My adventurous childhood and how times have changed

editorial image

As I walk around my locality I am always reminded of my childhood growing up in Ilson.

Born at number 11, Twelve Houses, on the edge of Stanton Ironworks, we moved to the top of Stanton Road when I was four.

My world was small then. Me and my friends played as far afield as the rec – Victoria Park was almost a foreign country to us, too manicured for our adventures – but our main arena was “the fields”; the playing fields behind the bowling alley.

Hallcroft School’s sports facility was a two-tier field with two football pitches and grass running track around the uppermost.

There was a grassed bank between the two down which, in the summers when the longer grass was sun-dried, we slid for hours uncountable on flattened cardboard boxes.

Between there and Dale View there was “the Jungle”, a wooded area with a slender path from the new Trefoil House to the brickyard lime pits where we climbed trees, built our dens, smoked illicit cigarettes and shot stones from our gats (catapults); and we all had sticks – our rifles, spears or machetes for chopping our way through the undergrowth – cut from saplings with our always-in-our-pockets pen-knives.

I remember once that we all pinched a tater and some tinfoil from home and resolved to make a fire to roast them in.

This we did among the grassy hillocks below the disused rail track just above the lime pits and in the manner of all pre-teens we lacked the patience to wait for them to properly cook.

We meddled with the flames constantly, poking with our sticks and nudging with our plimsolls. Inevitably disaster ensued.

My shoelaces caught fire and I danced around in a strangely giggling panic which, again inevitably spread the fire to the dry grass all around us.

A small conflagration at first, which, although we beat at with sticks in a vain attempt to put it out, soon began to spread and before long was beyond our control.

There soon came the moment of realisation that we were going to lose the battle and did the only thing we could – we ran away.

By the time we got to Union Road the smoke was a huge billowing cloud and the sirens of the local fire crew could be heard resounding from the houses.

For weeks we were convinced that the police would be dragging us from our homes and taking us away.

Some time later we surveyed the damage we caused which stretched from the lime pits all the way to Derby Road.

Thankfully, the rail embankment prevented the fire from reaching any housed areas, a thought which still makes me shudder now as I stumble into my sixth decade, and the area soon recovered.

As is the norm with fire in such places, the ashes began new growth, fertilising the ground and feeding the saplings from the fallen and buried seedlings.

Recently I walked through the pathways there and it is teeming with wildlife and almost completely overgrown.

It won’t be long before it becomes impassable.

It seems that few of us use these paths which used to be the roads of a long forgotten industrial past and that is a shame.

In my day all the local kids played there and I fear for today’s kids who know nothing of this adventurous lifestyle that we lived out of doors from dawn to dusk and beyond.