MEMORIES OF GATEACRE 1943-1955
Our February 2016 talk - reviewed by Mike Chitty
Professor Alexander (Sandy) Stewart travelled from his Edinburgh home to talk to us, on 7th February, about his early life in Gateacre village. His father, Rev. Duncan Stewart, was Minister of the Unitarian Chapel, and Sandy's first journey to Gateacre was on the luggage rack of a train from Norwich, during the wartime blackout, at the age of five. The family lived at 'Chapelstead', 8 Gateacre Brow.
Sandy didn't have a script, nor any photographs of his own. Instead he had given us a list of the pictures in our book 'Gateacre & Belle Vale' that he wanted to talk about. He began with the newsagent's shop next door to Chapelstead. Sandy recalled that the owners, Mr & Mrs Daly, were Ulster Catholics, and "very nice to us". Mr Daly gave him his very first banana, and Sandy had to ask his mother how to eat it. Mrs Daly called round the day after his father's death, saying that she'd been "praying for him all morning". His mother, he said, "didn't have the heart to tell her that Unitarians don't believe in Purgatory".
Photographs of Gateacre Grange - which Sandy knew as a Nursing Home run by nuns - brought back memories of the annual summer fête. In those days the grounds extended right down the Brow, and the open-air festivities went on all Sunday afternoon. His father sent the Chapel caretaker across the road "to tell them to stop the racket" and allow his evening sermon to be heard.
The house described in the book as 'Elm Cottage' was in fact, according to Sandy, Oakfield Cottage. The occupiers were Mr & Mrs Harold Magnay - Mr Magnay being the city's Director of Education. They were "very generous" to Sandy and his mother. Mrs Magnay gave him her son's Greek and Latin dictionaries, while Mr Magnay personally authorised his mother's absence from her teaching post to attend his graduation ceremony at St Andrew's University.
Sandy's memories were mainly those of a teenage cyclist - and temporary Christmas postman. He rode to Taylor's Farm, on the east side of Grange Lane, with non-Cheshire cheese, which his mother had obtained on ration but preferred to 'trade' with Mr Taylor for extra eggs. Some of the eggs "had an unhappy ending" owing to the potholes. Sandy's comment that Grange Lane "doesn't seem to have any potholes nowadays" was greeted with laughter.
Between Taylor's Farm and Gateacre village was Gateacre House. He recalled the "Joyce Grenfell type" who lived there. The estate had "gone to rack and ruin", quite different from the pictures in the book. Closer to the crossroads was Guy's shop: "A hive of activity, and full of character". Sandy also remembered Miss Brown's tobacconist's shop in Halewood Road, where he was sent to buy Capstan Full Strength pipe tobacco for his father. Pictures of Gateacre Station and St Stephen's Church triggered further anecdotes about his childhood, and the "perfectly cordial" relations that existed between the local churches. The talk ended with a picture of Gorsey Cop Farm, to which Sandy and his mother had moved following his father's death. The main problem, he recalled, was accommodating all the furniture - including numerous bookcases and beds - from 8 Gateacre Brow.
As Sandy himself pointed out, he had overshot his allotted time for the talk very considerably. But the audience had listened attentively, and had enjoyed the stream of anecdotes as he 'relived the past' in painstaking detail.