My first experience of this stretch of water was with Bill Hurst, whose aunt lived in Poolstock Lane and some Sundays I would accompany Bill and his sister, Betty to see her. Bill and I were mates for quite a while, even though there was a couple of year's difference in our ages. I would go for walks with him and his parents, and also visit the Hippodrome to watch the various variety acts that played there. It wasn't very far from Poolstock Lane to the flash and we went along Carr Lane, past the Hawkley Hall ordnance factory, where blasting powder for mines and quarries was made. Hawkley Hall itself was still standing then and was the home of the Jamieson family, who used it as a farmhouse. Jamiesons had a milk round where they sold the milk from the farm. The route to the flash took us past the "three ponds". I do believe that years before, these had been ancient pit shafts that filled with water after they had fallen into disuse. As it was, they were ponds of great interest to small boys, being populated with frogs, water beetles and a few fish.
It was possible to sometimes find goose and swan feathers near the flash, which came from the bird life there, and we used these to manufacture floats to go angling with. Scotsman's Flash was made years ago when water from the canal had escaped and run off into a hollow caused by mining subsidence. There were quite a few of these "flashes" dotted about, mainly by the side of the canals, and as the years had gone by, the waters in them stabilized and started to support life. Fish were introduced and the flashes used for angling by various fishing clubs.
There was one spot that seemed to attract the fish, and this was where the runoff from the canal entered the flash, known as the culvert. We sometimes rode our bikes to the flash, with the fishing tackle tied to the crossbars. I recall going there whilst at Grammar School. I made a fishing rod from garden canes, two of which had been purloined from Granddad Foster's greenhouse. I bought the other one from Bell's shop in Market St. Wigan, and this was the bottom one. To make the ferrules I cut up an old bike frame, and after a lot of filing in Tom Rollins's shed, where he had a vice, I got them to fit together. The result was a monster of a rod, some 15ft in length. I only had one gut bottom, with a 16s hook, bought from Whalleys in Millgate, so when that was gone, so ended the fishing for that day! Whalleys was a fascinating place, where all manner of things piscatorial could be purchased, such as gut bottoms, split shot, line, and even permits to fish the various waters around Wigan. We fished with maggots for bait, and these were obtained by leaving fish waste out to get "blown" and then salvaging the maggots. One day, I left some out to clean themselves, and hadn't covered the box, with the result that a gang of sheppies had a good meal! The maggots were carried in an empty polish tin, which had a hole cut in the lid, covered with a piece of copper gauze, and soldered into place.
This day at the flash, the fish were biting very well, and I pulled in 11 perch about 6in in length, and as I landed them, they were stuffed down a polo necked sweater that I wore. (I didn't possess anything as fancy as a keep net) Eric Taylor was fishing there at the same time, and he landed 15. After my 11th fish I lost the gut bottom and made my way home again. Arriving, I tipped all the fish into a bucket of water and they started to swim round. I had to stab them all in the head with a pair of scissors to kill them before they were scaled, filleted and fried for tea!
At that time, near to where we fished, Ince Moss colliery had a wagon road down to the canal, where the wagons tipped their loads of coal into waiting barges. This always resulted in a certain amount of spillage into the canal, and here, men would be engaged in trawling for the spilled coal. This was known locally as kebbin'. The man would get a bucket punched full of holes, or in some cases, a custom built job, a bit like a waste bin, with a flat side and a hump. A rope was attached and the keb thrown to the other side of the canal, and trawled back, with the resultant bucketful of small coal being deposited in the waiting potato sack. This was carried out until a couple of sacks were full, as this was the load that a pushbike could carry in one go. The coal pickers bike had to be seen to be believed. It was usually one of the "sit-up-and-beg" types, and when he had ridden it to the picking site, the seat was turned back to front, the chain slipped off the driving sprocket, one bag placed through the frame, with the other balanced on the crossbar. The coal picker then made his way home with the bike leaning at an angle to his body. The going rate at the time for a bag of coal was around half a crown (12.5p), so there were quite a few pints supped from the price of two bags!
Sometimes the coal would be transported on a "squeezer wheeled" truck. Let me explain, the old fashioned mangles with wooden rollers were gradually being replaced with more modern ones with rubber rollers. As the old ones were scrapped, the driving wheel was removed and used along with another to provide wheels for a truck, and the body was usually made from a soapbox. These made a characteristic sound as they were pulled along the flagged pavements. It was possible to get at least 4 bags on one of these, but it needed two to pull it.
Curious Canines of the Time
I must make mention of some of the dogs that were kept in those days as pets. Dad used to keep white Old English bull terriers, and he had a bitch known as Judy. This was just before I was born and she was a pedigree dog.
This is Judy in 1934.
He bred from her once and she produced 6 pups, this being in 1934 when I was around three years old. We used to have a photograph of them but it has been mislaid. He built a kennel for them on the pen, and Judy only came into the house on occasion. He sold the pups when they were 3 months old and one of them went to Uncle Jack's father-in-law, Bill Winnard. Dad always said that "If you kept feighting dogs you had to be a feighting mon" I don't know if this was true in his case but Judy and the pups would fight with their own shadows!! Dad kept a piece of rubber hose to lay into them with when they were fighting. Judy gave Ma a fright when she was pregnant with me. Ma went on to the pen and the dog came tearing across towards her. She only recognized Ma at the last moment, otherwise there could have been a disaster.
The dog kept in the house, as a pet was a bull terrier/fox terrier cross named Jack. Jack was a really gentle dog who ran loose in the neighborhood. One day, however, Mrs Stretton who lived next door had just put a custard pie on the step to cool off, when Jack ambled up the backyard. He saw the pie and soon scoffed the lot!! Jack, as I said, was a very docile dog and had no vices at all, but one day, when Billy was about 2 years old, there was such a scream from under the table and Billy came our with his face bleeding. Jack had bitten him. Dad took the belt to the dog and thrashed him for biting, but later on it transpired that Billy had bitten the dog's tail and Jack had whipped round in defence more or less. I recall Ma putting Friar's Balsam on the bite (no such thing as going to hospital), and then a piece of lint, which unfortunately used to stick to the wound. When Billy had his face dressed, he would howl and cry, "Don't like that loddin" (Ma called the lint "wadding") Jack lived until he was 11 years old and was interred in the "dog's cemetery" i.e. the pen.
Another canine of our acquaintance was the collie cross belonging to Mrs Stretton, our next-door neighbour. He went by the name of Rover, and he was the most cowardly dog that I have seen. He barked at anything or anybody from the back of the gate, but once outside, in the backs, he would run a mile. I once saw him being attacked by a cat, which had actually jumped on his back!!
Mrs Brown kept a small cocker spaniel bitch named Terry. When Terry was feeding, Mrs Brown would peg it's ears back with a clothes peg to stop them getting full of food!! One day, Helen came looking for me. She was distressed and crying, the dog had something wrong with it. When I got there, Terry was running round in circles, pawing at her mouth. I managed to catch hold of her, and, examining her mouth, found that she had a piece of chop bone wedged across her teeth!! After I freed it, she scampered around, wagging her stump of a tail furiously.
Old Martha Smith who lived with her family in Melling Street kept another cocker spaniel by the name of Trixie. The dog was a pain to all the children in the neighborhood, as it was a persistent yapper that would chase after them as they played, snapping at their heels. Edna and Irene were playing outside Smiths one day, when the old lady threatened to throw a bucket of water over them. This part of Melling Street was an attraction to children as the shop wall next to Smiths was perfect for playing ball against and during the war, the shop was unoccupied, so playing ball didn't disturb anyone. After taunts from the children, Martha finally threw the bucketful at them. It missed the children and soaked the dog instead!! The dog lived to a great age and was blind and deaf in its final years. One day, old Martha came into the shop and asked if I would take it down to the Corporation Yard to be destroyed. Let me explain, at the yard there were facilities to electrocute dogs and cats. They were placed in special containers, electrodes attached, and their deaths were pretty well instantaneous. I took Trixie on the pony cart, tied to one of the uprights and felt that I was doing the dog a favour. It was cruel to keep it alive.
Old Mrs Spencer who lived next to John Daws building yard had a big black curly Labrador by the name of "Teddy" and every time George Brown went to deliver coal it went berserk and had to be put in the house. I heard that when it was a pup, George had kicked it out of the way and the dog had never forgotten it.
Judy II in the pen.
We had another bull terrier in 1950, and she was Judy as well. This one had a penchant for biting her own tail. She would run after it like mad until she was dizzy, and when she caught it she would savage it, so much so, that she took the fur off it!! When Edna and I were courting, we wanted to be alone on the settee, but the dog was so jealous that she sat in between us. The only way to move her was to pretend to run upstairs and then, as she tried to race to the top, nip back and close the door on her. She would then sit behind the door barking and whining. She was a good ratter and could catch and kill rats easily and quickly, but it wasn't always so. At first, she sat and watched mice and rats, making no attempt to chase them. The thing that changed all this was that one day, Dad had got a man to lay a new concrete floor in the glass shed, which was over the back door of the shop. The outer door was left open all night and in the morning, the dog was sniffing around under the old 7 drawer dresser that was in the glass shed. (It was used as a block to cut the fish up on.) Suddenly this large rat jumped out and bit her on the face. She threw it up in the air and savaged it until it was quite dead. She then carried it on to the rug in front of the fire in the living room, and no one could go near. Finally, after bribing her with a half pound of sausage, Ma managed to take the rat from her and burn it. From that day, she was a different dog; rats and mice stood no chance. She could kill a mouse with her feet.
Uncle Joe kept dogs as well. His first was a wirehaired fox terrier called Jackie. I don't remember much about it except that when he died he was put in the "dogs cemetery" (pen), and Mavis, Uncle Joe's daughter put flowers on the grave for a while!! Uncle Joe got another dog-named Jock. He was a mongrel of uncertain ancestry, black all over and not very big, but a vicious little swine. He was a biter and one day, when I was at uncle Joes for my tea, he bit me in the groin. How he missed my privates I don't know.