Fish and chips and milk deliveries - Tony Cunnane's Autobiography

A Yorkshire Aviator's Autobiography
Tony Cunnane
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Fish and chips and milk deliveries

Tew Street, running parallel to the main road between Cotton Street and Avondale Street, was like a dirt track throughout the war years. There were empty spaces on each side of the street where houses had, presumably, been planned but not built because of the war. On one of those spaces the council built another communal air raid shelter, identical to the one standing on 'our piece' and which, like ours, was never used except as a children's play area.

The Moore family lived halfway along Tew Street in one of the few pre-war houses. The Moores had a son, Peter, who was the same age as me. Peter and I soon became firm friends even though we eventually went to different infants', junior and grammar schools. The Moores had a green Morris 10 saloon, BWY902, which usually stood in the street outside their front door; it was the only private car in the vicinity and thus it was a status symbol.

Above: Tew Street in 2009 taken from the junction with Avondale Street. The former Mrs Dargan's fish shop is on the corner and the Moores' former house is just beyond the caravan on the right. Cotton Street is visible at the far end. The area behind the car on the near right was waste ground but in 1941 a large surface brick air raid shelter was built - and never used except as a play area for us kids!
One day Peter Moore told me his father was a bookmaker; I thought that meant he made books until someone enlightened me. I responded by telling Peter that my Dad was a prison officer. I wondered why Mr Moore was not away at the war, as most fathers were, but I never asked Peter: that would have been considered very rude. I knew that my Dad was in what was called a reserved occupation although I didn't know what a reserved occupation was. I vaguely remember that Mr Moore walked with a limp so, when I first learned what his job was, I thought that perhaps he was unfit for military service. In due course I discovered that Mr Moore worked 20 miles away in Doncaster, at the racecourse. For all I knew he might have been employed on secret war work and that could have explained why the Moores never seemed to be short of petrol for their car. On the other hand, he probably wasn't.

Peter's cousin, Patricia, lived with the Moores in Tew Street. Actually, for several years I assumed Patricia was Peter’s sister and no-one told me otherwise. Patricia (never abbreviated to Pat) was two or three years older than Peter and was always rather 'snooty' towards me. She spent hours in their front room practising the piano. I often stood around out on the street listening to Patricia making music and I desperately wanted to have a go myself, but Mrs Moore always shooed Peter and me away from the house during practice sessions. "I don't want you to put 'er hoff", Mrs Moore would say, imperiously. Peter's mother always tried so hard to disguise her local accent that she often left off aitches where they should have been and added them where they were not required. "My 'usband's a very h'important man", was another of her sayings. Someone should have told her how ridiculous it sounded.

On another occasion I remember Mrs Moore calling out to Peter in a loud voice, to ensure that several neighbours chatting amongst themselves along the street could not fail to hear: "Come in now, Peter, you can 'ave a hegg for your tea today." That was at the end of a week when I knew there had been no issue of eggs 'on the ration'. I once overheard some women refer sniffily to Mrs Moore as "posh", and "Allus cummin' 'er airs and graces" and I when I got home I asked my Mum, "Does that mean Mrs Moore sings and dances?" My lifelong interest in music was already germinating.

I, but never my parents, was sometimes invited to join the Moore family on one of their infrequent Sunday afternoon outings to Hook Moor, a popular picnic spot in the 1940s, close to where the A63 Leeds to Selby Road crossed the A1 Great North Road. I was fascinated when I learned that the Great North Road went all the way from London to Edinburgh and that Hook Moor was deemed to be equidistant between the two capitals. That picnic spot is now somewhere underneath the M1 motorway. I remember one outing to Hook Moor when the A63 leading towards the A1 was lined by mile-upon-mile of parked military vehicles, including tanks, but there was no sign of any soldiers. That was probably something to do with the nationwide preparations for D Day.

Mrs Dargan's fish and chip shop stood on the corner of Tew Street and Avondale Street. There is still a fish and chip shop in the same building, but it is no longer called Mrs Dargan's. For some reason, probably the obnoxious smell of rotting fish that always emanated from the bins in their back yard, we thought Mrs Dargan's fish and chips were not as nice as those from a shop quite a bit further away in Thornes Lane so our family rarely bought from her. We were not alone. Several of my friends' families also boycotted Mrs Dargan's shop. Indeed, we kids invented a short rhyme which we, cruelly, used to sing to the tune of "Happy Birthday to you" whenever we were near the shop - having first carefully checked that there was no sign of Mrs Dargan. It didn't scan perfectly but went like this: "Mrs Dargan sells fish, tuppence-ha'penny a dish, if y'don't like it, don't buy it, Mrs Dargan's smelly fish."

Above: My 2009 pic of the end of Avondale Street with Denby Dale Road at the end. Our milkman lived in an old house, with stable for his horse, on the left of this pic.
Across the road from Mrs Dargan's was the house of our milkman. In the 1940s hardly anyone had a refrigerator so most families bought fresh supplies of milk every day - except Sundays. The milkman was an elderly, dour character who always seemed to move in slow motion. He started out very early each morning perched precariously atop a high bench at the front of his horse-drawn cart. On the back of the cart there were several large milk churns. On approaching the homes of his customers, the milkman shouted "Milko" loudly. Women, usually still wearing dressing gowns, rollers in their hair, and often with a ciggie dangling from one corner of their mouth, came rushing out of their doors clutching their own milk jugs. If you didn't come out quickly with your jug, you either had to race down the street after him, or you got no milk that day.

Most of the women had a small dampened dishcloth which they draped over the top of their jug to protect the milk from the ever present smoky particles floating in the air. While the milkman slowly ladled gills of foaming fresh milk into customer's jugs directly from the urns on the back of his cart, the women exchanged greetings with each other and, if the weather was clement, they often stayed out for a longer chat after the milkman had moved on along the street to his next stop. (In Yorkshire a gill was half a pint but elsewhere it was a quarter of a pint – no-one seems to know why there was this different usage.) The milk was obviously full-fat because, after standing for an hour or so in the larder, the cream would float to the surface. As a special treat my sister and I were sometimes allowed to spoon some of the cream onto our cornflakes or shredded wheat. The milkman once disappeared for a whole month and then Mum, reluctantly, had to go around to his house to collect the milk from his wife. Dad said the milkman was in prison, but he would never tell us why.

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