When I was a child in the 1940s and 50’s I lived in Nettlebank, Smallthorne. But I was a ‘NETTLEBONKER’ which is distinct from being a ‘SMOTHENER’.
Nettlebank, as it was then, enjoyed an almost ‘Passport to Pimlico’ existence. We were cut off from Smallthorne on the East by the railway line which ran from Bellerton Colliery to the coal wharf. The coal wharf at Nettlebank with its high stone wall, part of which is still there, was our boundary to the North, while to the South lay Sneyd Green which was then thought of as a bit posh and a place to aspire to.
Nettlebank comprised Cliff Street, Harold Street. Whatmore Street and Preston Street. It boasted three shops, Woodvine’s general store, Critchley’s grocers and another which I ever only knew as Potato Shop, because I don’t remember it selling anything else. It also had a ‘church’ the denomination of which was a bit vague, in a house which had once been a pub.
To cross the railway line and enter Smallthorne, you had to pass through two sets of gates known as Clap Gates. I don’t know how they acquired this name unless it was from the noise they made when they clanged to. We thought they made good swings.
The large, square area to the rear of Cliff Street and Harold Street was known as ‘The Backs’ and this was our playground. It seemed huge to me then. A row of cottages must have stood there at one time as the brick foundations were still visible. Here we played @houses’ using bits of pottery we found and also the little cone shaped ‘stilts’ that were used to separate the ware in the kiln, made good cups. I often wondered if the cottagers had had their own pottery here or if the area had just been used as a dump.
When the train carrying the coal came by and had gone into the wharf, we would dash our into the track and pick up hot coals which had been dropped and put them into a tin can with holes in it which we swung round, probably a dangerous game.
When it was fine the backs were used for all kinds of games. Cricket, played by both boys and girls, using a pig bins (a relic from the war years when food scraps were communally saved to feed pigs) as a wicket. We skipped with a long rope made from old washing line, and played ‘two ball’ (three if you were really good) against the wall. We hated wash day. If it was fine the washing hung on lines strung across the Backs leaving us no where to play. If it was wet the washing was dried indoors, draped around the open fire, steaming up the windows and making everyone miserable.
One of our neighbours kept chickens which were allowed to roam freely in The Backs. One day as I sat on the back yard step enjoying a piece of bread and jam, a chicken ran up and snatched it out of my hand. Everyone except me thought that this was very funny.
The greatest rivalry between Smotheners and Nettlebonkers was displayed in November when it was time to start collecting wood for our respective bonfires. Everyday after school we would beg borrow and steal wood for our fire and begin to build a stack in the middle of The Backs. Next morning we would anxiously check the pole and always (so we thought) The Smotheners had been there before us and stolen some of our wood. Of course we than had to sneak across the railway line to the Smothener’s bonfire and steal some back.
In the summer we followed the railway track down into an area of open fields which really were ‘Lark’s Fields’ a name given to one of the roads on the housing estate later build there. Here we climbed trees and gathered wild flowers for our mothers, but we stayed out so long that they were wilted by the time we got home. No one worried where we were.
Today there are no firm dividing lines between Nettlebank and Smallthorne. The railway line is long gone and bungalows stand on The Backs. But I can still pinpoint the spot where the Clap Gates stood, and if you ask anyone over the age of sixty, who lived in those four streets as a child, where they came from I bet they would say with pride “NETTLEBONK”.
Thanks to Jean Hill for her wonderful memories on Nettlebank.