George Cunningham: Characters of Broomhall ~ Part 14
Other Characters ~ Part 1
Researched by Gemma Clarke
The next three parts consist of stories of other characters who might not have had paintings or drawings connected to their stories but are still as interesting!
‘It was quite early, but I turned up Prince Street to seek a little solace in the Princess Hotel, headquarters of Sheffield Wednesday Supporters’ Club. Behind the tiny bar the landlord, Bernard Parson, bald-headed and beaming, holder of the Military Medal from the Great War, broke of his conversation with a customer to serve me.’
P. 99, Chapter 28, More George! (courtesy of The Hallamshire Press Limited).
First Day of Infant School
‘Clarence Street was quiet and sunny and we reached the corner of Moore Street before we met anyone. Mr Lyles was standing in the doorway of his little shop, taking the morning air. He was in shirt sleeves and waistcoat but still wore his cap as a concession to propriety. He grinned at me which made his moustache turn up at the corners as he said, “His first day at school, eh?”; whereupon he reached back into the shop, which was so small he didn’t need to move his feet, took some toffees from a box and handed them to me. “Don’t let teacher catch you eating ‘em,” he called after us.’
P. 11, Chapter 2, By George! (courtesy of Paul Hibbert-Greaves/Hibbert Brothers).
Hiring more Staff at the Pickle Factory
‘This was in the form of Mrs Habfire, a well-endowed lady with a remarkable capacity for work and bottled Guinness. She peeled onions, chopped cauliflower and gherkins, stirred piccalilli …. and for an encore banged the big corks into the half gallon jars with one almighty blow from a rolling-pin. As an accompaniment to these activities she sang in a high-pitched voice the popular tunes of the day. Her rendition of Let’s all sing like the birdies sing, bang! bang! bang! inspired us all.’
P. 81, Chapter 28, By George! (courtesy of Paul Hibbert-Greaves/Hibbert Brothers).
George’s Eighth Birthday
‘September came and suddenly I was eight. I got a penny from Mam and Dad and a glossy card with red roses on it from Aunt Mag in Liverpool.’
More Business Ideas!
‘A further increase in my income came when Harry Benton, a friend of my father, delivered once a week a trapped rabbit to our back door. This was a welcome addition to the family diet, but my interest lay in the fact that I could sell the skin.’
‘I ran along Moore Street, gave Clays a fleeting glance, then onward past the Iron Duke, wonderfully fragrant after the hot dry summer, and crossed Fitzwilliam Street into Button Lane. Its narrowness was congested by ragmen’s barrows on their way out for the day’s trade. They were empty except for a few balloons and blocks of donkey stone which they exchanged for rags and scrap metal. Some carried goldfish in bowls which were getting a good shaking up over the cobbles, and must have felt pretty sea-sick by the time they reached the more affluent areas of Nether Edge and Ecclesall. I skirted around a slight altercation between two dogs outside the Friends Social Club and knew by the sign on the wall of a disused pub called the Carter’s Rest that I was at the top of Merchant Lane.’
Rabbit Skin Sold!
‘It opened up at the bottom into a yard in which stood a large opensided shed. Inside were hundreds of rabbit skins overhanging piles of bones, heaps of scrap metal and old brass knobbed bedsteads. Some old women were sorting through bundles of rags and one of them smiled at me, her nose and her chin almost meeting in the process. A gentleman in shirt sleeves and a bowler hat, who appeared to be in charge, took hold of my rabbit skin, unrolled and stretched it, then held it up to the light, pulled a face and gave me a penny, remarking in a melancholy voice as he took a pinch of snuff, “It’s not too bad, wi doan’t want enny rubbish ‘ere, tha knoas.”
P. 58, Chapter 19, By George! (courtesy of Paul Hibbert-Greaves/Hibbert Brothers).
Newspaper Shop in Clarence Street
‘This establishment, squeezed in between Alonzo Twigg the barber’s shop and Curtiss’s the plumber’s, was presided over by Herbert Beresford and his sisters.’
‘He was stockily built with stubbly grey hair and winter or summer he wore a well-pressed suit complete with waistcoat and a stiff white shiny collar forming a contrast to his striped union flannel shirt. On the floor were bundles of firewood tied with wire and stacked into a neat pile which provided a convenient perch for me to get a better view of the comics spread out on the counter. Mr Beresford was very patient as I deliberated over my choice which took more time as I ventured into the wider field of delight offered by The skipper, Adventure, Hotspur, Rover and The Wizard.’
An Essential Decision!
‘It was an agonising decision to make as I could buy two comics for the price of a single copy of one of these exciting editions and I usually compromised by making an alternate choice every week.’
The Place to find Information!
‘If a customer came in I hopped off the sticks and read the adverts and theatre and cinema bills, which along with racing information, plastered the walls of the shop, both inside and out. I knew Billy Bennett and Albert Whelan were at the Empire because my father had been and told us all about it when he came home, making me laugh with some lines of monologue about a broken hearted maiden to the east of Khatmandu and then whistling Jolly Brothers, both of which he did remarkably well, considering that he usually consumed a good few halves of Draught Bass in the Stalls bar.’
‘On the Lyceum poster I read that somebody called Sir Martin Harvey was performing in The Bells which Mr Beresford informed me was “a bit heavy”, adding with a chuckle that it might also be rather awkward “because The Ringer was across the road at the Theatre Royal”. He was very knowledgeable about most things, for his position as newsagent provided him with the opportunity to read every day’s papers and for displaying the theatre and picture palace programmes he received a complimentary ticket.’
PP. 56-57, Chapter 18, By George! (courtesy of Paul Hibbert-Greaves/Hibbert Brothers).
‘Mr Beresford supplied our daily paper but for some reason we always got our Sunday ones from Mr Owen on Moore Street. His shop, next door to Robinson’s beer off, was also the living room and the newspapers were in piles on a big table with Mrs Owen, plump and smiling, sitting behind it and taking the money.’
P. 102, Chapter 35, By George! (courtesy of Paul Hibbert-Greaves/Hibbert Brothers).
‘I shot up the lane and at the bottom of Bowden Street I saw a diminutive figure dancing about and throwing punches at an imaginary opponent. He was snorting through his nose in the approved fashion as he landed blow after blow into thin air, sidestepping and ducking his adversary’s attacks with consummate ease. As I approached he dropped his hands and wiped the sweat from his face with a piece of towelling and panted: “Ah wor just doin’ a bit o’ shadder boxin'”. Two or three years older than me, I knew him as Ernest ‘Chocs’ Garmen who was in Standard Five at school. He was one of the leading lights of the boxing class, trained by our vicar, Mr Ewbank, and I thought it pretty decent of him to break off sparring to speak to me.’
“‘As ta gorrenny choclit on thi?” he queried. Seeing that it was not every day I was in such exalted company and knowing his fondness for the sweetmeat which had given him his nickname, I crossed the lane to Mrs Hadfield’s shop and spent my fur money on a bar of Nestle’s chocolate. This I proffered to Ernest who broke off a small corner which he gave to me and stuffed the remainder in his mouth.’
‘Overcome by his own generosity, he mumbled, “Cum wi’ me, ah’ll show thee summat.” I went with him a few yards up Bowden Street to a high soot blackened stone wall crowned with broken glass. A heavy wooden door sagged on rusty hinges leaving a gap just wide enough for Chocs and me to squeeze through. I went in sideways taking off my cap in case the neb got in the way and felt the rough stone graze my nose. Blinking away the tears I found myself confronted by row after row of gravestones, some upright and others at crazy angles. Each one had an inscription carved on it in strange foreign letters which I had never seen before. Who were these people? I wondered.’
‘Had they come from a far distant country, journeying by camel train or on the backs of elephants, seeking the promised land only to end their wanderings in this tiny plot? Perhaps they had seen smoke rising from the town in the distance and thought it would be warm. “It’s Joo’s Simitry,” Ernest said, “Thi doan’t berry ’em eer enny moor, it’s full up.” We came back through the gate into the brightness of the street, where he insisted on showing me how to avoid being hit by a straight left. Unfortunately, I wasn’t quite fast enough and when I got home I had some difficulty in explaining how I had gone out with a rabbit skin and come back penniless, with a grazed nose and a split lip.’
PP. 58-59, Chapter 19, By George! (courtesy of Paul Hibbert-Greaves/Hibbert Brothers).
‘Sometimes when Dad’s finances were at a low ebb and wouldn’t stretch to a night out he would send me with a jug to the Anvil on the Moor. At least that is what the brewery called it but everybody else knew it as ‘Kenny McLeod’s’, the name of the licensee. He was a Scotsman, immaculately dressed in a white shirt, collar and tie and a black waistcoat, who always had a friendly greeting for me as I reached up to pass him my jug over the high counter. Although he was a heavy man he could place a hand on the bar and vault over, landing as light as a feather on the other side to collect the empties.’
‘One evening I was waiting to be served when ‘Young’ Kenny, who was learning the trade, gave me a knocking wink and decided to emulate his father. He rose into the air well enough but then failed miserably. His hand slipped on the wet surface and out of control he swept glasses, a soda syphon and himself into an untidy heap on the dram shop floor.’
‘The elder McLeod leaned over the bar, impassive as ever though his heart must have been near to breaking as he surveyed the damage. He shook his head and intoned gravely. “Ye’ll no’ get oot o’ washing them like that, laddie”. Two of my Dad’s boon companions were present at this drama. One was Mr Murday, the sign-writer, who coolly stepped over the wreckage and asked for a half of Hallam. His friend Mr Lem, the engraver, was sitting with his back to the scene and being stone deaf was totally unaware of what had taken place. He sat contentedly smoking his pipe and responded to my farewell, “Goodnight, Mr Lem” by replying “It’s just gone half-past-seven, son”.’
P. 62, Chapter 20, By George! (courtesy of Paul Hibbert-Greaves/Hibbert Brothers).
The Donkey Man
‘Two or three times a year, during the school holidays, the Donkey Man visited us. Word passed from street to street and amidst a clopping of tiny hooves on the cobbles and a shout of “Penny a long ride on the donkey!” Kids were hoisted into the saddle for a canter along Michael Road to Pickering’s gate and back.’
P. 104, Chapter 36, By George! (courtesy of Paul Hibbert-Greaves/Hibbert Brothers).