Moving to Darnhill was, for
me, a great adventure. It was January, 1963, and I was eight years old. We – my
mum, dad and two older brothers – were moving from a cramped and run-down
three-up, three down, privately-rented terrace house in Manchester to the
relative luxury of a brand new home high in the hills of Heywood, a 45-minute
ride away on the Number 63 bus.
Leaving behind friends and members of the wider family, was a wrench, but we went with the promises of a better life, although it wasn’t long before I wondered if we’d made a big mistake.
We arrived on Darnhill only days before the start of one of the worst winters on record. I had never seen snow so deep or so long-lasting.
I thought it must be normal for the area, because we were so high up, not realising at the time that it was a freak winter that was affecting most of the country.
My parents had been on the
council house waiting list since before I was born, but I only ever remember
visiting one property before moving to Darnhill. It was a maisonette in Miles
Platting, another area of Manchester, and it was in a horrible state. Middleton
also had a Manchester overspill estate in Langley but my parents were
determined to hold out for the prize destination of the brand new estate in
In Manchester, we had only
one cold tap in the house, an outside toilet, which froze in the winter, and a
tin bath. Sunday was bath night which meant heating water in the electric
washing machine and then transferring it to the bath in front of the coal fire.
It might sound cosy but, as the youngest, I was always third in line and so
never got the cleanest water.
On Darnhill, we had an
indoor toilet, bathroom and hot and cold running water, and four taps. Our new
home was described as a “Canadian-style” design, which meant the smokeless-fuel
burning fireplace (coal was a definite no-no) was in the centre of a large room
and had the effect of splitting the room into living and dining areas.
Ironically, given that Darnhill was a smokeless zone, all our furniture was
transported to Darnhill on the back of a coal-delivery lorry.
The outside space was also a revelation. Our playground in Manchester was the streets which was great fun, especially in summer when all the children and many of the parents would join in games of cricket, rounders or hide and seek.
But the only grass you saw was in the park and you were never allowed to go there alone.
On Darnhill, we had the
streets, but we also had gardens to play in. Well, it was more the bare bones
of a garden – the plots had been fenced off and topsoil delivered but we all
had to muck in and spread the soil and then sow seeds for the lawns which would
eventually follow. Buying rolls of grass for an instant lawn are commonplace
now but they were unheard of then.
I went to St Margaret’s
School, another new building which only opened the previous September. It was
clean and bright, built on one level, with large windows in all the classrooms,
compared with the dull, multi-storey redbrick school building I left behind in
Manchester. St Margaret’s served Darnhill but also parts of Heywood. The
building replaced the former Heady Hill Primary School near by and many of its
pupils were from Heywood.
That was my first contact in
Heywood with anyone other than Mancunians. Quite a few of the pupils in my
class were from Heywood but we all got on together, as children do. We heard
later that the building of a sprawling council housing estate at Darnhill for
outsider Mancunians wasn’t widely welcomed in Heywood but if there was any
ill-feeling I wasn’t aware of it.