THE BOROUGHS [BURROWS]
RICH, TOUGH AND COLOURFUL – THAT WAS ‘THE BURROWS’ (1970's newspaper article)
(Above) Christmas display at the Ponting's shop on the Mayorhold
There are still those alive who can rebuild the atmosphere from their memories.
People like Harry and William Ponting, who with their two brothers and four sisters, helped their parents run the butcher’s shop on the Mayorhold square,
six and a half days in every week.
Up at 6 a.m., the Pontings were up in time to see the boot and shoe men slip into one of the five pubs, the Kings Arms, The Jolly Smoker,
The Trumpet, The Green Dragon or even the Love Abode (otherwise known as the Duke of York) for the early morning tot of rum.
And the boy were still helping out behind the counter at 11 p.m. on a Friday night, “novelty night”, when most of the population of the Burrows turned out of the pubs and into the food shops.
[Above] Green Dragon, Bearward Street
Families from Scarletwell Street and Bath Street; Bull Head Lane, Bearward Street, Silver and St. Andrew’s Street and even from smelling distance away in Compton Street,
Spring Lane, Althorp and Herbert Street all joined the artists from the music hall in Gold Street to queue for Ponting’s bone pie, a bowl of Tom Hodge (chitterlings),
linings at 7d. a pound or just a portion of scratchings, bread fried in pig’s lard at a ha’penny a time.
Sunday morning, recalls William Ponting, meant the shop opened again. It was the day when men went on nutting parties to the woods, riding in style on Bonham’s
funeral carts and with gallons of beer as their only equipment.
And the women sat on their doorsteps, supping pints, shelling peas and watching the diddycoys and scrapmen gather round the Gents – the Mecca of the Mayorhold – on the square.
Men like Paddy Freshwater, renowned for stabling his horse in his front room and George Bumble who had worn a hollow in one wall of the Convenience by constantly
propping himself up. The day after the Gent’s was demolished George support the wall’s support as usual, and it is said he never quite recovered from the shock.
Sundays might also see the boys playing football with a pig’s bladder behind Ponting’s slaughterhouse, swimming at Paddy’s Meadow or rushing to the bakehouse in
Scarletwell Street with the family’s dish of hack and dough. If, that is, the family had a Sunday dinner.
One old Burrows boy remembered the Saturday evening his father was sent to buy the joint. He came back five hours later “well over the top” without meat and clutching
a 78 rpm recording of “City of Laughter, City of Tears”.
“I’ll say there were tears, we didn’t even have a gramophone…”
Meals were also scarce, when was work was hard to find as in the 1920’s. Walt “Klon” Chamberlain, for example, worked three days digging roads for £1, got another £1
from the Labour Exchange and received 3s. for his first child and 2s. per head for the others, from the poor relief, each week.
When times were better, “Klon” (named after a proposed trip to join the 1890’s Klondike gold strike which got him as far as Far Cotton) worked as a pressman in a boot and shoe
factory while his wife ran a lodging house offering a sheet and a coke filled fire for a shilling a night.
“Klon” also operated as the Burrows’ unofficial optician. His service was simple. Trouble with eyes? And clients would try on every pair of spectacles on his barrow until they
found some that suited.
In good times or bad, treats in the Mayorhold made up in pleasure what they lacked in expense. A bundle of rags with stones sewn in the hems could be weighed and exchanged
for a penny or two at the scrapman’s in Bull Head Lane.
[Above] Bull Head Lane
A penny bought a stick of wigger-wagger toffee, or a saucer of jam from Tommy “Needle’s” shop on the Mayorhold itself.
Treats came yearly as well as daily, like the annual 9d. meat tea served at the Silver Street concert – or the more frequent mission hall outings in coal carts, to the Halfway House
on the Kingsthorpe Road, or even by train to Althorp Park.
The mission provided an afternoon rest for parents, issued the teenagers with “What Every Young Man Should Know” at what was considered the appropriate time –
and also gave something more.
“We were permissive, but we didn’t call it that”, said a Mayorhold ex-patriate of 30 years ago. “The women fought and drank as hard as the men and life was pretty cruel – but it was fair.
There was some sort of moral code to it. And we got that from the missions.”
Life was cruel. In Compton Street alone, the Ennals, the Lowes and the Hazells were only three of six families to lose members through TB. Children slept four in a bed, with perhaps
another boarded out at night and the only boiled egg of the year came on Easter Sunday.
[Above] Compton Street
Sanitation was restricted to the bucket and candle variety shared by six houses, while the doors to the lavatories had usually been forfeited a long time ago for somebody’s fire.
“It takes 30 years and a comfortable home before you can wipe out the nightmares of life then, and start talking about the ‘good old days’” says Herbert Thomas after a
spending a childhood in the Burrows.
But then again, he admits, perhaps it was the difficulties themselves that made the Mayorhold into a “real” community; not just inquiring and criticising, but giving and talking
and making allowances for the personalities which made the Burrows legend flourish.
Personalities like Tiggy Eaton who was arrested countless times for trying to persuade statues it was time that they went home. And Malone the Rat Catcher, who’d bite the head off
a rat for the price of a pint. And “Boughy” Rowe who advertised his trade with a sign saying “Chimneys Swep Here” and of course George Bumble.
George lived most of his life in one of the many lodging houses in the Burrows. When it became obvious that he needed extra attention it was arranged that he should be removed to
St. Edmunds. George, so the story goes, vowed he would die before leaving the Mayorhold. And he did. In the ambulance on the way to hospital.
“That,” said one of his contemporaries, “comes from a loyalty which on the old communities had. The Mayorhold may live on in name – but it’s heart has gone.”
Mr. Caiger’s memoirs of ‘The Burrows’
Mr. Caiger was born in Bath Square. He recalls,
“Going back to the First World War. I remember the borough refuse department being between Bath Street and Castle Street.
All the refuse was dumped there, a steam roller was used to crush the tins and furnaces used to burn other rubbish. Nearby was the power
station which served the electric trams, with its two high wooden turrets and a tall brick chimney. This depot was protected by iron railings
eight feet high and on the other side was a recreation ground which we used to call The Orchard. The surface was tarmac and there were swings,
see-saws, a maypole and two sets of parallel bars. Old George Stinson was the caretaker and used to give the children sticks of rock.
There was a bandstand, good band music and dancing and, when the Mayor attended, the recreation ground would be crowded.
The ground provided the opportunity for many games and much more fun – but also for gambling and there were frequent visits by the police, in
two’s and fours. Football went on almost non-stop and, as one group of boys grew up, they formed a team, Moat Athletic. This club was the first
to win the Pinner Cup, and having changed its name to Nelson Athletic, went on to further successes.”
Mr. Caiger recalls Jim Perrin the lamplighter who kept a small sweet shop on the Mayorhold; werll known local ‘bookies’ who used to take bets on
the street corners; weekend fights on the Mayorhold or in Scarletwell Street; and in the slaughterhouse in Bath Street were a rope was passed
through a hole in the wall and boys helped to pull on it while the butcher poleaxed his cattle.