing machine and bailer driven by huge belts.

By now I was running down the Drumbers each morning , to catch the train with John and David Ogden and Norman Millard, usually about ten minutes behind Elizabeth Corke and Christine Ogden. Though there was a time, during my last summer, that I had a particular incentive to be early and waiting on the platform.

I had also found out that the land at the corner of Spring Bank and Birch Tree Lane, was called The Rec(reation).', and not ‘the wreck' as I had believed from its appearance in those early days.

Barrie Stockton,

with help from Sheila Wilkinson (Booth) and Mrs Winifred Booth