A Pitsmoor life

Star Athletics football team
Star Athletics football team

Story: Elizabeth Shaw

Early Days

Aileen was born in 1929 in a back-to-back house on Verdon Street, where two families shared each lavatory.

Father,Jim, was a wages clerk at Brown Bayleys. He was a very good chess player and took a keen interest in sport. Aileen has a photograph of the football team ‘Star Athletics’ which shows her father seated 2nd from the left on the front row. He was also a cricket umpire and liked to watch cricket at Bramall Lane, sometimes taking Aileen along too.

In the Home

Washday was hard work. First, clothes were boiled in a copper boiler then transferred to a zinc tub for pummelling and rinsing, before being fed through the mangle to squeeze out surplus water. All this was done in a very steamy atmosphere. Meanwhile a stew, and possibly also rice pudding, would be cooking slowly in the oven.

Most people had relatives nearby and Aileen had her maternal grandparents living next door, along with their son and daughter.

‘Grandma was a very good cook and excelled at bread making and soups’. Aileen described how oven bottom cakes were put on paper or a tea towel on the floor by the door to cool, ‘looking like a row of millstones’. On one occasion an apple pie, left to cool in this manner, was trodden on. As Aileen left her footprint, there was no doubt who the culprit was!

Street Life

Aileen remembers that there were several street sellers in her childhood. There was the man with a large basket selling ‘Oatcakes and Pikelets’; he rang a bell as well as calling out his wares. Another man with a basket sold lettuces and radishes. The man who called to sell donkey stone, for whitening doorsteps, carried his goods around on his head!

Aileen's Uncle Ellis during the 1914-18 war.
Aileen's Uncle Ellis during the 1914-18 war.

There were horses on the streets too – the rag-and-bone man and another who sold sticks for firewood. The Co-op delivered milk from a cart drawn by a large dray horse. Aileen recounted a sight she witnessed involving this horse and her uncle.

“The horse had slipped on the icy road and was on its knees. Uncle Ellis put a rug on the ground and pushed himself against the horse’s shoulder to get it back upright. He rubbed the horse’s knee and told the milkman to take it back to the stables.”

Aileen thought her uncle to be ‘the bravest and kindest of men as he wasn’t a big man. He had, however, served in a cavalry regiment in the First World War.


Besides the street sellers, there was a grocer, butcher, newsagent, post office, chemist and cobbler. At the beer-off, you could take a jug for beer from the decorative pumps. On Nottingham Street, there was a Co-op, which ran a dividend scheme to be paid out at Christmas.

School Days

At the age of five, Aileen started school at Pye Bank, which she described as being ‘a gloomy, dismal place with teachers to match’. There was a row of ‘squalid lavatories’ outside with no hand washing facilities. It was during her time at Pye Bank School that a teacher made an assessment of Aileen’s intelligence that still rankles to this day. Aileen presented her arithmetic book ‘adorned by a large inkblot’ for marking and received this comment ‘I thought you were an intelligent girl when you came into my class, but I see that I was mistaken’. For the information of anyone who attended school after biros became acceptable, each desk had an inkwell filled by a monitor. The ink came as a powder to be mixed with water. The nib had to be continually dipped to load with ink, which was inclined to clog and stick to the nib.

Aileen took the ‘11 plus’ exam, which she passed, though not with a good enough grade for grammar school. Instead she was sent to Greystones Intermediate School, graded somewhere between the grammar school and the local secondary school – Byron Wood. She didn’t enjoy her time at this school, and it was made even more difficult by the war and air raids. During the Sheffield Blitz, the family took refuge in the cellar and emerged next day to find a huge crater in Fitzalan Street. One great influence of the school was that Aileen never again wore navy blue – the colour of the uniform!


Aileen left school aged 14 to help at home as her mother was ill. In 1945, when the war was finally over, she started work as a ‘lowly junior library assistant’, first at Hillsborough Library, then at the Walkley branch, before spending the next 10 years at the Central Library.

She enrolled for evening classes to improve her qualifications but it was not to be. Her mother died when Aileen was 17 and there was no time for study as there were ‘more pressing domestic responsibilities’, supporting her father and 11 year old sister.

She enjoyed her time at the Central Library and made friends she still has to this day. They attended Hallé Concerts at the City Hall and went to the Playhouse Theatre on Townhead Street. There were also opera and ballet performances at the Lyceum theatre.

Moving House

The slum clearance, which had been planned for the Verdon Street area before the war, had still not been carried out by the late 1950s. Sacrifices were made and the family managed to get together the money for a deposit for the house, nearer to Firshill, where she and her sister still live.

A Senior Viewpoint

I asked Aileen if she thought things are better or worse now than in her youth.

“I am not sure. Social inequality is rife and I do not like the onset of computerisation and mobile phones. Health care is much better due to the advances in medical knowledge and the NHS. Gone are the days of doctor’s bills! People did not go there if they could not afford it. But nowadays, unemployment being at its present level, I fear for the future of the younger generation.”

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The content on this page was added to the website by Saleema Imam on 2012-02-03 16:06:21.
The content of the page was last modified by Douglas Johnson on 2012-02-05 20:07:35.

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