George Cunningham: Characters of Broomhall ~ Part 16

Other Characters ~ Part 3

Researched by Gemma Clarke

Illustration of shops on Young Street taken from "By George! My childhood in Sheffield." Page 109. 1987
Photo: Paul Hibbert-Greaves
Map of Broomhall. 1894
Photo: University of Sheffield Library

A Morning Stroll

‘Some days if my father went on a run I had been on before I would stay at home until Mam started on the housework; this was the signal for me to go out. “Call at Pearson’s and get a penn’orth of studs,” she told me, “and don’t be late for your dinner.”

Walter or Albert

‘I liked going up the corner of Moore Street where the pillar box was and into the little old shop where the floor creaked and sagged even under my weight; but when both brothers came from behind the counter it was like being on a see-saw. They seemed to have the same suit on; their ties and watch chains were a match and both wore trilby hats, pushed a little to the back of the head. I knew their names were Walter and Albert but it was often confusing, as owing to the shop being very small they were always so close that they answered to either name.’

‘My order for a pennyworth of studs was dealt with as a family concern. Walter – or was it Albert? – reached down and scooped up the studs from a drum and passed them to his brother who weighed them, studied the scale, took two or three out then with a magnanimous gesture threw one back. Whilst my purchase was being wrapped I looked round the shop and wondered how they could possibly know where everything was. There were candles by the dozen, black lead and dolly dies, pony stone and donkey stone, bundles of firewood, ladling cans and poshers, dolly pegs and tubs.’

‘The shelves hung heavy with boxes and tins whose labels had long worn away and only the brothers knew what they contained. Even on the brightest day the shop was dark. In a dim, mysterious corner a dull gleam of metal was the only sign that a pile of hobbin foots and flat irons were lurking there. A pungent smell of carbolic soap and paraffin and the pervading whiff of mothballs blended agreeably with the aroma of tobacco from the brothers’ pipes, as both side, “Thank you very much, good morning!” with one voice.’

Gledstone’s Butchers

‘Up the street I strolled. Gledstone’s butchers shop door was open and I stood on the step watching Bob make sausages. He fed meat into the machine at the top and on a pipe at the side a skin was fitted into which a fat pink snake emerge. It writhed in glistening coils onto a white enamel tray where it was quickly seized on by Bob who with a nip of finger and thumb expertly subdued the serpent and tied it into links, all exactly the same size and weight. “There y’are, fit for King George himself,” he said, as he adorned his creations with parsley and laid them in his window. The entertainment concluded I kicked a can past Charley MacWatt’s, thinking I might like to be a butcher.’


‘Higher up the street a rumble like thunder and clouds of dust were attracting a small crowd of people who stood watching a gang of men who, armed with sledge hammers and crowbars, were busily engaged in knocking down a row of houses. A chain was fastened to the back of a lorry and looped round the wall between two windows by a man in a bowler hat who shouted to the onlookers: “Get back, yor lot.”

‘This caused a shuffling retreat of a few inches. “Righto, Bill, gie it sum clog.” The big lorry, with engine grinding, settled into the collar and for a few moments it looked as though the wall was going to win but suddenly there was a bulging in the bricks, then a reluctant groaning noise which ended in a deafening dusty grumble as the whole side of the houses collapsed.’


‘A dark, sooty cloud billowed towards us and the women in the crowd covered their faces with their pinnies. One kind soul who had been washing her steps and was wearing a sack apron, threw it over her head and at the same time enveloped me in her voluminous coverall. Amidst a chorus of coughing and sneezing, the ladies unveiled and I emerged from my cocoon.’

‘I blinked the dust from my eyes and gaped at what had been someone’s home. The living room, bedroom and attic were open for our inspection just like the big doll’s house I had once seen in Redgate’s window. “Ah nivver did like that paper owd Alice had in’ bedroom,” remarked my protector, shaking her apron as though it were a hearthrug. “Ah towd ‘er so an’ orl when ah ‘elped ‘er wi’ last ‘un, ‘im that wer born at end o’ War …. No wunder ‘e’s cockeyed, orl them spots were fust things ‘e saw when ‘e cum int’ world!”

Mr Frost

‘I walked further up the street and met Mr Frost who delivered our milk and asked him why they were knocking the houses down. He put his can down on the pavement, pushed his hat to the back of his head with one hand and rubbed his cheeks with the other, giving himself a dry wash before he spoke. “Viners are going to build a big cutlery factory here, they’ve got a little place on Bath Street, but the new one will take all this in.” He swung his arm in an arc which seemed to encompass half the city, adding, “There might be a job there for you one day, Georgie, you never know your luck.”

Broomhall Street

‘We walked across Broomhall Street and parted company outside the Poplar Tree. I stood on the top step and looked down the long, straight road I had come along. The Co-op at the bottom seemed miles away but the journey home was all downhill and dinner-time was a long way off. One of Gratton’s lorries swung out of their archway and roared off into the distance. I watched until it went out of sight wondering where it was going as the street became quiet again. The workmen were sitting on piles of rubble, drinking tea from the lids of mashing cans, contemplating the morning’s destruction.’

Milton and Hodgson Street

‘I picked my way along the tops of the low walls in front of the houses, clinging to the iron railings and now and again shutting my eyes, imagining I was edging along a narrow path above a precipice. The big stone setts of Milton Street provided me with the means for a hop, skip and a jump and I was doing the same across Hodgson Street when a clatter of hooves, a rattling of ironclad wheels and a shout of “Nah den, dozy bugger, wekken up!” rooted me to the spot. A hawker’s cart with its jehu standing and waving his whip hurtled off the quietness of the wooden-blocked road onto the cobbled part straight across my path, just as I was about to start a hop.’

Mr Broadley

‘Mr Broadley was opening the door of the pub and he went back inside to fetch me one of his specialities, a Lincoln Cream biscuit. “You want to be more careful, my lad,” he remonstrated. “That’s the idea o’ them wooden blocks. They put ‘em down to deaden noise outside hospitals and chapels …. and you looked like finishing up in one or t’other.”

‘It did indeed seem a very peaceful, quiet sort of street and even the munching of my biscuit was rather noisy as I studied a notice board on the front of a building informing me that it was the Plymouth Brethren Meeting Room. It didn’t look a very inviting place and I wondered why they had come all that way to meet in Sheffield.’

Primitive Methodist Chapel on Hodgson Street

‘From next door a delicious smell of warm, sugary pastry and bread wafted out of Inman’s bakery, making my mouth water. I tried slaring on the wooden road, but even with my worn, shiny studs it was useless and the blocks were so hard that even a good hacking from my steel-tipped heels, which were honed to razor sharpness made little impression.’

‘Two ladies with hats on came out of a dark, stone building and one of them asked why I wasn’t at school. I told her I had been in hospital, adding, a little proudly, “For six months”, whereupon she fished in a big black leather handbag, produced a purse and after much searching inside it with finger and thumb out came a ha’penny which she pressed into my hand. I thought it very kind of her, but rather strange that they had come out of a place which had big stone letters over the door saying Primitive Methodist Chapel, because I had a book at home in which was a picture of a Primitive Man who was dressed in animal skins and was killing a sabre-toothed tiger with a huge club.’

PP. 89-91, Chapter 31, By George! (courtesy of Paul Hibbert-Greaves/Hibbert Brothers).


George’s Characters of Broomhall ~ Part 17

The Man and His Art ~ Introduction

This page was added by Gemma Clarke on 26/03/2015.

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