Liverpool memories #4

195 Woolton Road, Childwall,  Liverpool 15  

The house where I grew up was in the leafy suburb of Childwall. Woolton Road extended from affluent Childwall, crossing Queens Drive, through Gatacre and ending in historic Woolton Village.

Our white pebbledash conventional house was a semi, built in the mid 30s and when my parents married in 1937, they moved in forever and a day.

The top of the welcoming front door, with a mezuzah to the right hand side at the top, had embedded bowed stained glass so typical of 30s architecture.

There was a path leading up to the entrance with a scrolled low black metal gate. A narrow flower bed to the right and a small front garden to the left with a magnificent prunus tree that annually flowered, producing fragrant pink blossoms. My green fingered mother loved gardening and indulged in the front and the back garden so we did not need a gardener.

The front room to the left of the entrance had a bay window and was chilly, only used for traditional Friday night dinners and special gatherings when the usual suspects would gather for Christmas lunch or a birthday celebration. My mother would thus creep in on a mid Friday afternoon to switch on the dark chrome 1930s electric fire to warm up the room for dinner at 7.00 after the Mathew Bolton silver Georgian candlesticks were lit and the brochas (blessings) chanted.

Friday night dinners rarely varied.  Half a Jaffa grapefruit, browned under the grill with demera sugar and segmented with a special serrated spoon, then delicious golden roast chicken, crunchy roasties that only my mother could make in lard, homemade traditional bread sauce and fresh garden peas that I would shell with Alma on the terrace. Alma Peters, our maid and lifelong servant of the Lyons family from Swansea, had faithfully followed her adored Peggy, my mother, to Liverpool after years of service in the large family Victorian house in Uplands, Swansea.

In fact my parents were quite anti-social only inviting the immediate small family and a couple of close friends. Everyone was Jewish from the tight knit community where my father was the Secretary of the Gothic Grade 1 Princes Road synagogue in what was nicknamed 'The Jungle' after the West Indian community had moved into Liverpool 8 in the 50s and 60s in search of a better quality of life.  

I realised later, when I became the 'outsider', that no one who wasn't Jewish, with the exception of Alma and her second husband Willy who came to wash the dishes and empty the rubbish, ever came to the house. Well there was always Doris, the cleaner who managed to break antique ceramics that my mother had to glue back after they had lost their value. An example was the once valuable large Victorian green china Lalique smiling cat that stood in the fireplace in the front room, which I eventually inherited, pieced back together with love!

The small coterie of visitors included Ruth and Sonny David from South Africa in political exile, miserable, doleful Uncle Abe, a retired doctor from Leeds, Miriam and Harold Dover, a furniture wholesaler who supplied all the Ercol G Plan furniture in the house at a special price, bien sur, Uncle Mark and Auntie Zella, my father's Masonic older brother from Southport and to complete the family picture, Rubinesque Auntie Gertie and her adored silent husband thin Uncle Harry minus a third finger he lost in Burma, my mother's elder sister Auntie Gladys, my maiden aunt whose fiancé was killed in WW1 and materialistic stout controlling Auntie Tillie, the widow of my Uncle Lewis, the elder brother of the Lyons family.  My third cousin Vivian Morris, back from South Africa minus a prospective husband, often came round in my teens. Despite our 5 year difference in age, we socialised on the 'Liverpool Scene'. I have not included the wealthy ‘intruders’ from South Africa on their annual family tours in search of who knows what nor my lovely poetic Auntie Doll, my mother's older sister and her racist husband Bertie from The Cape, South Africa.

Outside one could hear the birds twittering, mainly sparrows and blackbirds and I would listen to their birdsong in the morning as my mauve bedroom was in the front of the house, above the hall with its red and beige swirling thick pile upon which languished a solitary Victorian mahogany hall chair that no one sat on. The scrolled black metal mirror reflected the front door adding light in the dark hall while a ship's bell hung next to the mirror silently rarely tolling. On the hall table below the mirror, lay my mother's heavy Victorian brass pestle and mortar. So heavy, you could club an intruder to death with it. My mother Peggy was a chemist with her own shop in Lark Lane, unusual for a woman in the 1940s.

Opposite my bedroom window, with a Cubist mauve framed print dominating the room, I could see Sinclair Drive and smiling bearded Rabbi Wolf in his house on the corner of Woolton Road and Sinclair Drive. The friendly Rabbi acknowledged I was a 'heathen' but always had a smile for me and annoyingly would pinch my rosy cheeks saying I was a 'good girl'. Little did he know the 'real' spoilt demanding Gillian Tessa!

Next to the front room was the small diner, the hub of the house that we called the kitchen, where all the meals were served with the exception of Friday nights, Xmas and Boxing Day. We ate off a bright yellow Formica table so typical of the 1950s era.  There was a G plan Ercol desk which housed the Philips record turntable and the beige dial phone by the fireplace.  

Every Sunday my mother would listen to either Emil Giles or Vladimir Ashkenazi  playing the Rachmaninov piano concertos while waiting for my father to arrive home from the Woolton Golf club where he was the captain. You could set your watch by the time. At 1.00 pm on the dot my father would arrive salivating in his large blue Ford Zephyr 6 for the mouthwatering Sunday roast. Next to the desk was a 1930s tiled fireplace with a mantelpiece housing a large 1930s wooden clock. In the old days the hearth was alight with coal but later on with coke after the fuel act changed. A sign of the times. In the earlier days I recall a pulley laden with the laundry as of course there was no washing machine or dryer. The tiny kitchen was congested with no room to swing our dog as we had no cat.

The black, tan and white beagle I grew up with had long floppy ears and was called Samson. I adored him. Years later he was replaced by Ross who finally had to be put down when he became aggressive and then finally an Ormskirk heeler called Pluto. I loved dogs and learned to imitate their bleating sound.  

The back kitchen led onto the terrace overlooking the rockery and garden. It was a tiny room with a window looking out to the garage. It housed the stove, overhead cupboards with hoards of tinned cans left over from days of World War 2 rationing, a sky blue Formica work surface, sink and later on a washing machine although I remember a wash board as a child. I also recall fresh milk delivered by horse and cart too and used to give the horse, wearing blinkers, cubes of sugar!

The back lounge was the main room we lived in. The heavy damask swirly red and beige curtains matched the thick pile carpet out in the hall and front room.  My father had a lime green upholstered Parker Knoll rocking chair and would fall asleep while watching the telly after a hard day's work at his legal office in Renshawe Street. A large mahogany Victorian inherited breakfront overlooking a lime green, typical 50s sofa, with orange cushions. Oy vey, the bright fashionable colours of that era!

Upstairs, next to my film star mauve bedroom where I played Elvis 78s, was the chilly front bedroom with a late 1930s walnut double bed, matching wardrobe and dressing table with low side cupboards left and right of the bed. This was the master bedroom but I never recall my parents sleeping in it, only comfortably off South African relatives. Peggy and Bertie had moved to the smaller twin bedded back bedroom with another similar walnut wardrobe, housing my father's Commonwealth stamp collection and a hidden copy, printed in Cairo, of the banned book 'Lady Chatterley's lover!'  I recall seeing my father asleep snoring on his back with a red Roberts radio on his chest, wearing headphones. Beside him on the bedside walnut table, green and black crime paperbacks by Erle Stanley Gardner. My father's hero was the detective Perry Mason at a time when Raymond Burr played the character on TV.

Then there was the 'sewing room', a tiny spare bedroom where my mother had the inevitable Singer sewing machine. She made all my clothes and smocking in that room overlooking the terrace. Spoilt little demanding Gillian would get irritable endlessly standing while her perfectionist mother measured her up or altered the hang of a new pastel coloured dress.

The black and white tiled bathroom was small and chilly with an enormous bath that took up half the space. I recall I would deliberately come in to brush my teeth while my father was bathing in the morning and I would glance at his private bits floating in the cloudy lux soap water reminding me of water lilies!

We had a dark green metal bench at the bottom of the garden near the sandpit where I played with the local boys David and Peter. There was a triangular rose patch and borders of bedding plants on either side of the well tendered lawn. My mother prided herself as an amateur gardener. She only asked my father once to do some weeding. He pulled up her new plants instead!

I left the house at the age of 19, when my friend Estelle Irving said it was about time I left home because she needed a fourth girl to share the decrepit student house with her and 2 psychology students from Leeds in Withington, Manchester.

I turned the page and began a new chapter of my provincial innocent virginal life before I opened the door to EUROPE!

Written in Catherine Smith's NewWriting South Creative a writing workshop September 2018.


Google - Erle Stanley Gardner
Google - Princes Road synagogue, Liverpool 8

Read two thirds on 1.12.17 on BHCR

Read half at shove Library and put up on You Tube April 2018.