Who could fit the bill for the header of this story? Well, it could only be Gail Newsham. Gail is a Preston born lass who is passionate about the history of the Dick Kerr women’s football team and has even written a book about it called ‘A League of their own‘; she has also dedicated a website to the Dick Kerr ladies.Advertisement
Gail was born and raised in a house in Whittingham Street, off Ashton Street in Preston and tells me that she has so many happy memories of her childhood there. It was only recently that I was browsing through a past Preston Facebook group when I stumbled upon a very interesting and endearing poem that Gail had uploaded to the group. It tells of a tale of days gone by, of her youth and the area in which she was raised. In reading this poem it became quite apparent to me that Gail must have had a happy childhood as the words come across in the poem in such an endearing way.
As you read the poem yourself, you will immediately see how vivid her memories are of Ashton Street, the place on which the poem is based. If you grew up in Preston in the 1950’s and 1960’s then you will be able to understand the feeling and ethos of the following words.
I walk along familiar streets now desolate and bare,
And remember the thriving community that once was living there.
I remember all my friends and the things we used to do,
And I sometimes stop and wonder if they`re remembering me too.
We made Castles on the pavements; we tried to float on a balloon,
We made ships from cardboard boxes and rockets to the Moon.
We had a lot of fun with the games that children play,
But now those times are gone, they’re just part of Yesterday.
There was a shop on every corner where you could go and meet
Everyone you ever knew from each and every Street.
Passing my Gran`s fruit shop, and Greenwood`s selling papers,
And remembering with pleasure, my impish childhood capers.
There was Gertie`s selling toffee`s with that enormous ‘penny tray’
And the ‘Pop shop’ on the hill where we could sit all day.
Ruby in the cake shop, who always had a smile,
Mrs Allen at the Butcher`s who seemed happy all the while.
There was Dorothy in the Co-op, she`d serve you in a sec,
Especially when I went in to claim our ‘divvy cheque’.
Mrs Holderness at the Hardware, and that smell of Esso Blue
And Freda at the chemist who made your prescription up for you.
There was Lily at the ‘Offy’, she`d serve me my Mum`s stout,
Mrs Blissett altered your clothes so you looked pretty going out.
Mrs Sumner at the Chippy, made the best chips down our way,
And Molly`s homemade pies were the order of the day.
There are so many friends and neighbours, too numerous to name,
But suffice to say without you all, my life wouldn`t be the same.
You are tucked inside my memory, to be there my whole life through,
And truly it was a pleasure to have spent those years with you.
But where are all these people now? Where have they all gone?
I hope they will all remember where they all came from.
So many people lived within the world of Ashton Street,
And I can`t help but wonder if once more we all shall meet.
To talk about the good old days, and relive times from the past,
To cry and laugh for times gone by, life passes by so fast!
Some of them they are no more, they`re in the community in the sky,
But I`ll keep them in my memory as the years go rolling by.
And as I think and reminisce of the things I used to do,
I really hope from time to time, they`ll be thinking of me too.
Gail J. Newsham c.1981
Gail’s poem certainly does conjure up a wonderful atmosphere of those carefree days and how quaintly simple things were then. It is not difficult when reading the poem to imagine the sights, the ambient sounds and the typical Prestonian characters populating those old terraced streets, which by the way, have mostly disappeared nowadays.
When I contacted Gail about this poem she also told me of another she had written in the same era called ‘An Ode To 42’, which in many ways is even more personally touching than ‘Ashton Street’.
AN ODE TO 42
Standing among the rubble of a home that used to be
Lost in an avalanche of memories that came flooding back to me.
Standing in the ruins of what seems an empty shell,
Crying for the home we once knew and loved so well.
It hurt so much to see it in its sad state of decay
With so many happy memories of my childhood yesterday.
For in this House were Santa Claus and all my childhood joys,
Waking on Christmas morning and playing with my toys.
Remembering my Mum`s love, and remembering my Dad`s care,
Alone here in this rubble, those feelings still live there.
Nursing my cuts and bruises, making better all my ill`s,
Stoking up the fire to chase away those winter chills.
The laughter and the tears, the happiness and pain,
All of these emotions came flooding back again.
But our House is lost to progress, it`s now known as a Slum,
Yet for me it was our home, with Pat, my Dad, and Mum.
And no matter where I wander, no matter what I do,
I`ll always remember with affection our days at 42.
Our times weren`t always happy, and many times we cried,
But we are a close family, and I think of that with Pride.
For the love and the affection that grew within our home,
Will be treasured in my heart where ever I may roam.
For it was more than bricks and mortar, and I can`t help but cry,
Because houses are like people: Now 42 must die.
It won`t be long before it`s gone, the Bulldozer lie`s in wait,
And soon our house will be no more. I guess it`s down to fate.
I suppose it`s evolution as the old makes way for new.
But I`m so glad we had those days, our days at 42.
Gail J Newsham
Anyone who has stood there looking at the remains and rubble of their former family home will probably understand the powerful emotions this can evoke and would surely empathise with Gail’s very poignant experience.
Since the 1930’s there was a fair amount of slum clearance in Preston; however, around the late 1950’s and the 1960’s an incredible amount of building demolition took place to make way for the development of many areas in Preston. In the images that follow, it becomes obvious that very little was safe from the wrecking ball around those times, not just housing but theatres, mills, churches and not even the marvellous George Gilbert Scott Town Hall, which was completely demolished in 1962.
Although there are times when old has to be replaced by the new, it does appear that there have been times when demolition seemed to be in run-away mode and so much disappeared in only a few years.
If you are interested in looking at more pictures of demolished Preston then it is always worth a browse through the Preston Digital Archive pages where almost 400 such images can be viewed.
We would like to take this opportunity to thank Gail Newsham for her kindness in letting us all see into her early childhood in the streets of Preston and her wonderful, heart warming poetry.
We also thank and make an acknowledgement to Preston Digital Archive for the availability of all the images we have showcased.
Did you enjoy Gail’s poems and could you relate to her experiences? Let us know in the comments below.