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Memories of Ridgeway


Dennis Chown


Editor's Note: In June 2012, we received an e-mail from Ian Chown, whose father, Dennis Chown, lived in Ridgeway as a young boy in the 1920s. After Dennis passed away in February of this year, Ian discovered an autobiography that he had written, which included an account of his time in Ridgeway. Ian has kindly allowed us to publish this, and the section relating to Ridgeway is found below, preceded by a description of Dennis's early years in Pitsmoor. The complete document can be accessed by clicking here.


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I was born in Pitsmoor Sheffield on the 28th June 1928 at my Auntie Polly's House, which was near to where I lived at 82 Sedan Street with my Father, Arthur and Mother, Mary Jane, and Sister Joan, who was four years older than me. The house was a terraced house with kitchen, a middle room with a large black oven and fireplace in which I had my bath in front of the big roaring fire, and a front room hardly ever used, but which had a large aspidistra in the window. The back yard was quite large, with a gentle slope where I pedalled my toy car around, and also housed the lavatory. We had friends in the same yard, but in particular a childless couple Mr. and Mrs. Dungworth. He had something to do with transport and was the first person I know who ever owned a car, and they took us to Doncaster one day for a run out. It was in this car that I first experienced the joys of driving; he took me round to the petrol station one day and while he was in the garage paying for his petrol the car, being on a slight incline, decided to take off. Luckily, he managed to run after it and bring it to a halt - whether it was my fault or not I shall never know, but nothing was said to my knowledge. I guess I would be about five at the time. We had a small allotment near to Firshill School and I was often taken up there by my Dad and recall most vividly being taken short one day and placed very unceremoniously on a plant pot to do what one has to do.

The short time I was at Firshill School I had mastered my reading & writing but not my arithmetic. The only notable thing I recall was being taken to the playing fields near by the school one day and given flags to wave as it was to celebrate the Silver Wedding of George V, which I have found was on the 6th May 1935, so I would be nearly six years old then. Due to those terrible days of the depression in the thirties my Dad became out of work at the Bessemer's steel works where he had been employed as a Turner. Soon we moved to Ford, which I found to be so exciting, being in the country, after the boxed in surroundings of town life. He had found new employment as Gardener at Oak House, which came with a cottage on the edge of the estate. We had all fresh vegetables, fruit, apples, eggs etc. but my favourite was the pond with a small rowing boat where one could do a bit of fishing, although I don't remember ever catching any. I clearly recall a massive wooden shed and it was in that shed where I learned to ride a bike. The orchard was very bountiful and the harvest was such that we wrapped the surplus apples to be stored for winter use by Francis the Cook who came down from Marsh Lane where she lived, on a daily basis. It was through her that I tasted my first home-made ice cream. All I remembered of a similar delicacy was when the Walls ice cream man used to come round on the three wheeler bicycle cart selling a type of iced lollypop in a blue triangular cardboard tube, and you had to keep pushing the lollypop up it as you went along sucking it. This of course was when we lived at Sedan Street.

Across the road was nothing but fields and woods all the way over to Eckington, except for a small Blacksmith's building just a few yards up, and of course the village Pub, The Bridge Inn, still going strong today but now more in line with modern standards. In those days, especially in winter, customers were a bit on the thin side, and Dad, it being his local, and the other few mates, used to sit in the kitchen drinking or playing at cards or dominoes etc. as Kate the then Landlady didn't find it worthwhile opening up. As we only had two buses a day from Chesterfield to Sheffield and vice versa you can guess how many visitors we had then - probably more at the week ends, when we would say "Townies are here." We opened the door one day to a couple of lads who were sopping wet as they had fallen into the Dam at the rear of the pub and asked if they could get dried, to which Mum obliged with the necessary towels.

We had Auntie Polly live with us when we moved to Ford but she died shortly after and is buried in the Churchyard at Ridgeway, where I was more or less hijacked into becoming a choir boy at the said Church. The Vicar Mr. Partridge took us, the Choir boys, to the Pantomime each year after a sausage and mash meal at the Vicarage. Some Sundays we had to take it in turns to pump the bellows for the organist to play, if no one else was available, and one Sunday I rang the Church bell for some considerable time to call all the congregation to the service as the usual bell ringer was not available. It wasn't very long before we had many friends, not really surprising in such a small community. There was a Mr. & Mrs. Ward living in the adjoining cottage but they were such an odd couple no one had anything to do with them. A good example was when the butcher at Ridgeway once asked me to deliver some meat to them on my way home from school, but being a bit wary of them I asked my Mum to take it round for me. After a rather nasty exchange of words Dad finally threw the parcel of meat at them and I imagine told them where to put their meat.

At the back of where we lived was Mr.& Mrs. Bolsover and they had three children - two boys, Brian and I don't recall the other name, and Audrey who I met many years later working in the Westminster Bank at Millhouses, which was near to my work at Laycocks, but more of which later. It was in their garden, while sitting in a deck chair, that I nearly had my eye poked out with a pair of scissors. They were accidentally pushed into my face by one of the lads as we played, but luckily just went in my cheek a fraction below my eye. Then there was Mr. & Mrs. Barker, with two girls, Shirley and Betty, and as it happened they moved to Gleadless about the same time as we did and on the same street. There was of course the farms, two in particular that I was always at. One was run by Mr. & Mrs. Seaton, just round the corner from us near the bridge. They had no children, just farm labourers, and it was the most convenient one for me to go to being so near. I loved doing odd jobs, especially things like fetching the cows in from the fields for milking, and haymaking time when the women brought us snacks up to the fields and made it look like a picnic, then back to the farm with the horses pulling the carts ready to make the haystacks. It was great fun watching the stacks grow higher and we would climb up the ladder to spread the hay around with pitchforks and of course roll about in it. This was all in a Dutch barn and nice and warm.

The other farm I went to was Fidler's at Sloade Lane, nearer to Ridgeway but quite a walk up the hill and along the lane to the very end. It was a larger farm than Seaton's and much more of a friendly family, having as a bonus to me children of a similar age. There was Bill & Betty - my sister made a good friend of Betty which continued all the time we lived there and I believe for some time after. It was always great fun playing about in the barns and stables and roaming over the fields, especially in the summer when all the fruit was ripe for eating, such as blackberries apples and plums etc. Although I never did any so called work there I was made very welcome into their kitchen and can still imagine Jack the father sitting in the chair beside the fire.

The school we went to at Ridgeway was quite a walk up the hill, but this didn't bother us in those days when we were young and fit. I made quite a fool of myself the first day my sister and I were taken to school by our mother and met the Headmaster Mr. Bennett. For some reason or other when I took off my raincoat I had forgotten to put my jumper on, and presumably as it was winter time. I had to go home and get properly attired and returned a little later in the morning. School dinners were introduced a short time later and we walked across the road to the village hall for a new experience of having a hot meal ready for us. Mr. Bennett, as it happened, became the Headmaster of Frecheville School that I went to after three years at Ford when we then moved.

The most memorable national event that took place while we were there was in 1937 on the 12th of May. It was the Coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. All the people from around were at the celebrations in Ridgeway, which was all trimmed up for the occasion. The playing fields at the side of the village hall had various events going on all day, with fireworks at night. Somehow, during the evening I couldn't find Mum or Dad and presumed they had walked home. I think it was Mr. & Mrs. Barker who I walked home with only to find no one at home, but Dad turned up soon after and took me back up to the village to finish off the day. It appears they were in one of the Pubs having liquid refreshments. Then there was the big event of the village having electricity installed; until then we had the daily task of lighting the paraffin lamps and regular filling of same, and also trimming the wicks. The date and time for switching on was given to us and it was with great elation when finally it happened and we were in the modern world.

I also remember making bonfires out of the left over potato leaves. We would then find the spuds that had been overlooked and throw them onto the fire to enjoy our own baked potato. It was in one of the fields at the bottom of Geer lane that I was passing my time away while the farmer was ploughing with his tractor, when I threw a stone up at a tree near to the edge of the field and beside the lane. The stone took it upon itself to sail over the lane and break a small upstairs window in the cottage opposite. I did a hasty retreat and often wonder what the owners made of it. Around this time Mum and Dad bought me a budgie we called Joey, who was only a baby when we got him. He was a lovely green and Mum got him talking, so he would say "Dennis gone to school, Who's a pretty boy, Give us a kiss," and eventually "Hitler's coming," when war came.

Toward the end of 1938 war looked most likely, and eventually Dad was called upon to resume his occupation in the race to provide munitions for the expected war. He had served in World War One as a soldier in the Coldstream Guards but was called up towards the end of the war and luckily saw no action. He quite often did sentry duty at Windsor Castle and the Palace and spoke of times when the then Duke of Windsor would always greet them with "Goodnight Guard" as he came in from a night out. He also did duty at the Tower of London and performed the Ceremony of the Keys. I think it would be early 1939 when he then went to work at Laycocks at Millhouses as a Turner and he told me much later on that they were involved in many parts for aircraft, including the world famous Spitfire. He used to cycle to Gleadless then left it at Mr & Mrs Barker's, from where he caught the bus to work, and then did the same on his way home. Eventually we moved to Gleadless at 14, Briarfield Avenue, almost opposite Mr & Mrs Barker's. Dad and three other neighbours obtained permission to make four allotments on a piece of land at the end of the avenue, I did a spot of digging for him to get the soil ready for cultivating as it was only rough ground to start with. We did have a front and back garden but kept mainly for lawns & flowers. As everyone was urged to dig for victory, hence the allotment and a supply of our own vegetables.


Dennis Chown

February 2006


To read Dennis's complete autobiography, click here.


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