I know that we wasn't or owt like that but we were happy

IN the latest of her series of Life Histories, oral historian DR SHARON LAMBERT talks to Lancastrian character LILY REED about her memories of growing up in the city centre.

I was born in 1920 at 4 Marton Street, facing the police station. Me mam was Amelia Wilson and I was brought up with me grandmother and me grandad, Margaret and William Wilson.

Me Auntie Alice always lived there too, even when she married. Only three of my brothers and sisters are alive now – our Violet, Jacqueline and Jimmy.

Our house was next door but one to St Thomas's Girls School. I went there.

Our house belonged to the church. Across the road on Marton Street there was this, what they called, destructor, where they used to burn all rubbish. Sometimes we used to get bikes and things there.

And there was a big lodging house for men, they called it Dobson's Lodging House, and I think it cost 'em tuppence.

There was a right big room where they could make their food and that, with big tables and forms, and they could sleep there. If any of 'em wanted a bed they had to pay sixpence.

At Christmas we used to go carol singing there and we used to get some good money.

Oh we used to have fun on Marton Street. We used to play marbles in the street, and whip 'n' top, kick-out-ball and tin can lurky. We used to run errands and people used to give you a penny or tuppence and we used to save it up and go to Woolworth's and buy a torch for sixpence. It used to have three lights on: red, green and yellow, like they have on traffic lights. And you used to flash it and play, 'Jack, Jack give you a light.'

They used to have exhibitions in the town hall with all stalls and everything. They used to give little tins of Nestle's condensed milk to you and you used to get a piece of free rock. And we used to go and stand outside there when they used to have big balls for the infirmary. They used to put a big canopy over the door and all the doctors and their wives used to go up the steps. We used to go and stand there to see all the lovely gowns. And on Burn's Night they were all in their kilts. We used to think it was great. I always remember when I was going to work at the time of Buck Ruxton's trial, there used to be people queued all outside town hall courts right round onto George Street. I got one or two things given off this woman that used to work there, she got the carpets and everything but we had to all give 'em in to police after.

I used to look after the children, cause I'll tell you where I worked: that wedding dress shop on the corner of Common Garden Street. It used to be Modella's and I used to tidy up there after school and take orders out. Mrs Ruxton got all her stuff from there. She used to raffle these big dolls and Modella's used to sell the tickets. And sometimes she used to fetch her children, Elizabeth, Diane and a little boy called Billy Boy and I used to take 'em to surgery for her. And I knew Mary that was murdered an' all.

But he was a clever doctor, you know, was Dr Ruxton. He could cure arthritis and rheumatism and that.

She wasn't much good. She knocked about with Mr Edmondson.

I remember when trams used to run. The tramlines used to pass Marton Street and we used to put these pins on lines and when trams went over they used to flatten 'em and we'd make these little sword badges. When they stopped, they started digging all roads up. The roads used to be all small wooden blocks then, and we used to get 'em, when nobody was looking, and they were lovely for your fire.

And we used to walk to Stodday and Aldcliffe, and grandma used to have us fetching big logs back, what had come up on tide, to cut up for winter.

We used to have to go to Sunday School. They always used to have a trip to Beetham. You used to get a new dress at Easter time and Whitsuntide and we used to walk with the Sunday School band.

Once, the clocks went back two hours for summertime and it was light at midnight. You used to sit out and there used to be dancing and skipping and that in street. And buskers used to come round.

We didn't have much money but we were happy. Neighbours used to help each other; if anybody was out of work they used to help 'em with food and that, they never went short.

Me grandmother and them they weren't rich, they only got about five bob pension then. She always said: "It doesn't matter about new clothes as long as they're clean and patched and your shoes aren't down at heels."

And she always used to put a good table on. We always used to call Monday 'the resurrection day', it was what was left over from Sunday. On a Tuesday it was corned beef hash, on a Wednesday it used to be taties and onions sliced wi' a breast o' lamb on top. And then on a Thursday it'd be a pan o' broth. On Friday it used to be fish and chips, although we weren't Catholics. On Saturday, it used to be meat and potato pie with dumplings and a crust on, or rabbit pie. On a Sunday we always used to have roast beef and that.

Me grandmother and her friend, on a Saturday night, used to go to this butcher's called Eastmans. It used to be nearly facing Kinlochs, and Mr Porthouse had it. They used to say: "Can we have a nice big piece of beef for half-a-crown, what you've dropped in sawdust." They used to get it for half-a-crown and they used to take him in King Edward and get him drunk, it was funny.

There used to be a big grocery store, called Robinson's, they used to send us there to ask for cracked eggs. And you used to go to Kinlochs and get a penn'orth o' pork scraps. We used to go to the big Co-op in George Street and get all our groceries there and then we used to go and pay at weekend. And at top of Great John Street, there used to be a big bakery, called Threlfalls. The pies were beautiful. On Saturday, you could go and ask for six penn'orth of stale cakes. But they weren't stale, they were cream cakes that were left. On Victoria Place, used to be Curwen's pop shop. They made lemonade in big bottles and them with glass alleys on that you could push down. In the holidays we used to go and help 'em out, washing bottles.

On Christmas Eve, me grandmother and them used to wait till nearly 11 o'clock and go to the market and get a big goose for half-a-crown.

At Christmas we couldn't have big toys but we used to put a stocking up. They used to buy big stockings from Woolworth's and it was full of things and it was only sixpence. You used to get games and everything in it. We used to get an apple, orange, pear, some new pennies and nuts and we used to think we were well off.

And I always remember, at Christmas Eve all the family and friends were there. Me grandma used to collect a shilling off all grown-ups and she used to make a rabbit pie and we had a big party. Mrs Hillbecks, who used to keep Marton Street Vaults, used to fetch some crates of beer. We used to be allowed to go in sitting room and they all played cards. Oh it was smashing.

When I was old enough I used to go in Royal Hotel. Mr Bamber kept it, he'd been mayor twice.

Marton Street Vaults weren't allowed to be open on a Sunday, so me grandma and them used to go to Royal. They used to have what they called a snug, for women like. And old Mr Bamber used to come round with this white snuff, and you all had to take a pinch.

Me grandma used to go in Marton Street Vaults. There used to be a woman called Mrs Milburn, and she was a spiritualist, and she could tell when anybody was gonna die by just looking at froth on your beer. Me grandma always used to move away from her.

They used to have sing-songs and play darts and dominoes, it was smashing. And there was some lovely singers. Aunt Alice had a beautiful soprano voice. Me grandad used to play piano and his hands were full of arthritis. He used to play in pubs and clubs.

I was 14 when I left school and started at Greenfield Mill.

I went into army when war broke out. I was what they call a batwoman. It's like a maid, you used to have to look after the officer's clothes, clean her shoes, do everything for her, you know.

I did a full six years all through the war. I met my husband when I was stationed at Barrow-in-Furness. We got married in the soldier's chapel of the Priory Church in 1940. After the war I come back to Lancaster and I worked in Co-op caf on New Street. I've worked all over. I've worked in pubs cleaning, I've worked in them toilets that used to be on old bus station and in Market and Brock Street. I was a ward maid at the infirmary and Moor Hospital.

I have three children, Malcolm, Shirley and Gordon, and grandchildren and great-grandhildren.

When I'm sat on me own, I often think about what we used to do when we were kids. I enjoyed being a young 'un. I can't say anything bad about me childhood. I know we wasn't well-off or owt like that but we were happy."